House Church How and Why by Joseph Higginbotham
House Church How and Why
The single most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven is planting new churches. C. Peter Wagner, Church Planting for a Greater Harvest, Regal Books, page 11.
The need for new churches is too urgent to remain the province of a few seminary-trained religious specialists. Even when we lower the bar of church membership to include so-called "new converts" who drop away after 6 months, profligates who come by transfer of church letter and babies who don't even know they are on the roll, 80% of our existing churches are numerically declining or plateaued. (Carl George, How To Break Growth Barriers, Baker Books, page 184.) What all this means is that our existing churches are failing to reach the current culture and the current generation and that our minuscule net growth rate isn't keeping pace with population growth. The 20% of our churches which are growing are doing so largely at the expense of the declining churches (which means it's transfer growth, not conversion growth) and only because they are spending huge sums of money to do it. Because our current churches are failing to reach the lost, the future expansion of the kingdom of God depends (humanly speaking) upon how effectively we can equip, encourage, empower and cajole so-called "lay people" to plant not just great numbers of new churches, but churches which are different in kind from the churches which are now failing to get the job done.
Recent church history is a monument erected of barriers to the establishment of new churches. The future expansion of the kingdom of God depends upon our obedience in identifying and dismantling these barriers. How many churches could we plant if we enlisted every so-called "layman" (an unbiblical word and concept which didn't plague the church until the third century) in the planting of new, different churches? How many churches could we plant if every Christian was taught to see his or her living room as a potential church building?
This is not untested theory. The early church turned the world upside down because they did not erect the barriers to church planting and growth which we have accepted today. When the poor beggar, lame from birth, asked alms of Peter and John, they didn't say, "We can't help you until we have a budget, a piece of land and a nice building in the suburbs, a paid preacher, by-laws and a constitution." When Peter said "Silver and gold have we none, but what I do have I give to you" (Acts 3:6), he was saying, in effect, "We offer no excuses for inaction, we acknowledge no barriers to the spread of the gospel." This article is about identifying and eliminating the barriers which today hinder the proliferation of new, different churches.
Part One : Barriers to Church Planting
A budget is a theological document. It indicates who or what we worship. J S. Hewett.
Barrier #1 The Expense Excuse
To keep church planting deliberative and rare, Satan doesn't have to convince us that it is a bad idea; he only has to convince us that it's expensive. Even churches whose own formation and history are proof to the contrary accept the Satanic premise that church planting is too costly.
Recently I was invited to preach several times in a small, 25-year-old church which had slipped from an attendance of about 150 in the mid-80s to an attendance of about 50 in 1996. During my association with this church, I challenged them to plant at least one new church in 1996. They told me they couldn't afford to start a new church, that their attendance was so low and their budget so small that it was all they could do to pay for a mortgage and a preacher. Their own church had begun as a mere Bible study group, so I decided to ask a few leading questions.
"Where did your own church start?", I asked a group of their "regulars".
"We started up the road in brother Winter's house", answered one of the charter members.
"Who paid the mortgage at brother Winter's house?", I probed.
"Well, brother Winter did, of course - it was his house."
"Well what about paying the preacher. What did that cost you?"
"Well, the preacher", explained one of the charter members, "had a good job down at the plant so he didn't charge us a dime until we got on our feet."
"Let me get this straight", I summarized, "25 years ago you started this church without a paid preacher, a budget or this beautiful building and land, but you're telling me you can't start another one the same way you started this one? Why not? You have more resources now than you did then. Besides your priorities, what's stopping you?"
Barrier #2 Getting the Organizational Cart Ahead of the Relational Horse
There are consequences to the way we define church. When church is "where the bishop is", those who are with the bishop exclude from communion those who are not. (See Geoffrey Bromiley's Historical Theology: An Introduction for an insightful analysis of the Ignatian and Cyprianic idea that the church is where the bishop is.) When church is where the state says it is, bishop and magistrate join in unholy collaboration to persecute - even kill - people who disagree. Ask the Montanists, Donatists and Anabaptists. When church is where right doctrine is preached, unity in Christ is replaced with unity in a creed. When church is where signs and wonders occur, charlatans are licensed to mislead and exploit the undiscerning and gullible.
