I like “simple church”. I like meeting with other believers in a simple, open setting where every brother has a voice, everyone is “permitted” and even expected to participate. I like the general lack of formality and ritual. I like that the overriding sense during the meeting is of God’s people in relationship with one another rather than a sense of showing up by obligation to observe a religious ritual. If we get to that point, a simple expression of the church, is that enough? Have we "arrived"? I don’t think so, not by a long shot.
Meeting on Sunday morning in a simple/house church setting is a good thing, provided of course that the meeting is not just a traditional church meeting that happens in a house! It is not an end in and of itself though, which is why there is an inherent danger in seeing this move to simpler form of church as a “house church movement”. The goal should not be to have the church meet in a home, the goal is a true Christian community.
Granted, I think that simple church is not only the best way to gather, it is also a necessary first step towards community by breaking the shackles of religion and formalism that hamper community in the church. While even I, a man given to hyperbole, would not go so far as to say that community is always impossible within the confines of a traditional church setting, I would say that by its very nature traditional church settings erect enormous barriers (by design perhaps) to community in the Body of Christ. Relationship is replaced by ritual. Fellowship is replaced by formalism. Mutual uplifting and edification is replaced by performance. The New Covenant priesthood of every believer is replaced by a professional clerical subcontracting system. Many, many inherent characteristics of the traditional church impede community and that is why I am convinced that as the traditional church crumbles, community in the Body of Christ will become more prevalent.
So what does all of this mean? If a simple church gathering on Sunday is a necessary first step but only a first step, what do the “next” steps look like? How do we go from a simple church meeting to a Biblical community?
That is a great question. I don’t think that given the realities of life in America in the 21st century that community must precisely resemble the first century in every respect. Nor do I think that community will necessarily resemble more communal historical Christian groups like the Hutterites. So I think it will look quite different in different contexts. Where I live out in the country, perhaps we meet as families in one place or another on a regular basis (other than the Sunday meeting!). Maybe BBQ on a Saturday where we spend the day together. I am really interested in getting a Bible study going in our area, I know enough people to make it work. We already have a connection with a youth group that is not affiliated with a particular church that meets a lot. Even something as simple as intentional visits to other Christians would foster a sense of community. Of course having the weather lighten up would be nice, we have had almost ten inches of rain in the last month or so! Even out where we live I could see families buying property or houses near one another to increase proximity although a lot of us have more or less established roots so that may not be as feasible.
Now in an urban area, maybe a group of families could buy/rent homes or apartments in close proximity, even walking distance. Those families could share meals on a rotating basis or at least a regular basis. That would have the advantage of being in regular contact with each other and that community would also serve as a witness to the surrounding unbelieving neighbors. I am aware of groups that have done this with varying degrees of success. As more and more people abandon the institutional church, I think that sort of scenario in an urban area gets more likely. 7 or 8 families could buy homes in Detroit for next to nothing and be a Gospel witness and a supportive community. One family moving by themselves into an inner city can be hard but if you can move a number of families into an area for support, just think what a great witness that would be!
Community gardens to share with other believers as well as the needy (physical and spiritual). Community homeschooling co-ops. Community meals. The possibilities are endless and enticing! So of course are the pitfalls like losing the urgency to be “on mission” and the danger of insularity but I think the potential blessings make this well worth it.
Again, I don’t have the answer but I definitely see that simple church, while valuable and worthwhile, is not the endgame but rather a means to an end. What do you think Christian community stemming from a simple church expression might look like?