Saturday, April 28, 2007

God's House

A movement toward house churches in America shouldn't be accompanied by spiritual arrogance.

It was a hot, muggy day in City-X, China, as I hopped in a cab destined to arrive at a community university. For the first time on this trip, we weren't going to teach English. In this class session, we'd be the ones receiving instruction, from a student pastor in a second-story dorm room.

This house church service had everything my Western mind expected any normal church service should have--singing, testimony, and a lesson from the Word. But noticeably absent from this venue were all the trappings of American church, the huge projection screens and concert lighting, the rows upon rows of comfortable chairs that make giant, cavernous sanctuaries feel more like movie theaters than traditional houses of worship.

We did use technology in our worship. The makeshift music minister played Mp3s from a desktop computer to accompany our voices. But the service was altogether austere; we sat on a twin bed, and the other believers huddled around a table in the middle of the room that supported our notebooks, song sheets and Bibles. After a few testimonies, the pastor of the four-person gathering delivered a simple yet profound message from the gospel of Mark.

Although legal churches exist in China, they aren't accessible in every community. And even in communities that have Three-Self churches, many Christians hold underground meetings to avoid restrictions imposed by the communist government that limit the believers' ability to evangelize in their communities.

House churches in China have spread like wildfire in the last 50 years due to this political reality, and there are signs that Americans, though under a different political system, are beginning to follow their lead, returning to a trend that they see as an authentic representation
of the early church and a welcome rebuke to the megachurch generation.

Apparently, in the age of big-business Christianity, where churches sometimes meet in former basketball arenas, there is a quiet revolution going on. An article in the Colorado Springs Gazette mentions a Barna research poll that shows an eight-percent rise in house church attendance over the last decade.

While some purists applaud this sudden disillusionment with the institutionalized church, Christians should be cautious that a trend that started as a desire for intimate community may result in an ungodly reclusiveness. While Chinese churches meet in homes out of a political and economic necessity, Americans have long had the money and the freedom to meet in church buildings visible in the public sphere. A move back to homes could provide a less-threatening atmosphere for evangelism and pave the way for a church-planting movement (CPM) that missions organizations employ among unreached people groups. But those that meet in homes must watch out for feeling a spiritual superiority and arrogance that could accompany a mass exodus from a church structure they see as tainted by materialism and too heavily influenced by the culture.

The bottom line is that whatever is done should be done for the glory of God, whether behind the closed doors of a home or in a 15,000-seat auditorium. Both venues have their advantages and setbacks, and we shouldn't care as long as the Gospel is preached and Jesus is exalted. We can debate about the efficiency of our methods, but we're all a part of the same body, from the biggest organ down to the smallest cell. May the Head determine how we move.

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