TOP 10 THINGS EVERY CHRISTIAN SHOULD KNOW
(But Probably Doesn't)
#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 to start 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" (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 committment 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 dilemna, 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 eary 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.
TO RESPOND: Email me at "elysiansky" (at) "hotmail" (dot) "com"
PARTS 10 THROUGH 7 of this series are online at Ginkworld.net and also on the [Subversive Underground] Archives at
FOR HIRE: I am available this summer to speak at your conference, church or workshop on issues of Social Justice, Spiritual Formation, The Kingdom of God, Serving the Poor in Your Community and Simple Church/House Church. Just email me with the details of your event.
IN PROGRESS: My plan for this year is to publish my first book, "The Gospel: For Here Or To Go?" which is based
on the six-part series of articles I wrote for Neil Cole's CMA Resources and also for Ginkworld.net. The book version will include another six chapters of new material. Details to come.
KEEP PRAYING: These are still very trying times for my wife and my family and I as we attempt to discover God's direction and
provision. Thank you all for your prayerful support!