I just read a short article titled “Doing Without the Church” written by Edward Veith in a newsletter titled “Table Talk” someone forwarded to me, the contents of which led to the inspiration for this short article. Being a part of a small-group Bible study myself, I see many of the same pitfalls Veith brought out in his short article about small-group Bible studies and house-churches, and “lone Christians.” We’ll get into some of the more serious pitfalls for house churches and small group studies in a little while. We’ll start with the “loner Christian”, someone getting all his nourishment off the internet or Christian radio. Now the Internet poses its own dangers for lone worshippers or individual families who have made a practice of worshipping at these “electronic shrines” with no outside contact, no group contact with other believers. I have always realized that individual believers in Jesus, whether Christian or Messianic Jewish, need a church or congregation (with a pastor) to attend, but I never really put together all the sound reasons as to why. I have recently finished reading and taking copious notes from Phillip Keller’s “A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23”, and as I mentioned I’m part of a struggling home fellowship, as well as attending a local Calvary Chapel on Sundays. Believe me, I know the individual sheep of God need, desperately need a shepherd over them to feed them the Word of God, and apply the principles Keller brings out in his book. Independent or “loner” Christians are almost always spiritually poor Christians, desperately in need of sound Bible teaching, sometimes having gnawed bare whatever pasturage they’ve been feeding on. Also there is a spiritual dynamic that the sheep of Jesus experience in a congregation not experienced by “loners.” (And size of the congregation makes little difference, as long as the members are genuine Holy Spirit indwelt believers.) That dynamic is that of being in a building (or house) with other Holy Spirit indwelt individuals, which tends to have a multiplying effect on the influence of the Holy Spirit within that group of individuals, and experienced on the individual level by each person attending within the whole. This “law” is mirrored in electronics by the law of mutual inductance, whereby two inductors, say of 2 Henries each in close proximity does not equal 2 + 2, or 4 Henries, but equals 4.2 Henries. Inductance is a measure of magnetic force created by an electric current passing through a coil of wire, an inductor. While God’s Holy Spirit is the third “person” of God, he is unlike the other two in that the Bible shows he has attributes, like flowing water, oil, fire, power, the power of love, joy, peace, long-suffering, self-control, that flows into a persons’ mind and influences others around. The influencing power of the Holy Spirit who dwells within a believer is multiplied in a group setting, if those individuals are genuinely indwelt by the Holy Spirit. No such multiplication of influence and power can be experienced by the lone Christian, nor by Christians immediately outside of this group dynamic. And it seems to be a dynamic experienced when multiple believers are in close physical proximity with each other, not over the internet, or the phone. Just an observation. But Jesus said something similar, “When two or three of you are gathered together in my name, I am there in your midst.” Now this dynamic exists in small groups and house churches as well as larger Holy Spirit indwelt congregations. The dynamic, as Jesus brought out, starts when two or three are gathered together in his name.
Are you a “draft-dodger” Christian?
The second aspect of why it is important to be a part of a church congregation, even a denomination, is that all Holy Spirit indwelt individual churches and also the denominations are integral parts of Christ’s army on earth, an army designed to fight an “information war” against the rulers of this world, reaching the lost with the Gospel of Salvation. Jesus gave the Church, the body of Christ, as well as every individual believer the express job of evangelizing the whole world (cf. Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:6-8). Now individuals can’t really do that effectively, they can do very little on their own, except on a one-to-one basis. One must look to the histories of successful armies of the world to see why churches and denominations are needed to “get the job done”, in each and every time period the Church has existed in. (And by Church, I do not mean the Roman Catholic Church, but the whole body of Christ, made up of Holy Spirit indwelt denominational groups.) Imagine even a good soldier, like Audie Murphy, trying to take on the whole German Army by himself, without being an integral part of the US Army, with all it’s logistical support around him. Can you imagine the carnage that would result if hundreds of thousands of uncoordinated individual soldiers were all charging and fighting a highly organized, well armed mechanized army like the German Army in WWII? Nathan Bedford Forest found that a fighting force succeeded best as a unified fighting force, applying the principle of “the firstest with the mostest” aimed at the weakest spot on the enemy lines. General Claire Chennault, creator of the famous Flying Tigers, developed the “wingman principle”, which recently even the army has incorporated, and has been used ever since WWII by all fighter pilots of all nations. Two fighter planes “watching each-other’s backs”, coupled together in combat, can take on numerous independent unorganized enemy fighter aircraft. It’s just a repeat of the old Bible principle found in Proverbs. Proverbs says that when two walk together, if one stumbles, the other is there to pick him up, and a threefold cord is not easily broken. Most independent or “loner” Christians forget they’re in a war with the Devil and his demonic cohorts, as they fight to get the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Gospel of Salvation out to the entire world. Small church congregations---and yes, house-churches are like platoons in God’s evangelistic army, larger ones like companies, even larger ones like battalions, and some of the mega-churches are like whole divisions, all organized and effectively knit together as a spiritual army Jesus Christ has organized on earth to proclaim the Gospel to the world before he returns. In that sense, those believers that want to “go it alone” are no better