For about a year, I’ve prayed that God would miraculously help me lose weight. I often prayed with a Whopper in one hand and a Big Mac in the other, believing that God would transform the fat, carbs, and calories into some magical weight loss formula. Obviously, it didn’t work. Instead I received a call from the military doctor telling me I’m pre-diabetic and if I don’t revise my eating and exercise habits, I’m going to end up with actual diabetes and on medicine for the rest of my life.
Sometimes when you ask for a miracle, God gives you work. It’s been 2 weeks since I received my diagnosis and I’ve lost almost 20 pounds in that time eating like an anorexic rabbit and exercising like a hamster in its wheel. God answers prayers, and provides miracles, but it always requires obedience on our part. He doesn’t miracle away problems—He provides “a way out” and empowers us to get to work.
“The Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing…until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground” (Jos 3.15-17). The waters wouldn’t part until their feet got wet. That is, God often won’t provide His promised results until we step out in faith to do our part. Jesus provided the miracle of forgiveness but only after He suffered the shame of the cross. Peter was miraculously rescued from prison, but he had to go to prison for that miracle to happen. The path to God’s blessings calls for taking His yoke upon us and not simply laying all our burdens upon Him.
As is often the case, I’ve learned the hard way that God will answer all my prayers, but often those answers require me to do my part.
“Although he was a son, [Jesus] learned obedience through what He suffered… and became the eternal source of salvation for all who obey Him” (Heb 5.8). Jesus was trainable to God, learning obedience through the trials and tribulations planned for Him before the creation of the world. If the Eternal Son of the Creator learned from His sufferings, shouldn’t we also be willing to learn from ours?
When God disciplines us, He does so as a Father trains His children for adulthood. He’s forming us into His people, to serve as His ambassadors to this world; therefore, He needs people who are moldable both of action and of heart. Believing I know all I’ll ever need to learn about Christianity because I have a saving knowledge of Jesus is as silly as thinking I won’t drown when floating in the ocean because I know how to swim! Am I as willing to listen to Him and His people as I am for God to listen to me?
Being trainable means that I don’t just “go to Bible study” but study to share how God has trained me. I don’t just “go to church,” but should be open to opportunities to learn from anyone God places in the pew next to me. We don’t just HAVE faith, we are faithful, available and invested in the ministry of sharing our faith and training others to obey everything God has commanded us.
Jesus says, “everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Lk 6.40). Paul reiterates, “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you” (Phil 3.17). Training requires repetitious replication of the patterns established by those who have trained before us; whether that’s in the world of fitness, the profession of arms, or preparation for spiritual warfare. An unwillingness to follow a pattern depicts an untrainable heart.
A trainable person is faithful to God’s Word, available to those who wish to train him, invested in training and ministry, and willing to put into practice what God commands.
The Greek, elpis, means “waiting expectedly” and is typically always defined appropriately by Christians. The problem is that we often us our hopes as our definition of faith. “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and to give you a hope for the future” (Jer 29.11) is one of the most misused verses in the Bible for we believe that God promises to give us all that we hope. When read in context; however, we see a condition that hinges upon our willingness to put our faith in action.
“For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom 8.24, 25). There is a part of salvation that is not dependent upon either faith or obedience. It's the part upon which this whole idea of “rewards,” “crowns,” and hearing “Well done, good and faithful servant” exists. We believe in the promise of the resurrected Son, obey His commands, and hope that our eternal reaping will be better than what we deserve.
A great example of faith and hope working together is prayer. God has promised to answer those prayers asked in the name of His Son but He hasn't promised to answer them exactly as we desire. I know my God will work for my good but I do not know if He'll sell my house. I hope He will and believe that He loves me enough to hear my prayer; but my faith is not what leads to a buyer. Understanding how to pray in love will teach us how to put our faith in God rather than just hope He hears us when we pray.
Church Task Four
“Mike, doctrine is divisive, so we don’t talk about doctrine here.” That was the answer I got when I asked the leader of our “home church” about some verses I had been reading concerning “predestination.” So I dropped it and kept my focus on “discipleship.” But it still bothered me as it felt like God was daily telling me, “Mike, think about this.” “Lord, but that’s divisive,” I would answer!
Google, “Is Doctrine a dirty word,” and you’re going to find a lot of answers to the question and questions that counter those answers. Most of our distaste revolves around not understanding what doctrine is, or assuming that everyone either does—or should—think exactly as we do. Worst of all, and what makes it dirty for those who are naïve on the topic, are those who use their doctrine as the “litmus test” for all others.
For myself, when I’m challenged to validate my doctrine “with doctrine,” i.e. “Who else besides you believes that about the Bible, Mike?” I often scoffed and said, “God does, you know, in His Word!” Or I would manipulate some CS Lewis quote to match my line of reasoning thereby trumping those who didn’t do the same.
In essence, my doctrine was right and everyone else’s was wrong. Does my sentiment sound familiar?
#2 of the top 3 reasons people leave a church is “I don’t like the teaching/ sermon.” However, often they mean the style of instruction—he wasn’t funny, or too many stories, or not enough Bible—they usually don’t actually mean “doctrine.” That’s because most churches don’t preach their doctrinal beliefs—what they agree on about baptism, the Trinity, salvation, church structure, discipleship, the sacraments, well basically most of the things we’re talking about in this series—instead the sermon centers around a lesson plan or a topic. Don’t confuse this with doctrine.
Doctrine is translated from the Greek, “didaskalia,” often translated as “teaching” in many versions. Some Christians hate the word because they don’t understand it. To them, doctrine is like “rules and regulations,” and hey, aren’t we free of those anyway! Rather, I like to think of it like folders. Imagine a large file cabinet called “Theology,” the study of God. Within the Christian drawer of this cabinet are varying folders listed as “doctrine” for subjects such as soteriology (study of salvation) to dispensationalism (study of God’s revelation). And within all those folders is mine, and yours, from which we form our own “doctrine”—folder (if you will) of beliefs.
Jesus had a doctrine: “My doctrine is not mine but His who sent me. Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the doctrine is from God or [Me]” (Jhn 7.17). The Early Church “devoted themselves to the apostle’s doctrine and to the fellowship” (Act 2.42). Paul tells Timothy that all Scripture is inspired by God and “profitable for doctrine… and training” (2Tim 3.16) and then he warns Timothy, “For a time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own [doctrines]” (2Tim 4.3).
Doctrine is like the appendix: we’ve all got one, we don’t always know what it does, but when it becomes a problem, we all need to pay attention to it!
