27th February 2007
A summary of Frank Viola's article on House Churches by Gary Amirault. Excellent insight. ---T
Tentmaker Reconciliation List Message: Local Fellowshipping
(Feel free to pass this onto other lists. Gary Amirault)
since becoming a Christian over twenty years ago, the subject of
Christians coming together to worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth
and to become the light of the world has been a central issue for me
and a most frustrating one. I have a burning desire to see local
expressions of Christ’s body in the earth that have real impact in
their community. I’ve been in hundreds of different churches,
assemblies, home groups, cell groups, etc. and have not really found
what I truly believe can be available to those who have been brought
into the kingdom of God. Our Video “Christ’s Body Assembled in the New
Day” expresses some of my hopes for local assemblies:
are many obstacles which prevent a pure local expression from coming
forth. Frank Viola in his book “So You Want to Start a House Church ”
lists some of them. Below is an excerpt from the book. While I believe
Frank is wrong in some of his thinking, he still has some valuable
things to contribute. I’ll make a comment about that at the end of
Frank’s summary on House Churches.
Frank Viola on House Churches:
Some Sub-Cultures of House Church
Most of the groups that fly under the flag of "house church" or "NT church" fit neatly into one of the following categories:
The Glorified Bible Study.
This brand of house church is typically chaired by an ex-clergyman or
aspiring Bible teacher. This person usually facilitates a round-table
discussion of the Scriptures. Meetings are dominated by Bible
expositions which often descend into fruitless debates. In the
glorified Bible study, those members who are not theologically inclined
have a rather thin participation. Whether he recognizes it or not, the
person facilitating the Bible study is in charge of the church.
* The Special Interest Group.
These home groups make their focal point for assembling a common
interest like home school, home birth, the keeping of Jewish feasts, a
particular eschatological view, a pro forma pattern of church service,
organic farming, personal prophecy, "Holy Ghost laughter," social
justice, or some other issue, fad, or thing—even "house church" itself!
* The Personality Cult.
Members of these groups center their universe around a gifted man or
woman. It may be a dead apostle whose writings act as the exclusive
medium for the group’s identity, beliefs, and practices. More often,
the object of attention is a Christian leader who founds the church and
perpetually stays resident within it. While the gifted personality
often has a genuine desire to see the Body build itself up, his mere
presence obstructs this spiritual dynamic. He is typically blind to the
fact that he has unwittingly fostered an unhealthy dependence upon
himself. Therefore, he is the son of the modern pastor.
* The Bless-Me-Club.
At bottom, this is a narcissistic community—a spiritual ghetto. The
meetings are insular and highly charismatic. The group functions as a
spiritual fueling station for burned out Christians in need of an
emotional fix. Churches of this ilk are dominated by navel-gazing
individualists. Thus its members typically bail-out whenever the group
faces a rough thicket. So when conflict or dry spells occur, those who
were most zealous about "house church" end up being lured back to the
polish and flair of the program-driven religious system.
* The Socially Amorphous Party.
These home groups are typically comprised of four to eight people who
nebulously meet in a living room to chat over tea and cookies. They
rarely attain critical mass due to a lack of vision and purpose. They
like to speak bulbously about Jesus being present whenever "two or
three are gathered together." However, they usually fold before they
even begin to understand why they exist. If they do not fold, their
meetings become progressively sterile as the years roll by.
* The Disgruntled Malcontent Society.
Comprised of ex-church derelicts and recycled Christians, these groups
happily assemble to lick their wounds and slam the "spiritually
abusive" institutional church. Their meetings are permeated with an
atmosphere of pessimism, cynicism, and veiled bitterness. Tragically,
after the members tire of attacking the organized church, they begin to
chew one another up. Thus they find themselves taken by the same spirit
they set out to oppose. This form of house church attracts Christians
who are deeply wounded and have never learned to trust others.
* The Unwritten Liturgy Driven Church.
These groups clearly stand outside the stream of institutional
Christianity. But they often do not meet in a home. Many gather in a
rented building or a "meeting hall." The dominating weakness of their
gatherings is the lurking presence of an unwritten liturgy. The
ironclad liturgy, which is practiced perfunctorily every week, is never
questioned or changed. In fact, if the order of worship is broken in
any way, the leadership of the church will call the violators on the
carpet to reprove them for their irreverence!
of the aforementioned groups happily sail under the banner of "house
church" or "NT church." Yet they all fall short of the Scriptural idea
of church. By NT standards, a church is a group of Christians that
gathers unto, by, and for the Lord Jesus Christ alone. It is an
assembly of believers who are fiercely committed to Christ’s full
expression in their community. Jesus Christ is the life-blood of the
church. He is the Center. He is the Circumference. He is the Content.
He is the Focus. He is the sole gathering point of the church.
saints who gather as a church are consumed with Jesus Christ and
nothing else. Their goal is to make Him visible in their community.
