Blog Template Theology of the Body: One Catholic's Critique of the House Church Movement

Monday, April 20, 2009

One Catholic's Critique of the House Church Movement

The prospect of forming yet another new house "church" to the greater glory of God frequently manifests itself in evangelical Protestantism's ongoing dialogue within itself about what it means to be joined to the one body of Christ; and there is something deeply grievous in the presuppositions which ground the question for those who are more passionate about visible, effective Christian unity than anything else, particularly as the civil structures around us slowly degenerate.

In the firrst place, the House Church movement runs contrary to evangelicalism's own self-identification, because a smattering of disparate Christian communities can make evangelism very difficult; when the Christian community in an area becomes more and more diffuse, where do you send your converts for the ongoing task of discipleship? And how credible can the Christian message seem to unbelievers when it is represented by hundreds of disparate communities who all believe and experience something different?

Secondly, the Scriptures which evangelicals embrace above all else make no qualification about the importance of submitting and conforming to what the Holy Spirit has already done in gathering Christians together in each and every vicinity, rather than trying to create something new in order to meet various personal spiritual needs. When we recall what Jesus presumes in Matthew 18; it's true that He promises to be present in a gathering as small as two or three people, but He also presumes that there is to be an established authority structure in place, of the sort that can enforce discipline for errant members. One might also think of the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22, where the Father's invitation is for a particular time and place. This mandate makes so much sense in light of the Hebrew Bible's injunctions for the believers to gather to worship in the particular time, place, and manner centered around the Jerusalem Temple, which points to our even more particularized worship of the person Jesus; and as the parable concludes, the Father rejects those who instead go about their own business in other times and places rather than the one He has ordained:

"Then he sent some more servants and said, 'Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.' But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business... and the king was angry." Matthew 22: 4-5: 4

Accordingly, the principle of II Corinthians 9:12-13 holds that the spreading of the Gospel must be accompanied by generosity within- and obedience to- a specific community:

"This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else."

Similarly, the principle of I John 2: 18-20 is that the body of believers should absolutely remain together in doctrine and fellowship rather than "going out;" here the apostle presumes that the principle of separation and division (which is traditionally identified NOT as a "revolutionary" principle of revival, but rather as the sin of schism) is a mark of the spirit of antichrist:

"Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us."

Finally, St. Paul's inspired writings describe a standard of unity in doctrine that seems very difficult to maintain in independent, dissociated house churches. For instance, Paul requires the believers to confess and believe the same thing in I Corinthians 1:10: "I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind (teaching) and thought;" the same idea is re-iterated in 1 Corinthians 4:17: "For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church."

In sum, the Biblical principles of ingathering and mutual submission to all that God has already done in and for the Church, His "Bride," is very different from the popular evangelical vision of dissimulation. Even though separation into multiple house churches may be a currently popular trend, this does not mean that is it is necessarily Biblical. Obviously not every popular trend in our culture brings glory to God.