DOCTRINE IN THE HOME CHURCH
From my experience and those of others like this young lady**, most house or home churches just don’t talk about doctrine. “We focus on the majors like discipleship, evangelism, or serving the Lord and not minor stuff like the sacraments, clergy, Spiritual gifts, worship, or DIVISIVE topics like that!” Any questions about doctrines, like preordained salvation or freewill decisions, are brushed aside to “keep it simple” and take a pragmatic approach—what we do—to Church and Christianity and leave all that “divisive theology stuff” to denominational constructs—church homes.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are those home churches that “major on the minors” and form directly as a result of dissatisfaction with specific doctrines. “Too many house churches are filled with people who got burned by the more institutionalized church. Thus, house churches tend to attract dissatisfied people—sometimes the angry children of evangelical megachurches.” https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2017/may/house-churches-good-or-bad.html.
In other words, home churches tend to either avoid doctrine or cling tightly to particular doctrines often because of distaste for what another church—usually a church home—has espoused. Though there are obviously home churches that don’t share this dualistic paradigm (no doctrine or antagonistic doctrine), a solid argument could be made that most do.
DOCTRINE IN THE CHURCH HOME
According to a recent poll (https://lifewayresearch.com/2018/06/26/churchgoers-stick-around-for-theology-not-music-or-preachers/), “most churchgoers will put up with a change in music style or a different preacher. But don’t mess with a church’s beliefs or there may be an exodus…The study of Protestant churchgoers found most are committed to staying at their church over the long haul. But more than half say they would strongly consider leaving if the church’s beliefs changed.”
Doctrine universally matters to the church home.
“Doctrine and discipline make distinctions. It is Christ’s church saying, “We believe this and not that. We expect this behavior and reject that behavior. Think of it like this: if you are playing football you have a set of rules and regulation. There is a rule book. In order to play the game you not only need the rule book, but everybody involved in the game needs to know the rules and agree to abide by them…. The rules of the game do not divide. They unify. They unify everyone who wants to play the game. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/2017/06/is-doctrine-divisive.html
The above quotes come from a Catholic blogpost, and therein lies the issue with church home “doctrine—“it mutates based upon an organization (or individual’s) interpretation of Scripture and God’s revelation and can become something far more dogmatic.
HOME CHURCH OR CHURCH HOME?
“Many Christians believe that studying and discussing doctrine with other Christians is too likely to be divisive, so we shouldn’t make a big deal about it. But, how do we determine right from wrong, if not by understanding doctrine? It’s critically important! … Doctrine needs to be divisive, dividing truth from error.” https://www.thestartingpointproject.com/qom-sep-2017.html
Doctrine is not dogma. Where doctrine is “MY (or this organization’s) beliefs at the time” dogma is “incontrovertible truth EVERYONE should believe.” It’s the difference between personal discipline and legalism—believing I should read the Bible every day to follow Jesus and telling others that if they don’t read the Bible every day they aren’t really following Jesus. The first is discipline, the second legalism.
Jesus had a doctrine He taught. Paul commanded sound doctrine and to avoid those who sought after what soothed their tingling ears warning that every wind of doctrine will blow the wayward Christian like a leaf in the wind (Eph 4.14). Home churches that avoid doctrine discussions altogether or those that dogmatically adhere to a belief that all others must accept keep us from “studying to show ourselves approved” (2Tim 2.14) by examining the Scriptures every day to see if what we actually believe (our doctrine) is true (Acts 17.11).
Church homes divide over doctrine, true, but they at least engage in the discussion. Those that discourage others from engaging in the conversation are typically either apostate, a cult, or not worthy of your time. If you can find a home church that encourages doctrinal discussions and doesn’t split over them, then you’ve found a unicorn and ought to call it home! If not, then engaging in a church home and helping them shape their doctrine through discussing God’s Word is far better than avoiding it altogether or only adhering to whatever the leader says he or she believes.
*Instruction is the “I” of the W.I.F.E. acronym relating to the purpose and task of the Church. Although many activities could conceivably align with “instruct,” I’ve narrowed it to 2 points of discussion: clergy and doctrine. For instance, when many Christians say, “I don’t like the sermon” they don’t actually mean the doctrine, but instead the “style” of teaching—yelling, clapping, entertaining, comedic, etc. Style could be important, but it’s not biblically dictated nor is it really a difference-maker between a home church or a church home.
Church Task Three
Instruction*: The Clergy
When someone told me our meeting couldn’t be called “church” because we didn’t have a pastor present, I was upset. “The Bible doesn’t say a pastor is required for it to be called ‘Church’!” I retorted. “Yes,” a great pastor told me, “it’s not required. But it is needed.” This comment was like the finger of God poking me in my pride. Let me see if I can explain.
I believe we are a “kingdom of priests” (1Pet 2.9) and that we who are “new creatures in Christ” (2Cor 5.17) are the same ones entrusted with the “ministry” and “message of reconciliation” (2Cor 5.18, 19). It is because of this long held belief that I considered “the clergy,” those who make their living off the Gospel, to be unnecessary and a crutch for the “average” Christian allowing them to abstain from God’s work by paying someone else to do it. But it wasn’t just my beliefs that bothered me about the clergy—it was something far more personal (and sinful).
You know how if you love some hobby, like playing a sport, you get envious of those who get paid to do for their job what you sacrifice your free time away from your job to enjoy? That envy is normal, but for some, including me, it becomes bitterness as I noticed the clergy taking longer vacations than me to more exotic locations than I could ever imagine, living in bigger homes, driving nicer cars, having friends I wish I knew, and receiving recognition and praise for publicly practicing what laymen like me attempt to accomplish without an audience or aplomb. Once that bitterness set in, I could never accept anything other than what I already believed: the Church doesn’t need a clergy to be a “Church.”
Lord, I was wrong.
What is Clergy?
CS LEWIS writes, “The clergy are those particular people within the whole Church who have been specifically trained and set aside to look after what concerns us as creatures who are going to live forever” (83, MERE CHRISTIANITY). Another way of saying it is that the “clergy” do “professionally” what the rest of the Body (laymen) do sacrificially. God says of Israel’s professional clergy known as the “Aaronic priesthood” and, conjunctively the Levites:
And you shall attend to the obligations of the sanctuary and of the altar, that wrath may not fall on the Israelites…. All the holy offerings that the Israelites present to the Lord I give to you and to your sons and daughters as a permanent statute…. [Because] ‘You will receive no inheritance in [the] land, nor will you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the Israelites. (Num 18.19-20)
However, this “commissioning” of a clergy was not God’s idea. In Exodus 19, before Moses recites the 10 commandments, God tells the people, “You will be to Me a kingdom of priests” (19.6), yet after hearing His voice, the people tell Moses, “Speak to us yourself and do not let God speak to us, or we will die” (20.19). It is from this point that the clergy, the Levites, were born (https://mikewarren4gzus.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/the-tradition-of-the-laity/).
