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Most churches teach in ways that are contrary to core educational principles that the schools use. And most of them never preach the Gospel either. How can we fix this?
Originally posted at Jesus Army’s Forward Blog.
In my last blog post, I explored the fellowship of Jesus and His disciples in the gospels, treating it as church. This has big implications.
Jesus managed to pastor his church without a church building. Most of the sermons he held weren’t even indoors. He would preach from the top of a mountain, in a field, at the temple courts or in a boat. His preaching was directed at people who didn’t follow Him just as much as to those who already were His disciples. In fact, when He talked to the disciples, He engaged in dialogue, listening to their views and responding with divine insight.
In Jesus’ church, it was impossible to be a disciple without interacting with non-believers almost daily. Jesus was charismatic in the dual sense of the word, attracting large crowds wherever he went. There were often discussions and debates with those who disagreed. On top of that, Jesus commanded:
Go… to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” (Matthew 10:6-8)
I’ve been arguing for years that churches today need to look like they did in New Testament times – Jesus-centred, fully charismatic, publicly evangelistic, home based, and practising community of goods. Now churches like this are very rare as you probably have noted yourself. Even among Pentecostals and charismatics it is rare that the church publicly evangelise, they usually have church buildings and they almost never have community of goods.
Isn’t this a clear indication that I’m simply mistaken on what qualifies as a Biblical church? Not necessarily. Arguments for what a Biblical church should look like should always be based on the Bible, not popular opinion. If Christians who don’t practice community can’t defend their position biblically, it doesn’t matter how many they are.
In fact, whatever one thinks that a Biblical church looks like one has to admit that there have been historical periods where very few have been part of such a church. The Catholic and Orthodox dominance for over a thousand years would be such a period for us protestants. And even modern Catholics rarely agree with previous Catholic opposition to freedom of religion and endorsement of torture and crusades. (more…)
I’m very happy and very tired. Last Saturday was Walpurgis night which for some reason is a huge thing here in Uppsala, hundreds of thousands of people fill the streets and so it’s a great opportunity for evangelism. We were out with the Pancake church at a central square and ministered to hundreds, and one guy from Morocco came and wanted to get saved. Just like that. He had some extremely bad experiences from Islam and had realized that Jesus is the Way, so we helped him receive Him.
The next day was Sunday, I was organizing the service for our house church and we got a new visitor that I had been in touch with on Facebook. She wanted to be saved as well. We rejoiced, prayed with her and then talked about and answered questions that she had about the Old Testament, God’s character and other religions as we went out to evangelize according to our “Come in, go out” principle.
And then last Tuesday my friend Johannes and myself were invited to a folk school where we got to speak about faith, doubt, atheism and theism for three hours. Johannes has struggled a lot with atheism and I used to be an atheist in my early teens before turning to God. We covered several arguments for God’s existence as well as sharing our own stories and answering questions, and it was appreciated. (more…)
In Biblical times, local churches met primarily in homes as a complement to their public evangelism (Acts 2:46, 20:20, Rom 16:5). For at least 250 years home churches were the norm – the earliest discovered church building that wasn’t used as a home is from the late third century. With Constantine stuff changed, basilicas and cathedrals were established, and these were the norm in the state churches.
Radical restorationist groups have often started in the homes, this includes the early Anabaptists, Baptists and the Pietist movement. When less persecuted and more established, they have often built church buildings as their state church counterparts. In the 18th century, Methodist leader John Wesley introduced the concept of having meetings in homes as a complement to the Sunday service in a church building.
In the 20th century this practice has become very popular. Realizing that meetings in church buildings aren’t designed to effectively promote fellowship and discipleship, many church leaders have welcomed cell groups/small groups/house groups in their congregations.
However, there are no fixed standards to what a cell group is and what it should do. Since it’s not viewed as a church of its own, there are usually no requirements of it to include the things that we see that New Testament churches were expected to include. For this reason, there’s basically anarchy when it comes to how cell groups look like. Here are some examples: (more…)
Building stuff is very Biblical: Jesus our Lord and Saviour worked as a carpenter, Paul was a tent-maker and the whole people of Israel were commissioned to build cities and villages across Canaan after they had colonized it in a not very pacifist way (I’m really looking forward to Greg Boyd’s book on how to deal with Old Testament violence that’s coming out soon). God realizes that shelter is important, He does not want us to be homeless.