than draft dodgers, avoiding service in the Army of Jesus Christ they’ve been called to serve in. (You don’t like the part of the army you’re in, you’re free to transfer to any differing branch you chose to, there is freedom there.) Also an army pools its resources so that it can concentrate forces against specific targets. Promoting the Gospel is no different. I attend a congregation that owns and operates several Christian radio stations in key population centers of the state I live in. The pooled resources of the financial offerings of this whole congregation support the Gospel of Salvation going to these high population centers. Do you think I could, as an individual, a loner, own, operate and run a Christian radio? I’d have to be a very wealthy person, an engineer specializing in radio, as well as have many other talents. And I’d still fail in my effort to obtain a slot of airspace on the radio dial. Battles with political forces in high places have to be won, and this can only succeed, as we’ve found out, by the unified, concerted prayer of the congregation. A loner, an independent Christian, has no prayer-backing that Jesus told us to rely on: “When two or three of you are gathered in my name, whatsoever you ask, it will be done, for I am there in your midst.” That’s a powerful prayer dynamic denied the lone believer. The congregation I attend is the equivalent of two companies in an army, and they’re a highly specialized double-company at that, reaching multiple millions of radio listeners with the Gospel. Loners can’t do that. Even small independent house-churches, if not tied into or affiliated with a denominational group, add nothing to the Army Jesus has formed to wage the information war he’s given us to wage, spreading the Gospel of Salvation to the whole world---if they don’t make a concerted effort to evangelize and support international evangelism on their own (see http://www.unityinchrist.com/missionstatement.htm for some interesting how-to ideas in that area). Independent Christians and those in independent house-churches who don’t support some form of active evangelism are essentially selfish Christians, not desiring to serve in the “war effort” of evangelism Jesus has called us to wage. This is a serious charge, but I’m a believer in the saying, “If the shoe fits, wear it.” If your small group does contribute voluntarily to some of the major international evangelistic organizations, then that comment doesn’t apply. But for many of the “independents” it does apply.
Pitfalls of “house-churches” and “small-group Bible studies”
I need to address the type of house-churches that are bad for the believer. There are ones that are good for believers (and often they end up growing bigger and bigger, becoming regular churches, “because healthy sheep reproduce healthy sheep”). George Barna in his two books Revolution: Finding Vibrant Faith Beyond the Walls of the Sanctuary and The Second Coming of the Church applauds what he calls the “revolutionaries” who are abandoning the established churches in favor of small group fellowships and individual devotion (i.e. independent Christians, attending nowhere). Even house-churches need to have the marks of a church. The house churches Barna is praising typically have no structure, have no formal doctrine, i.e. they have not even agreed upon or laid out a statement of beliefs for their house-church or small group study, and they have no formal organization. They have no pastors or elders who have studied the Word of God in depth and are capable of systematically teaching their attending individuals, effectively nourishing them in the Word, going through the entire Word of God consistently. Their practice is to just take turns in leading discussions. Spiritual growth with this type of “feeding the sheep” is minimal and inconsistent at best, leading to “anemic sheep.” These house-churches have no affiliations with any larger body, nor do they have specific doctrines or confessions of faith. It almost seems to fit the last statement found in the book of Judges, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). The book of Judges is basically a chronicle of the children of Israel living in a state of anarchy. This type of house church and small group Bible studies are no different. No one is subject to church discipline, there is no protection from harmful doctrines and teachings being brought in by individual members, who can come and go as they please, because no statement of beliefs has been agreed upon. They have no overseeing pastor to properly guard and protect their members from false doctrine. If a conflict breaks out, people just don’t come back, whereas in a church, those things can be resolved in a godly manner, where all benefit in the end, and the wounds of an offended or hurt member can be bound up and healed. For those that desire to provide a healthy spiritual growth environment, here’s some advice. Often in the early growth of a house church, a pastor is not available. They should find a healthy form of sermon format given by a solid church denomination, and use their sermon tapes until someone is found who can become a pastor. They should not aimlessly bounce around with one form of teaching after another, as described in this paragraph. Let me tell you, Satan just loves George Barna, as he’s heralding (and thus promoting) the dividing up of the body of Christ at a time when the body of Christ desperately needs unity, promoting a type of house-church that is unhealthy spiritually. A house-church should go through a healthy progression, outlined by Jim Rudd. They tend to spend the first year feeling out their place and identity. The second year they spend solidifying that identity and working out the bugs. They then (on the third year) can begin to look at and then implement the evangelistic efforts---but NOT until they have spent the first two years working out those bugs, hammering out a statement of beliefs and vision for their house-church. If a house church is not actively working through this progression it is not a healthy group and is standing on dangerous ground. And often a house-church that follows that progression grows into a regular church, they’re forced to by their very expansion in members. We had kids practically hanging out of the radio studio building windows when the church I attended was just at Bible study size and started to mushroom in growth. And that building was the size of a small house, not large at all.