Under the New Covenant, all believers MUST take up the mantle of priests as God prophesied through Jeremiah, “I will make a new covenant…. I will put my laws in their minds…. No longer will each one teach his neighbor… because they will all know me, from the least to the greatest” (Jer 31.31-34/ Heb 8.10-12). According to God, the New Covenant Christian doesn’t require a priest (pastor/clergy/ etc). But do we NEED one?
I ought to make it clear that “clergy,” which isn’t an actual word used in the Bible, defined here and implied in the Scripture applies to ALL who earn wages by serving the Church—whether they identify as pastor, staff, missionary, elder, priest, etc. In other words, it is their JOB to “look after what concerns us creatures who are going to live forever”
So do we need the clergy today?
PASTORS IN HOME CHURCH
“In the North American House Church Movement there are all kinds of House Church Pastors, but we can pretty well divide them into two groups: Those with formal training (Bible college or seminary) and those without” (http://www.hcna.us/articles/five-things-i-wish.htm). There are many home churches, especially those house churches that belong to a “network” with a hierarchical construct—like Francis Chan’s We Are Church http://www.wearechurch.com/structure-1—that utilize full-time clergy, be they called pastors, speakers, apostles, representatives, staff, etc. We’ll talk about those shortly as their beliefs are almost synonymous with those of the “church home.”
First, let’s consider those who, like I once did, would say we don’t need a full-time clergy. According to a recent Gallup Poll, only 37% of people said they trust members of the clergy, that’s only a little higher than journalists and less than a funeral director. We trust those who bury us more than those who “marry us!” https://baptistnews.com/article/no-surprise-among-ministers-that-public-doesnt-trust-clergy/. We won’t go into why this occurs, but it’s a reason many, maybe even most, Christians avoid clergy-led organizations and opt to fellowship exclusively with their fellow laymen.
Those home churches that have clergy supported by their networks (though likely not in every house) obviously do not have an issue with full-time ministers. Instead, their dilemma concerns the requirement for seminary training. One of the leaders in the house church movement writes, “Sometimes I wonder if seminary is the best vehicle for bringing called people into the pastorate…. When it comes to the House Church, seminary is almost certainly the last place we ought to send people to get their training.” http://www.hcna.us/articles/five-things-i-wish.htm
So why do we have a clergy and do they need “formal training?”
“[God] established a structure by which the Holy Spirit would work through men to build up the church. This involves the calling, equipping, and ordaining of pastors (Eph. 4:11), elders (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5), and deacons (Acts 6) in the church. The Lord Jesus Christ commissioned His church to bring the gospel of grace to the world (Matt. 28:18–20) and the path of every Christian culminates in the corporate worship of God for all eternity (Rev. 21). Thus, we need the gifts that Jesus has given to the church, including pastors and teachers, to fulfill this mission. There are three main reasons why we need pastors: first, pastors bring us the Word of God; second, pastors encourage us in our walk with Christ; and third, pastors equip us to do ministry.” https://tabletalkmagazine.com/posts/why-we-need-pastors/
God has gifted (the people are the gifts, they are not gifts to people) us “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers” to equip the saints for works of service (Eph 4.11-12). But does that mean they all must be “full-time clergy?” Obviously no! But consider this thought…
Have you ever looked up the duty description of a pastor? As a young Soldier I always thought our Chaplain, who I only heard preach once a month, spent most of his time preparing that one sermon and handing out candy. Then I got the opportunity to bunk alongside one while deployed to Afghanistan and learned through experience all he actually did. Chaplains, like pastors, must conduct services; perform funeral rites; visit people in the hospital or hospice or in their homes or at public locations; develop religious programs; train the laymen who volunteer to serve (they have no guarantee the laymen will work because they, unlike the pastor/chaplain, aren’t dependent upon a paycheck); AND this “little one–” COUNSEL people with PTSD, disabilities, drug dependence, dealing with grief, parents, children, teenagers, pregnant women, women considering abortion, people with mental issues or challenges, suicidal or even homicidal individuals, and both Christians and non-Christians who struggle with questions about life and impending death. Oh, and we expect for them to be experts in theology, their denomination’s doctrine, excellent public speakers, professional writers, maybe even singers, and definitely entertaining!
Dear Lord! How can I want someone, or even a platoon of people, to do all these things WITHOUT being fulltime?!
Well, what about schooling—seminary—do they really need it?
What if your doctor never went to school, or your accountant, psychologist, college professor, or any other profession from which you expect EXPERT service: do they require schooling—formal training? We want clergy who can counsel suicidal individuals or married couples, preach Broadway-caliber sermons, and manage finances that could be in the millions, all without any training?
Seems silly now to say we want fully trained leaders in our churches who don’t receive any training and do it all on their “free time,” doesn’t it?
HOME CHURCH OR CHURCH HOME?
I asked my friend, “What do you mean pastors aren’t required but they are needed?” He asked me if anything was required for salvation and I responded, “Faith, I guess.” The Bible says God “saved us… not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace…. Given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time” (2Tim 1.9). Nothing is required for salvation, but do we NEED anything for salvation? I answered, “We need to have faith, repent, love the Church and our neighbors, seek the lost, and make disciples. Oh, and a bunch of other stuff like serve the Lord, worship, praise, etc.” In the same way a local church doesn’t require a pastor, but it sure does need one.
Does a family require parents to be a family? No, but if the option is there, they sure could use them. Do we require counselors to give us guidance if we have the Holy Spirit? No, but if God gives them to us why wouldn’t we use them?
Does a church—in a house or the facade of God’s house—require fulltime clergy? No, but if we really want them to fulfill the job description and need them to do it competently, why would we NOT choose “fully trained” clergy over nothing at all?
*Instruction is the “I” of the W.I.F.E. acronym relating to the purpose and task of the Church. Although many activities could conceivably align with “instruct,” I’ve narrowed it to 2 points of discussion: clergy and doctrine. For instance, when many Christians say, “I don’t like the pastor” they don’t usually mean the fact that the church has one, but instead the way the pastor relays information—small group, congregation, etc. We’re discussing substance (should we have clergy), not style (how they present the information).
Church Task Two
Worship*: The Sacraments
In my opinion the sacraments of water baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not an important task the Church should perform. So why am I including it here? I have learned that it is NOT my opinion that ought to shape what God says and other’s believe, instead, I, just like everyone else, should consider whether what is important to God and other brothers and sisters ought also be important to me, if for no other reason than that God or other Christians deem it significant.
And many, many Christians believe water baptism and the practice of the Lord’s Supper to be of significant importance to the health of a church and the building up of Christ’s body. Even CS Lewis highlights that ONLY 3 things “spread the Christ-life” to others: “baptism, belief, and the mysterious action which Christians call… the Lord’s Supper” (Mere Christianity). Look up any church’s “beliefs, practices, or doctrine” and you will find something concerning water baptism and the rite of Communion.
If it’s important to our brothers and sisters in Christ, then it needs to be important to me.