Similarly, when church is defined as a place and/or an organization with a budget, by-laws, paid clergy and a mortgage, our very definition of "church" is a barrier to starting churches. So defined, new church start-ups are rare because the task appears expensive and daunting.
First-century Christians knew no such barriers to church planting. Elders were appointed after the establishment of new churches. Titus 1:5. The first "deacons" were chosen after the Jerusalem church was already thriving. (See Acts 6. Note: Christians disagree on whether these men were "deacons" in the official sense, but whether they were or not, the principle that organization follows community remains.) It is a well-documented fact of church history that many "major doctrines" were not codified until centuries after the proliferation of churches. The emphasis was on community first, organization later. The modern church has reversed the order to the detriment of both church planting and quality of life in the church.
If we continue to define church as a place / organization with a building, a budget, paid clergy and by-laws, we place the organizational cart ahead of the relational horse. Church planting will indeed remain rare. If, however, we define church as where community and shared commitment to Christ exists, we can start new churches anywhere, at anytime, with or without budgets, preachers and buildings!
Barrier #3 The High Cost of a Low View of Non-Clergy
In the pioneering days of this country, untrained, uneducated Methodist and Baptist "lay ministers" were evangelizing the frontier and planting new churches while the Episcopalians and Presbyterians were still building seminaries to train clergy. That early continental penetration explains Baptist and Methodist numerical dominance centuries later. There's a lesson here.
I said in the introduction that the need for new churches is too urgent for church planting to remain the province of a few highly-trained professionals. What I didn't say is that empowering so-called "lay people" to start new churches is only logical if we truly believe in "the priesthood of all believers" as taught in the Bible. I Peter 2:9, Revelation 1:6. It is orthodoxy elevated to orthopraxy, right doctrine translated into right practice.
The 16th century reformer, Martin Luther, believed in the "rule of faith" and the "perspicuity of Scripture". This is the idea that the major truths of Scripture are sufficiently clear to the believer who is illuminated by the Spirit such that even a simple, uneducated peasant or farmer can teach and preach with greater power and understanding than unregenerate theologians. "Evangelicals" have long given lip-service to these ideals, but it is only when we begin encouraging so-called "lay people" to start and lead churches that we can transcend the hypocrisy and priestcraft which have long hindered the advancement of the kingdom of God.
Am I advocating theological naiveté or attacking scholarship and learning? Not at all. But think about this: when the professional theologians study, teach and write theology, whose words and ideas do they analyze? Jesus. John. James. Jude. Peter. Paul. Not a Th.D. or D.Min. among them, but they changed the world.
Barrier #4 Unilateral Comity With Hell
Do not hinder him, for he who is not against you is for you. Jesus, Luke 9:50.
Perhaps not consciously, denominations have long defined church in much the same way marketers define franchise and, in doing so, have impeded the spread of the gospel and the establishment of new churches. This is called comity. A comity agreement is much like the geographical protections afforded to owners of McDonalds franchises. Under the terms of this agreement, the person or company buying the franchise is also buying exclusive rights to sell McDonalds products and trade on the McDonalds name in a specified geographical market area. The franchisor - McDonalds - agrees to restrict the sale of McDonalds hamburgers and the use of the McDonalds name within the protected area. This is why you don't see competing McDonalds restaurants across the street from each other. It's why you don't see two National League baseball franchises in the same city. It's also why we don't have enough churches to reach the masses. In the church world, comity is a sort of "gentlemen's agreement" to "compete" with other churches for the same population of people. Formal comity agreements once existed between denominations. I can still remember how angry it made some American Baptist churches in West Virginia when the Southern Baptists pushed northward into "their" state. American Baptists didn't rejoice that more gospel "hamburgers" would be available; they wanted the exclusive franchise on selling gospel hamburgers in West Virginia.
