Thursday, December 07, 2006

House Church: Misconceptions

Ambrose of Milan

Lots of people think that "house church" automatically means "a bunch of people prancing around like hippies and doing whatever the heck they want." I've been doing a little reading (and the Abbot has been explaining some things to me very slowly) and have discovered, much to my chagrin, that in many, many cases, those folks are right.

I had no understanding that when I say, "I'm a part of the Vine and Branches Christian Community, and we also happen to meet in a house," we are hyper-protestant, and think that each one of us is fully qualified and called by God to throw off all ecclesiastical "authority" and interpret the Bible, our only text, in the way that seems "right to the Holy Spirit and to us," and that, generally speaking, we believe the same things, like the same things, are the same ages, and do all the same stuff - a completely homogeneous group. (Check out a recent post by a friend of this blog, Darrell Pursiful, which opened my eyes to this: "When is a House Church Not a House Church?")

Holy cow! I had no idea!

Vine and Branches is quite probably the most "structured" house church you're going to find. We pray the Psalms together, discuss the lectionary text appointed for the day, make intercession for the Church and the world, and celebrate the Holy Eucharist at a small altar. We do this three weeks out of four; the other week we invite our friends for a party. See more details on Alan's blog, where he discusses "the liturgy of a small catholic church."

I'll let the Abbot speak for himself (oh, and he will!), but for my part, not having a church building has nothing to do with either throwing of the vestiges of an "institutionalized" church (that's not a dirty word to me), and certainly nothing to do with believing the ownership of a church building to be an intrinsic evil. It's about mission: in my considered judgment regarding this cultural moment (the time and place of the post-Christendom American South), having a "church building" makes us too reliant on a model of mission in which we try to get non-Christian people to come to the Church to receive religious goods and services that can make their existing lives as they already understand them to be more pleasant and happy. It's a bloody Jesus vaccine. It doesn't have to be that way, but it's very tempting for the church in this culture to do, and we gotta break out of that and instead go out and take Jesus into the world and be salt and light, not some kind of deranged religious version of a public utility.

Instead of focusing on programs or getting people to "come to church" to hear the good news, we see our mission and ministry and way of evangelism as going out to be with people who aren't believers (or apostate Christians, but that's another story) and taking the presence of Christ with us. We believe our greatest tool for spiritual growth, a gift of Christ to the Church, is learning to live together as the Church with a mission in God's world for it's redemption and recreation. We are agents of redemption and change in one another's lives, and unless we live close to one another, on purpose, in regular ways, our Christian growth is terrifically stunted. Full stop.

Can you have a building, and do that, and be about those things? Yeah, I think it's possible, but I'm not sure many pre-existing churches/congregations are really trying to do that or know how to invest the theological and relational capital. I think that Saint Patrick's Church does it, and work to do it. That's a big part of why I hang out with them. They rock. And so do we. I'm sure there are some other communities out there (and around here) that are like that as well, but these are the ones I know.


Anonymous said...


I share your vision of a housechurch as being a full cross section of the community ratherthan homogenous, and I share your stress on taking the message to the people rather than expecting them to come to church.

The questions of Liturgy, authority and Biblical interpretation are separate debates that don't have to fall along the same 'party' lines as house church v building church.

Anonymous said...

I really believe the basis of Saddleback ministries tries to do both. I know a couple places that follow a similar approach as them and have a lot of focus on small groups as being the core of fellowship and belief, not the building we go to once a week.

The most difficult thing I find in many house churches is a sense of esotericism. Without intending to, many cut themselves off from the rest of the body and form their beliefs to the person that shows the strongest personality. I am definately not saying that yours seems to reflect this. I have seen a lot that do, though. I have yet to see a christian movement that doesn't have a lot of the "I'm so sorry you don't really know the 'real' way to have a relationship with Christ." I have to constantly review my own attitude to get rid of that nastiness.

It is really cool that you are examining issues that have presented themeselves in groups that are similar. It is always a wise thing to do.

Kyle said...

Thanks, Simon.

That's a great point, Brianna. I think it's okay to think one is doing some things right, but never to get nasty. May the Lord keep us from all of that.

Though I do wonder - what, in theory, keeps traditional congregations that meet in a building and uphold an "attractional" model of mission from "cutting themselves off from the body and forming their beliefs around the person that shows the strongest personality"? In my experience, nothing.


Anonymous said...

There have been so many different forms of house churches emerging (oops!) over the last 60 years or so that almost anything anyone says about house churches must be true of one or more of them.