Your House Church – Weathering the Storm?


Jim van Heiningen

Lofty visions, worthy prospects:
a church in the home – built by faith – no clergy involved – all believers priests unto God – accessible to the whole neighborhood – a vibrant, joyful testimony of redeemed Christians – meeting around an open Bible…

Your dreams flying away with you? Get out your parachute, you’re about to crash land… “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it…” (Psalm 127).

Crash landing?

Untold thousands have crash landed. Was it God who let them down? Did the Bible prove less than reliable..?

They set out with lots of sincerity and enthusiasm. They meant to follow God’s guidelines in the New Testament, and become a Biblical church at last – free from the shackles of the “mainliners” with all their traditions and hierarchies and sanctuaries. But then… look what happened!

Initially everything did seem to go so well. Even the struggles to come to grips with Bible themes (since there was no clergy to do it for them) were a blessing in disguise. In fact there were many blessings! And, yes, outsiders were coming in, some getting converted…

Sour Honeymoon

But it doesn’t take all that long for things to go sour. Problems appear when some start pushing petty ideas or practices – could be about the Lord’s Table, about head (un)coverings, about seating arrangements, about what to sing, or about any number of other things.

Then there are the petty clashes among some of the “brethren” – if it isn’t the children’s behavior, it could be about the perceived slights or gossip, or about the fact that so-and-so is less than welcome in one of the homes… And what with the unresolved questions of “leadership”! Plus the doctrinal pitfalls of prophecy, covenant, Israel, baptism, Sabbath, you name it.

So some stop coming and nurse their bruises. Others think their ‘talents’ are spurned – they go scouting elsewhere. A number are convinced that they should really call a pastor to come and do some proper pastoring – so they split off. Still others backslide to the point of returning to the mainline church (!).

The remnant, while professing to be sad about such follies, are also rather relieved to be rid of the ‘troublemakers’. True, they are only a handful now, but there is still hope – they’ve just adopted the slogan “Evangelize or Fossilize”. With some solid systematic outreach they should be able to weather the storm and start growing again…

Weathering the storm?

That is changing the metaphor. Interestingly, it is also what Jesus’ first parable is all about. It is about a mini-hurricane, and two men and two houses, with details in two chapters – Matthew 7 and Luke 6. Who weathered the storm and who didn’t, and why, that is the question!

In telling this story, our Lord is making a specific point – something He wants to make perfectly clear: before building, there must be digging, not just some digging, but digging right down to the rock!

Applying the parable

It is good and proper to apply the parable to salvation. If by faith your life is truly anchored to the Rock, i.e. to Christ Jesus and to his word, then you are safe and saved. Safe spiritually in the storms of life that may buffet you – and saved regarding the awesome storm of the future.

For Jesus is also speaking in the context of the most terrible storm of all – God’s righteous and eternal judgment. This is clear from the passage immediately preceding the parable in Matthew. If Jesus Christ and his word are not your rock-solid foundation, then, no matter how solid your “house” appears to be, and how many storms you might have weathered on earth, that storm will not spare you.

Jesus speaks of total loss: a “great fall” and a “great ruin”.

Another apt application of the parable is the “family” one. If your marriage and home aren’t truly founded on the Rock, then, sooner or later, they will flounder. It’s happening all the time!

Good intentions? – they change with your moods. Sincere promises? – they’re easily forgotten. Romantic love? – you grow out of it. Faithful ‘church attendance’? – no real help. Marriage counseling?- no substitute for that rock-solid foundation.

If there is no absolutely real relationship with Jesus Christ, then human relationships are on their own! They will fray and fray some more, and in the end they will likely snap. If the solid rock that holds things together in joyful harmony is not there, what else can you expect?

And the house church?

There, like in every other case, the ‘magic’ word is: Digging!

Do we want to get to grips with the reality of a house church that functions in the NT way? Then there’s no option but to get back to the NT blueprint. That blueprint, like it or not, notifies us that there’s digging to be done. The trouble is, of course, that in our modern consumer Christianity in the West we have gotten used to the “mechanical diggers” doing the “digging” for us – popular “study Bibles”; seminary-trained clergy; great Bible conferences, Christian media, etc. What can you do with just a “simple” Bible..?

Precious few have any notion of what it means to personally ‘get through’ to the Rock, making absolutely sure that their life, their family, their (house) church, or whatever it may be, is truly anchored to HIM! You’d rather forget about that digging-down? It’s up to you – but in that case you may just as well forget about your house church too! It will not weather the storm.

The condition

A threefold condition must be met, Jesus says, to produce anything of lasting value. It is this:

come to him,
hear his word,
obey his word.

weathe3All of these combined, He says, amount to “digging deep and laying the foundation on the rock.”

The “rock” – solid, eternal, reliable, immovable – is clearly, in all of Scripture, a picture of Jesus Christ himself – check e.g. the song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32 where five times He is called “the Rock”.

The three parts of the condition that He lays down for a house to stand and weather the storm, correspond exactly with the three functions of the human soul: heart (or emotions), mind and will.

A heart, weighed down by sin, anxiety, or ignorance, that feels the need for understanding, forgiveness, security, acceptance, fellowship and revival, is drawn to the Savior; not just at the outset of a Christian life, but again and again. And He receives with open arms and gives abundant proof that He is, indeed, the one answer to the need.

But He wants more than our heart. In John 6 He had many “disciples”, people who had “come to him”. But they couldn’t stomach the teaching. They said: “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” Their heart was open, their mind was closed. They had “come”, but they weren’t ready to “hear”, i.e. to listen carefully to what He was teaching them. So they “went back and walked with Him no more”. Incidentally, this verse, you might say, is the one “666″ verse (John 6:66) that shows us clearly what Satan is really after: turn back the Lord’s disciples from walking with him.

