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A few days ago a friend sent me a link to an article in the USA Today online religion section: http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2010-07-22-housechurch21_ST_N.htm?csp=usat.me. Most of those posting comments remarked about theological points, advantages and disadvantages of being in a house church, and discussion of whether the movement has permanence or not. My comments were a bit different:
The proliferation of house churches is probably a desire of people to return to a more organic discipleship experience since many churches, while offering many programs, fail to provide a meaningful process for spiritual growth. Many participate in house churches as a rejection of the enterprise/corporate style that many traditional churches employ. There is one often overlooked possibility as related to the emergence and spread of house churches. Perhaps the Lord is preparing the church in the U.S. and other western nations to go “underground” as persecution rises. Consider several recent developments: 1) Many conservative beliefs of Christians are increasingly coming under attack throughout society and government; 2) government leaders are now considering collecting taxes on property of churches; and 3) there seems to be increasing acceptance in the North America to allow sharia law to be instituted in certain localities. These and other pressures will only cause the house church movement to grow.
My readers know I am not an alarmist, but I have been considering this point of view for a couple of years. I must also preface my article by stating that I prefer what the traditional brick and mortar church has to offer, though I would certainly enjoy the smaller and more intimate house church experience on occasion.
HOUSE CHURCHES OFFER INTIMATE WORSHIP
I do believe that many people are attracted to the more intimate experience of the house-church. It would not surprise me to see a reality television show centered on a house church meeting as Sunday fare. There appears to be a curiosity about this seemingly new church venue that is not new at all. The early church began as a house church movement and Jewish worshippers of Yahweh praise him together in the home setting when in exile and/or when there were few people of like faith in their locale. More recently Christians in communist and Islamic nations have flourished in house churches,–which brings me to my primary discussion as to the deeper reasons behind the growing house church movement.
HOUSE CHURCHES USE ORGANIC DISCIPLESHIP METHODS
It is possible that the rise of the house church movement is simply one more way that God plans to bring salvation to a wider audience. We can certainly celebrate this development though many will debate the concerns and issues from traditional, denominational, and theological perspectives. My comments go deeper into the historical emergence of house churches in a free nation where there are many traditional and not so traditional churches. Again, it may be a desire for the more intimate organic discipleship experience. The sad fact is that traditional churches could employ organic discipleship methods but few churches do. Recently I asked leaders from fifty churches, “How many of your churches use any kind of one-on-one discipleship methods?” Not one out of fifty! It appears we would rather use the assembly-line industrial discipleship method of mass disciple-making, which we know is not working effectively.
TRADITIONAL CHURCHES COULD USE ORGANIC DISCIPLESHIP METHODS
As I was writing my book Simple Discipleship, I had a back and forth email conversation with Avery Willis, Jr. on the subject of making disciples. Avery is a champion discipleship mentor and leader. He said, “Trying to disciple people through preaching is like trying to feed a nursery full of crying babies by spraying milk on them.” I used his comment as an epigram beginning chapter two of my book. In short, house churches are using biblical organic discipleship and traditional churches could experience equal success if they can break out of the program church enterprise paradigm.
THREE MORE REASONS FOR THE RISE OF HOUSE CHURCHES
Considering the rise of the house church movement in the free nation of the United States, what is God doing? Is it possible that he is getting his people ready for tribulations to come? Consider three developments that I stated in my comment posted on the USA Today site.
An Increasingly Antagonist Society and Government
Christians are increasingly experiencing pressure from society and government directly because of their faith. Consider the following headlines:
- Mojave Desert Cross Stolen; Supporters Outraged
- Green Bay Removes Nativity Scene, But Not Lawsuit
- Openly gay pastors to be welcomed to church roster
These recent article headlines appear rather innocuous but are becoming more frequent. Some might argue that they are becoming increasingly antagonistic and more expensive to defend in the legal system. As society and government bring more pressure to bear on the church as related to specific issues, house churches may appear to be more attractive. Might we see a time when a government representative or a “concerned citizen” attends a church to “monitor” what is said? This sounds absurd even to me, but many also remember the fall of the Berlin wall that ushered in a new era. Some elected officials today believe the U.S. Constitution needs revision—what?
Taxation of Churches
I read an estimate that churches and religious institutions may own as much as 25% of U.S. land and it is untaxed. Some government officials are looking at churches with a keen eye in these dire economic times. Some of the laws in the tax code have recently been tightened to provide more restrictions on what and how churches must file and maintain their tax-exempt status in order to keep the “privilege.” It would not be far-fetched for Christians and churches to experience greater pressure from the government, and might the pressure be brought to bear as a result of conservative Christian views on marriage, family, education, and so on? House churches can remain under the radar much easier than traditional brick and mortar churches.
The Rise of Islam
Since 2004 a not so small tempest has arisen in Ontario, Canada where a commission recommended the institution of Islamic sharia law. The debate rages on in Britain and Canada but has now come to the United States. News headlines circle around a daughter fleeing a sharia law sanctioned mercy killing at the hands of her Muslim father. Another headline currently found in many news outlets is “Good idea to build a mosque near Ground Zero?” At the same time there seems to be a softer tone from government officials toward Islam while there is an opposite harsh tone toward Christians and Jews. Might sharia law be something that gradually takes hold in the U.S. as many people do not understand the implications? How would this affect the church and Christians in 30 years? In times of persecution, house churches are necessary.
GOD MAY BE PREPARING HIS CHURCH FOR TROUBLED TIMES
The church is not the buildings but she is the Bride of Christ and made up of the people who are his disciples whether we worship in a majestic cathedral, a country church, or in a house. The Holy Spirit has preserved the Bible for generations and he will also preserve the church. There are many concerns that could drive the American church under-ground, but the three I have mentioned are among the most visible of our time. House churches are likely here to stay at least as one among many methods Christ will use to save many souls. Someday, many Christians may choose to worship in house churches to save their lives. Readers may consider this article a warning or the idle rambling of a pastor. It is at least food for thought.
Simple Discipleship Blessings,
Dr. Tom Cocklereece
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