The comity/franchise idea today expresses itself every time a pastor says that instead of starting new churches we should work to build up the churches we already have. To ask for this kind of comity or geographically- exclusive franchise is to, in effect, strike a unilateral comity agreement with Hell. Satan can "plant" all the outposts and centers of rebellion he pleases while we politely respect each other's territorial claims. Satan understands who the "competition" is. It's us. We, on the other hand, limit the number of churches because we think the "competition" is other Christians, other churches, other denominations. Our polite reticence to plant churches where churches already exist is tantamount to unilateral comity with Hell. We agree not to compete with each other and, thereby, agree not to compete with Satan. A denominational church planter recently told me that his church planting efforts are impeded because his denomination is reluctant to start new churches where local pastors don't welcome "new competition".
When we plant new churches we create more staging sites for the spread of the gospel. We create more doors of entry to the kingdom. Each time we reach a new person for Christ - someone that another church failed to reach - we gain an inroad to that person's social network and family. McDonalds can't sell enough franchises to put hamburgers into the mouths of everybody. That's why there's room for Wendy's and Burger King. Similarly, there's no danger that we'll plant too many churches. The danger is that we won't plant enough.
Part two : What Kind of New Churches Should We Plant?
The basic trouble (with the church) is that the proposed cure has such a striking similarity to the disease. Elton Trueblood in Company of the Committed.
Beware the Hungry Man Who Offers You A Meal
I used to be very hard on the 80% of our churches which are numerically declining or plateaued. I saw them as fat, lazy and sleepy - like I become after eating too much Thanksgiving dinner. I now believe the opposite is true. They are not, as I first thought, sated gluttons, groggy from gorging on sweet communion with the saints. They are starving to death. They cannot hear the cries of the spiritually hungry for the growl in their own spiritual bellies. If they had a theme song it would be Peggy Lee's rendition of Leiber and Stoller's "Is That All There Is?" Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening they go to the "services" of their churches, sit passively in rows and wonder if they are alone in their disappointment with the level of "fellowship" in their church. They are prompted to sing "I'm so glad I'm a part of the family of God", they hear people addressing each other as "sister" and "brother" but wonder why their "family" never calls on the phone or drops by for a visit. They wonder why the only "brother" who inquires when they're sick is the one paid to do it. They wonder how marriages disintegrate without anybody in the "family of God" noticing a problem. They wonder if anybody would notice their own absence, if anyone would care.
I began to understand how hungry churchgoers are for the fellowship and community they read about in their Bibles when my wife, Carol, took a lonely, grieving widow to an empty Sunday School room for prayer and consolation during a Wednesday night prayer meeting. Thereafter, the woman weeped each time she saw Carol, explaining that, while she had been a faithful "everytime-the-doors-are-open" member of this church for decades, Carol was the first person who ever listened to her and prayed with her. Christians like this poor woman can't recommend the Christian life to their friends for the same reason I don't tell my friends about a Viet Namese restaurant where my wife and I once spent over $20 for dinner but left the restaurant so hungry we stopped at Taco Bell on the way home.
Someone has quipped that evangelism, reduced to its essence, is one penniless hobo telling another where he can get a meal. In one of Christ's parables, He reminds us that this "food" is not a private, brown bag lunch, but a banquet with servers and numerous guests (Luke 14:16-23). The meal, then, is more than message.
Make Them An Offer They Can't Refuse
Any business which has lost as many customers as the church has would have tried new ways long ago - but the church tends to resent all that is new. William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, p. 68.
