For those of us involved in trying to steer the church back to her early, First Century, New Testament roots, we must realize that many of those believing friends around us may have possibly spent their entire lifetime in church “muddling through”. Let me explain what I mean by that…
For the past few years I have been working part time as a web designer. This may not seem to be a good place to find parallels to the house church movement but I found some interesting comparisons with how people use web sites and how people “do church”.
It seems hard to imagine but when people get “on the web” to search sites or look for something to buy, etc. they don’t actually stop and try to figure out how to use the site they are at but rather prefer to “muddle through”.
Read it for yourself, from Web Usability expert Steve Krug:
“We don’t figure out how things work. We muddle through. One of the things that becomes obvious… is the extent to which people use things all the time without understanding how they work, or with completely wrong-headed ideas about how they work. Faced with any sort of technology, very few people take the time to read instructions. Instead, we forge ahead and muddle through, making up our own vaguely plausible stories about what we’re doing and why it works… And muddling through is not limited to beginners. Even technically savvy users often have surprising gaps in their understanding of how things work…
Why does this happen?
1. It’s not important to us. For most of us, it doesn’t matter to us whether we understand how things work, as long as we can use them. It’s not for lack of intelligence, but for lack of caring. In the great scheme of things, it’s just not important to us.
2. If we find something that works, we stick to it. Once we find something that works—no matter how badly—we tend not to look for a better way. We’ll use a better way if we stumble across one, but we seldom look for one.” (Steve Krug, 2000)
Many in the simple church lifestyle are saying that we are in a “revolution”, which is the overthrow of an unjust government. In many ways I agree, but I believe that this must be “Velvet Revolution” like was lived out before the world’s eyes during the fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia. This non-violent, bloodless revolution happened because so many people – at times up to 500,000 – took to the streets en masse to protest to the way things were.
Within days the government voluntarily chose to give up their monopoly of power and allowed democratic elections for the first time in 50 years! Our call and challenge is to make truth acceptable. Passion alone does not often change they way people think. They need peaceful, rational and reasoned arguments from people they trust and know love them.
May the Grace of the Lord be on us all.
Yours for the least in the Kingdom,
It is nothing short of staggering that the myth of Islamic tolerance could have gained such currency in the teeth of Muhammad’s open contempt and hatred for Jews and Christians, incitements of violence against them, and calls that they be converted or subjugated. While human nature is everywhere the same and Muslims can, of course, act as tolerantly as anyone else, the example of Muhammad, the highest model for human behavior, constantly pulls them in a different direction.
The fact that Western analysts continue to ignore all this demonstrates the ease with which people can be convinced of something they wish to believe, regardless of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Robert Spencer ~~ The Truth about Muhammad (2006)
Nearly five hundred years ago in the small town of Grossmuenster, Switzerland, a dozen or so men trudged through knee deep snow to the home of Felix Manz (shown). What transpired that wintry night is called by some church historians “The most revolutionary act of the Reformation.”
Sadly their story lies hidden under piles and piles of eccisiological baggage. Let’s give it another look, however, for therein we might find clues from the Spirit of Jesus for the church in the new millennium.
What this handful of brave men were about to do on that January night in 1525 was to get “re-baptized”, but this time as adult believers. Perhaps you have heard of them: the Swiss Brethren (later called the Anabaptists). As one-by-one they were baptized, upon their confession of faith in Christ, they also covenanted together to live a lifestyle reflecting the early church. One historian noted, “They dared to form a church after a New Testament pattern.”
The pattern they followed: they went from house to house and emphasized the absolute necessity of a personal commitment to Christ; they called out for laymen to get involved in witnessing, and to baptize those who put their faith in Christ; they shared a simple bread and wine as the Lord’s Supper when they met together in “house churches” throughout the week. Church for the Anabaptists was not on Sunday but everyday of the week!
The results were nothing less than those of biblical proportions!
Overnight, hundreds upon hundreds were converted. From a small village in the Swiss Alps, the movement of “Re-Baptism” spread throughout much of Austria, southern Germany and later to Holland and Moravia.
All this growth in the Kingdom came not without a tremendous cost of lives, however! Author Paul Hattaway (The Heavenly Man) writes about this issue from first-hand perspective:
It seems that change is rarely – if ever – welcomed in the Church. Church history has shown it is easier for a sleeping church to attack the messengers of change that God sends, rather than accept their teachings and possible corrections. This was the case with the Old Testament prophets whom God sent to Israel, and this has been the case throughout Church history to the present day.
In one year, 1529, more than 350 Anabaptists were martyred! This was a mere four years after those initial baptisms in Grossmuenster. Most of these dear brothers and sisters were drown in the rivers and lakes of central Europe, given a mean-spirited and mocking death by a “3rd Baptism”. Thousands more died within the first generation at the hands of the Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed churches! An executioner of that time cried out exasperated: “What shall I do, the more I execute, the more they increase!”
