Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. (Luke 11:17 (NIV))
In 1975, someone asked me to describe my calling in the Lord. I answered them by saying that I was called as a sort of evangelist to the Church, calling the Church in to a new depth of relationship with God. Over the years I have sought to do this. This work is another opportunity to do just that, to call those who read it or hear it, into a new depth with Him.
This word had its birth in the early summer of 2003, slowly coming to fruition during that summer. It started as the result of my asking the Lord what He felt about the House Church Movement throughout the world. The response I got from the Lord was positive, that He was raising up this movement, for His glory. However, the Lord also showed me that all was not well within this movement. I believe that the following is a timely word for the Church, I would ask you to read it, with an open mind, taking each word to the Lord to test it. Please feel free to copy it and circulate it to your contacts, the only thing that I would ask is that you circulate it unchanged.
May the Lord bless you,
Keith Smith August 2003.
The present House Church movement, probably has its roots in the teachings of Watchman Nee and others in early 1950’s, in China. Although throughout history there have been groups within the church, which, rejecting traditional church structures, stressed small, intimate church groupings, In the late 60’s and early 70’s, those of us coming to Christ at that time found a church, very different to that found in scripture. In the writings of Watchman Nee, we found something that moved us to begin home based meetings. At that time many of us saw home based ministries as the key to future revival.
I, like many, found myself sucked into the traditional church system. At the same time many a House Church took on institutional forms. In Europe, becoming what is known as the new church movement. In reality becoming new denominations, although many would wish to be thought of as non-denominational. Recent years, however have seen a slight Resurgence of House Churches both in Europe and in other parts of the world.
Many of these new house churches are formed of people who have left institutional churches, having spent many years there. These are significant leaders, who have become disenamoured with the traditional church system, and are seeking a deeper reality, a deeper walk with the Lord. Dr. Alan Jamieson, showed in his recent work that 65% of those who had left the church, far from going elsewhere, or becoming lost to the church, are now seeking an alternative form of fellowship, elsewhere.
A lot of those attracted to the House Church Movement have a radical pioneer Spirit which together with previous hurts that they have suffered within the institutional Church, leading to a tendency to isolate themselves from the fellowship of the saints, out of a type self protection. This means that many house churches have little or no fellowship with other churches, and thus there are no checks and balances to prevent error or abuse.
In the past year I have noted an increasing crisis within the House Church Movement internationally. This Crisis is in the form of a deepening division, a division that the Lord simply will not bless.
This division expresses itself in two areas. The first that is raising its head again is the classic division between those who emphasise the word of God, and others who put more emphasis on the things of the Spirit, and intimacy with God. The second area of division is not new either, but its appearance within the House Church Movement is disturbing in the extreme. It is the division between what I call builders and servants.
Word and Spirit
The division between those who seek to follow the word of God in all things and those feel that it is more important to follow the flow of the Spirit, is a longstanding one within the church. However, it is somewhat new within the House Church movement. I will never be able to resolve a division which has existed in the church for centuries, but let us see the base of the division in the House Church Movement, to see if there is a way forward that we can all accept.
On the one hand there are those who would say that they only seek to follow the Word of God in all things, and that our sole authority in the Church is God’s Word, the Bible. This is a worthy and true sentiment, the Word of God is our most important source of authority, but to stop there leaves the folk who take this line open to the charge of hypocrisy and legalism, as they often fail to understand the Biblical balance between The Word (Law) and the Spirit. Galatians 3:2-5 teaches:
I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?”
In recent months this group has attacked over and again those who seek to follow the way of the Spirit, calling them names (mystics, pragmatists, charismaniacs etc.), and thus dividing the Church of God.
On the other hand we have those very mystics and pragmatists who seek to follow the way of the Spirit. Some of whom are truly charismaniacs, following new doctrines or subjective “leads” of the Holy Spirit, that have little or no Biblical basis. Sucking into the church, secular and sometimes unbiblical worldviews, on the basis of “well it works!” BUT, they are a tiny minority, however, there are many in their zeal to follow the Spirit, who do not test all things, through the lens of Scripture. So many test the spirits by whether they have tingles up and down their spine, or even not at all. Many prophecies are given in our churches that are never tested, even though Paul specifically taught that prophecies. Sometimes this has led to unbiblical practices within the church. When these folk look at those who seek to follow the Word, they dismiss them as frustrated brethren, legalists.
So what is the answer?
The obvious answer is balance. Part of the problem is that both extremes are very entrenched, later I will propose an answer that is definitive, but at this time I just want to say that we need both a deep and profound love of God’s Word, respecting it as our final authority, and a thirst for the Holy Spirit, that He may teach us and lead us into all truth.
Empire, Pyramid and other types of Builders and Servants of the Servants of God-
The second and probably the most alarming division that is becoming evident in the House Church Movement is that between those who are seeking to build self perpetuating structures and others who seek to serve the Church that the Lord Himself is building. First let us look at three types of builders.
Empire Builders (Denominational Structuralists) –
These in the past have led to the downfall of whole sectors of the movement. In the 1970’s there was a large and rapidly growing House Church movement in the United Kingdom, However the emergent leader of this group propounded a structure to perpetuate their authority. Instead of promoting Church multiplication these churches, began to rent increasingly larger venues, becoming the New Churches or “streams” that we see today (Streams, as these groups do not accept the term denominations, although in all respects they are). Sadly many within the House Church movement still have this empire building mentality. You can see it when apostolic leaders talk about “my” churches, and when local church elders, talk about “coverings” and “our” apostle. In recent years we have seen one major House Church grouping begin to crumble under the weight of the increasing authoritarianism of its key leader, and other unaccountable leaders falling into sin. I find it inexplicable that people who often left the Institutional church because of the unscriptural nature of the denominational system, have gone on to start their own denominations, although woe betide the person that dares to call them that.
