Top 10 Things Every Christian Should Know
#6 - "We ARE The Church!"
Several years ago my wife and I helped some friends of ours plant a new church
in Tustin, California. At the time I was longing to leave my job as a program
manager at Ingram Micro in order to return to full-time ministry. As it
happened, I was laid off from that job and went on staff at this same church
only a few months later.
My time on staff there was a great opportunity to try new things and to lead
others in ministry to the poor in our community. Personally, I learned a lot
during this time and it was because of this that my wife and I began to feel a
calling to start a new church-plant of our own.
At first my assumption was that we would plant another church much like the one
we were currently on staff with. I envisioned a traditional church-plant with a
small team of leaders meeting in a rented gymnasium somewhere in a neighboring
city trying to coax the unchurched into our meeting each week.
Then something happened that changed all that. I had developed a strong desire
to serve the poor during this time and I knew this would be a high value for the
new church we started. However, one day I came across an article by Ray Mayhew
entitled, "Embezzlement: The Corporate Sin of American Christianity"
(which is available as a free pdf download over on my main website at www.keithgiles.com
btw). In this article, Mayhew looks at the high value that the early church
placed on caring for the poor. He shares how the New Testament church considered
all of the tithe as belonging to the poor and not to themselves. At no time did
the offering ever go to building structures or purchasing equipment, in every
case the offering belonged to the poor, the orphan, the widow and the sick. This
realization galvanized my vision of establishing a body of believers who valued
the poor beyond their own comfort and safety. My wife and I began to pray about
how we could start a church here in Orange County, one of the richest counties
in the Nation, with a commitment to give 100% of the tithe to the poor and keep
nothing for itself.
I can remember the day Wendy and I realized the answer. We were sitting on our
bed talking about how great it would be if people could know that all of their
tithe was going to help single Moms pay their rent, or to provide food for the
homeless, or to assist the elderly to buy their prescription medicine. We were
trying to figure out how we could realistically afford to run a church and still
give all of our offerings to those in need. Wendy looked at me, and I looked at
her, and almost at the same time we realized, "We're talking about a House
Church". In that moment, if Wendy had laughed at the idea and told me I was
crazy I think we would have found a compromise to our dilemma, or perhaps we
never would have started a house church at all. Instead, she nodded her head and
smiled. "You're right. It's a house church," she said.
When we first told our friends what we envisioned doing, many looked at us as if
we had three heads. To be honest, I felt like I was insane whenever I tried to
explain it to people. It just seemed so crazy and so "out of the box"
to me, because no one I knew had ever done this before. I had grown up in the
traditional church. I had been licensed and ordained in the denominational
church. My entire Christian experience was totally connected to the modern,
organized way of doing church. To step outside of that structure in order to
follow our calling seemed uncertain at best, and downright terrifying at worst.
This was what it felt like to be a pioneer, loading up the buckboard with
supplies and heading West into the great unknown with only your family, a few
provisions, and a lot of faith.
There are times when people say that we have left the Church. In fact, more
often that not, whenever I hear someone refer to those in the house church
movement, it's to say they have "left the Church". This illustrates
one key misunderstanding that I'd like to clear up.
If you have surrendered your life to Christ and have an ongoing, daily
relationship with Jesus, then you ARE the Church! This means you cannot leave
the Church. You can decide to worship in another way, or in another place, or
outside the walls of an established, organized expression of the Church, but
unless you break fellowship with other believers, or turn away from your daily
walk with Jesus, you cannot, and you have not, "Left the Church".
Sometimes I believe that people within the organized Church use this statement
as a tactic to black-list those who dare to venture outside their established
realm. Not every time of course, but if more and more people get it into their
heads that they can "do it themselves", this threatens the organized
expression of Church. Pastors who attended seminary in order to make a vocation
out of the ministry feel as if they are no longer necessary when those within
the House Church movement suggest that a gathering of like-minded Believers
meeting in a living room with only The Word of God and the Holy Spirit to guide
them are actually viable "Churches"; as valid and as acceptable as
those with professional clergy and staff.
The other tactic I see over and over again is the claim that House Churches are
vulnerable to heretical doctrine, again because of the abundance of lay people
and the absence of professional, seminary-educated pastors. I find this argument
especially ludicrous, honestly. If you want to create an environment that is
ripe for heresy, here's what you should do: Only have one person act as the
vocal spiritual authority. Have that one person speak without interruption each
week and when the doctrine is spoken have everyone stand up, get in their cars
and go home until next week. Do not allow those people to interact with the
speaker. Do not allow those people an opportunity to discuss the message that
was delivered by the speaker. That is, historically, how heresy develops. One
person, usually a charismatic figure with a slanted set of doctrines, leads a
large group of people to follow his private vision and interpretation of the
Scriptures. Those people do not question the leader and they are not allowed to
discuss or challenge his message.
In the House Church it is much more difficult to introduce heretical doctrines
such as this. If one person begins to suggest a set of ideas or teachings that
are in conflict with the clear teaching of Scripture, there are many others
within the group who can challenge these thoughts and point out other Scriptures
to correct any errors of doctrine. This keeps us from being lead astray by one
person with a private agenda.
This is why the first Christians, meeting in homes, lead by the Holy Spirit and
the Scriptures, actually preserved all of the creeds and doctrines of
Christendom for over 300 years! Whenever heresy developed it was almost always
lead by one individual who had a different doctrine or a particular spin on an
existing one. Those people attempted to lead others astray after their own brand
of the truth. But the New Testament House Church (and there wasn't any other
kind of New Testament Church), maintained the teachings of Christ and the
Orthodox Faith we hold so dear today without ever resorting to any other form of
church. I find that fascinating, to be honest. I think that God revealed His
genius when He inspired the early Church to form a family-based, Spirit-lead
group where love for one another, and for others (the poor, the sick, the
outcast), was the main goal.
So, if you ever feel called to change the location of where you worship, or if
you feel the need to change churches, or perhaps even to join a House Church,
please never forget; You ARE the Church! Church is not a meeting you attend or a
building you gather in. You are the Church as long as you have surrendered your
life to Christ and you daily seek His face and follow His teachings. If you
gather with other believers, in a gymnasium, under a tree, in a home, by the
beach, etc., then you are the Church and you can never leave it, unless you
completely turn away from Jesus and abandon the Faith.
One of the most amazing things I've discovered in leading a House Church has
been in realizing that we are called to be the Church and not to attend one.
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