Home Churching or HIM Churching?


For better or for worse, among western Christians something is afoot.

The last few decades have seen a clear movement out of the conventional church buildings, and into Christians’ homes, originating what is usually called the “Home Church Movement”. And since “Home Schooling” is now an accepted term or designation for teaching your children at home, ‘doing church’ at home (instead of in the conventional church building) was bound to become “Home Churching”. It is not difficult to find much that is positive in Home Churching. Apart from the many who leave the “Institutionalized Church” for all the wrong reasons and start home churches, or join home churches for all the wrong reasons, no one can ignore the numbers of those who have left the IC for valid and spiritual reasons in order to return to the simplicity found in the New Testament. They are folks who are longing and searching for spiritual reality, for true fellowship, for growing in the Lord’s Word and in his work, together with brothers and sisters in Christ. They may not be the type of people that make big waves. Their private struggles and sufferings have often been immense, but the grace of God took them through. But for that grace, they might have despaired …

Pastors, ministers and vicars are frequently taken aback by the fact that those forsaking them in this modern day’s silent “exodus” are very often precisely the men and women that came across as “pillars” among the rest.

A high percentage leave because for years their needs just haven’t been met, nor those of the family. The feeling of being obliged to keep up appearances of spirituality, while having to toe a denominational line which looks more and more artificial and less and less scriptural, just becomes too much of a burden. Especially since, more often than not, any thought of the ‘priesthood of all believers’ is relegated to the “closet of theological questions-without-answers”. Many get the sensation of being stifled, if not strangled. Eventually, the sense of personal hypocrisy just becomes unbearable.

For centuries there have been these two options: either you stick it out “till death do us part”, or you leave – period! This second option used to be remote, it meant a desperate jump ‘from the frying pan into the fire’. In many cases it meant persecution, prison or death. No safety net then and, in so many cases, no loving home group to welcome you.

Leaving the IC now doesn’t apportion as much stigma, but individuals, married couples, whole families may still have to go through a most upsetting and wrenching experience. Some make an honest effort to talk things through with the pastor and the elders before the final decision is taken, others may have lost faith in the “system” to such a degree, they cannot bring themselves to do even that.

Pastor and congregation, also shaken by the event, may, in the worst case, see the deserter as a kind of Judas. They may call him names like “fundamentalist” or “backslider” and say he has a “holier-than-thou” attitude, or a “sectarian” spirit. Fortunately others have found different ways to react. Pastor and congregation may come to the conclusion that in their ranks there is a true lack of community, intimacy, identity and involvement. The pastor may be humbled to the point of admitting that he, as the “professional”, has been exercising lots of authority and prerogatives and spiritual gifts, all the time depriving his “lay” people of what the Bible shows to be a universal priesthood, i.e. of all believers. It is a new and exciting insight, which has made many churches turn to the “cell church” model. On Sundays all of them may still congregate in the usual church building, but during the week lots of small “cells” now gather in a number of homes for prayer and worship, fellowship and Bible study. Among many it is also proving to be an effective way of “roping in” outsiders, who may consequently surrender to Christ. There are special training courses for those who play a leading role. The experience has been positive for multitudes of Christians. It is dawning on them that there is infinitely more to the Christian experience than the pulpit-pew relationship. But while some would say this is THE way to make a church a New Testament church, others realize that it is no more than a step in the right direction.

And so what about the home-churchers, the ones who left the IC precisely in order to continue meeting in homes? They find their inspiration in passages like the one at the end of Romans. And there are those who are doing well! The movement is quite widespread now in the USA and growing in other places. If this is good news to all those who pray for a return to NT principles and practice, what when you hear about the rest of the world? Many parts of Asia, especially China, are the hot spots of home churching. Consider the following, recently reported by ReligionToday.com:

Indigenous evangelists are carrying the gospel throughout Vietnam. Government crackdowns on house churches are not stopping the preachers from ministering at more than 300 sites in 27 provinces throughout the country. A village chief and witch doctor have become Christians and are training to become church planters. When meeting places are raided by police they just move to another location.

China’s house churches are growing so fast that some Christians haven’t had time to grow up. Explosive growth of the movement is outpacing the spiritual development of its members. Chinese Christians need teachers. There are an estimated 70 million house-church members in China. Evangelistic zeal of its members spread the underground movement like wildfire in the past 20 years. Itinerant preachers hold meetings in forests, on mountain tops, and other out-of-the-way places. New Christians begin evangelizing almost immediately, and about 25,000 a day are added to the church.

