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 maturity.
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.
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?
6. A 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?
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. We need more connection not information.
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 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 be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.'” let us 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.
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 written.
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?