From 1998 to 2008, I was heavily involved in intentional house church communities, even moving from Georgia to North Carolina to help ‘seed’ a church plant consisting primarily of a dozen collaborators from my undergrad alma mater, Berry College. (We even had a launch conference at Duke, and everything) Long story short, somewhere around 2008 our church began to disintegrate, and we’ve all moved on. Even so, much of the core DNA of ‘house church’ (also known as ‘organic church’ and ‘simple church’) remain with me. This week, I want to revisit some of this still-central resonance, which I think can be a gift to the larger community of faith as we’re navigating 21st-century changes.
The idea of a distinction between clergy and laity is one of those extrabiblical human inventions that needs to be challenged and possibly even abolished altogether in believing communities. If, as the Apostle Peter claims, Christians are truly a Royal Priesthood then it seems that the very presence of a distinction between professional clergy and believing laity robs the “average” believer of his responsibility and calling to ministry in a local assembly through the use of his or her Spiritual gifts. Now I am aware that history happens and that it would be almost impossible to completely abolish any sort of “priestly” caste throughout the entire church but I am hopeful that communities within the emerging church, house church & organic church “movement” will begin to challenge this paradigm that – in my view – has vested too much power in the so-called clergy, thereby placing the burden of pastoral ministry that should be shared by an entire community on one person or a small group of persons. This over-burdening has two effects: first, it makes effective and relational ministry in churches nearly impossible because one person simply cannot embody every spiritual gift identified by Paul as beneficial and necessary for a functional Christian community. Second, it relieves “ordinary” Christians of the pastoral duties that they are called to embody by encouraging the truthless claim that the role of “pastor” should be embodied only by a formally trained and supposedly more fully gifted group of “called” and “equipped” pastoral elites.
Recommended House Church Reading:
(Even for those in more bricks-and-mortar and institutional settings, there are spiritual, relational/organizational, and theological treasures to be mined from a house church critique of organized religion and its proposed alternative. One need not be a fundamentalist or a primitivist to appreciate these insights. Here are some of the best works available.)
- Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity & Finding Organic Church: A Comprehensive Guide to Starting and Sustaining Authentic Christian Communities by Frank Viola
- Church Outside the Walls by Raj Samuel (on Kindle this week for $2.99!)
- An Army of Ordinary People: Stories of Real-Life Men and Women Simply Being the Church by Felicity Dale
- Christ in Y’all by Neil Carter
- Going to the Root: Nine Proposals for Radical Church Renewal by Christian Smith (now out of print; good luck finding it)
- The Pastor Has No Clothes, What’s With Paul and Women?, & No Will Of My Own: How Patriarchy Smothers Female Dignity & Personhood by Jon Zens
- The House Church Book: Rediscover the Dynamic, Organic, Relational, Viral Community Jesus Started by Wolfgang Simson
- The Community Life of God: Seeing the Godhead As the Model for All Relationships by Milt Rodriguez
- Paul’s Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in Their Cultural Setting, The Church Comes Home, and Going to Church in the First Century by Robert Banks
- Christian Community: Biblical or Optional? by Hal Miller
- The House Church: A Model for Renewing the Church & The Fall of Patriarchy: Its Broken Legacy Judged by Jesus & the Apostolic House Church Communities by Del Birkey
This was originally posted on October 16, 2007.
I’m afraid Andrew’s links no longer work (thank God for Archive.org!) He’s blogging here now. I’ll find out if he moved these particular posts.