For a long time, churches have been making people an offer they find easy to refuse. For the church-illiterate, "church" is a menu in a foreign language. It's an "opportunity" to "worship" a God they don't love, in a place where they don't feel comfortable, with people they don't know, in clothes they don't normally wear on Sunday morning, at an hour when they'd rather be sleeping or watching the Sunday morning TV political shows. Adding embarrassment to inconvenience, we ask them to turn to passages they can't find in a book they don't believe. We ask them to sing songs they neither know or like. If you've ever been the only unchurched "heathen" kid on the block, can you remember how out of place and how different you felt when all the church-literate kids knew what was coming next and you didn't know whether to sit, stand or bow? Oh, yes, and when the offering plate is passed, our church-illiterate guests feel a subtle pressure to pay for the ordeal. Little wonder people are not waiting in line to visit our churches. We're making them an offer they can easily refuse. So-called "seeker-sensitive" services - like the ones offered by Saddleback Community Church and Willow Creek Community Church - are an improvement over the annoying services most of our churches are offering, but they are not a permanent solution to the problem of "getting people to church".
FAREWELL TO EVENT-BASED CHURCH. What we are witnessing - and good riddance - is the end of event-based church services. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part churches are finding that no amount of publicity, no amount of entertainment, no amount of big-name celebrities will do much more than bring out the already-churched or church-literate. In the future, we will not attract those who are neutral or negatively-disposed toward God and church no matter how much we spend on entertainment and hype. When that happens we will have to do what we should have been doing for the past 2000 years: we'll have to take "church" to the "marketplace" of commerce and ideas.
This scares many Christian leaders to death, but it shouldn't. As society breaks down, as lawlessness increases, as technological and economic innovations (ATMs, computers, the Internet, home-based offices) increasingly insulate people from people, meaningful human contact will become more powerful. Friendship will become the "church growth strategy" of the future - the offer nobody can refuse. We must plant churches which start friendships in the marketplace and redefine friendship in the sweet community of the church family. We've never taught this. Our established churches can't teach it because they haven't learned it. For the sake of Christ, future churches must.
Acts 20:20 Vision
I did not shrink from doing anything helpful, proclaiming the message to you and teaching you publicly and from house to house. Paul, to the Ephesian elders, Acts 20:20.
While the Bible stops short of delineating a strategy to edify the saints and reach the lost it does, nevertheless, clearly reveal one. It's implementation is documented in the book of Acts, but the Western mind, fond as it is, of declarative statements and creedal formulations, has largely failed to see this strategy because it is reported and modeled, not codified. Some modern strategists - and I applaud them for seeking - have discerned part of the apostolic strategy. Bill Beckham, in his The Second Reformation, got it partly right when he discerned that the church God designed flies on two "wings" - a large group meeting and a small group meeting. (Bill Beckham, The Second Reformation, Touch Publications, page 25-31.) So far, so good, but then Beckham says the large group meeting is a "celebration" and a Sunday "worship" service. This is where Beckham goes wrong - along with most of today's churches. While Beckham correctly identifies the purpose of the small group "wing" as "community" and "primary care" for members, he has misrepresented the obvious use of the large group meeting: evangelism and apologetic defense of the gospel in a setting where the presence of lost people was virtually assured. ("Apologetics" is the persuasive, well-reasoned argument for the truths of the Christian faith, especially the deity of Christ and His resurrection as an historical facts.) While it goes without saying that Christians are in a worshipful state of heart when meeting together to proclaim the gospel and defend the faith, worship was a by-product, not the objective of the large group meetings.
Similarly, my friend Steve Atkerson, gets it partly right when he defines New Testament worship as the "life of obedience" described in Romans 12:1 and points out that the New Testament "never" presents worship as the objective of a church meeting. (Steve Atkerson, The Practice of the Early Church, NT Restoration Newsletter, page 7.) He errs, however, when he says evangelism, likewise, is never an objective of the church meeting. This is demonstrably false. In Acts 2:6, 2:46, 3:11-26, 5:12-16, 17:19-34 and others, the church deliberately gathered in such public places as synagogues, temple courts and the Areopagus - places where lost people were sure to see and hear their evangelistic/ apologetic message. Note the content of the messages preached in these large, public meetings. Note that unconverted sinners were present. Contrast this logical strategy of taking the gospel where the lost folks are with our pathetic practice of preaching "salvation" messages to rooms full of churched people, in church buildings, at Sunday "worship" services. The New Testament strategy - to preach the gospel where there are lost folks - is clearly better.
