House Church Unplugged

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Charles Finney on formless church

Charles Finney (1792-1875) is a hero claimed by the likes of far-righter Jerry Falwell and left-leaning Jim Wallis of Sojourners – and all sorts in between.

The following extract is from Finney’s Revival Lectures, chapter 14. He popularized, I believe, the view that Scripture dictates no certain form of church structure, government, or ritual. Of course, he had plenty of ideas about those matters, himself.

We are left in the dark as to the measures pursued by the apostles and primitive preachers, except so far as we can gather from occasional hints in the Book of Acts. We do not know how many times they sang, how many times they prayed, in public worship, nor even whether they sang or prayed at all in their ordinary meetings for preaching. When Jesus Christ was on earth, laboring among His disciples, He had nothing to do with forms or measures. He did from time to time in this respect just as it would be natural for any man to do in such cases, without anything like a set form or mode. The Jews accused Him of disregarding their forms. His object was to preach and teach mankind the true religion. And when the apostles preached afterwards, with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, we hear nothing about their having a particular system of measures for carrying on their work; nor do we hear of one apostle doing a thing in a particular way because others did it in that way. Their commission was: “Go and preach the Gospel, and disciple all nations.” It did not prescribe any forms. It did not admit any. No person can pretend to get any set of forms or particular directions as to measures, out of this commission. Do it – the best way you can; ask wisdom from God; use the faculties He has given you; seek the direction of the Holy Ghost; go forward and do it.

This was their commission. And their object was to make known the Gospel in the most effectual way, to make the truth stand out strikingly, so as to obtain the attention and secure the obedience of the greatest number possible. No person can find any form of doing this laid down in the Bible. It is preaching the Gospel which there stands out prominently as the great thing. The form is left out of the question.

It is manifest that in preaching the Gospel there must be some kind of measures adopted. The Gospel must be presented before the minds of the people, and measures must be taken so that they can hear it, and be induced to attend to it. This is done by *building churches, holding stated or other meetings, and so on. Without some measures, the Gospel can never be made to take effect among men.

So, if I am a Mormon, my church rituals are OK just as long as I am not pushy about them?

“This is done by building churches,” you say? Is that “building churches” as in church buildings?

Are house churchers (and all you others) prepared to end all discussions about church rituals and forms if they accept Finney’s viewpoint? I don’t see any other choice.

3 Responses to “Charles Finney on formless church”

  1. Finney was a great man, but I agree that some of his comments here are hard to swallow. The comment about “building churches” is disappointing, but I’m sure he was walking according to the light that he had, just like we all are.

  2. Dave Bradley says:

    Okay, so I am just going to ask one question: “Is the Body of Christ you see today a reflection of His Head, Our Lord Jesus Christ?” If you can honestly answer yes, Praise the Lord. I just think we live in total contrast to what Jesus teaches us. We have become ‘of this world’, rather than the Body of Christ ‘in this world.’

  3. J.R. Miller says:

    Hi, thanks for coming by and commenting on MTK. This is a very interesting quote from Finney. You might be interested in my short book on Funney titled, “The Church in Crisis”

    Meantime, I will keep reading along with you.

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