Their hallmark is their growing knowledge of the Lord. And their
testimony is an unmistakable love for one another. House churches that
are not characterized by these spiritual features not only miss a step,
but they dance the wrong dance.
genuine church is neither issue-centered, person-centered, nor
doctrine-centered. It is Christ-centered! The church exists for one
purpose and one purpose alone: The unveiling of the centrality and
supremacy of her Lord! In fact, in God’s view the church is a Person,
not a structure. It is Jesus Christ in corporate human expression (Acts
2:47; 5:14; 9:4; 11:24; 1 Cor. 12:12).
short, when Jesus Christ is not the center of a house church, the only
fuel that can drive it is a fascinating issue, a charismatic
personality, or a nifty doctrine. But all of these fuels yield low
mileage. And when they run dry, the group collapses.
fellowship of believers can only be held together in any beneficial way
when a continual encounter with the Lord Jesus becomes the dominating
element. At bottom, if Christ is not the glue of a non-institutional
church, its meetings will become shallow, colorless, and eventually
Psalmist once uttered, "If the foundations be destroyed, what can the
righteous do?" (Psalms. 11:3). Why have so many house churches bitten
the dust? Most often it is because they were not founded upon a
revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ. Instead, they were founded upon
are a raft of things today that Christians assemble around—even noble
things that have something to do with Christ. The following "things"
have taken center stage in most modern house churches in the West:
Calvinism ("the doctrines of grace").
Some end-time theology (usually preterism, post-millenialism, or pre-tribulationalism).
"Holy Ghost laughter" and being "slain in the Spirit."
Some political viewpoint.
Social justice and helping the poor.
Any-man’s doctrine (meaning, the group exists to debate various doctrines from the Bible).
Social fellowship ("hanging out").
The doctrine of ultimate reconciliation or universalism (even the devil gets saved in the end).
An academic Bible
Health and nutrition.
of these "things" are the glue that holds such groups together. But
there is a colossal difference between meeting around some "thing"
about the Lord and meeting around the Lord Himself! There is a vast
ocean between meeting around an "it" and meeting around "Him"!
you were to read your NT with an eye for discovering how the early
churches were formed, you would find that they were solidly built upon
the unshakable revelation of Jesus Christ (Matt. 16:16-18). All the
churches that Paul planted were built upon this revelation (1 Cor.
3:11). And out of this mighty unveiling of Christ, churches
spontaneously issued forth. (Note that the apostolic declaration of
Jesus Christ has community forming properties.)
the church is founded upon the Lord Jesus Christ, it can survive under
the most intense pressure and testing (1 Cor. 3:6-15). The winds may
blow brutally and the floods fall fiercely, but the house will stand
because it is founded upon a Rock (Matt. 7:24-27; Luke 6:46-48). Put
another way, Jesus Christ is the only unmovable foundation upon which
God’s people may rightfully gather.
Christians who are seeking to serve God without the sturdy props of
human hierarchy must build their community life upon Jesus Christ. If
they do not, their chances of surviving are close to nil. (End of Summary)
I (Gary Amirault) believe Frank Viola hit the nail on the head on a lot of points.
a fellowship built around Frank’s ideas expressed in his article can
still end up in idolatry. Frank points out (and rightfully so) that
many house fellowship are built around a favorite doctrine. And he
points out that there are some who meet around the doctrine of
Universal Salvation (a doctrine which I believe Frank does not embrace,
at least publicly.) The Father seeks those who will worship Him in
Spirit and in Truth. I don’t believe that is possible without the
Truth. Yes, Jesus is the Truth. But equally true is the fact that this
truth needs to be expressed in sound teaching. I don’t believe people
who are worshipping an image of a God who ends up failing for most of
mankind (those who believe in a Hell of everlasting punishment) are
worshipping the true image of God. Anything less is idolatry. True, the
doctrine of Universal Salvation CAN and often is an idol in one’s
heart. It is true that the teaching of Universal Salvation, Grace,
Sovereignty, Dispensationalism, Preterism, etc. can and often are
distractions from true worship, nevertheless, sound teaching is vital
in local bodies. Any fellowship that centers around a Savior who tried
to save the world but missed, is a fellowship doomed to the same failure
as their failed savior. However, a fellowship built around the
“doctrine” of universal salvation is equally doomed to fail in
have another email distribution list entitled “Local Fellowships” to
which we have not sent too many mailings. (As a matter of fact, we
haven’t sent much to any of our distribution lists due to lack of
time.) We are going to try to make a concerted effort to do more
towards promoting local fellowships incorporating some of the ideas in
our video “Christ’s Body Assembled in the New Day,” Frank’s summary
above as well as other resources. We offer two books in our Tentmaker
Resources that are excellent reference works on the church and
assembling: “The Way Church Ought To Be” by Robert Lund and “Pagan
Christianity” by Frank Viola . Please bookmark the page:
you have a deep desire to gather with those who love Jesus Christ and
His Father, please email me. Send me your name, address, phone numbers.
We are going to put more effort in helping people come together to
“worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth” and to be the “light of the
world.” Email me. And please lift this desire on our part and yours
before our Maker in prayer.
John 17:19-26 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. 20 "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me
through their message, 21
that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in
you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have
sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23
I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let
the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have
loved me. 24 "Father, I want those you have given me to be
with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me
because you loved me before the creation of the world. 25 "Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26
I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in
order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself
may be in them."
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