Some faiths identify these two practices as 1) sacraments—God prescribed practice or 2) ordinances—Christian rite represented as a sign or symbol. As a sacrament, water baptism and the Eucharist are prescribed by God to be performed through the Church in order for Him to bestow His grace upon us while as an ordinance, both serve as testimonies of an individual concerning what God has done for them. It’s the difference between a child performing actions to become (and remain) a member of the family—sacrament—and a child who performs certain actions because they are a member of the family—ordinance. Though this difference is significant, it is not the point of this discussion (but ought to be considered).
When churches speak of baptism they almost exclusively mean “water baptism,” whereas when the Bible discusses baptism it seldom refers to water. I’ve written in more detail about it here: (https://mikewarren4gzus.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/baptism/). For this discussion, I will only refer to water baptism.
Paul writes, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit [for] there is one body… one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4.3-6). What God meant for unity, we have turned into division! Even during Paul’s ministry, Christians would argue, “I follow Paul” or “I follow Apollos” leading Paul to say, “I thank God that I did not baptize any of you… so no one can say that you were baptized in my name… For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1Cor 1.12-17). It is this point—who can conduct the baptism—that most separates the home church from the church home.
It’s impossible to cite the beliefs of every “home church” and it would be disingenuous to assume all fit one stereotype, but from my research, experience, and other’s testimonies—the majority believe as “House Church Central” states:
House church theology attaches no importance to the administrator of baptism. Other than the need for the person administrating the baptism to be a member of the church (that is, someone who is baptized), there is no biblical ordination required. Baptism is simply a voluntary, symbolic act of initiation into the community of faith. Theologically, it is an act that is performed by God, who is always in the role of initiator. (http://www.hccentral.com/dbapt.html)
Whereas home churches typically will allow “Bob the believing plumber” to baptize you in his pool or bath tub, church homes are usually far more prescriptive.
Generally, most “church homes” believe that only an “ordained” member of the clergy, or an appointed elder, who may not be clergy (clergy will be defined in the next task), can administer water baptism. Some argue that Jesus commissioned all Christians to make disciples by “going forth and baptizing;” however, most in the church home do not agree. Consider this response to that particular point:
Turretin … in his Elenctic Theology [asks]: ‘Is baptism by laymen or women lawful in any case?”… The office of teaching is either public and from authority, or private from charity. The latter can be exercised by private persons, but not the former. Now the sacraments as seals of the king are acts of authority which cannot be dispensed by private persons, not even out of charity. Thus instruction and doctrine have a wider scope than baptism. For although no one but a baptized person teaches, still everyone teaching does not baptize. Besides there is one necessity of doctrine, which is absolute and of the means to salvation; another of the sacraments, which is hypothetical and of command. (3.394). (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/who-can-baptize/)
In other words, unless “Bob the believing plumber” is also an ordained elder, the “church home” will not accept your baptism as “valid.”
The term “Eucharist” derives from the Greek “eukharistia,” which means “thanksgiving,” not “Lord’s Supper.” Actually, when Paul writes “Lord’s Supper” in 1Cor 11.20, he uses the word “deipnon,” which means a “formal, evening meal.” We take the term “Eucharist” from 11.24 which reads, “when He had given thanks (Eucharist)….” In other words, what Jesus did—eat a meal with His disciples—is not what we do when we take the Lord’s Supper. It’s more like the “Lord’s snack.”
The perfunctory performance of the Lord’s Supper today, which consists of crumbs of bread and sips of juice, represents the meal Jesus shared with His disciples, but I do not believe it is what He intended. When Jesus told His disciples to “eat His flesh” and “drink His blood,” most of them abandoned Him (John 6.66) because they couldn’t stomach what that meant (https://mikewarren4gzus.wordpress.com/2018/10/12/why-we-quit-on-jesus/). Today, we make the “supper” a snack easily stomached.
That said, it is the distinction of “who can administer” the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper that separates the beliefs of many home churches from those of traditional “church homes,” not the actual practice itself (a meal or a snack).
HOME CHURCH OR CHURCH HOME?
Nothing in God’s Word tells us that a member of the clergy must be the one who baptizes the believer. However, if you attempt to become a member—or even more a deacon, elder, or laboring layman—in a church home and have NOT been water baptized by a member of the clergy, it is unlikely that your baptism will be recognized as legitimate. I know this from personal experience and maybe, you or someone you know have had the same? A “home church” is less likely (not in all cases) to care when you were baptized, by whom, and by what manner. However, a “church home” WILL care when you were baptized (as a believer or infant), by what manner (sprinkled or immersed), and definitely by whom (clergy or Bob the Plumber).
If you are like me then the above statement makes you shout, “Who are you!” And maybe it causes you, like it did me, to be bitter and angry at “the church” for restricting my freedom in Christ. Despite feeling exactly as you do, I believe all Christians should consider being water baptized in a “church home” by an ordained clergyman and not by Bob the Plumber. Why?
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph 4.3).
It is this very concept I’ve related above—church homes not accepting what is done apart from clergy—that drives many Christians to the “home church” and made me hate the “church home” for many, many years. So, yeah, I can understand a desire to NOT be baptized by THEM (a traditional church) after THEY rejected me so many times! But if we want unity in the Body of Christ and we want to be a valuable asset to ALL—home church or church home—then we ought to consider metaphorically “shaving our heads” to appease them and stop thinking only of our own “freedoms.”
Paul was accused of “teaching all the Jews… to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs” (Act 21.21). In fact, Paul calls obeying these “customs,” like circumcision, “a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5.1). Yet, Paul opted to “join in purification rites” and have his head shaved showing that he “was living in obedience to the law” (Act 21.24). Ironically, the “Apostle to the Gentiles” also had his Gentile friend, Timothy, circumcised “because of the Jews” (Acts 16.3)! Why!?
Paul writes, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all that I might win more of them…. To those under the law I became as one under the law… to those outside the law I became as one outside the law” (1Cor 9.19-21). Most of us are willing to live “outside the law” and side with those whose beliefs free them from the shackles of “religious sacraments or ordinances” that need the clergy for validation. But how many of us are willing to obey Paul’s command to “become like one under the law” by shackling ourselves to these dogmatic sacraments? For the longest time, I was defiantly unwilling to put aside “my freedom” for THEM.
Then I remembered: Church isn’t about what God can do for me—it’s about what He has called me to do for His Body.
In my humble opinion and conflicted experience, I recommend a believing, confessing Christian be fully immersed in water in a “church home” by an “ordained” member of the clergy—whether you think it “right” or not (like Jesus who was water baptized by John the Baptist). Once that is done, then we can be acceptable to all and useful to God both in the home church and in the church home.