1 Tim 6:8 is often translated as “if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that”, and even though Paul’s point clearly is that we should live simply and reject wealth, he isn’t saying that we should be content with homelessness. The word used for “clothing” is in Greek skepasmata, which literally means “coverings”, which can both refer to clothes and shelter. Similarly, the word translated as “food” literally means sustenance.
Historically, the church has indeed built a lot of stuff, but have we really built the right things? As you may know I’m very critical to church buildings, for various reasons that I give in the video above. In Europe where I live, we have hundreds of thousands of church buildings, most of which stand empty at night. We also have four million homeless people, and millions of refugees are expected to seek refuge in our rich subcontinent during the coming years. (more…)
Who needs buildings when you have homes? Here’s a video I made where I describe why I’m such a passionate promoter for house churches. The seven reasons are the following;
1. They’re biblical – Acts 2:46, 1 Cor 16:19, Col 4:15 and other passages tell us that the early Christians met in homes. The earliest archeologically discovered church, the Dura Europos church, was a house church. In fact, church buildings where people didn’t eat and sleep wasn’t constructed until the late third and early fourth century.
2. They’re utilized – again, people actually eat and sleep there. Most church auditoriums – the big room with a lot of pews – stands empty for the most part of the week. Homes, in contrast, are usually used daily.
3. They’re small – and this is a good thing! 1 Cor 14:26 tells us that everyone attending a church meeting should contribute with something. When was the last time you’ve experienced that? Frankly, you need a small group to have such a wonderful spiritual interaction. (more…)
Was it really just to pray and worship with their Jewish brothers, or had they something else in mind?
I had a discussion with a friend the other day about church buildings; while I think that they are unnecessary for the most part and that we should focus on planting house churches instead, he enjoyed church buildings and saw no reason to diminish their role. One of his arguments for using church buildings was that the early Christians went to the temple and synagogues. My response was that they went to the temple and synagogues to evangelise.
Perplexed, he asked “Where in the Bible do Christians evangelise in synagogues?” Well, here’s a summary.
Jesus in the Synagogues
Let’s start with Christ. Luke 4:15 says that Jesus “was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.” Later, in verse 21 of the same chapter, we read: “He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.'”
Why do most churches train their leaders to take care of groups of hundreds or even thousands of believers, when Biblical pastors trained groups of 20 or 30 people?
I talked to an associate pastor some time ago, and he shared with me the burden of him having the pastoral responsibility for families in his church. Since that meant 80 people, he had constantly work to do, and he felt pressured for not spending enough time with each family. There were two other pastors in the church, but they were also overloaded with work concerning the youth and the congregation as a whole (which includes over 400 people). I asked the associate pastor if he could delegate some pastoral care to cell group* leaders, but he was unsure whether they would accept the challenge. Many Christians just expect the pastor to do the work for them.
It’s biblical to delegate. Exodus 18 tells us about how Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, saw how Moses was being worn out with all the judging work, and so he recommended him to appoint God-fearing men to help him out, some having responsibility for a thousand people, other for one hundred, fifty and ten (Ex 18:20-21). When the apostles realized that they didn’t have time to help the poor, they appointed some other Spirit-filled people to do it (Acts 6:1-8). Leadership isn’t about doing everything yourself, but to inspire and give mandate to others so that they too can serve the Kingdom of God.
The Biblical church had various different types of leadership roles: apostles planted churches and had most authority in doctrinal disputes, evangelists preached the Gospel publicly and trained other disciples how to share their faith, prophets heard the voice of the Lord and brought important messages to the church, and teachers taught theology. And then we have presbyters, or pastors. (more…)
This awesome article has been frequently shared by people in my networks the last couple of days; Preston Sprinkle writes about 4 ways the modern church doesn’t look like the early church (and, as several have pointed out, this goes especially for the modern mainstream Western church). These four areas are:
1. How we view other Christians. When the early disciples called themselves brothers and sisters, they actually treated each other like brothers and sisters and had a community that was far more relational and sacrificial than fellowship in most Western churches.
2. How we spend our money. The early Christians didn’t collect money for church buildings and pastors’ wages but for the poor.
