THE PROBLEM WITH THE HOUSE CHURCH MOVEMENT AND A SEARCH FOR THE UNITY
OF HIS BODY.
By Andy Zoppelt
We in the house church movement in many ways are
taking the same path as those in previous movements. We have accurately
pointed out the major faults and flaws in the institutional
church: pastor, pews, programs, buildings, indifference,
denominationalism, hierarchy-- the list seems a mile long. We all agree
that this institutional system of church is absolutely different from
what we read about in the early forming of the body of Christ. It is,
without exaggerating, a 180-degree turn from what Jesus and the apostles
set up in the early church. At this point we all agree. But have we
really looked at the sin in our own camp.
Problems that need to be addressed
1. The spirit of division. Most house churches
I have visited are quite content in being "us four and no more."
Because they are meeting in the shelter of a house, they have turned
inward in believing that somehow they are inherently different… even New
Testament! Most are having little or no impact on their community, the
poor, those in prisons, those in need-- and many are not even impacting
missions. They easily have forgotten that even the early house church
was never meant to be an end in itself. They have forgotten the
responsibility of being connected and functioning locally in the city.
They reject others meeting in homes in their same area. We now have
micro-division rather than macro-divisions.
Jesus made it clear in John 17 that unity was not an
option for His disciples. We are either gathering or scattering, we are
either for Him or against Him. We don't have many options if we are
truly going to follow Jesus and keep Him at the center. Each group or
leader clutches their group as though it were theirs. Whose church is
it? Whose people are we? The people are scattering looking for shepherds
after His own heart.
2. There is a spirit against leadership. House
churches often overreact to the false leadership of the institutional
church by denying the biblical need of the five-fold ministry. Their
kind of "priesthood of the believer" has denied the ministries function
within the body of Christ and denied many of His servants on a universal
level. They forget that these ministries are gifts to the church as "God
has appointed." (1 Cor. 12:28-21 and Eph. 4:11)
A tremendous price will be paid by denying those whom
Jesus sends and anoints. Our individualism and independence have created
a false sense of body ministry. Because we deny the diversity of
ministry of the universal church, without which we cannot survive in
times of shaking, God has withheld from us His power and presence.
Many individuals feel threatened by the experience
and revelation of the five-fold ministry and shelter themselves in
isolated home meetings. They have forgotten that the diversity of all
ministry is not competition but it complements and builds up the body of
Christ. This is one reason that the church has such a low level of
3. No burden for the needy. Ministry has
almost come to a complete stop in the house church. When I was an
institutional pastor, we would go to the streets to minister and feed
hundreds of people. Even the city of Fort Lauderdale stood up and took
notice; they asked how they could help. The local newspaper did a full
2-page write-up on us. We went into the jails and nursing homes. We were
a light on a hill. Now I feel disconnected from my local brothers rather
than us pulling together. The only burden we have is what we shall bring
for the meal after the meeting. If we don't have His burden, we cannot
know His will, nor can we speak for Him.
4. Giving. Our anti-tithing doctrine has led
to a greed where giving is non-existent. It matters little what we
believe concerning the tithing issue if our believing doesn't include
giving up our selfish attitude toward our finances to pull together
locally and trans-locally. If we don't support the poor, we are worse
than the institutional church. Paul mentioned over and over his concern
for the poor. Jesus said the ministry to the poor was a sign of one
being his sheep. Even John questioned the presence of the Holy Spirit
being in a person of indifference in 1 John 3:17-18
We often think of homosexuality as the sin of Sodom
and the reason that God destroyed it. "Look, this was the iniquity of
your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and
abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor
and needy. And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me;
therefore I took them away as I saw fit." Ezek 16:49-50
5. Its conventions are about information not
building. Our conventions are no different than the institutional
church conventions. We have focused and exalted the prominent speakers
to a level of entertainment status. We have experts giving us
information while we experience little of the life of the body. Many
can't even remember what the speakers have said after the convention. We
are more entertained with information expertly presented than a building
together. We hope that some holy huddle around a 10-minute break around
the table will connect leadership. It is the same old "us four leaders
and no more." It becomes exclusive and therefore anti-inclusive. I go to
them and feel like a dummy with nothing to add. I feel stupid and am
supposed to listen as I sit in my seat as the professionals explain how
to do it. I weep and cry to be built with other leaders and am too often
disconnected, standing alone. I want to get together in order to pray
together, to be one with one another, to share together, to support one
another. I am a "lone ranger" in the midst of divisions of every flavor.