Unlike baptism, few belief systems will ever ask you where you received communion—whether that’s in a home church, church home, or on the moon like Buzz Aldrin (https://www.foxnews.com/science/moon-landing-bible-apollo-11-buzz-aldrin-communion)! Those in the “church home” will want you to receive it from a member of the clergy or an “ordained elder” (like Buzz) but unlike baptism, your past won’t affect your present participation. When it comes to the ceremony of “Eucharist,” home church or church home both meet the “mission.”
However, if we truly practice the “Supper” part of Communion, then it will more likely work in a home church than church home. It’s just not cost effective for a church home of 50 to 5000 to host a weekly (or monthly) supper, whereas a home church can—and often does—do just that.
But that’s just my opinion on this topic—what do you think?
*NOTE: The sacraments are a part of the “worship experience” or “service” in most churches; however, they do not reflect the true meaning of “worship.” Rather than go into the true meaning of worship here, I opted instead to discuss just the sacraments. Whereas the practice of worship should be identical for those in a home church or church home, the same is not true of the sacraments as indicated in the article. If you’d like to read more about “worship,” please check out the first part of this series “Worship Through” https://mikewarren4gzus.wordpress.com/2014/04/15/worship-through-1-of-4/ or here: https://mikewarren4gzus.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/breaking-bad-beliefs-debunking-christian-half-truths-13/.
Church “Task” One
Worship* – Praise the Lord
Unlike the author of Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller, who says, “I don’t connect with God by singing to Him,” I actually believe that I do. However, like most surveyed Christian men, I don’t like to be noticed doing it. Google, “why men don’t like to sing in church,” and you’ll get a multitude of articles providing various stereotypical reasons untalented men like me don’t like to sing or express emotion in public. That’s why many of us just don’t “like church.”
However, during long, lonely cross-country drives or while I pulled guard duty at 0230 in the Army, I softly sang songs to my Savior and honestly felt closer to Him in those moments than I have even when reading Scripture. But put me in a small group and ask me to sing along with those who actually can and the only connection I feel to God is embarrassment over my lack of ability.
From my research, I would say I’m not an anomaly so if you are a man and do not feel as I do, consider yourself the fortunate minority. For the rest, consider this:
According to Thom Rainer’s study (https://thomrainer.com/2016/10/seven-key-reasons-people-choose-church/), 3 out of every 4 “church” visitors consider “worship style” (praise) to be their number one reason for sticking with a “church,” whether that’s a dedicated facility or a person’s home. But should “praise” be an important task of the “church” and something we ought to consider when choosing between different “church homes” or “home churches?”
Did you know that the most often repeated command in the Bible is some variation of “praise the Lord?” There are actually 8 different Hebrew words for praise ranging from “Hallelujah” to “zamar” (praise with music) to “tehillah” (praise with song) or even “yadah” (praise with lifted hands). 4 Greek words denote praise, “epainos” (laud); “doxa” (glory); “eulogeo” (speak well of); and “arête” (excellence). Over 180 times the word “praise” appears and over 250 times in some other variation (bless, give thanks, etc).
Since it is the most repeated command in the Bible, it makes sense that we ought to obey it. And if the Church exists to keep the Body of Christ healthy by “teaching us to obey everything Jesus has commanded” (Mt 28.19) then it also makes sense that our “church home” or “home church” would assist us in obeying this command.
PRAISE IN THE HOME CHURCH
“The institutional church tends toward viewing its members as an ‘audience’ and the worship experience as a ‘show.’ It is better… to view God as the audience and all the people equally accountable for the ‘performance’ of worshipping God in Spirit and in truth,” House Church Central.
Home churches are usually a small gathering of families (or individuals) around 5-15 (with variations of course) and they meet, obviously, in homes. Musical instruments are therefore limited, sound systems likely not required, and the participants may or may not be “good” singers. In my experience, if the small “church” has “musically-inclined” individuals, then they will likely lead the others in some form of praise and worship.
If you are a person who cannot sing well, like me, then it is very uncomfortable to sing aloud in front of a small group of people. And if you are a visitor or newcomer to this group, then it is even more awkward since you likely do not know them very well making the situation even more incommodious.
PRAISE IN THE CHURCH HOME
“My fear is that in the contemporary worship movement we have too often trained people to seek a caffeine jolt of emotional bliss,” Matt Merker (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/reviews/singing-congregation-contemporary-worship/).
One constant I see among “church” attenders is that they will complain about the music. Either the music is “too traditional” consisting of hymns and organs or “too much of a production” as we sing Hillsong alongside drums and electric guitars. Despite our complaints, most of us expect some form of “praise” to exist and we want it to be just as good the concerts professionals perform (more on that in a later topic).
But one thing is almost always true about “Church Homes”—everyone doesn’t have to sing.
Statistics vary but some believe that in a traditional church service less than half the parishioners actually sing. When there’s 1000 or even just 50 present, only half singing is barely noticeable (especially if the performers are using a sound system). However, half of a home church—5 to 20 people—is uncomfortably noticeable.
CHURCH HOME OR HOME CHURCH?
“In [worship] it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart,” John Bunyan.
“He is my God, and I will praise Him, my father’s God, and I will sing about His greatness…. Let us praise God for His glorious grace, for the free gift He gave us in His dear Son (Ex 15.2; Eph 1.6).
If I’m not obeying God’s most often repeated command while I am alone, then I shouldn’t be using “praise” as an evaluator for determining what makes a “good church.” It’s hypocritical for me to judge others for doing collectively what I fail to do alone! However, if I obey His command to praise and see its value in a “church” setting, then for me, singing in a small group is much harder than joining in the chorus of dozens or hundreds. Singing in a group of hundreds is like watching a football game in person or attending a live concert of my favorite band. My heart joins along with my words when alone or feeling “anonymous” in a crowd of like-minded worshippers. But when I’m in a small group my heart is far from my forced utterances.
For me, the “church home,” where my voice and emotion dissipates in the flood of others’ euphonic melodies, is a better place to worship God through praise than a home church where my cacophony drowns the harmony of other’s worship. But maybe that’s just me. How about you?
*NOTE: Worship is not praise. However, rather than go into the true meaning of worship here, I opted instead to discuss praise. Whereas the practice of worship should be identical for those in a home church or church home, the same is not true of praise or the next topic. If you’d like to read more about “worship,” please check out the first part of this series “Worship Through” https://mikewarren4gzus.wordpress.com/2014/04/15/worship-through-1-of-4/ or here: https://mikewarren4gzus.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/breaking-bad-beliefs-debunking-christian-half-truths-13/.
How do you define Church (Purpose, Tasks, and Requirements)?
If you and I were starting a business—say the “Master’s business” (John 15.15), you might first ask me “what is it?” Then you’d follow it up with “why are we doing it?” “How do we do it?” And then “what do we need to get it done?” What if I said, “We are building a house so we can provide a place where we can constantly train others to fulfill the Master’s business? We need trainers, we need trainees, and we need training materials!” If I said this, it would only be THEN that you’d ask me “How big of a house will we need” and “how much will this cost?” Yet those are the questions we start with when we consider the question, “Should I go to a ‘church home’ or ‘home church?’”