David Finnell gets it exactly backwards when he says the "celebration" (the Touch Ministries term for a large group church gathering) is for "believers, not unbelievers". (David Finnell, Life In His Body, Touch Publications, page 25.) If the large group meetings we see in the New Testament were not for unbelievers, why are they conducted in public places (frequently open-air) and why is the preaching obviously aimed at the unconverted?
When Christians wanted to restrict their meetings to believers only, they did so in private houses. In these private, "house to house" meetings they prayed, broke bread, confessed sin to one another, prophesied, and did many other things - always for the edification of the body. I Corinthians 14: 26,31; Hebrews 10:24-25.
The new, different churches we must plant will return to the clear New Testament pattern: small group (house to house) meetings in which the saints can be edified coupled with large group (public) meetings at which unbelievers are present and can be confronted with the claims of Christ. The New Testament knows nothing of churches which meet exclusively in large groups or which use those large group meetings to preach to the already-converted or to sing repetitious "praise choruses" at the prompting of "worship teams".
Why Cell Churches Are Not The Answer
Unfortunately, many churches these days are crippled by insecure pastors who want to be the hub around which the whole church revolves... Consequently, churches end up with a lot of gifted people sitting in the pews each Sunday with their hands folded dutifully in their laps. Bill Hybels, Pastor, Willow Creek Community Church (L. & B. Hybels, Rediscovering Church, Zondervan, p. 154.)
While some of the world's largest churches are cell churches (e.g.,Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul and New Hope Community Church in Portland), I do not believe that cell churches, for the most part, have delivered on their promise to free the flaccid "laity" from priestcraft, clergy-dominance, building-dependence and organizational rather than relational order. One need only look at the contrived, convoluted and extra-Scriptural "organization chart" of a typical cell church to see that keeping the cell members and "leaders" tethered and subordinate to the senior pastor is the chief reason for promoting subunits called cells rather than autonomous communities recognized as full-fledged churches.
Calling it "the ideal model", Ralph Neighbour, who is making an industry out of cell church promotion, sets forth a 7-layer stratification of the local church which makes the organizational structure of the Roman Catholic Church appear flat and makes virtual popes out of pastors who once railed against "papists" and heirarchical church polities. (Ralph Neighbour, Where Do We Go From Here? Touch Publications, page 76.) Cell church polity has proven that pastors -; even Baptist pastors - don't object to papism in principle as long as somebody else isn't pope.
CONGREGATION AS DOWNLINE. Neighbour's "ideal" cell church is structured suspiciously like Amway, Excel, and other "multi-level" or "network" marketing companies in which the object is to get as many people "under" you as possible (that's your "downline"). In a multi-level marketing organization the "up-line" is the guy above you. He benefits from any sales made by you and others in his "downline". What multi-level marketing does for the "up-line" (the guy above you), cell church structure does for the senior pastor. By arranging "district leaders", "zone pastors", "district pastors", "zone servants", and "shepherds" underneath himself, the senior pastor can orchestrate, control and monitor every cell of the church as if he were omnipresent. "Confidences" are heard and discussed at every layer of "leadership".
CELL GROUP LEADERS AS "PASTOR-EXTENDERS". "Physician extenders" - a growing part of the health care industry - now have an ecclesiastical counterpart. The "extenders" - nurse practitioners and physician assistants - can be hired at half the cost of a "real" doctor, but can perform most of the diagnostic and even prescribing functions of a more expensive "real" doctor but only when working under the supervision of a "real doctor". In cell church structure, the titular "leaders" exist to extend the real doctor, so to speak. Instead of "equipping" the saints for ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12), pastors use them to achieve ubiquity. The new, different churches of tomorrow will free the saints to find their own ministries, not tether them to another's. Spies will report on Jericho and on Canaan, not on Israel.