When I read the resumes of the speakers, I have
flashbacks of institutionalism. Who do we recognize for their suffering,
their servant's heart, their loyalty to the sheep? Aren't these the
people we need to hear from?
Our meetings are salted with information, strategies,
how-to methods, and the spread of house churches. Does this not have the
sound of institutional program-ism? We hear much about the why's, how's,
and what-to-do in house churches--but we are void of any establishment
of being built together and of leaders being reconnected in the body of
Christ… true restoration. It pains me to think of all those house
churches disconnected in any given locality. Should we not build and not
just inform? Is not building an apostolic mandate?
universal disconnect. The universal church, as it is often
called, is the unity that gave the early church meaning and power.
Without power we are forced to form. Because there is no recognition of
the church in the city, there is no understanding of the universal
church and the need for universal ministry. The early church started out
as a universal church among 120 persons. As it grew, it maintained its
universal identity. The church functioned in houses and cities but
maintained its identity in universal unity. Leadership was not
established in house churches but in the city and in the universal
church. Every house church didn't have an elder; but the eldership
functioned locally in the city much like Israel. Because there was a
universal unity, much of the five-fold ministry could function locally
and universally. There were letters from city to city to keep them
informed and in communication with one another. There was a body that
was connected. Disconnection brings about death. All we need to do
is look at our physical bodies for a moment; it has a lot to tell us
about being connected and the death that results from being
disconnected. How long does it take for a member being separated from
the body before it's too late to be reconnected? We need more
connection not information.
7. Seeing the house church as the end. Somehow
we see the house church in the New Testament as central to changing the
world rather than Jesus. In past years I have seen and experienced
church emphasis on many issues: Community, government, gifts,
repentance, five-fold ministries, discipleship, evangelism … and now the
house church movement. The circle of teaching, books, conventions and
strategies surround the emphasis. We have come to think that it was the
house that changed the world, and we have made it an end.
8. Denominationalism. This is a curse word to
those of us who experienced the horrific divisions and competition
created out of "naming" a Christian movement. Denominations got their
start around some biblical truth or some person. Denominate means "to
name". Rarely are we content with just being Christian; we somehow want
to name our special movement and separate ourselves from all those who
are of "Babylon." It is the name of Jesus that identifies us, not our
network. We have subtly fallen into the previous entrapments, which
we learned from the institutional church (Babylon) and created streams
and networks. We want to box our move under something we can identify as
being "us" exclusively. Now, no one will admit this but, the fruit
reveals the root of our denominational affiliation. It is a "let-us
build" kind of heresy. When the Assemblies of God started around the
early part of the 20th century, it wanted to join the divided
Pentecostal movement. Today the Assemblies of God is just another
denomination among many. What do we think will happen with all our
streams and networks? They to will be become another denomination with a
label. Comenius says, "The great number of teachers is the reason of the
multitude of sects, for which we shall soon have no names left…"
Where did this come from? Gen 11:1, 4… 'Come,
let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose
top is in the heavens; let us make a name
(denomination) for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad
over the face of the whole earth.'"
It was the first inclination of Peter when he saw
Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah: "Then Peter answered and said to
Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us
make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah'"
I can hear it now, "Which tabernacle do you go to?"
