House Church Redux

My friend Eric and I have been having intramural discussions about what the church is, and how we should worship. (Read the most recent installment here.) While on some points we’ve agreed to disagree, we agree on the heart of his argument, which is the church’s great responsibility for the Matthew 25 folks, “the least of these” that Jesus refers to in his sheep and goats parable. Having had a flirtation of my own with house churches, I continue to think about some of the things Eric said.

And now I’ve read a very interesting article over at the Christian Vision Project about the nature of the God’s ekklesia. The passage that caught my eye was this (and I should mention it was the only passage that caught my eye, since the rest of it’s “Emergent” meandering):

At a recent meeting in Johannesburg, Bindu Choudhrie explained how she and her husband Victor, a medical doctor, started several thousand churches in their region of India over the last decade. But if you went out to see something spectacular, you might miss it completely. The leaders are workers, housewives, students, and, in some cases, children. There is no large Easter or Christmas celebration to photograph—they don’t celebrate those festivals. There are no weekly services to attend—they meet daily in homes over meals.

In his book Greet the Ekklesia, Victor describes it as a secret fellowship. “We do not go to church, as we are the Ekklesia, wherever we happen to meet, in a house or anywhere else. The house ekklesia is not a series of meetings in someone’s house on a particular day, at a certain time, led by a particular leader. It is a household of God consisting of twenty-four-hours-a-day and seven-days-a-week relationships.” [emphasis mine]

This aspect of God’s ekklesia—what the New Testament sometimes calls koinonia—much of the American church has lost, and we are sorrier for it. The koinonia the church should enjoy many times falls prey to the demands of the workaday world and the entertainment culture we’ve nurtured this side of the Atlantic. I’ve heard (and occasionally voiced) sentiments like the following. “It’s hard enough to make time to go to church on Sunday. How am I supposed to spend time with people through the week?” Meanwhile, I’ve been horrified to discover, I’ll veg in front of the TV or Internet, sitting in the same room with my wife but saying nothing.

I say we’ve lost koinonia, but in reality, we’ve banished it, choosing instead a collective, programmed experience of spirituality. We go to church, follow prescribed forms for worship (not all bad), sit next to people we don’t really know (or the ten we do), and go back to our lives on Monday. We might also make time for other events: small groups, prayer meetings. Again, this is not necessarily bad. But if we hope to move past a simulated fellowship of special events into what Deitrich Bonhoeffer described as “life together,” we must rediscover what Victor calls “the household of God.”

Otherwise we’ll be left with a spiritual social club that organizes its time together as it shambles toward oblivion.

[Disclaimer: Thankfully, I’ve seen glimmers of hope in my own life and friendships. We’re doing the slow, sometimes hard work of getting past our social barriers, and we’ve had a wonderful number of spontaneous times of fellowship. It’s good, and Kristi and I continually wonder how we’ve lived so long without really experiencing it. I have not attained, as the apostle said, but I’m pressing forward.]

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One thought on “House Church Redux”

  1. Being able to walk to church would be a step in the right direction. Spontaneity can only happen in proximity. I really believe this is a situation of function following form. We live too far apart and our lives are too fragmented. For instance, since we have been more concerted to spend time with our friends from church, my family has not interacted near enough with our neighbors. This is a problem that requires a long range view and generational faith.

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