When asked about the difference between “home church” or “church home,” too many Christians immediately jump to the size of the location—“homes are more intimate or auditoriums can reach more people at once”—or the cost of building in order to validate their beliefs. To my own shame, when I pass a “church home” on a weekday and see an empty parking lot, I often think, “What a waste of money!” But jumping to money and size of facility before we figure out purpose, tasks, and requirements is like buying a Corvette before I figure out I needed something that could pull a boat or a V8 truck when I just needed a scooter. We have to first ask the questions: What is church? What’s the purpose? What tasks does it perform? And what is required for it to perform those tasks and achieve that purpose?
What is church?
Asking “what is church” is often like asking “what is family?” We believe “family” consists of those we love, but there are those we love who are “like” family, but really aren’t. We might say family is defined by relation, but don’t we consider adopted children “family?” No “real” family is not so easily defined, and yet when we think about it, we ineffably know exactly what it means. Similarly, when we say this is “like” church, we believe we know what “real” church actually is. But do we?
Ekklesia means “called out ones” and is never used to identify a building, just a people. It’s also never used for non-Christians, so although my “church” might be “seeker-friendly,” the “church” itself can never be made up of “seekers.” A “seeker” filled church is “like” church, but the people are not the “real” Church—only Christians can be the Church.
However, the “what” is not enough to define “church,” just as the dictionary description of a family isn’t enough to define what “family” actually is. To define something you need to know for what purpose it exists and how it ought to operate to achieve that purpose. A family that doesn’t love each other, nurture their children, or even know each other, is probably about as “real” as a church made up of only “seekers.”
Why Church (Purpose)?
The Church is Christ’s body of which He is the Head (Col 1.18-24). The purpose of a body is to obey the commands of the head and to accomplish what it wills. The Church is also the Bride of Christ and just as “wives should submit to their husbands” so also “the church submits to Christ” (Eph 5.24).
Eph 4.11-16 explains that God “gifts” us apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (more on that later) in order to fulfill the purpose of the church: “to equip the saints for works of service” in order to “build up the church” so we can “reach unity” (13), “become mature” (13)—make disciples (Mt 28.19, 20), and “make godly offspring” (Mal 2.15) by “preaching the Gospel” to the lost (Mk 16.16). The purpose of a body is to keep itself healthy so it can function as the head wills it and the purpose of a wife is to become one with her husband so they can make “godly offspring” (Mal 2.15), the primary “task” for which the Church exists (“I came to seek and save the lost… Ask the Lord to send out laborers… Go and make disciples”—Luk 19.10, Mt 9.38, Mt 28.19, 20).
What we identify as the purpose of God’s universal Church will ultimately define how we practice faith amidst those we call our “church.”
Church Needs (Requirements)
God gifts us “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers” (Eph 4.11-16) and the distinct gifts of the Spirit (1Cor 12/ Rom 12) in order to accomplish His tasks and His purpose for the Church. He commissions each part, the “whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament,” to do the work of “equipping the saints” by building up the Church to maturity and “making godly offspring.” We are a body of many parts, varying positions, and differing gifts. The specific purpose, tasks, and requirements of the little toe may be slightly different than that of the ring finger, but they are both part of Christ’s Body with the same overall purpose (keep the body heathy and maturing) and task (make spiritual offspring). Similarly, those who are called to reach the lost as evangelists may believe their specific tasks are different than those pastors called to care for the sick and wayward, but the overall task and purpose is the same: build up the Body of Christ to maturity and “seek and save” the lost.
If we want to figure out what “real” church is, then we must begin with “why” God calls us “Church,” what He provides to help it operate, and what He wants His Church to accomplish.
How to Church (Tasks)
I’m going to discuss 10 “topics” concerning “church tasks and components” that “home churches or church homes” do (or possess) in order to be a “church” family. Going back to the family analogy, we might say definitions of family aren’t enough to actually define it, because it’s what families DO together that make them “real.” Similarly, we need to examine what a church is meant to do in order to accomplish its purpose and THEN whether that task is best performed with a bus or a four door sedan (a church home or home church).
I will be using the W.I.F.E. (worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism) analogy to identify these tasks and ask you to share your thoughts as we go along. Thanks for reading so far and the feedback you have provided!
That’s not a “real” church
“You’re in a cult, Mike” was something I heard quite a few times while I attended what I would describe as a “home (or house) church.” If you’ve ever attended one, maybe you’ve heard the same. Or perhaps someone has told you, “That’s not a REAL church!” “How dare they use those stereotypes to define us,” I thought as I muttered, “At least we’re not just a show, hungry for money, or trying to earn our salvation through our religion!”
At the time I thought I was wiser than “them,” now I know we were both just being divisive for the sake of “being right.” So I’d like to start by remarking on 3 common misconceptions I always had and wish I would’ve studied to answer instead of just responding in bitter rage.
Home churches are cults
If you currently or have ever attended a “home church” and haven’t heard someone say you were in a cult, they probably thought it. Hate to admit it, but it’s the first thought that comes into my mind when I hear someone say it. But what is a cult? “A relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.” By that definition, I can see why those who attend “church homes” thought I was in a cult.
They thought the same of early believers like the Apostle Paul. He writes in defense of his meetings: “But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our Fathers” (Act 24.14). This word, “sect,” is the Greek “hairesis” from which we get the word “heresy.” In other words, the early Church was a small group of people with religious beliefs others thought strange and sinister—a cult, a heretical organization.
Although it is true that most modern cults begin in the homes of their leaders, it is not true that every group that meets in someone’s home is a cult. Although most “sects” devolve from a disagreement with a larger entity, not all sects are evil (see Protestant Reformation!). It’s like thinking that because murderers kill people with guns all guns are evil—that’s illogical and unpractical. The same is true with believing every home church is a cult—thank God that’s not true!
Biblical Christians only did home church
A family member told me once that my “home church” wasn’t a real church and I quickly stated, “Yeah, but we are doing church the way they did it in Acts!” It sounded like such a straightforward answer but God turned the tables on me a couple decades later when I recently told someone in a “home church” that they were just “fellowshipping” and they regurgitated to me the same thing I said so many years ago and it was like God’s Spirit said, “Are you ready to think now, Mike?” Here’s my revelation:
- The dedicated “church home” wasn’t invented yet. For a lot of Christians, their “go to” answer is that they didn’t do that (name your “that” here) in Acts. Well, church homes, dedicated buildings of worship, weren’t invented yet so of course they didn’t “do that” in Acts. Did someone have that idea? Maybe? While Jesus was preaching to 5000 on a mountainside He might have thought, “This would’ve been nice in a building with a sound system,” but it wasn’t invented! Similarly, people didn’t read their New Testament because it wasn’t invented in Acts! Should we say they shouldn’t read the New Testament since “Christians in Acts” didn’t read the New Testament? Of course not!
