What is a church? | Frequently asked questions

9. How can a tiny, ramshackle, spread out collection of house churches possibly compete with the existing infra-structure of traditional churches and the evangelism, missions and good works that they are accomplishing?


Let me first of all make it clear that we aren’t actually trying to compete with anyone at all, and are glad for evangelism, missions and good works from whichever groups of believers or churches they may spring. However, the question is a good one and needs an answer. And I think the best place to start is with the simple fact that, when it comes to what those of us are doing regarding what we see as a return to a biblically based church life and practice, we are in the early days of a pioneering situation. And pioneers don’t often, at least in the early phases of what they are trying to pioneer, have an awful lot to show for their labors.

Think about it! In the early days of America (it isn’t really old enough yet to have much by way of later days) people from the reasonably well settled eastern seaboard decided to open up the west, and one of the greatest chapters of modern history began to be written. Men and women with a vision for more than they already had headed out to the western territories for a better life and became both the legendary pioneers of the Wild West and the heroes of generations to come. Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, Jim Bowie, Clint Eastwood (!!!???) and a host of others (both real and apocryphal), captured the imagination of the watching world. As far as you could go before hitting the Pacific on the shores of modern-day California, Oregon and Washington, ‘the cowboys,’ as they became affectionately and universally known, opened up new territories in which people could build homes and farms and work and live and play and love and die.

But what was it actually like for them in the early days? What did they initially have to show for their labors and dreams? Well, compared to the more stable, established and comfortable American society back east, not very much at all. In fact, instability, insecurity, intense discomfort and even danger were their constant fare. Or at least, it was in the beginning! And just imagine what it would have been like when folks from back east (New York, let’s say) visited what is now California in the early days of our Wild West pioneers! In contrast to what they were used to at home, what might they have thought?

“What, no flush toilets?”

“Are you telling me I have to shower in cold water outside under the stars?”

“How do I get a cab?”

“Where can I catch a good show?”

“How are the Oysters and Tournedos Rossini this season?”

And of course the problem is that they’ve come to take a look far too soon. They’ve come in the early phase of the pioneering process, yet whilst expecting the end result of the process to already be in evidence. A whole load of stuff that will be in place eventually just isn’t in place in the early phases. (I can, to my great personal relief, vouch for the efficacy of modern day plumbing throughout the American Pacific coast.)

And it’s the same with this house church stuff. We’re at the beginning of something and therefore in the same position as those early pioneers. We haven’t got the plumbing in yet because we’re too busy clearing out the rattlesnakes and getting some footings in for a shack and a roof over our families heads. But when things are more established, when more people are involved, well – just imagine it then! Without infrastructure, and with, for instance, every penny in personal giving being available to resource individuals in their callings, then bit by bit a veritable army of evangelists and ministries of good works to the poor and needy will eventually be sent out. It’s just going to take time, that’s all!

I can understand how people see this thing now as some ramshackle two bit deal, but then very large oak trees grow from very small acorns. And as with those Wild West pioneers, the point isn’t what the early years were like, it’s what the western seaboard is like today. You see, it’s the end result we’re looking to, that’s the point! But we can only get there bit by bit, one step at a time.

So does it look a bit uninviting at present? Well, I suppose it depends on what you actually want! If you’re just after spiritual comfort and want everything laid on for you then Yes, I guess it’s not too appealing. But if you want what scripture teaches…!!! Hmmm!! Well, that’s different! Then these messy rag-tag and, in any worldly sense, utterly unimpressive house churches springing up all over the world are actually one of the most beautiful things you have ever seen. And in the light of that fact I’ll take a mess o’ beans around a camp fire rather than Tournedos Rossini in a fancy restaurant any day of the week!

 

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