3. How we think about power. The early church refused to be patriotic but was pacifist and persecuted.
4. How we study the Bible. Early Christians let every new convert study the Scriptures in a detailed manner, and most disciples then knew the Bible better than many Western church goers today.
I totally agree with all of Sprinkle’s points, and I’m glad that more and more start descovering the radical roots of the Christian faith. However, I would like to pinpoint three additional areas where the early church looked different from the mainstream Western church life today: (more…)
In my last blog post I discussed how we can inspire and exhort mainline churches to make evangelism as mandatory and natural as Sunday services, since the apostolic, biblical church evangelized in the streets, synagogues and temple courts probably even more than they met for internal meetings in the homes, based on how church life is described in the gospels and in the book of Acts. Today I want to talk about how we can inspire and exhort mainline churches to become house churches, i.e. to sell their expensive building and form organic, discipleship training communities that gather in houses as well as on the streets.
It’s no secret that the Biblical church was a house church movement, Luke says that they gathered in the homes as well as in public (Acts 2:46), Paul talks about the church that meets in Prisca’s and Aquila’s house (Rom 16:3-5). In fact, there are no evidence of any church buildings at all earlier than the late third century. While some things are a bit ambiguous when it comes to the early church, this is not one of them: the early church was a house church movement.
Now, Christians who belong to building churches* are often quite eager to explain why this does not by any means show that churches should organize themselves in homes rather than in expensive buildings. The most popular theory is that the early church was forced to meet in homes rather than in church buildings because of persecution. And there is defenitely some truth to that. But this argument does not in itself contradict the position that house churches are better than building churches; devotion to Christ and a commitment to follow Him even to death was probably stronger during persecution compared to when persecution ended, but that doesn’t make devotion and commitment less valuable – rather, the contrary is true.
We’ve all heard about megachurches – enormous congregations with thousands of people that sometimes looks like big stadiums. Their pastors become famous and their services become giant shows. I won’t dig into the criticism against mega churches – many has done so before me – but I want to question what we usually believe is a “normal church”. You know, the one that has around 100-200 members, a pretty little church building and a youth group, children’s group and gathers families on sundays. I’m very critical to those as much as to the mega churches.
See, “normal” churches are mega churches in miniature. The services are shows where people are expected to sit down and listen most of the time. Except for some singing in the start and some prayer in the end, one should be passive in church. And quiet. Furthermore, the building costs a LOT of money – and most church members are fine with that. In fact, most of them don’t even know what it costs but they trust their clergy to handle it for them. Now, the funny thing with buildings is that they’re mostly very unflexible. If the church attendance shrinks, the church building becomes increasingly expensive until it’s not useful to have it the same size anymore. If church attendance grows – we have to build a bigger church! Which would make most pastors and priests very excited. But again, that costs TONS of money!
In fact, the goal of many church leaders is for their church to grow, and grow, and grow until they basically looks like a mega church. I’ve heard several talk dreamingly about how they heard about this awesome pastor who started his church with a tiny bit of followers but now leads a mega church. Of course, every respected pastor or priest would say that the main goal of the church is to lead people to Christ and give them eternal life, but then it would be pretty neat if the church also grew bigger, and bigger, and bigger. So we have to rebuild the church building again, and again, and again.
A month ago I was listening to Chinese pastor and revivalist brother Yun as he was conducting some meetings in Sweden. His autobiography, The Heavenly Man, was one of the first Christian books I read, and it has impacted me a lot. Yun describes both countless miracles and unspeakable suffering, persecution as well as revival. These aspects go hand in hand, he argues, the glory of the resurrection cannot be separated from the pain of Calvary.
As a Western Christian who at that point had neither experienced revival nor persecution, Yun’s testimony opened my eyes to what Christianity really is about. Having fled from China in 2001 to Germany, he had some very interesting reflections about the state of the Western church. Based on the story about the lame man in Acts 3, he wrote prophetically: “The Western church has a lot of silver and gold. The Chinese church rises up and walks.”
Of course there are exceptions, but generally this is painfully true: churches in high-income countries are rich in money but poor in spirit, churches in middle- and low-income countries are poor in money but rich in spirit. I would say the latter group is better off, still I am constantly aware of the urgent material needs they have in order to fight poverty and nurture revival. (more…)