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EXAMPLES FROM PASTORS AND BELIEVERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD.
I recently did a study on the whole phenomena of the house church movement. Many of the stories I encountered while doing research went along theses lines. You would find various groups of believers who felt disenfranchised with their roles in modern church systems; they felt like they were professional spectators. The whole concept of church became to them a place where you go to hear lectures. The only one who finds fulfillment in expressing themselves are the professional clergy [and a few rebellious prophets who could muster up the nerve to stand up and speak!] but the overall sense was these people were simply filling roles of listening to preaching week after week without ever truly functioning. Many of these people left their churches to form house/cell type churches. There were also many traditional pastors who saw this same restricting style of contemporary church and also left the whole concept of professional pastor and simply became a bi-vocational leader in a voluntary based movement of believers.
Some of the movements I studied were tremendous in their ability to rapidly spread throughout regions without the drag of salaries, buildings and all the other usual things associated with full time ministry. I find these movements to be exciting and biblical. The whole idea of average believers advancing the kingdom of God without all the trappings of modern religion is truly getting back to the heart of New Testament Christianity. Many of their stories shared a common theme of being seen as rebellious or not willing to submit to authority because of their willingness to break out of restricting mindsets in order to advance the kingdom. Many of the pastors who also left traditional church roles found freedom in not having to raise huge amounts of money for salaries and buildings, they testified of a freedom that came with their not having to sermonize on tithing and other money raising efforts. There was a real sense of effectiveness in the reality of the ‘church’ being vibrant groups of believers who can rapidly expand across a region without having to stop and build structures and set in order clergy and all the other trappings associated with modern day church. While I personally don’t advocate one form above another to the degree that some house church enthusiasts do [it can be just as bad to focus on the ‘house’ in house church as in the building in modern church] but I do see in this movement a return to the simple reality of Christ moving and expanding through his people [true church growth].
As you read the New Testament you never get the feeling that Jesus or the apostles were going to areas to start some type of meeting that they would get people to attend. They were being sent out to spread the great message of Gods kingdom. All the sermons in the book of acts focus on Jesus and his great work for us. After people in these various regions came to the reality of Christ they were then considered to be the church. The actual reality of Jesus living in them through his Spirit is the entity that God recognizes as legitimate to carry out his works. There was no magical element of organizing under a particular form that would then become the ‘church’. They were church by virtue of the fact that Christ dwelt in their hearts by faith.
As these communities spread throughout the earth they would have more mature leaders in their midst who gave guidance and direction to the flock in a voluntary way, but the concept of one professional minister who was hired to perform religious functions for the community was absent from these New Testament ecclesias. The whole mindset of ‘church-planting’ was simply the natural outgrowth of people coming to know Christ. There wasn’t a separate calling to start churches apart from the great commission to go and tell all people about this great gospel of Christ. Apostles had a special gifting to help build these communities, but in no way is this separate from the calling to preach the gospel. It is simply the proclaiming of Christ to communities of people that holds the power of ‘church planting’. And the thing that we’re planting is Christ in the hearts of people. I think if we can get back to seeing things on these terms there will be less of a pressure to go and make something happen, and more of a balance on Christ in us, the hope of glory!
ARE CHURCH BUILDINGS EVIL? [OR THE GUY WHO WANTED TO CAST DEMONS OUT OF ME!]
Many years ago before I really understood the truths of ecclesia and the communal aspect of the church, I was introduced to the belief that the ‘church building’ itself was wrong. I don’t personally adhere to this belief, but let me share the story. While ministering as a new believer in Christ and learning ‘the ropes’ of ministry, I remember driving past a brother who was a street minister from Mexico. It was unusual in the way he was conducting his street meetings. He would get permission to use an empty lot and then set up actual church pews in the lot without walls or any type of cover over it [even if it rained!]. Well one day on my daily rounds of visiting people and witnessing for Jesus [because this is what ministers are supposed to do, right?] I stopped by this brother’s lot and figured I would bless him with some lunch and listen to him preach [I felt sorry for the brother because no one else was attending his meetings]. After he spoke I had a chance to fellowship with him. After hearing his thoughts I realized it was on purpose for him to have no walls or cover over the pews [these were actual church pews that were out there in the open!].