The second group are what I call Pyramid Builders (or Hierarchical Structuralists). The most Clear cut examples of these we find in the so called cell-churches, a clear criticism of which is to be found in my book “Organic House Churches and Healing Communities” (For more information click here to send us a message).
But even among House Churches, we find networks being built up in clear pyramidical form, with House Church Leaders responsible to area leaders, who in turn are responsible to regional leaders who are eventually responsible to someone normally referred to as an apostle. In reality these “Super apostles”, are accountable to no-one, their position is not unlike that of the pope, and their hierarchies not too dissimilar to those of the Roman Catholic Church. Everybody is under the “covering” of someone.
There are a multitude of other Builders (Vain Structuralists).God’s word says, “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labour in vain.” (Ps.127:1a). The problem with builders is one of motives, you don’t have to look hard to find, ambition and vain pride. In recent years various apostolic councils have come into being, whilst in no way dismissing the ministries involved, the majority of apostles I know, do not waste their time with them. Instead, they get on with the work of ministry, and build relationships with other apostles as a natural by product of their work. In the House Church movement there are too many talkers and not enough doers.
On the other side of the scale we have the flat Churchers. Folk who are so put off by the builders, that they shun all leadership, preferring instead a sort of spiritual democracy, where all have an equal say, and consensus rules. This group espouse the “one to another” texts in the Bible, as though no other texts exist on church structure and authority. I must admit this is the group amongst which I would feel more at home. However…. God does call leaders to lead, and democracy is not sacred. In truth He will have no rule but his own.
There is a way forward-
True unity can only be found in brokenness. It’s is only when we realize, that none of us have anything of worth to offer, that makes us superior to another that we can truly come together, as poor, wretched, blind to receive from the Lord, His mercy, grace and bounty. Isa.64:6 says, “……….all our righteous acts are like the good things that we have to offer are worthless in the light of the Lord. Jesus, talking to the church of Laodicea says,
“These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.hose whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev.3:14b-22).
We need to see our true situation of … wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked… It is only then that we can come to the Lord, and receive from Him, that which is of true value. Brokenness and repentance, leads us to a place where the Lord can use us for His purposes.
Poor, Weak and Dead-
In a word we must start dying. Jesus himself said:
“anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.(Matt.10:38-39).
It’s only as we die to ourselves, our selfish desires and ambitions, all that stops us expressing the life of Christ which now dwells within. The key truth that we need to understand about death is that it radically changes our options, especially in the area of relationships. Dead people have no ambitions, no desires, they don’t seek to control or manipulate, they can never lord it over another, they’re dead. Neither can they be hurt, abused or manipulated by others. It is often the fear of these things that cause people to impose themselves on others, due to their insecurity. Dead people are never insecure. The only place to find security is at the cross, dying with Him and living His life. We need to enter a place where our authority comes wholly from Him. Like John, we must say, “He must become greater; I must become less.” (Jo.3:30).
Paul described himself, and other leaders as scum of the earth-
Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have become kings—and that without us! How I wish that you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you! 9For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honoured, we are dishonoured! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world. (1Cor.4:8-13)
I believe that all authority has its base in the Lord and in Him alone. I have never hidden my apostolic call; let me explain how this works out for me:
As a Christian, a member of a local church, I submit myself to all spiritual authority. Rather than being an authority, I submit myself to authority. Well, you may tell me, you’re married; you have authority over your wife. You’re right, the Bible teaches that my wife should be subject to me, but it goes on to say that I must love her and give myself for her,(Eph.5:25).
For me, this means that I should always put her interests before mine, always thinking of her first, my needs and wishes become secondary to hers. OK I hear you say, what about your children? They are under your authority. Once again, this is true, but, my wife and modelled the love of Christ to our children for over twenty years, now I give them freedom to develop that love in the world, both of them have families of their own, I don’t feel that I should expect them to obey me in the same way. You may think that my role in the local church gives me a certain authority. This is true as well, but I would rather persuade the folk here with love, than have them obey me as puppets.
Some would point to my role in various international organizations, and the authority I have there, but I would say that my role is to serve, not to direct. Finally there are those who would point to the call that the Lord has placed on my life as an apostle. I have to reply, there is an authority, but I chose to lay it before the throne. Like the elders in heaven, all we can do is cast our crowns before he who is King of kings and Lord of lords. I have died to myself, the dead have no authority. However Jesus is alive in me, with Paul I can say, it’s no longer I that live, but Christ who lives through me. When He moves in my heart I will speak the words that He gives me, and they will carry His authority and not mine. I minister in His authority, and not my own and therefore I can never put myself over another, I too, am with them, bowing before His throne.
As my friend and colleague, Robert Fitts puts it, “It’s like an inverted pyramid, with the church at the top, being served by those lower down, but the true leaders are to be found at the bottom, on their knees washing feet, along with Jesus.”
Unless we become….
He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:2-4).
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt.20:25-28).
And earlier we read,
You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev.3:17-20).
In verse 19b, of this final text we have the real answer to the two areas of division that I pointed out at the beginning… be earnest, and repent. Our lives must be constantly marked out by, brokenness, repentance and dying to self. We have no authority, only His Word and His Spirit who gives us life.
Many will dismiss this word as coming from some “camp” other than their own, thus making it dismissible. But I would seriously call every one who reads this to search their hearts for any hidden motives, and then bring them to the Lord in brokenness and repentance.