What was the Anabaptists’ big sin in the eyes of the established church??
They believed in a complete separation of Church and State and that religion is an individual heart issue with each individual responsible to God. They also rejected infant baptism (believing instead in a “believers baptism”), and sought to live their new life in Christ DAILY, in a “corporate”, relational way — putting them at odds with both the Catholic and Protestant institutional churches of their day.
New Wine Needs New Wineskins
“Be a student of Church history. Look at those little groups who came before us. Drink deep of their experience. Learn what they went through. Read their messages. Read their history. … We will never get anywhere unless we know ahead of time what they already discovered! We are not to begin at zero. We must begin, rather, where they left off.” (Gene Edwards, Our Mission)
To really feel the heart-beat of the Swiss Brethren we have to realize that their desire for a New Testament church was born out of their passion for Jesus, not radicalism for the sake of radicalism, or reform for the sake of reform. Their constant cry to the Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc.) was that they had stopped short of going all the way with what the Scriptures clearly held forth as a model for church and New Testament lifestyle! “Let’s establish a free church composed of voluntary believers”, they argued.
Many today are crying out for a 2nd Reformation of the church, saying that Luther didn’t go far enough. Luther changed the theology of the church but not it’s form, it’s structure. What we have today is an unlikely – and I believe unhealthy – mix of 4th Century “Constantine Church Structure” with a 21st Century “Outpouring of the Spirit”. To use Jesus’ words we are “Pouring new wine into old wineskins” and suffering the results. As a church we are not healthy and often resemble a burst wineskin more than a victorious Bride.
Just as the Anabaptists fought and died trying to put new wine into new wineskins, we must battle on also!! We need to live a New Testament lifestyle and put it into a New Testament structure that “fits” into today’s world.
As Hal Miller writes:
“Radical church renewal seeks to transform the contemporary church according to principals of church life found in the Bible. The goal is not to imitate the first-century church, for our modern social reality is different from the first-century. The goal is rather to create a church experience that is both true to biblical principles of church life and appropriate for our modern context.” (Quoted in Going to the Root by Christian Smith)
Yours for the Kingdom,
Living with chronic back pain is a real pain! My life was one continual struggle of pain management for about a year since re-injuring my back in November of 2003. Maria and I have learned a lot about the causes and prevention of back pain over these last few years.
Modern chiropractic care in America began in 1895 when a holistic practitioner named Daniel Palmer made a simple “spinal adjustment” on his clinic’s janitor. The man had previously been deaf for 17 years! After Palmer manipulated his spine, the janitor regained full hearing! Today we know that the spine is very vulnerable to misalignments caused by injuries or emotional and mental stress. These misalignments can then impact the nerves leading from the spinal cord to different parts of the body, such as we saw in the case of a deaf janitor–the lower back mysteriously effecting the ear!
Often times, when one part of the body is not working properly, it effects another part of the body… sounds interestingly like Scripture doesn’t it! We have been tremendously helped and challenged by the writings of Watchman Nee in this regard. Personally, I feel what he has written in What Shall This Man Do? (Ch. 7-9) is one of the best on the subject today! This e-article looks at three of Nee’s laws governing the Body’s life. I heartily recommend reading the whole book for more “foundational functioning” principles.
Functioning Law #1. “Use what you have been given”!
Now the body is not made up of one part but many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body ” 1 Cor. 12:14-16.
“Because, because, because…” Here is the first law of functioning which, according to Nee, seems to be written to the “lagging-behind-members” who tend to make excuses! The clear call from Paul is to take responsibility with what the Holy Spirit has given you and don’t compare yourselves with others.
Which is more important to you: your hand or your foot? Often we tend to think we are somehow inferior because we are different, which make us inclined to “sit on our hands”! This kills Body life. “The Church is suffering not as much from the prominence of the five-talent members as from the holding back of the one-talent members. The life of the whole Body is hampered and impoverished by the burial of those single talents” (Nee; cf. Mtt 25:14-30)
We need to be genuinely satisfied and earnestly committed to edify the body of Christ “when we gather” with what we have been given. NEVER say in your heart: “I do not belong here”. You do belong and are desperately needed for the whole body to properly function and be built up!
Functioning Law #2. “Leave room for others to function”!
The second law of functioning, interestingly enough, says just the opposite and seems to be written to the “too-far-forward- members”. (Nee)
If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? (vs. 17-19)
“Where, where, where…?” Here the call is to leave room for others in your spiritual family to bless you with what they have been given from the Holy Spirit. Life in the body is not just “all eye” (read all ‘I’). Some feel “called” to lead the meeting, serve the food, begin the singing, greet the visitors, bring the teaching, pray for the sick, etc. But a BODY has many members: hand, nose, foot, elbow, toe, ear, finger and so on…
We are not one part, but many! (1 Cor 12: 12, 14, 20, 27) Church, when you come together:
Let “Body Life” happen!
Are all eyes/apostles? NO! Are all ears/prophets? NO! Are all mouths/ teachers? NO! So, when we come together, we need to serve each other with all our heart and soul and then stand back and ask “Where?” are the others who need to function and serve us as well, with all their heart and soul!
Let’s not try and be “All things to all men…” when it comes to serving and edifying the body of believers! For ‘evangelism purposes’ YES! (Paul’s context), but not for “When we get together…”. Discipline yourself to limit yourself to your God-appointed sphere! As you build up others, also gladly receive from different ones what God has appointed them to give.
Functioning Law #3. “Watch out! You need the ‘unseemly members’ more than you realize”!
The third law of functioning underlines the contribution of the weaker, less honorable and unpresentable members!
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty. (vs. 21-23)
Watchman Nee tells of a major turning point in his life when he discovered the power of this law! Early on in his work, he was sent off to a very remote corner of China for evangelism amongst a poor, rural people. All the while he carried a great personal burden concerning the issue of the “fullness of the Holy Spirit” for his ministry:
“But where was I to find [help]? True there was a handful of simple believers, country folk, among whom I had been staying, but I felt they knew so little of the Lord that they certainly could not help me in the great problem I was facing. They would scarcely even have a sufficient foundation from which to pray intelligently for me in it, and certainly not enough to bring me through… At last I reached an impasse… So at my request those simple brethren came to me in my need. I told them what I could of my difficulty, and they prayed – and as they prayed, light dawned! The thing did not need explaining. It was done, and done in such a way that it has never needed to be repeated!” (Nee)
In closing, I would like to bring in Paul’s magnificent words to the Ephesians, the best letter ever written on the “Heavenly church”. (1 Corinthians is the best letter ever written on the “Earthly church”. I suggest we linger long in both letters!).
“From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Eph. 4:16)
Yours for the Bride – each part doing its work– without spot, stain or wrinkle,
by William Easterly
United Kingdom Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown is eloquent about one of the two tragedies of the world’s poor. In January 2005, he gave a compassionate speech about the tragedy of the extreme poverty afflicting billions of people, with millions of children dying from easily preventable diseases. He called for a doubling of foreign aid, a Marshall Plan for the world’s poor, and an International Financing Facility (IFF) against which tens of billions more dollars toward future aid could be borrowed to rescue the poor today. He offered hope by pointing out how easy it is to do good.
Medicine that would prevent half of all malaria deaths costs only twelve cents a dose. A bed net to prevent a child from getting malaria costs only four dollars. Preventing five million child deaths over the next ten years would cost just three dollars for each new mother. An aid program top give cash to families who put their children into elementary school, would cost little.
Gordon Brown was silent about the other tragedy of the world’s poor. That is the tragedy in which the West spent $2.3 trillion on foreign aid over the last five decades and still had not managed to get twelve-cent medicines to chi8ldren to prevent half of all malaria deaths. The West spent $2.3 trillion and still had not managed to get6 four-dollar bed nets to poor families. The West spent $2.3 trillion and still had not managed to get three dollars to each new mother to prevent five million child deaths. The West spent $2.3 trillion, and children are still carrying firewood instead of going to school. It’s a
tragedy that so much well-meaning compassion did not bring these results for needy people.
In a single day, on July16, 2005, the American and British economies delivered nine million copies of the sixth volume of the Harry Potter children’s book series to eager fans. Book retailers continually restocked the shelves as customers snatched up the book. Amazon and Barnes & Noble shipped prerecorded copies directly to customers’ homes. There was no Marshall Plan for harry potter, no International Financing Facility for books about underage wizards. It is heartbreaking that global society has evolved a highly efficient way to get entertainment to rich adults and children, while it cant’ get twelve-cent medicine to dying poor children.
This book is about that second tragedy. Visionaries, celebrities, presidents, chancellors of the exchequer, bureaucracies, and even armies address the first tragedy, and their compassion and hard work deserve admiration. Many fewer address the second tragedy. I feel like kind of a Scrooge pointing out the second tragedy when there is so much goodwill and compassion among so many people top help the poor. I speak to many audiences of goodhearted believers in the power of of Western Plans to help the poor,and I would so much like to believe them myself. I often fell like a sinful atheist who has somehow would up in the meeting of the conclaves of cardinals to choose the successor to the saintly John Paul II. Where there is a lot of consensus for Big Plans to help the poor, the audience receives my doubts about these plans about as well as the cardinals would receive my nomination of the pop singer Madonna to be the next Pope.
But I and other like-minded people keep trying, not to abandon aid to the poor, but to make sure it reaches them. Rich countries have to address the second tragedy if they are going to make any progress on the first tragedy. Otherwise, the current wave of enthusiasm for addressing world poverty will repeat the cycle of its predecessors:
idealism, high expectations, disappointing results, cynical backlash.
The second tragedy is due to the mistaken approach that traditional Western assistance takes toward world poverty. So has this book finally found, after all these years, the right Big Plan to reform foreign aid, to enrich the poor, to feed the hungry, and to save the dying? What a breakthrough if I have found such a plan when so many other, much smarter, people than I have tried many different plans over fifty years, and have failed.
You can relax; your author has no such delusions of grandeur. All the hoopla about having the right plan is itself a symptom of the misdirected approach to foreign aid taken by so many ion the past and so many still today.
The right plan is to have no plan.
The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good by William Easterly
For more reading
In many ways I see an overlap to what Easterly has written to describe the West’s efforts to aid the poor and to the West’s efforts to reach the unreached millions with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jeff Gilbertson
Have you heard recently these common phrases after church: “Have a great week!” or “See you next Sunday…”?
Nothing imaginable makes me cringe more than hearing these statements over and over again, like “going to church” is something akin to next weekend’s “golf outing”. Until the church – be that simple, house, or regular – sees Christianity as more than a meeting, we will have little to offer the unsaved masses around us.
I often reflect on these words by Roland Allen, a little known missionary to China in the early 1900s whose promising career was cut short by poor health. His voice is as prophetic as it gets! A voice that I truly wish more people would hear:
“If Christ had not said, “Go into all the world”, the word “Go into all the world” is so manifestly the expression of the Spirit of Incarnation that whoever had first uttered it would have been instantly recognized as the mouthpiece of the Spirit…. The Spirit is prior to the letter. The letter does not create the Spirit but the Spirit the letter.” (Missionary Principles)
You must agree with me that the Spirit of Christ wants more from us than a “See you next Sunday” Christianity!
Surely Jesus’ death on the cross bought for us more than a “Have a great week!” faith. Surely, even if no New Testament author had penned these words “Thou shall share your life abundantly, everyday, with your new family in Christ”, the Spirit of those same letters would demand that we do exactly that!!
If ever the world needed a return to the first century church life style and power, it is today!
”The first century church was a Way of Life – a lifestyle. Today, the watching world is still wanting to know if there is a way to live together in community that correctly manages the abuses of the fallen sin nature, including the abuses of sex, power and money. Does the church model the solutions to these issues? Therefore, church should be a web of relationships, of right relating.” (Wolfgang Simson)
Encourage One Another Day After Day
“Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ lest anyone of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Heb 3:12-13
Recently I have taken on a part-time at our local Wal-Mart. I obviously don’t quite fit the Wal-Mart mold, having just returned from the mission fields of Central Asia and now live with our family amongst the Muslims of our small community. As I have I talked quite openly with my co-workers about the Lord, I noticed that the average person has no clue to what a real Christian is. They also have little to offer their friends who are, indeed, seeking help and answers to life’s difficulties.
Case in point. As I talked about Jesus and Christianity, it was quickly pointed out to me that: “I stopped going to church when the priest physically abused me as a young child.” Another jumped in with “I believe in reincarnation and don’t believe in any bible, etc.” When I further queried her if she also believed in coming back as “plant matter” (ie. a tomato) like the billion Hindus of the world, she could only offer up: “Oh, I don’t believe in that kind of reincarnation!”
Most people – to create some sense of peace in the midst of difficult times – have created a “religion in their own image” and see no inconsistencies with living up to their own “personally created” moral standards. They are not attracted by a “See you next week” faith!
They may not see the inconsistencies of their own “religion” but they do see the inconsistencies of lifestyle by many Christians.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus, a “once a week meeting” with fellow believers is not enough to sustain your spiritual life. It is not even “life support”… You are already dying!
To start on the road to reclaim Christianity, I believe we must breakout of the Sunday church mindset! We need to follow the New Testament example of meeting daily! (see the life of Jesus, and Acts 2:46-47, 5:42, 6:1, 16:5, 17:11, 19:9).
Maria and I often use the saying:
“To have life within the meeting, you must have life outside the meeting.”
This means that, like Wolfgang Simson wrote above, we need a “web of relationships”. A brotherhood and sisterhood, living in committed relationships, where we can – daily – “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.” (Heb 10:24)
Yours for the least in the Kingdom,