House churches aren't the answer

by Bill Ireland

When our local fellowship shifted to a house church format several years ago, there was a palpable excitement, even as some members were abandoning ship. For them, the thought of leaving the comfort of a large group, with weekly sermons, special programs and a worship band, was simply too much. They found refuge elsewhere.

For those of us who stayed, there was a sense of being involved in something important, on the cutting edge. This was real, grass-roots, life-altering Christianity. We looked back at our lives as traditional pew-sitters with bemusement. How could we ever go back to that?

It was all familiar to me — and thatís why along with being excited I was a little leery. I came to Christ during the Jesus Movement of the Ď70s, and promptly moved into a Christian community in northern California. It was like a hippie commune, only with prayer and Bible study instead of sex and drugs. We were dead-serious, sold-out, radical Jesus freaks, genuinely seeking to serve God. But in our immaturity, we came to adopt a condescending attitude toward those traditional, straight Christians still stuck in their Sunday-morning ruts.

That latent conflict came to a head as our commune interacted with a traditional church that had opened its arms to us. We would come down from our enclave in the hills to fellowship with a small congregation in town. The parishioners were open-hearted, sincere and generous people, but they began to sense our self-righteous, judgmental spirit. Before long, a schism erupted. It was ugly.

It took several years for our youthful affliction of pride to dissipate. But life does a universal leveling work in people, and no one is exempt. After experiencing disappointment, backsliding, error, tragedy, divorce, sickness and death in our own lives, we were less inclined to judge others. Too bad it cost so much time and pain.

Flash forward to the present. My enthusiasm for the current movement is real, but tempered by those early memories. House churches have great value, but only insofar as they afford people an opportunity to function as the Body of Christ. That means relating to each other as Paul said:

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope when you were called — one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:2-6)

Itís often overlooked that I Corinthians 13, the love chapter that everyone has on their walls, was written as part of a teaching on how to conduct church. In fact, the whole Bible could be viewed as a lesson on treating others right — our fellow men, and our God. We tend to focus on — everything else.

What if all Christians got serious about these things, and determined to live this way with each other?

Now that would be radical Christianity.

 
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