Once we name it, we divide it. For years I heard these defensive
excuses: "We are just setting up networks to …" and then they go on to
explain. I just can't see Apollos coming into a city and leading a
number of people to the Lord and then setting up a network or
stream-sourcing to his apostolic ministry. Denominationalism comes in
many forms. If we are of the same carnal nature as the
denominationalist, we will find a way to create a name without looking
and feeling denominational. In the discipleship movement we found a way
to appear non-denominational-- we called our divisions "streams." In
that way we could identify who it is we were "under". Later in the
restoration movement we created "networks;" names were given to each
network and we related to specific leaders, apostles… whatever. The
results are the same. We take something that doesn't belong to us and we
put our label on it in order to control it and identify with it. Mankind
naturally likes names and titles. So in order to build, we need a name.
The name identifies who we are and our group; natural successes give us
a sense of achievement that we could not achieve individually. There is
power in numbers and recognition in names.
9. False Identification. I keep hearing how we
in the house church movement are the largest movement in the world. We
use China and others in the third world nations to make this point. But
there is no comparison between them and us. I met a brother from China a
few years ago; his word to me was that we didn't have life, we had form.
We have accomplished a form without life… if we dare to be honest. We
are not the same as many in the third world nation. They are not what
they are because they meet in houses, but because they have life...
Maybe we need to identify with their life and not their house meetings.
10. Numbers: When God sent me into the
institutional church as a youth pastor, I learned a powerful inside
lesson: it was all about success and numbers. We can't get away from
success and numbers. When I go to a house church convention, I hear,
"How many house churches have you planted?" or "How many are in your
house church?" Whoever has planted the most house churches or has the
most successful house church is placed on a pedestal. Is that different
from the institution? Many real five-fold ministries cannot become
manifest if we continue to judge by such a narrow standard.
11. There is no room for a strong word.
We organize till we paralyze. We have created a comfortable environment
and a box, which we protect with tooth and claw. Institutionalism is
based on organizing to the point where God has no place for moving
outside the program or box. I am convinced we need a good strong and
hard word now and then. A famous man of God once said, "If you have not
gotten a hard word from God, I doubt that you know Him."
I remember one time I invited Art Katz to speak in
our church; he blasted us and pointed out every problem. I must say, I
loved it. We need to make room for others to speak into what we are
doing. Conventions are afraid that "confusion" might set in if such a
place is made for this to happen. But we admit that in our local house
church meetings we face many hard issues all the time. I had times I
wanted to close down the meeting and get with God alone, but if I did, I
would have missed the life that comes from confrontation and conflict.
Do we organize house churches to end any confusion? No, because to the
patient, it is fertile soil to grow.
12. Where do we go from here? If the power of
Pentecost was because of the disciples of Jesus and the unity of the
body coming together, just maybe we should consider such a humbling
position. Let us throw away our differences and come together and pray,
fast, and serve one another. Let us let God put us together, build us
together. Let us fall in love with Him and one another--no matter how
long it takes and no matter what it takes. We cannot dodge such
important issues as love, unity and fellowship. Without love we all are
nothing and are building on sinking sand. If we don't learn from
history, we will repeat it.
So who am I to make such a request to other leaders?
I am nobody, so let's get me out of the picture, something we often
don't do, and let's consider a real restoration of the body of Christ. I
know that this is the cry of many leaders to whom I have talked and
The suggestion I have heard from many is that we meet
together and talk first. Then, if God leads, maybe we could have some
real weeping between the porch and the altar and repent (Joel 2). Maybe
God would give us a prophetic word, where we could sound the alarm on
His holy mountain. We need to blow the trumpet with a clear warning and
a true word from God in this day of shaking. Let us come together--
because it is good for the brethren to dwell together in unity. It is
there He proclaims the blessing… something we all need. Let the Lord
separate the wheat from the chaff, but let those who are willing in the
day of His power come together.
Dare we come together in unity and build upon Jesus?