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Friday, November 12, 2010

Church Outside the Camp

Out of church but not out of God, Christianity Outside The Box

Home church meetings?  Churches without names, buildings, or a hired pastor?  Ideas that once sounded "out there" are rapidly becoming one of the largest spiritual movements in the world.
The George Barna Research Group in a startling survey found that the fastest growing segment of Christianity is among Christians leaving the institutionally organized churches and finding fellowship and support as they gather in homes and other places.  (Google "Barna organic Home Church")
Approximately 7% of adults surveyed were participating in an "organic church", typically, one where people gathered in a home for worship, sharing of faith, and study of the Bible.

In his article, Barna stated "

71% say they are “more likely to develop my religious beliefs on my own, rather than to accept an entire set of beliefs that a particular church teaches.”  And he found, "Levels of distrust toward churches, church leaders and organized Christianity have been growing over the past two decades. That concern – along with the heightened independence of Americans and the profound access to information that has characterized the past decade – may have led to the emergence of a large majority of adults feeling responsible for their own theological and spiritual development."
 There are many authors such as Frank Viola, Andrew Strom, and A.J. Kiesling to name a few.
There are growing numbers  of Christians choosing to gather together much as the early Christians did in the book of Acts.
In fact, a quick word search for "church house" in a Bible Search Program ( )
yielded numerous references such as 1st Corinthians 16:19 The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Prisca salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.
Colossians 4:15
 Salute the brethren that are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church that is in their house",  -and more.
Reasons for leaving institutional are greatly varied.
Some leave church because they are bitter over spiritual and/or clergy abuse.
Some leave because they cannot live up to expectations. Either their own, others, or even God's expectations as they are perceived.
Some leave because they experience emptiness in routines, programs, financial manipulation, and performance-oriented services.
Some leave the assurance and affirmation of church in order to find a more meaningful relationship to God.
Some leave because they began to read the Bible and saw how the words of Christian church scripture disagree with commonly accepted practices such as tithing and what Jesus called the "Nicolaitane" clergy.
Some leave because God told them to.
Usually the establishment church views them with labels such as "lone-rangers," "disgruntled," "discord sowers," "false prophets," heretics, lone wolves, murmurers, and other labels we ourselves once used to put on people when they left OUR church.
However, in church history, a surprising perspective is found when we realize that many of God's people separated themselves from the mainstream  faith.
Jesus Himself was labeled, castigated, and persecuted by the establishment religious order.
Paul the apostle was converted but did not go to "church" for three years. He later suffered outside the camp of Judaistic Israel after Christ revealed Himself to him.
And of course, ALL of the followers of Jesus came out from among the mainstream sects and denominations of the Jewish religion. For this, they were persecuted, labeled, and spoken evil of by the religious establishment of the day.

Jesus Himself said He came to bring division in Luke 12:51 Think ye that I am come to give peace in the earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division.
It is an astonishing parallel to our day in which there are countless sects, denominations, and divisions under the banner of "Christian". Anyone looking at the "church directory" in the Yellow Pages will quickly become overwhelmed by the smorgasbord of church ads.   
Yet it is an amazing discovery to find that the overwhelming majority of early Christians met in homes with no overhead, hired minister, or the typical furnishings found in the typical church building. It comes as a further shock to realize the pastors of that day were told by the apostle Paul himself, that they (the bishops) should be "so working that you ought to support the weak" (Acts 20:35)

The New Testament knows nothing of a professional clergy. In the typical home church assembly, families and individuals will gather together for a meal, fellowship, worship, and sharing. In this atmosphere, everyone participates or is welcome to; the body of Christ functions as a loving, caring, and sharing spiritual family.
In our own home gatherings, which are rotated among several families, meetings tend to last 6-8 hours in a very enjoyable atmosphere in which most of the people stay well into the night.
One typical Saturday we assembled with spiritual "family" as the Body of Christ from around 2:30 to 11 pm.  We talked, ate, prayed, discussed the Bible, testified, and shared what the Lord is doing in our lives. Several experienced physical healings including from a migraine headache and a back condition.  The intimacy of a home meeting is more conducive to personal ministry, confession of struggles, and ministry one to another which the typical church service does not have room for. Without the formal structure of a programmed church "service," the home meetings facilitate openness and frank expression of needs, problems, and personal giftings each member may have opportunity to exercise. 
Another common objection hurled at non-institutional church goers, is that there is no denominational or spiritual covering, or accountability.
While this may be partly true, especially with those "leaders" who desire to build their own "church kingdom" and seek to be supported by others, many have networked and have learned to make themselves accountable to God and those they gather with. In fact, there is no such thing as the phrase "spiritual covering" given in the scriptures. Nor is there a titled clergy, structured church hierarchy, or even the position of one man called "pastor" put in charge of an assembly.
Again, it comes as a shock to find a multiplicity of elders were given oversight of the churches.  One or several men were exercising the gift of a pastor alongside the other unpaid, ministerial gifts of service to the church.

Giving and tithing according to the tradition of the offering plate is another area where many home churches depart from church traditon. Although we personally found no scriptures instructing churches or saints to pay a tithe, or 10% of income, giving is an important part of our fellowship. Since a home group has no paid minister or church overhead, 100% of giving  goes directly to meet the needs of others, as opposed to typical church overhead and salaries which take 95% of the typical church's income. Some ministries may be supported by choice "as a man purposes in his heart" but not by compulsion.
Home churchers tend to eschew "tax deductible" offerings in favor of private, that is, secret, giving without any desire for record keeping by a church secretary or pastor. Jesus appeared to encourage self-less, secret giving also, (Matthew 6:4 that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret shall recompense thee),  and Saint Paul testified how that he "was careful to remember the poor"  in Galatians  2:10
That is how the home churches tend to function, once they are free from the typical church-mindset.  More of the people become involved in caring and ministering one to another and those around them.
We were persoanlly amazed at the first home church meeting we visited in another city. The simplicity and lack of formal orchestration was like a culture shock but we quickly adapted and came to love it, and we would never want to exchange the close fellowship for a large building and watching others "lead church" up in front.
Admittedly, "home church" is not for everyone, but for many, it fills the need for closer, more intimate Christian fellowship than does the Institutional, program-driven setting of the formal church.
Jesus said simply "where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst". -That also is church.

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