- The “church home” is a great target. If you want to kill a group of people your greatest hope is that they would be dumb enough to gather in one location. Bottom line, if people want to kill you, don’t meet in large groups. Our spiritual forefathers were smart enough not to do this.
- A type of “church home” actually did exist. Because of the above two reasons, the majority of early Christians met in homes; however, this wasn’t exclusive. In Corinth, “Every Sabbath [Paul] reasoned in the synagogue… but when they opposed Paul… [he] left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus” (Ac 18.4-7). Paul had a habit of starting in a public “space,” like a synagogue, before being forced into homes. Earlier, we read that the apostles taught “in the temple courts AND from house to house” (Ac 5.42). And in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul chastises hypocrites for their celebration of the Lord’s Supper saying, “Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing?” (1Cor 11.22). The implication here is that they met together outside “their own homes.” The apostles even taught in schools, “He withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus” (Act 19.9).
Biblical church isn’t ONLY the “home church,” that argument is null and should be immediately dropped by we who have used it to validate our stereotypes. I regret putting words in God’s mouth by calling “unbiblical” (the “church home”) what He never condemns.
Home churches aren’t “real” church
As I stated before, I’ve written a lot about what “church” really means and will only summarize but for more details go here: https://mikewarren4gzus.wordpress.com/2015/02/09/how-to-define-the-local-church/. The Greek is “ekklesia” and is used 111 times never once referring to a building. Ironically, the closest Paul gets to calling a building “church” is in Col 4.15, “Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house.” But the reference is to the people who are assembled, not to the location itself.
The Church is Christ’s body, His Bride, and His assembled people. We all know this, and yet why do we say “Home church isn’t REAL church?” It’s not that we don’t know our bodies are the temples of God (1Cor 3.16), it’s that we believe church isn’t simply fellowship. It’s not just gathering together, it’s assembling for a “purpose,” to accomplish “tasks,” and with certain “requirements.” It’s like how we might say people at work are “like family” because of our relationships and what we do together, but they aren’t REAL family because something else is required for that to be true. What else is required for our church to be a “real” church?
Well, that’s the point of this series of blog posts: what is “real church” and does the “home church” or “church home” cut the mustard?
What’s wrong with today’s church(?)
Today, there is a trend away from the “church home” as reflected in a blog entitled “I don’t worship God by singing. I connect with Him elsewhere” posted by Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz. He writes https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/orthodoxyandheterodoxy/2014/02/05/i-dont-worship-god-by-singing-so-why-bother-going-to-church):
I’ve a confession. I don’t connect with God by singing to Him. Not at all. I know I’m nearly alone in this but it’s true. I was finally able to admit this recently when I attended a church service that had, perhaps, the most talented worship team I’ve ever heard. I loved the music. But I loved it more for the music than the worship. As far as connecting with God goes, I wasn’t feeling much of anything.
I used to feel guilty about this but to be honest, I experience an intimacy with God I consider strong and healthy.
It’s just that I don’t experience that intimacy in a traditional worship service. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of sermons I actually remember. So to be brutally honest, I don’t learn much about God hearing a sermon and I don’t connect with him by singing songs to him. So, like most men, a traditional church service can be somewhat long and difficult to get through.
He’s not as “alone” as he erroneously claims as his article inspired many who felt the same and sparked many, many other “church home” supporters to respond to his critiques. Ultimately, they argue that Miller misses the “point” of church and chooses to abstain from God’s command for personal comfort instead of obeying it despite feeling “disconnected.” Here are a couple of those responses for your reading pleasure: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/dear-donald-miller/, https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/orthodoxyandheterodoxy/2014/02/05/i-dont-worship-god-by-singing-so-why-bother-going-to-church/ ).
Another article entitled “Why these Americans are done with the church but not with God” (https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Society/2015/1219/Why-these-Americans-are-done-with-church-but-not-with-God) highlights a “congregation” of over 30 million Americans known as the “dones,” because although they still consider themselves Christians because of their faith in God, they are “done” with organized religion.
Some of these “dones” won’t go to any church, but many actually attend what I’m calling a “home church” or “house church” because they aren’t done with God or His people, just the dogmatic religiosity of a traditional, usually denominational, organization. According to a Barna article in 2009, between 4% to 33% (it just depends on how you ask the question)say they’ve attended “church” in a home. But why the “home church?”
Wolfgang Simpson wrote a book entitled The House Church Book wherein he provides some bold statements that has resonated with me and I’m sure many, many other Christians who wonder if their “church home” is truly what God intended:
Church as we know it is preventing church as God wants it… The New Testament church was made up of small groups, typically between ten and fifteen people. It grew, but not by forming big congregations of three hundred people… Instead it multiplied ‘sideways,’ dividing like organic cells once these groups reached about fifteen or twenty people. This then made it possible for all Christians to get together in citywide celebrations, which facilitated a greater sense of the body of believers in an area as well as dynamic worship and growth experiences.
Stop bringing people to church, and start bringing church to the people…. Where is the most difficult – and therefore the most meaningful – place to be spiritual? At home, in the presence of our spouses and children, where everything we do and say is automatically put through a spiritual litmus test against reality, where hypocrisy can be effectively weeded out and authenticity can grow…. Stop asking God to bless what they are doing and start doing what God is blessing.
Christians are asking questions about church and are either deciding to “stick to the brick” out of habit or familial obligation, switch to a “home church,” or the worst decision of all, “forsake the assembling together as some are in the habit of doing” (Heb 10.25).
This study is my attempt to figure out what issues I’ve got with the “church home” or “home church,” to confess my own misbeliefs, and to study to show myself approved before God when He one day asks me, as He will all of us:
“How did you love one another as I have loved you?” (John 13.34, 35; 1Cor 5.9-11).
Whomever you wish to call “church” is between you and God, but I do know that God will hold us to account for not loving those whom He calls His Church. We’d be wise to ensure that whatever is “church” to us, is also “Church” by God’s definitions.
My struggle with defining church
Recently I’ve been reflecting on things I believe, especially as I’ve been challenged to think differently by those who present valid points, or ask advice, or provide rebukes. These have come from friends, social media acquaintances, articles I’ve researched, or videos I’ve perused. And mostly it’s revolved around the question of church:
Should we “go to church” in a building or call wherever we decide to meet “church?”
I’ve written a lot about this topic in my blog, so why do it again? Well, I’m trying to work out some questions in my own mind about what makes a church and ask that if you are willing, maybe you’ll read along and help me sort it out.
I’ve asked, “Is Church membership Biblical?”
I’ve tried to define “what is the local church?”