Another reason house-churches form
Some house churches are formed by groups of believers of similar doctrinal background coming together, who have no denominational group like them to be a part of. They’re believers, but doctrinally, they just don’t seem to fit anywhere. We need a good example, just to make this clear. An example of that is when the Worldwide Church of God under Joe Tkach Jr. switched to Sunday/Christmas/Easter as their chosen days of worship. This resulted in multiple tens of thousands of new covenant believers who preferred the Sabbath and Holy Days as their voluntary choice for days of worship being squeezed out of that denomination. Numbers of them from that denomination have coalesced into small groups across the country. I attend just such a group periodically. Some of those house-churches in this category are struggling to move forward toward having a set of doctrinal beliefs and a regular teaching format, and ultimately a pastor. They have been left out in the cold by our old denomination. I am not focusing on people in that particular boat. But they too need to realize they’re in a dangerous place without a clear doctrinal statement of beliefs and a pastor who is qualified, and working a good 40 hours a week in support of “nurturing the sheep” within their small-groups. Satan loves the kind of disunity in such a group that hasn’t achieved a statement of beliefs, or has a pastor yet, they’re on dangerous ground, like sheep without a shepherd. Spiritual wolves, coyotes, cougars and bears are all around, just as with physical sheep. They’re vulnerable, period.
Now when I mentioned “electronic shrines”, many of these are excellent resources for spiritual growth, don’t get me wrong. They’re a tool, an important tool. But tools can be used properly and improperly. You don’t use a hammer to saw wood, just like you don’t use a saw to hammer nails, just doesn’t work. But internet resources must be used properly, and strictly as a supplemental resource and not as a church. This website, UNITYINCHRIST.COM is just a resource, but it is never intended to be a church for independent Christians logging onto it.
Special-purpose church needed
Are you one of those ex-Worldwide Church of God believers squeezed out by Joe Tkach Jr.’s switch to Sunday/Christmas/Easter days of worship? This might be for you. I have proposed, put the idea out there for the formation of a “special purpose church/denomination” to perform a special job in the area of promoting unity of purpose across denominational lines as well as creating a cash-flow in the area of promoting international evangelism around the world. But it is never the intention of these congregations, should they form up, to use this website as their sole source of spiritual nourishment, or to take the place of a pastor who preaches the Word of God to them, week in, week out. It’s purpose is strictly supplemental. If this “special purpose church” ever forms up, it will have a solid doctrinal statement of beliefs, qualified pastors, and a clear vision for accomplishing the task Jesus gave us all to perform, the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20. Their pastors will teach clearly and consistently through the entire Word of God using the “connective expository sermon” format, to prevent over-emphasis (overgrazing) on any part of the Word of God. Should this special purpose church-denomination start up, this website will continue on as an extension of that work and vision, as part of the overall greater work of God’s evangelistic army. Do you have what it takes to pastor one of these congregations? If you are interested in learning more about this with perhaps the desire to start up one of these congregations, check out the related links below, read them, and then contact me directly at UNITYINCHRIST.COM, PO BOX 875, Fitchburg, MA 01420.