Part Three : How To Plant New, Different Churches
To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God; but those who are outside get everything in parables. (NASB) Jesus, Mark 4:11.
Find Out Who Can Read The Blueprints
Many would-be church planters never get past this question: "Where do I find the Christians who will help me as God's coworkers in this new and different church?" Let's begin with who not to invite to your first meeting.
DON'T INVITE FOLKS WHO ARE HAPPY AS CLAMS DOWN AT "FIRST CHURCH". Don't invite anybody who sees no contradiction between the church Jesus designed and the churches we have constructed. Jesus put it this way, He said that it's not sensible to put new wine into old wineskins because the old, inflexible wineskins cannot accomodate the still-fermenting new wine. Matthew 9:17, Mark 2:22, Luke 5:37-39. The old wineskins burst, the new wine spills, both are lost. Consider Jesus' example: Jesus came with "new wine" and He didn't try to pour it into the old wineskins of the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees, the Scribes, The Chief
Priests, or the Sadducees. He didn't even go to the change-happy Zealots or to the spiritually-inclined Essenes, although several of the disciples may have been former Zealots. (See Leonard Verduin's The Anatomy of a Hybrid, Christian Hymnary Publishers, pp. 63-66.)
Jesus, the Master Builder, found 12 guys who were not heavily invested in keeping things the way they were and with these uneducated and unremarkable men, He changed the world. He "started from scratch". Do the same. Leave the folks alone down at First Church. Believe me (I've made this mistake), even if you recruit them, you'll be sorry.
TO IDENTIFY THOSE WHO WILL FORM THE NUCLEUS OF A NEW CHURCH, FOLLOW THESE 3 STEPS:
1. Pray that God will put it all together. All authority in heaven and earth is deposited in Him who will build his Church, despite any barrier. The first time I was used by the Lord in the formation of a church, it wasn't even my idea. God sent the people to me.
2. Find out who can read the blueprints. Start talking to people about the obvious differences between the church Jesus designed and the church we have erected and see who understands what you're talking about. Those who ask questions about budgets, choir robes, building funds and the like can't even hold the blueprints right side-up, much less read them. On the other hand, there may be somebody in your life who has already been prepared by God to hear what you will say. Go ahead. Show the blueprints. See who can read them.
3. Schedule a meeting. Don't use this meeting to write by-laws, elect officers and formulate a creed. That's getting the organizational cart ahead of the relational horse. Just be the church together as brothers, sisters, and servants of all. "The river (life) makes its own riverbed (structure)." Pray for a deluge.
Conflict Resolution 101
...in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be ...irreconcilable... Paul, 2 Timothy 3:3.
Bible-believing, evangelical churches have done a pretty fair job preaching reconciliation with God but not so well preaching reconciliation with others. The reconciliation-optional "just me and Jesus" attitude of the modern church introduces a concept of the church which would have been utterly foreign and downright unChristian to the early church (For a helpful discussion of the modern versus the apostolic view of community see Kevin Giles' What On Earth Is The Church?, IVP, pp. 15-21). Never mind that the Bible specifically instructs Christians not to go to secular courts against other Christians (I Corinthians 6:1-11), stories of litigation between seminaries and their denominations or churches and their denominations routinely embarrass us in daily newspapers and monthly magazines. In every community there are churches started, not as the good fruit of a zeal and a vision for evangelism, but as the evil fruit of an ugly, unnecessary "church split". Pastors who sense that they might get voted out take part of the flock down the street to a storefront and "start a new work", not because their hearts burn with the fires of church planting, but because they need a job. With as much schism and relational tension as exists in churches, one would think that the Bible has left us without a clue about how to handle conflict. Briefcase-carrying "consultants" offering "conflict resolution services" are finding clients and a burgeoning new industry. The new, different churches of tomorrow must model lives of reconciliation toward God and man. The Bible has not left us clueless about how to do it. Here are but a few of its principles:
Do not approach God or try to perform religious acts until you are reconciled with your brother. Matthew 5:23-24.
