Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Where do we go from here?

Alan has been asking that question in his post, Why Keep The Worship Service? It is part of an ongoing conversation that has spanned several blogs and posts. I don’t see the conversation as being about “worship services” per se, rather it is more about what do we do about unity in the church in the face of serious disagreements about what the church means and how it functions together.

This is an important conversation for those who embrace a simpler, more “organic” form of church and reject the institutionalized form of the local church. Coming to what we believe is a clearer understanding of what the Bible teaches about the church is one thing. What we do with that knowledge? That is a different issue entirely. I think our tendency has been to stop darkening the doors of local church buildings and start doing our own thing as we understand it from the Scriptures.

In so many places when there is a disagreement in the church, it devolves into “we” are right and “they” are wrong. “They” need to get on board with “us”. The problem is that in the church there is no “they”, only “we” and “we” need to find ways to get along and getting along is more than a vague agreement that we are family, family that never spends time with one another.

I am not advocating closing down house churches, trooping back into traditional churches, signing up for membership classes and dutifully sitting still in our pews until the offering plate comes along. I am saying that we need to find ways to actively reach the huge number of Christians who are not sold on simple/house/organic church, not to “convert” them to being house church people but to be unified with them as best we are able.

Art Mealer made a great comment on Alan’s post and I wanted to repost part of it here:

For me, this means I prefer gathering with the saints I gather with regularly on other than Sunday morning. That leaves us free to also join in with/visit other local congregations when they meet on Sunday. I see my Christian coworkers in the workplace/classes as fellow local church folk, and treat them with that respect and mutual concern.

I’m also coming to think the best way to help the local church change (read that as the bunch of presently separated churches in a single locality) is to see functional alternatives, sort of what the Thessalonian did for the churches of their day, that continue to network and connect/reconnect among varieties of saints. With changed lives and more intimate, encouraging, accepting ways of being together becoming more evident, and by staying in contact/communion/fellowship with others in other sorts of congregations/at work/classes/neighborhoods, we might have the best chance for substantive local church change.
I think that is fascinating and Biblical and it is reflective of where I am coming to. I am unwilling to abandon the simple gathering of the church that focuses on multiple voices, open participation, mutual encouragement and edification, all carried out in the context of community and fellowship. I am also unwilling to abandon those millions of Christians around the world and specifically the hundreds of Christians who live right around me that are part of traditional churches. So some sort of compromise might be in order and like it or not that compromise, the proverbial first step, is almost certainly going to have to come from us. That is so…un-American but it is also so…Biblical.

I hope I am moving past the “angrily shaking my fist at the institutional church” phase. It was cathartic in a way and if I am honest gave me a prideful sense of superiority but it is generally unhelpful in fostering unity in the church and unity is a "first tier doctrine". That doesn’t mean that I am not going to speak out against the institutionalization of the church or the professionalization of ministry or any of the other topics that I typically write about. What I am going to try very hard to do is to examine these topics in the context of how we can overcome the barriers to fellowship we encounter and how to foster community in the church in the context we have while working in unity toward a more Biblical expression of the church.

Now practically speaking, I don’t think that sitting in a pew among thousands of other people in a mega-church is doing much of value. Getting to know people in a smaller, more intimate church setting (under 150 people perhaps?), that strikes me as helpful. Get to know them and be known by them. Expand your circle and make new friends. Invite people to your home, have get togethers, Bible studies, prayer meetings, go out to dinner, have a picnic, go camping, something, anything, with other Christians especially if those activities can also be used for evangelism. Spend time with them on Sunday morning. There is an old saying, why do people rob banks? Because that is where the money is. Likewise with all of those church buildings we like to decry, that is where you are likely to find the highest concentration of Christians. Give that Sunday morning time up for the unity of the church. If you have a truly organic church, you can meet on Saturday afternoon or Thursday night. Give up that Sunday morning for the sake of Christ and His Church and invite others to share your life.

What do you think? Am I compromising too much? Not enough? Is this unrealistic or is it not a problem at all?


Swanny said...

Arthur - I think you are spot on, and I agree with what you are saying.

However, what I have found when trying to keep with the relationships I had with others when I attended an institutional church is that they are extremely busy doing all of their programs and "church" activities.

I cleared my plate over the last couple of years after I left, and it is difficult to find time to build relationships when no one can get together, and when we do, it is all surface stuff and no heart issue. You need to meet consistently and constantly to build a trusting relationship, but if I am meeting with others just every once in awhile because they have an hour for coffee i will do it, but I find it really difficult.

This is a great subject and should be talked about more often.


Scott said...

Man... just when I was thinking about skipping the institutional Sunday morning services... in order to et out their and build unity with the Sunday Morning house church folks.

Unfortunately, real or percieved the house church has yet to get away from this stereotype from "institutional" Christians.

"I visited a House Church in the early 90's. It was run by skunks. A group of disgruntleds whose happiness came from the fact they met on Thursday and not Sunday. In a living room and not a sanctuary. On a sofa and not a pew. They were like kids staying away from school, hiding out, proud of their boldness to leave. And yet in all their freedom they managed only to move the church service from a building to a house. Not much else had changed. Only the location. They had the smirks of naughty boys on their faces. They were a church service on the run. An escaped meeting captured by a living room. One that built its identity from rebellion, defined themselves by what they were not. This was the Revenge of the Skunks."

Andrew Jones,

Scott ><>

Arthur Sido said...


I hear ya. It is hard work. Many people are caught up in the workings of their church activities and programs. I am not even sure it will work but I think we have to try and keep working through it.

Arthur Sido said...


I am not sure what you are trying to saying, can you clarify?

Swanny said...


I am definitely not saying to stop trying. Just gets a bit frustrating at times.

Your thinking is on the right track... keep chugging along.


I very much agree with all Christians honoring one another! (Rom. 12:10, Gal. 6:10) However, we do NOT need to sit through someone's unbiblical institution to be around other Christians. We are the Church all the time.


The point is not where Christians are meeting, but are they teaching the Bible, specifically on a New Covenant/Grace context. Most are not!

Aussie John said...


I am with you all the way in what you are writing. My wife and I have visited several churches of varying denominations.

We couldn't possibly be known in each, yet we found varying degrees of attitude from outright antagonism (Australian Reformed),complete invisibility (Baptist) to wintery coolness (Presbyterian).

In the many we have visited there was only one in which we were very warmly welcomed, and that was a very Greek speaking traditional Baptist church, where we were overwhelmed with warm handshakes and loving embraces, as well as invitations to visit homes.

They didn't know us from a bar of soap, but we were evry bit a part of them.