As I mentioned a week and a half ago, I’ve been plowing through lots of books on how to “do” church. My most recent read is Houses that Change the World, by Wolfgang Simson. And I have to say he’s shaken my understanding of church.
The book has been around a while—maybe you’ve already read it. Published in 1998, a number of his predictions have failed to materialize, but that doesn’t diminish what he has to say. (He was merely analyzing trends, not trying to be prophetic, so we don’t need to take him out and stone him.)
In general, Simson argues against churches patterned after the synagogue, with a set routine performed by “professional Christians” in front of a lay audience, and in favor of small “organic” house churches where our faith is lived out in the context of real life. I certainly see his point. He’s very persuasive, and I tend to agree with him more often than not.
Then I got to the chapter on what such a church would look like, and the section on “Sharing material and spiritual blessings.” After quoting extensively from Acts 2, where the new believers were together and had everything in common, and Acts 4, about no one claiming that anything they had was their own, but rather sharing everything they had, he writes:
Christians knew that they no longer belonged to themselves; Christ owned them, and everything they had. When Christians come together, they share what they are and what they have, whether it is spiritual or material. In practice each house church had a common fund, into which all of them deposited money, clothes, valuables.
And then he proposes that the church should function the same way today.
I’ve read these verses in Acts many times. I’ve always been impressed, but I admit that I never applied it to myself. Tithes and offerings? Sure! But no matter how biblical, the idea of giving everything we own to the church seems cultish.
On the other hand, I regularly tell God that everything I own is His. Somehow, giving it all to God is nowhere near as scary as giving it all to a group of people. What if someone else is using it when I need it? What if they squander it? What if they break it?
I’m finally beginning to understand the rich young ruler described in Luke 18. Ouch.
Simson goes on to explain that:
Since the redeemed no longer belong to themselves, they adopt a mainly communal, rather than purely private and individualistic, lifestyle. House churches emerge when truly converted people stop living their own life for their own ends, start living a community life according to the values of the Kingdom of God, and start to share their life and resources with those Christians and not-yet-Christians around themselves.
As an introvert from a very small family, who is accustomed to the highly individualistic culture of Colorado, U.S.A., I’m not sure I want to live that much in community.
Yes, I know—in my last post on this topic I was complaining about my lack of friends at church. And this week I’m worried about living too close to people. But consider…
Many people are unable to live with one other person—a spouse they supposedly chose because of compatibility, as well as love. Divorce rates in the church are about the same as rates outside the church. Now extend that to a house church of, as Simson puts forth, six to twenty people.
Just having that many people around all the time can be stressful. Over the years we’ve had other people live with us for periods of up to two years. No matter how wonderful that person was, or how much we liked one another when they moved in, as time went by we began to grate on one another.
True, being part of a house church is not the same as actually living under the same roof. But consider the early church, who met in one another’s houses daily. No wonder so many of Paul’s letters deal with getting along with other believers!
Of course, challenges like this are the cause of much spiritual growth. Perhaps the western church is so anemic because we are so isolated from one another. It’s easy to put on a happy, spiritual face when we only get together for an hour or two Sunday mornings. We can hide all sorts of problems.
I don’t know if God is telling Pete and I to make such a huge change. Both of us would have to agree this is God’s will. Meanwhile, I’ll be sure to keep you posted.
I’m curious… what is your experience? How big is your church? What are the pros and cons of a church that size? How well do you know the other people you “fellowship” with? How involved are you in one another’s lives? What experiences can you share about house churches?