Friday, March 25, 2011

Dear House Church People: Grow Up or become a cult!

Oh Les, shame on you. Linking me to that post.

So anyhoo, like a moth to a flame I read a link posted on these hallowed pages and came across what can only be described as an arrogant, condescending cheap shot at house churches (or more correctly anyone who rejects the institutional church, however that ends up looking). Me being me I left a brief comment that expressed what can only be described as slight irritation at the presumption of the writer. Here on my turf though, I feel perfectly at ease in dismantling the entire post. This is a repost from the webpage of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church by Pastor Christian M. McShaffrey of Grace Reformed Church in Reedsburg, Wisconsin. I wonder if Pastor McShaffrey has read anything written by people in the "house church movement" or if he is basing his critique on Why We Love The Church? He offers no citations so I can't really tell.

Here is what gets me even more riled up. I just yesterday posted about my sincere hopes that there might be some signs of hope in the institutional church. Then I read this and it reminds me that many, many people in the church are more concerned with propping up institutions and perpetuating the traditional framework than they are with engaging in honest reflection of the traditions that we read the Scriptures through. Let's begin...

As the modern “home church” movement continues to gain momentum and threaten the peace and unity of congregations in every denomination, it behooves all who love Christ’s church to speak the truth in love to home church advocates.

“Truth in love” is code for "I am about to blast you but I want it to sound pious", which in this case means telling house church folks how grievously in error and how divisive they are and accuse them of being weak in the faith or rebellious. I would note as a caution here that if your advocacy of house churches or if your rejection of the institutional church is divisive, that is not OK and it is easy to slip into that mode. Onward...

If by “home churching” a person simply means that his congregation meets in someone’s house, then we must regard this as a perfectly acceptable practice and perhaps even preferable if the congregation is small and struggling financially.

However, if by “home churching” that person means that he has abandoned the “institutional church” and has begun to assume the prerogatives or exercise the functions of the special officers of the church (pastor, elder, or deacon), then he is in serious error.

This is instructive. The so-called officers of the church hold special privileges that not only are exclusive but privileges that are forbidden to the “laity”. In other words, the special functions of the church (which are unnamed here) must be restricted to those who have particular titles. I would assume this includes preaching the Gospel (i.e. sermons) which is never restricted to "officers", “administering the Lord’s Supper” which of course likewise is never restricted to “special officers" or even mentioned in conjunction with church officers and baptism, again never linked or restricted to elders, deacons or pastors. Of course I reject the notion of pastors and elders being separate but I digress.

Before you judge a home church advocate, you need to examine yourself and your own local congregation to make sure that you are not guilty of the same shortcomings and sins that have led so many to leave the institutional church in recent years (see Matt. 7:1-5).

Does your local congregation at all resemble the church described in Acts 2:40-47? Do you at all resemble those early Christians who loved each other, shared their possessions, and enjoyed daily fellowship with gladness and simplicity of heart? If not, then you can probably learn as much from the home church advocate as he can learn from you.

In all your discussions, be careful not to pronounce on the matter before you understand the home church advocate’s reasons for leaving the institutional church (see Prov. 18:13; John 7:24)

Well that sounds nice. At least ask before you start condemning those who reject or question the institutional church! It would be nicer if it wasn’t followed by this:

It is only by careful listening that you will know whether you should (1) warn him about the dangers of his ecclesiastical rebellion, (2) comfort him as one who has lost heart, or (3) uphold him as one who is simply weak in the faith. In any case, be patient with all (1 Thess. 5:14).

Oh. So the only real reason to listen to someone is not to learn anything other than which of the three errors they are guilty of, because of course option 4 (they might be right!) is unthinkable. So to summarize, if you question or leave the institutional church you are one of three things: a) a rebel, b) someone who has lost heart or c) weak in the faith. No chance whatsoever that you might actually have earnestly studied the Scriptures, held the institutional church up to the light of the Word and found our cherished institutional traditions to be in error.

Most home church advocates honestly love the Bible and earnestly desire to do what it says. All you need to do is help them realize what it actually does say.

Again, your average home church advocate loves the picture of the infant church that is found in Acts 2, and this is both natural and good.

What you need to do is to show him how that newborn church eventually grew up into the presbyterian-looking institution that is pictured later in Acts 15 and in the Pastoral Epistles.

I straight up lol'd at that. Silly us, reading Acts 15 and not seeing the clear picture of a Presbyterian church government! No way you read Acts 15 and see a major doctrinal council being held on a key issue of the Gospel ministry, a meeting where Paul, James and Peter were in attendance and making a ruling with the leadership of three of the main leaders of the church, not just then but for all time. It is clearly just like a meeting of a Presbytery in Peoria. Maybe….maybe the church we see in Acts 2 and the church we see in Acts 15 are…THE SAME CHURCH! Maybe the church we see in 1 Corinthians 14 and Acts 20:7-12 are THE SAME CHURCH as the church we see in Acts 2 and Acts 15!

Don’t worry though, Pastor McShaffrey is confident that all house churches will eventually end up in one of two ways:

If you are unable to convince your home-churching friend to come back into Christ’s earthly and institutional kingdom, then just be patient, for one of two things will inevitably happen:

The home church will eventually evolve into a “real church,” which is biblically ordered and governed. In this case, you can praise God that the church has been propagated in fulfillment of Christ’s promise.

The home church will eventually devolve into a cultish group of arrogant and disgruntled people, whom you would not want in your congregation anyway. In this case, you can praise God that the church has been protected in fulfillment of Christ’s promise.

That is quite an either-or you have there Pastor! Either you grow up and become a “real” church (which I assume is a Presbyterian church) or you devolve into a cult. Ironic that in an essay dripping with condescension and arrogance he castigates persistent house church folks as devolving into an arrogant and disgruntled cult. Good thing God is gonna protect the church from people who question religious traditions! I don’t suppose anyone can point to an example of house churches that a) didn’t grow up and become “real churches” or b) devolve into a cult?

Posts like this and books like Why We Love The Church are marked by an overt condescension but underlying that condescension is fear. Fear of change, fear of abandoning our cherished traditions, fear that maybe the system we have supported for our entire life might not only not be healthy but actually have hampered the growth of disciple making for centuries. Fear of the unknown is very unsettling. Embracing the status quo is comfortable. I would hope that Pastor McShaffery can actually meet some folks who meet outside of the confines of the institutional church and find that they are Bible loving, Christ loving, doctrinal sound people who are trying earnestly to live as Christ would have us, not because we are anti-authority rebels or disgruntled cultist, but because we love Him and we love one another. Love like that is nothing to be afraid of and believers like that are not people to be feared or slandered.

By the way, stop over the post The Home Church Movement and engage in the soon to be spirited conversation.


Jeremy Myers said...

I think he is probably right, simply because his first name is "Christian."

Seriously though, great post.

Aussie John said...


I'm flabbergasted at the attitude shown in the article you linked to.

I'm reminded of the fellow who was stuck in deep mud, and sinking, but it was beneath his dignity to lay flat to save his life. The mud was too dirty!

Les said...

Looks like you frightened them all away over there.

Arthur Sido said...

Les, I just checked again. Nothing. Pretty disappointed that Wes would post something that inflammatory and then not even be able or willing to try to defend it.