Peter – case in point

The Lord is after an open mind, and He found it in Peter, at least on this occasion: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…”. But when He finds that open mind, there is still a part of the condition that must be met, the part that Peter wasn’t quite ready for. It is the “obey-his-word” part. Not long afterwards, in Matthew 16, Peter’s “mind”, grasping the implications for his “will”, rejected the Lord’s teaching about the cross. This rejection by mind and will could only lead to Peter’s eventual denial of his Lord.

There was true love there, no doubt about it. His “heart” had come, his “mind” was hearing – in fits and starts – but his “will”? It was his own and not about to surrender and obey. Submit the heart, submit the mind, and it will lead you into battle – the battle for the will…
In John 21 the Lord occupies himself with all three in Peter. His own efforts had been a miserable failure, but grace was now leading him to submit his will – and obey at last. Peter, anchored to the Rock, is made ready for Pentecost, ready to serve his Lord – come what may – ready to face the storms and the floods.

“Digging” takes time

It is also painful. Spiritual growth and spiritual upbuilding come at a cost – personally, but also corporately, e.g. in the “building” of a functioning NT (house) church.

One or two Christians, maybe a married couple, maybe friends, have a luminous idea: “Why not start a house church.., plenty of need in this place and plenty of scope..!”

What should be the next step? Obviously, it is to check first of all what the Head of the Church himself has to say on the subject.

What our Lord declares in Matthew 18:20 is that the NT way of gathering is a thing of utter Simplicity: it takes just two or three true believers – and no trimmings, trappings or traditions. What these “two or three” do have is a unique Secret: it is the one name, HIS name. It supersedes and excludes all other “names”, “titles”, “degrees” etc. It is also the key that unlocks the ultimate Significance: the solemn commitment of Jesus himself to be right there in the midst of them!

Come to him

Remembering what the Lord himself has laid down about the church’s gathering is obviously very important. What’s next? Start planning for next Sunday? There will be some plans eventually, but now it is “digging” time, and that means prayer. Not a matter of “saying a prayer or two” – we’re talking about “seeking the Lord’s face”. Most Christians have little or no idea about the realities of prayer, or a life of prayer, but, believe me, for a momentous decision like this – to start, or not to start, a house church – prayer is not a luxury that can be left aside. It is an absolute MUST! It is the “coming-to-him” part of the “digging”. It is your heart responding, not to a human project, but to the Lord and his plan and his will for your life, your time, your family, your testimony! As always, He will not disappoint – He is there to receive you and fill you with blessing when He sees you are in earnest!

Hear his word

And as you pray, alone and together, for his will to become clear, He will start directing you to his revealed will: the Bible. He is wanting to teach your mind – the “hearing-his-word” part of the “digging”. On the subject of the NT (house) church He will be leading your mind to passages like these: Acts 2 & 20; Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12 & 14; Ephesians 4; Hebrews 10; 1 Peter 4. Studying these thoroughly and carefully, in the light of the whole NT, will take weeks or months. It should be done both alone and with the others. It will (and should) revolutionize your understanding of the church’s way of functioning. For some this will be a “hard saying”, their mind not being ready for “revolution”. They may prefer to go their own way. Such parting of ways will not be easy. But better now than later!

Let me quote from “Dear Pastor..!” right on this website:”Tradition’s ways have such a hold on us that it takes a miracle of God’s grace to wean us away from it all. Such miracles do happen! Even in Paul’s day there were people, Jews in this case, who refused to simply drift with any human flow. They were into the Scriptures daily, doing some thorough researching in order to make sure they’d got it right. They didn’t even take the apostle’s word for it (Acts 17:11). Once the Word had illuminated them, they stepped out boldly by faith, risking their lives in the process!”

Obey his word

In other words the Bereans of Acts 17 did not only hear the word and search the Scriptures, they also obeyed the word.
Your heart is in this thing, your mind is grasping what He is teaching you – and not only ‘grasping’, you’re ‘embracing’ it. Wonderful! Now, are you ready for the last part? Is your “will” ready?

Remember that very first time, in Matthew 16, when the Lord broaches the subject of the “church”, the “ekklesia”? You may not have noticed this, but, right there and then He brings up something else for the very first time – it is the subject of his death on the cross! And, as we saw, Peter balked. It was like saying: “The church – fine! Death, crucifixion – no!!!” Hey, could that be our problem today?
The Lord understands our human reactions. He knows we’d rather skip death and the cross. And He says: that is man’s way, and it is Satan-inspired..! It is serious alright, and the Lord immediately goes on to teach all the disciples about “the cross” and what it implies for every single one. You and I are included.

Your time, his patience

We have seen how in Peter’s case it took time and it took all the Lord’s patience and all his love to finally get Peter ready for the “obeying-the-word” part of the “digging”, i.e. for Peter’s will to be broken and surrendered. But that amazing grace was victorious. Peter said “yes” to the cross!! He was ready to simply obey his Lord – even if, in the process, he and all his ‘wonderful’ qualities would be regarded as useless; even if he was signing his own death warrant.

Peter realized that whoever says “yes” to the death of the cross, also says “yes” to the resurrection, and to HIS “go-ahead” for HIS spiritual building projects. Peter understood the full implications and he didn’t shrink from them anymore.

By that same Grace, so may you! Once you have done your “digging”, the matter of starting a house church is not dependant anymore on human vision, projects, initiatives, activities and resources. You have dug right down to the Rock. And you realize now that all depends on HIM – that He is also the Master-builder. And that HIS building is storm-proof.

As you let him show you how to build, you will discover that what you’ve learned and what you’re learning, will be a major instrument in the Lord’s hand for helping and teaching others.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.”

John 12:24.