Asian house church Christians pay a price too. Only just recently over 60 leaders in one Chinese province were arrested. When tried, they could be sentenced to long prison terms. We may stand in awe at what God is doing, but let us not forget to hold up these dear ones in prayer.

If, with the glaring lack of sound Bible teaching, heresy in doctrine and practice are sadly common in Chinese home churches, what about the dangers home churches face in the west? Consider these criticisms:

It has been said that home-churches can be

* “A pooling of ignorance.”

* “An amateur talent show on Sundays in a home.”

It could be that in spite of those who are gathering for the right reasons, a vocal minority (or even a majority) display one main “gift”:

* bashing the IC. There are not a few groups where this is simply the main “unifying” factor: criticism of the IC.

* Denominational baggage, supposedly left behind, usually finds a way of becoming weighty again in the minds of the ‘brethren’ and a ready

* root of bitterness.

Many who were in the home based “shepherding movement” of the seventies look back with almost nightmarish memories of all the things that went terribly wrong:

* heresy and hypocrisy taking pride of place.

No wonder that many a so-called ‘home church’, started in great hopes, perhaps with great fanfare, gets bogged down before very long, or it blows up or it simply disappears from the scene.

Is there a sure way to avoid barrenness, heresy and all those other things? There is one and it is the only one. Matthew 18:20 gives us the master key:

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

This is our Lord himself, speaking about the local church. It is important to note that in spite of what you’d conclude from all the modern hype and sloganeering, He does not say that the local church necessarily must be a home church. What, however, is absolutely indispensable for this group of believers, be they few or be they many: if they want to be a true church, i.e. a New Testament church, they must congregate around Christ, i.e. they must be Christ-centered; not self centered, denomination centered, pastor centered, charisma centered …, no, not even home centered.

The NT church in Laodicea had stopped to be NT, i.e. they had allowed all kinds of things to come in that had nothing to do with the simple pattern laid down by the Lord. But what was the real trouble, the basic trouble? After only a few decades, these first century redeemed in Laodicea had stopped to be Christ-centered. Rev. 3 shows us the devastating results: Jesus Christ, far from being “in the midst”, was outside the door (Rev. 3:20). In his estimation they had become spiritual beggars: “wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked.” There is no indication they had stopped being a home church, but they certainly were not a HIM church.

This last one of our Lord’s epistles, as much a marvelous gem as the other six, also shows us HIS way to restoration. It is not “revival meetings”, “reorganization” of some sort, “hands-on leadership”, deeper Bible teaching, greater involvement of more members, etc., etc. We are not saying these are not good things. What we are saying is that the human “flesh” is quite capable of many ‘good things’, yet without the Lord being in them at all.

Restoration has to do with the believer’s individual response to his knocking. The One who stands at the door does not just want that door opened to him, and He does not merely want to come in, or even just sit at that “table”. Once He sits at the believer’s table, that guest will turn into the host, the one who presides. Says He:“.. I will sup with him and he with ME!” Now will that believer let Him …? That is the question …: to let him or not to let him! The willingness of the church’s Head cannot be in doubt, but what about the member’s willingness?

It all has to do directly with the Message of the Cross. In Jesus’ own words: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). To pretend to “sup” with the Lord, i.e. giving him first place in one’s life, and to pretend to give him center place in the Christian meetings, is just that: empty pretense. It is utter foolishness. It leads to disaster. Only the sincere and humble acceptance of the Message of the Cross leads to the true experience of personal fellowship with Him. It is the one ingredient for “HIM churching” that is indispensable. Nothing else will do. If you have a thousand good ingredients to start a home church, but this one is missing, you have nothing at all and it is better to not even start.

In very many cases homes may still be the best places to gather around Him, in all simplicity. And, of course, for most meetings that also means around an open Bible. His grace is still absolutely available and sufficient. It is there to break down all this silly ‘pretense’ in us, so that his cross-life, which is his resurrection-life, may be wonderfully experienced, making “HIM churching” one of the most precious components of our daily lives. More importantly: it is what HE is longing for! To see how great is his pleasure when He sees it, you only need to look at Psalm 133.