He shared with me the verse in Hebrews [13:10] where it says that those who worship at the sanctuary have no right to partake of the altar of Christ [the cross]. He saw this as meaning that all Christians who meet in buildings [the sanctuary] were lost! Well, even as a young believer in the lord I was smart enough to know that this verse had nothing to do with ‘church buildings’. I showed the brother that in context the verse simply meant that those Jews [remember who the book of Hebrews was written to] who were not willing to leave the old covenant system [the sanctuary] could not move on with the new covenant truth of Christ and his cross. The sanctuary represented the whole concept of law and Judaism. This verse had nothing to do about the inherent nature of church buildings! Buildings themselves are neutral ground; it’s the style of one person functioning [the pastor] at the expense of the rest of the body that I see as less than ideal.
Well after seeing the obvious error of the way this brother was reading this verse, I began to ‘expound unto him the way of God more perfectly’. When he finally understood what I was saying [you could tell by the look in his eyes that he saw the truth] instead of repenting of his distorted view, he became irate and began to cast demons out of me [hey, I didn’t think there were any in me!]. The reason I share this example is because there are those in the house church movement, while not as extreme, seem to view the church building itself as an evil thing.
My personal view is the church building can become a hindrance when we view it as part of a system that makes up ‘church’. We seem to see the whole concept of the church building and the pastor as the weekly speaker and all the other things associated around this structure [like tithing to the storehouse] as ‘the system’ that God instituted to carry out his work in the earth. Remember Gods inherent authority resides in no human system or mode of religious worship. His authority resides in the church, the actual people of God in any given community on earth. So if there are believers carrying out Gods purpose, whether they have the whole system that we deem ‘local church’ or not, is irrelevant. Remember what we said about Jesus and the 1st century religious mind? They were finding fault with Jesus and his disciples because they were not following the religious protocol of the day. When we embrace certain mindsets that see ‘local church’ as the limited system of Sunday worship and all the other usual things associated with it, what we’re unconsciously doing is vesting authority in a style, or form of religious worship while by-passing the true legitimacy of Gods people. Its not to say that Gods people who function in the whole system of Sunday church are illegitimate [that would be making the same mistake as the brother who wanted to cast the demons out of me!] but this shows us how we unconsciously make the same mistake as the 1st century Pharisee by seeing as illegitimate those who don’t follow certain protocols.
It was a common thing during the 90’s to speak about the ‘changing of the wineskin’ in order to receive the new wine [the new move of God]. Many of theses thoughts were helpful in causing us to re-think the way we ‘do’ church. I also remember a common theme being ‘God wants to pour out his Spirit, but the wineskins are not ready’ in some of these examples the ministers actually meant that we don’t have big enough buildings to put all these new converts so God is ‘withholding the new wine until the new buildings go up’. At this point you should begin seeing how once again this is confusing the reality of Christian community with ‘the church building’. I find it interesting that the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost was not delayed because of the lack of facilities to put all the new converts in.
Also the great missionary journeys of Paul were not delayed ‘until the new wineskins were in place’. This shows us how we’ve come to view the people of God as being dependent on the present system. Could it be that God withholds His Spirit because the ‘new wineskin’ could refer more to believers seeing themselves as the actual church that God wants to fill? If we are not rightly discerning Christ’s community as a self-sustaining society of people then the church really isn’t able to contain the new wine. If we are so limited in our thinking to view the new wineskin as larger facilities, as opposed to a rethinking of what it means to truly be Christ’s body, then maybe the holdup has more to do with a change in the way we view ‘church’ then it has to do with bigger church buildings!
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