And I’ve even written about being “church hurt.”
I’ve also shared an acronym about the purpose of the church called “W.I.F.E.” I’ll be using for this study (Worship, Instruction, Fellowship, and Evangelism):
But I’ve noticed a trend in my thinking slowly reforming as I become less confident in my own traditions, and more willing to question what I always thought was true in order to investigate what God might actually be telling me. I wonder if you’d be willing to do the same?
If you would’ve asked me 20 years ago, or maybe even just 5 years ago, what was more biblical “home church” or a local congregation that meets in a public building (I’m calling that “church home”) I’d have been quick to respond, “The home church of course!”
I began walking with Christ after a pastor of a “church home” evangelized me, but I didn’t like the services as they were foreign to someone who didn’t grow up “going to church.” Loved the food, but I couldn’t take all the singing or listening to a 45 minute lecture, so I didn’t attend anywhere as a teenager.
After enlisting in the Army, I spent my first decade of following Christ getting involved in a discipleship ministry that trained men and women to fulfill Jesus’ great commission. We didn’t follow the “church home” model as we had no pastor, met in homes or restaurants or chapels, and didn’t spend much time debating theologies or arguing over what songs to sing. We just made disciples. Many called us a cult, no one really called us a church, but I always felt like that family was my “home church”—especially since I didn’t regularly attend a “brick and mortar” church.
The local church, or “church home,” became a bad word to me—they were “they” and we were God’s “key men” chosen to make disciples—something “they” couldn’t do as well as us. This wasn’t taught to me directly, nobody told me we were better than the rest, nobody overtly criticized “church homes” publically. No, I am ashamed to admit, this attitude I felt and believed was all mine. These beliefs cemented into what I henceforth defined as “church,” and affected how I viewed “church” for years to come.
I loved that family, that “home church” (again, it was never called that but that’s what I felt about it—and you’ll see why as we continue), but the Army and God made me leave. So we either had to find a “home church,” “church home,” or do our own thing.
Honestly, we tried both and found rejection, disappointment, chastisement, and I’ll have to admit, bitterness in the process. I believed my views were right and “they”—whether “they” were a “home church” or a “church home”—were wrong, so why wouldn’t they just listen to me! I didn’t have the time, resources, charisma, or gifting to start my own “home church,” so we instead turned to the “they” I believed weren’t as awesome as me.
Since then I’ve learned a lot about my mistakes, about things I believed about God’s Church that weren’t true and about those who created “home churches” or those that attend “church homes” that were just stereotypes. I learned that I have a lot to learn.
And in many ways, these blog posts are my confession of failure, of judgement, of hypocrisy.
I thought about waiting on posting this until after I finished the series, but it’s going to be a long process as the question, “What is church and should I attend a ‘home church’ or ‘church home’” shouldn’t be easy or quick to answer. Plus, I would love feedback from others along the way (appreciate those of you who have done so already).
I’ve got a lot to learn, maybe you do too?
Love does not judge
If you’re like me, then you’ve probably been accused of being unloving when you pointed out that someone wasn’t in the right.
I credit Christian rock bands like Petra and Stryper for helping me to understand the first principles of our faith: God loved me, a sinner, forgave me and called me to be His child. Since then I’ve followed the careers of these artists and am a fan of them on Facebook. The lead singer of Stryper recently posted a fundraiser for another artist who was raising money for free2luv.org, which righteously takes an anti-bullying stance against those who do not love their fellow person, man or woman, straight, gay, trans, or whatever. Though I agree (along with most decent folks) that no one should be treated with hatred because of who they are, the founder of the site also endorses that one should “love whomever you desire,” which is a practice I believe God calls a sin.
So I asked him if he considered homosexuality to be a sin.
Apparently, he received a lot of critical feedback for his support of this organization as his response was, “I love everyone and if you don’t like that, then you can stop following me.” The response from others against my question (and that asked by several of his fans) was far harsher.
One quoted Romans 2.1 to me: You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” He followed this quote up by telling me to “quit worrying about others” and “focus on your own walk.”
Better is open rebuke than hidden love (Prov 27.5)
Solomon tells us what we should already know—it’s better for someone to warn us we are about to step off a cliff than to be silent because we might offend them. When you really think about it, the entire point of Christianity is for us to do exactly what we are accused of doing: Worry about others and not yourself.
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade people (2Cor 5.11)
Paul says that “if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation” and that these new people are given “the ministry of reconciliation” because we are “ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2Cor 5.17-20).
Basically, if I really am a Christian, a new creation, then my mission, my command from God, is to “persuade people” to be reconciled to God.
What is reconciliation?
It’s the “restoration of the favor of God to sinners that repent and put their trust in the expiatory death of Christ” (Strong’s definition of “katallage”). In other words, being reconciled is first recognizing that I am a sinner, repenting of those sins, seeking God’s forgiveness, and then actively pursuing a life free from those sins.
Who are you to judge?
Paul also told the Corinthians:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not mean the immoral people of this world… for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person…. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges (1Cor 5.9-13).
In other words, we are COMMANDED to judge other Christians, but not those who do not claim to know Christ. It’s what most of us call “accountability,” yet few of us seem to want.
Can we love others if we do not “judge” others?
God has placed all of us in this precarious predicament wherein we are commissioned to warn people to stop doing the very things we ourselves continue to do and to encourage people to do the very things we ourselves don’t consistently do. Rather than face this hypocrisy, we all choose to “judge not, lest we be judged.” But we forget that the problem Jesus had was not with our judgment, but with the standard by which we judged others. “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you” (Mt 7.2). We don’t get mad when someone tells us we are driving 5 miles over the speed limit, that’s the law’s standard, not ours. However, we do get mad when they tell us we drive like a grandma when driving the established speed limit. One judgment is based on a “higher standard” while another is based on my own opinion.
God loves us even though we don’t keep His standards. However, we show our love for Him by keeping His standards: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14.15). To love God is to obey His commands—to judge ourselves by His standards and not our own.
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments (1John 5.2)
Jesus commissions us to “make disciples” by “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Mt. 28.19, 20). In other words, we love our brothers and sisters in Christ by teaching them to be accountable to God’s standards.
We cannot love God or others if we do not judge ourselves and those who claim to know Christ by God’s standards.
“He gave some…. For the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph 4.11, 12).
God gives us leaders in His Church commissioned to make disciples by equipping “the whole body” so that “each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” Notice Paul chooses the word, “katartismos,” translated as equipping, instead of the word “didomi,” most often translated as “granting” or “enabling;” because there’s a big difference. When we enable someone, we provide the opportunity, tools, and leadership for them to accomplish their tasks; however, when we equip someone it is so THEY can take advantage of the opportunities, using THEIR tools as THEY are led by God’s Spirit. It’s the difference between teaching a man to fish and equipping fishers of men.