Church House or House Church? Part 2
May 11, 2007
Hebrews 10:25 says, "not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more, as you see the day drawing near."
This verse has often been used as proof that Christians must attend a denominational church building and become a denominational church member in good standing in order to be a "real" Christian. But there is nothing in the verse that says one must assemble in a building or become a "member" of anything.
I meet often with fellow believers, but I am not a "member" nor do I require anyone to become a member of anything. Even if I were to require some kind of membership in God's Kingdom Ministries, this would not mean that people have now joined the Church. One joins the Church by being a believer in Christ, not by joining an organization.
In the West, we love organization and building. Both are good in their place--until we start to apply it to the "Church." Then it becomes a problem. Next thing we know, we have spent all our assets on "things" and have gone millions of dollars into debt, so we no longer have that money to spend on the spread of the Gospel. Shall we mortgage the Gospel in order to build bigger and better buildings? Our priorities need some attention. The sad part of it is that it is not really the preachers that are at fault. It is the people who would boycott meetings unless they are properly entertained in a beautiful setting. It is the people who support the problem, and the preachers are only giving the people what they want. It's a matter of marketing.
I hear from people all the time who have to deal with this mindset in the Church. One recent letter says, "They think I'm lost because I quit church attendance."
Even King Saul was not the problem in his day. It was the people who demanded a king. Without their demand, he would never have been crowned in the first place. No doubt King Saul tried to convince everyone that David was an outlaw as well. He may have revoked David's citizenship in the Kingdom. But it did not matter what Saul said, though Saul was the king. God's view is the only one that matters. Even so, Saul's view did affect a great number of people, and it made David's life much more difficult. Yet God used this as a pattern to show us the fallacy of this Church idea.
Look at the example of China and how the house church movement has flourished there. James Rutz writes in his book, Megashift, p. 75 and 76,
"A 30-year-old farmer we call Noah lives in a flat part of China--which is good because he can see the police coming a long way away. This gives him plenty of time to lose his cell phone and take his prayer list off the wall.
"I talked recently with an American who went to visit him one afternoon last year . When he arrived, he noticed that Mrs. Noah was kind of sunburned because she had put in long hours in the fields that day. A typical, hard-working farm family . . . except for that cell phone.
"Over dinner with other guests, the visitor asked Noah, in his beginner's Chinese, 'How many Christian workers do you have?'
"He got an answer that sounded to him like thirty thousand.
"'No,' he objected. 'I said, How many full-time missionaries do you have in your church network?' . . .
"The interpreter queried Noah, then replied, 'He says thirty thousand--in a radius of 500 kilometers.'
"The American couldn't quite handle that. So he asked, 'Well--how many total members does that make in his whole network?'
"The answer funneled its way back: eight million.
"The American told me that he suddenly felt extremely humble to be sitting with a young farmer who looks after the welfare of 8,000,000 people with one lousy cell phone. In his spare time.
"After that, he met 'Big John,' a thirty-something man much respected across China who leads twelve million. At that point, he said he felt inexpressibly tiny.
"He probably would have felt downright invisible if he had met 'The Heavenly Man.' That's the pet name of Brother Yun, a much-loved gentleman who provides leadership for China's largest network of house churches, totaling 60 million. I recently heard through the grapevine that his movement is planning on winning 45 million more to Christ this year."
In a footnote, Rutz writes: "How do they escape being caught? They don't. Without exception, every top Christian leader in China has done hard time in prison--at least three years, usually 20 years or more. It goes with the territory. A Chinese believer won't ask you if you have a theological degree. He'll typically ask just three things: How many people have you led to the Lord? How many churches have you started? How many years have you spent in prison for Jesus?"
On page 92, Rutz also tells the story of two sisters who were new believers in China:
"One of our workers took some Bibles to a house church in central China and gave them to two new believers, Lily and Zhang, sisters who had been saved that day in the house church.
"Around two years later, another member of our staff was in the same town and met Lily and Zhang. He wanted to know what they had done since becoming Christians.
"Ashamed, the two girls blushed and bowed their heads, as though it were an exam. 'We planted churches,' they said.
"The girls looked at each other cautiously. 'Only 29.'
"Astonished, the representative asked how many members the churches had.
"'In the smallest, only 300 come for prayer,' they said humbly. 'And in the largest, no more than 5,000.'"
Don't you feel sorry for them? Perhaps they will have more success this year. The point is that the strength of the Chinese Church is not in the greatness of their organizations, nor in their beautiful buildings, nor even in the human leadership. They are not professional leaders who are required to do all the work. The people are the Church, and the people are the workers. The leaders serve more as examples and coordinators than as missionary evangelists.
Perhaps the basic structure of the organized church in America is what hinders the spread of the Gospel and quenches the Holy Spirit.
This is the final part of a series titled "Church House or House Church?" To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones