IT IS TRUE TO SAY that there is no more interesting section in the whole letter than this [Ch. 14], for it sheds a flood of light on what a church service was like in the early church. There was obviously a freedom and informality about it which is completely strange to our ideas.
There was obviously a flexibility about the order of service in the early church which is now totally lacking. There was clearly no settled order at all. Everything was informal enough to allow any man who felt he had a message to give, to give it. It may well be that we set far too much store on dignity and order nowadays. It may well be that we have become slaves of service. The really notable thing about an early church service must have been that almost everyone came feeling that he had both the privilege an the obligation of contributing something to it.
A man did not come with the sole intention of being a passive listener. He did not come only to receive, he came also to give. Obviously this had its dangers for it is clear that at Corinth there were those who were too fond of the sound of their own voices; but nonetheless the church must have been in those days much more the real possession of the ordinary Christian.
It may well be that the church lost something when she delegated so much to the professional ministry and left so little to the ordinary church member; and it may well be that the blame lies not with the ministry for annexing those rights, but with the laity for abandoning them, because it is all too true that there are many church members whose attitude is that they think far more of what the church can do for them than of what they can do for the church, and who are very ready to criticize what is done but very unready to take any share in doing the church’s work themselves.
William Barclay (1907-1978)
If you think your house church is suffering from the “defacto pastor” syndrome, one can usually tell in about 15 minutes.
By “defacto pastor” I mean what Webster’s Dictionary means: “being such in effect though not formally recognized.” The American Heritage New Dictionary puts it this way: “Something generally accepted or agreed to without any formal decision in its favor.”
Well, in many house churches you usually find someone “generally accepted without any decision” to be the pastor, though he or she would deny it vehemently.
How do you recognize one.
The next time you gather as a house church and eat your meal just watch what happens next: In a typical house church the folks get together in an adjacent room and sit down and have “church”. After everyone has cleaned up their plates, etc. and have gathered in the living room, the people will settle down and look to someone to “start”.
That person they look to is – by design or by default – the defacto pastor. That person might not realize it but they are. They probably started the group or it might meet in their home, etc. but 9 times out of 10 they are functioning as a “defacto pastor”.
The problem is that by taking the place as the “pastor” in the group, the potential for mutual edification and mutual participation goes out the window! We all know that when a pastor is in the house, the rest of us get quite…
“[the] difficulty a pastor has in being a part of a searching group is the tendency he has to dominate and the tendency of the laymen to submit. Strange though it may seem, it is not an easy thing for a pastor to be a human being in a group that is discussing religious problems. All his background and training tend to set him up as the authority. When the laymen have said all they know about the problem, they turn to him for ‘the answer.'” (Findley Edge – The Greening of the Church 1970)
What to do about it.
1. Start over.
Don’t do anything for the next few months but eat together and share your testimonies. Have great pot-luck meals and tell each other how you came to the Lord and why you now find yourself in this house church. I read about one group of 9 people from different walks of life who did this and they thought it would be over in one meeting. Surprisingly enough, it took them six weeks to cover everybody!!
Tell your “defacto worship leader” to leave his/her guitar at home and just come together to eat! Get rid of any idea that someone is in charge and that there is any program. Do dishes together and even play cards. Anything but have a “spiritual meeting” where someone has to lead and others follow.
2. Make the house church even smaller.
If you are 20 make two groups of 10. By forcing yourselves to become smaller there is less competition for some one to “lead”. It’s better for everyone involved to share their stories and to hear from each other if you get the size down to under 10.
“[the] group must be small enough so that each person has a feeling of significance… Every person must be able to speak and be spoken to in each meeting. When the group becomes large, it is easy for the aggressive persons to dominate and for the shy ones to withdraw. Findley Edge
3. Emphasize meeting outside of the meeting.
Don’t put all your eggs in the “house church gathering basket”. Tell people to meet outside of the meeting. Tell them to go shopping together. Encourage them to celebrate their birthdays together. To baby sit each others kids. Float down a river together instead of having house church. Let the Spirit lead you into countless expressions of “body life” outside of the meeting.
After a few months of this, just maybe the Lord will bring you back together again as a whole house church. Don’t rush into it but let Him lead. Celebrate what you have learned and go forward with fresh insight and convictions.
Yours for the Kingdom,
THIS SEEMS A GLARINGLY obvious question, but I have found from experience that even Christians who ought to know better give a variety of vague answers that fall short of a biblical answer. To do good, to preach the gospel, to save souls, to heal the sick, to baptize bodies are all good and true answers, but fall short of what stands out a mile in the New testament account in Acts. What did those first apostolic missionaries like Paul, Barnabas, Silas and Timothy actually do? Certainly they did preach and teach, heal and serve – but why? For what purpose? Not just to save individual souls. Acts is absolutely clear. They planted churches.
Now this is something that needs emphasizing. We live in a day of techniques, methodologies and specializations. Enthusiastic individuals found new movements and organizations specializing in evangelizing young people, students or hospital patients; or provide useful services by translating the Bible, flying airplanes, relieving famines, broadcasting, helping refugees, printing and distributing literature, or making a host of other excellent and worthy contributions to the Christian cause. We should note that most of these movements have arisen first in countries where there is already an existing network of local churches of various denominations. But we must never lose sight of the fact that such organizations are only auxiliary, ancillary, secondary and supplementary to the chief task of missions, which is to plant new churches.
Unless we see this clearly, we shall be misled about the nature of missionary work. It is obviously excellent that the gospel should be preached by every possible means to all sorts of people, and that tracts should be widely distributed and every opportunity taken for witness. But we should not think that by doing so we have necessarily accomplished anything permanent and lasting. We know that for every thousand tracts distributed, only a few will be read and only a very few of those read in such a way as to bring people to faith in Christ. Again only a relatively small portion of non-Christians ever get into Christian meetings at all, and only some of those get converted.
While all these specialized groups do a worthy work, then, they need to do it in such a way as to assist a solid church-planting work so that the growing church can nurture and build up those who may be reached by such methods. In recent years there has been a fresh realization that the local churches are the best soul-winning agencies there are.
This biblical emphasis on a church-planting will also warn us of the grave limitations of short-term outreach in which young people spend a few weeks or months “blitzing” an area with the gospel. This kind of service is excellent for training, for enabling young people to see the immensity of the need; but on its own it is an inadequate means of planting churches. Church-planting requires the patient work and steady slog of preaching, teaching disciples and building them together into viable self-propagating congregations. This requires the ability to speak and teach clearly in the local language, to understand and respond to problems created by the local culture, and that knowledge of people, places and situations that make a Christian worker not only devoted, but relevant to the situation of people where they are. Above all, the church-planter needs to work in one place for an extended period of time.
So quite unequivocally I want to stress that missionary work must always center on the local church –and that means that in pioneer areas, the primary, long-term task of missionaries must be to plant churches… Church-planters are the infantry of God’s army: there may be more colorful groups of cavalry, commandos, artillery, signals, engineers and ordinance, but they all exist to serve the main body so that they can win battles.
Michael Griffiths “What on Earth Are You Doing?”(1983)
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If you can stand it, I would like to ask you all one more time to look at the Lord’s Supper through the lens of the New Testament and see if you would not agree with me that this may be one of the biggest blind spots for the church around the world in the last 2000 years!
1. It’s a supper, stupid!
First and foremost, if you look at all the texts that describe what we now practice and call “The Lord’s Supper”, you will notice that it was in the context of Jesus and His disciples sharing the Passover meal together.
Mtt. 26:26 And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples.
Mark 14: 22 And while they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it; and gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is My body.”
Luke 22:20 And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood.”
John 13:3-4 Jesus… rose from super, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself about.
Later on we see the early church, following the instructions of those very same disciples, doing the same exact thing!
Acts 2:44,46 And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common… and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.
Acts 20:7 And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread
I Cor 11:20-22 Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating, each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk.
I Cor 11:33 So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.
Jude 12 These men are those who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves.
If the Bible was to fall out of the sky today and hit me on the head and I read for the first time the above scriptures, I must conclude that the early church had a meal together they called the Lord’s Supper.
If I never knew that there was a thing called a Christian, I would expect that if I found some of them on planet earth they would gather together like their Master and first disciples and eat a grand meal, with lots of food and drink and so carry out His commandments.
Why we don’t eat this meal together today when we gather as believers in this same Jesus is beyond finding out? I have asked high and low, searched out far and wide and the only reason I have been presented is that the early churched abused this meal and so we then changed it to a wafer and cracker….
After all, we don’t want any drunks in our church! I long to be in a fellowship of committed Christ-followers that gather together with such festivity and celebration that at least the “potential” to get drunk is very present!
2. “He who ate my Bread has lifted up his heel against me.”
Secondly, I think we just don’t understand the biblical metaphor for “breaking bread” well enough. It is a custom that the Western world has little or no comparison to.
When my family first went to live in the tiny little country of Tajikistan as missionaries in 2000, we were soon offered the delight of eating a meal with a local Tajik family. What we witnessed that day changed our lives forever.
As we sat on the floor on a beautiful rug waiting for a huge meal, the man of the family took a loaf of flat bread and broke it and passed it around to each of us sitting there! It was his way of welcoming us to his house and his way of expressing that he will provide for us. Anything that he could offer was ours!
I immediately said to myself, “This is what Jesus did! Yet I am experiencing it first hand in a Muslim home completely cut off from the Gospel.”
When the head of the house broke bread and humbly passed it around to each of us, I thought this must be a small ritual that dates back 1000’s of years.
Sure enough you can read about something very similar in the Psalms.
“Even my close friend in whom I trusted, Who ate my bread, Has lifted up his heel against me” Ps 41:9
In the time of David to “share bread with someone” meant that you were one with each other. One of heart and friendship was secure. There was often a “covenant meal” eaten by its participants to guarantee the deed! Much like the example of Jonathan who stripped himself of robe, armor and sword and gave them to David.
As is always the case, Jesus followed this “red thread” through to its conclusion when, on the night of His betrayal – during the Passover Meal! – quotes from this same passage concerning Judas:
“I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen; but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘HE WHO EATS MY BREAD HAS LIFTED UP HIS HEEL AGAINST ME.’ John 13:18
Given these two tragic situations one must conclude that the height of treachery is to dine with someone and then turn your back against him in betrayal.
3. Constantine the Crook
Finally one must study the influence of Constantine the Great (see: ca.313 Edict of Milan) to understand HOW the church could get so off course in such a simple, powerful experience of the original meal and love feast.
(In this regard, I do not feel any liberties to discuss the dilemma of the Roman Catholic church as it attempted – down through the centuries – to give blatant meaning to this simple meal by describing God being physically present in the host, etc.)
Constantine the Great, operating out of his new glorious capital Constantinople (modern day Istanbul), wanted to unite and consolidate his newly acquired empire from the Romans. His “brilliant” idea was to use the persecuted Christian church, which hitherto had met simply in homes, and make them THE official religion of his Kingdom. He made Sunday THE official holiday of the empire and turned the previously pagan temples into huge Christian cathedrals… and basically forced everyone in his empire to attend!
Imagine having a “breaking bread meal” with 1000’s of “worshippers” and you can quickly come to the obvious conclusion that the church took a bad turn out of the wrong reasons!
Unfortunately for Constantine (and untold millions of Jesus believers) his newly claimed kingdom was thoroughly pagan before they “magically” became Christianized in one day and from this time forward brought with them many pagan ideas and practices into the church.
The one glaring fact of church history is that the pre-Christian Constantinople was following the sun god Ra. Ask when the Ra was most supremely celebrated and you will find that it links with the winter solstice, Dec 21st and they followed a practice of gift exchange on Ra’s actual birthday Dec. 25th.
Have you ever wondered why Easter, unlike Christmas, is not celebrated on a certain date but changes yearly. Constantine (AD 325) and the church council of Nicaea is your answer.
Easter is a movable feast; that is, it is not always held on the same date. It was decided that Easter should be the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox of March 21. Even the name Easter comes from Eostre, an ancient Anglo-Saxon goddess, originally “of the dawn”. In pagan times an annual spring festival was held in her honor. (wikipedia.com)
Now is the time to break free of the pagan past and embrace the liberty Christ died for. Before we call ourselves a “bible believing church” ever again let’s make sure we have covered all the bases.
Here is to the next generation who will never know anything of the “sip and cracker” Lord’s Supper.
Here’s to the future generation that will know nothing of the institutional church born from a 4th century madman Emperor/Conqueror, that eventually gave us pew, pulpit and passivity!
Yours for the least in the Kingdom,
If we are to be fruitful sending house churches / apostolic teams from the western world into the last remaining unreached people groups, I believe that we must look at the “unknown/unseen” baggage that most westerners will carry with them. My wife and I call it: “the White Man’s Burden”. (WMB)
Simply put the WMB is:
“the supposed or presumed responsibility of white people to govern and impart their culture to non-white people.”
In an excerpt from a speech by William Jennings Bryan, a gifted speaker, lawyer, and three-time US presidential candidate, basically sums up the position that there is such a thing as a the “white man’s burden”.
No one can travel among the dark-skinned races of the Orient without feeling that the white man occupies an especially favored position among the children of men, and the recognition of this fact is accompanied by the conviction that there is a duty inseparably connected with the advantages enjoyed. William Jennings Bryan — July 4, 1906
This speech, made on Independence Day 1906, was not that long ago. You see in his own words that he is not joking and that he really believes that the white man has an “especially favored position” vis-à-vis, the dark-skinned. YUCK!!
You can’t argue with success, Baby.
“Success is probably the highest value in American life. It relates to so many other characteristics of American life — individualism, freedom, goal-setting, progress, experimenting, social mobility, making money, pragmatism, and optimism.” Stan Nussbaum
We have seen the visible signs of this “success burden” from Eastern Europe to Central Asia. As white missionaries enter poor nations they automatically, like “default mode” on your computer, enter in with ideas of how they can help, “What this country needs…”, etc. Most of the time they simply transpose what worked in their country to the country they are in, with little thought to what is indigenous or reproducible at the local level.
One example from our experience is the effort made to bring into a poor nation in Central Asia “solar ovens” that would help poor villagers cook meals so that they would not further deplete their scarce wood supply. Well, as things actually worked out, the solar ovens – which can be produced with local materials although the concept is foreign – are not being used to cook meals much but are used to boil water for tea.
I guess this is a “hybrid type” of success story but nevertheless the principle of “what worked for us is what will work for you”, carried on by the power of the WMB, still remains alive and well on planet earth!
I have read of poor African nations almost being forced by Western governments to purchase huge farm tractors to jump start their “deplorable” economy. Well, a few years later the tractors are converted into “city taxis” and farming goes on as it has for generations. But now the country suffers under more debt to rich nations for purchasing the tractors in the first place.
Your feedback would be much appreciated.
Jeff and Maria Gilbertson
I often think back to a comment that I heard some years ago in Boston, as we were beginning our ministry there. One of our team members (a young gal from a mid-western state) innocently mentioned that “going to church in Boston is like going to school.” OK, so Boston is also called the “Athens of America” and has over 250,000 University students. You can forgive her making this comment!
But what I hear in this statement (which could be made in Bismark, Budapest or Bonn) is that the mind leads in our relationship to God not the heart. I hear a type of “Christian Darwinism” that puts down the “primitive” aspects of Christianity and exalts the more highly evolved, “civilized” aspects.
Enculturation is the fancy anthropological word used to describe “being trained in the values and behaviors of one’s parent society”. Certainly these “learned behaviors” that express our unique culture (whether Tajik, American, Korean, etc.), which we learned on our mommy’s knee, are an inevitable part of the human race.
The danger lies in the slow transformation of cultures through the centuries, from “primitive to civilized”, and the impact that has on our worldview, where these values and behaviors take root. For more on this important subject, please carefully read the following quote:
“All of us, by virtue of our enculturation in Western society in general, and in American society in particular, have deeply embedded within us certain ideas regarding what it means to be civilized and what it means to be primitive. We have been taught that civilization represents an advanced state of human development, with an extremely high level of achievement and sophistication in the arts and sciences, technology, government, and social institutions. To us, even our religion has long since moved out of the morass of superstition and magic [miracles].” L. Robert Kohls
Christianity is a “primitive religion”
Yet when I read my Bible I see a religion full of “primitive miracles”, most of the time involving “ignorant and uneducated men” (Acts 4:12). Miracles that involve spitting into someone’s eyes, rebuking trees and wind, speaking in tongues, conversing with donkeys, throwing hankies on sick people, becoming instantly blind or mute as a judgment (or worse, falling down dead!), dipping seven times in a dirty river to become clean, etc. The list is endless!
Of course the Apostle Paul had a brilliant mind and used it often for God’s glory as he argued with and persuaded the Gentiles. But he would be the first to speak out to our generation and say: “Oh, for a faith that is not resting on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God and the demonstration of the Spirit”! (I Cor. 2:4-5)
In the book “The Spiritual Expansion of the Church”, Roland Allen presents the case that groups in China “that have learned the gospel from the relatively ignorant and untrained are often found to have learned it both truly and deeply and to be anxious for more”
One of the times we see Jesus rejoicing the most is when the 70 disciples came back rejoicing that demons were subject to them, He, however, was rejoicing that the simplest amongst them got it right!:
At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, “I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.
Following Jesus must be the simplest thing one could ever do! (Watch out! I didn’t say easiest.) He is “more than enough” for every man, woman, and child on earth. Let us not let our minds get in the way and prevent ourselves or others from falling madly in love – from the heart! – with a Beautiful Savior.
Yours for the Least in the Kingdom,