Be quick to reconcile (Matthew 5:25) even if it means acquiescing to a wrong done to you (I Corinthians 6:7).
When wronged by a brother, (a) go first to that brother privately to seek some form of remedy. (b) If that fails, involve a small number of other Christians. (c) If that, too, fails let the whole church decide the matter. (d) Be prepared to separate from the so-called brother who will neither reconcile nor abide by the decision of the entire church. Matt. 18:15-17. (Let us not overlook that in this disciplinary process, the "church officers" deemed necessary for a "true church" are conspicuously absent. Consider also the entire context of the Corinthian correspondence, particularly 1 Corinthians 6:4 - ed's note.)
Forgive , forgive, forgive and keep forgiving. Matt. 18:21-35.
It is more important to be reconciled than to be vindicated or to receive "justice" (I Corinthians 6:7, Matthew 5:39-41, Luke 6:29-30). The prudent among us will overlook offenses, making reconciliation unnecessary. Prov. 19:11. The mature Christian will be last to take offense, first to forgive, first to initiate reconciliation.
Proclaim the gospel everywhere you go. When necessary, use words. St. Francis of Assisi.
It is hard to believe what we can't see. When we preach a Christ who died to initiate reconciliation with men, we sound like reconciliation, but do we look like reconciliation? In other words, does our message fail to grip men's hearts and change their lives because, as Marshall McLuhan said in the 60s, "The Medium Is The Message"? If preaching isn't enough, if the message must be caught as well as taught, seen as well as heard, modeled as well as preached, what does reconciliation look like?
WHAT RECONCILIATION LOOKS LIKE. Reconciliation looks like Elizabeth Eliot who went as a missionary to the Auca Indians who had murdered her husband, Jim.
Reconciliation looks like my friend, Tom, who was slapped with a frivolous lawsuit by a man in his church and responded by sending his accuser a blank check and offering to settle the issue Biblically, in church, according to the provisions of Matthew 18.
Reconciliation looks like 16th century Dutch Anabaptist Dirk Willems, who sacrificed his chance of prison escape by stopping to save his drowning pursuer from the icy waters of "the Hondegat". (John S. Oyer and Robert S. Kreider, Mirror of the Martyrs, Good Books, pp. 36-37.)
Reconciliation looks like a man who, when defrauded of $3,000 in a business deal with a so-called "brother", forgave the debt explaining that, he, too, had been forgiven a debt (the debt of sin) and that he must forgive the debts of others. Matthew 18:23-35.
THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE. Political pundits agree that Kennedy's 1960 upset victory over the better-qualified, better-known Nixon was a case of the more attractive medium beating the obscured message. By electing the young, handsome, telegenic Kennedy, we automatically rejected the twitchy, scowling, sweaty Nixon whose whole platform and message was obscured by his obvious discomfort in front of the cameras and his intractable "5 o'clock shadow." The defeat of Nixon and his message is not unlike the defeat our own message suffers when our message of reconciliation is obscured and made unattractive by behavior incongruent with reconciliation.
The new, different churches we must plant will follow the Lord in costly, self-sacrificial demonstrations of reconciliation, showing as well as telling about a Christ who came to initiate
reconciliation with men. For too long our churches have said to a watching world, "Don't do as I do, do as I say." We must plant churches which invite the world to "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ."
So, do not stand gazing up into the sky. You'll hear that heaven came down in Toronto or at some "revival meeting" or in some new movement. God is wherever "two or three" gather in His name. A few years ago a pop song said "If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with." We can't be with the One we love, but He has commanded us to love the one He left us with, His body the church. There's a real sense in which, to look into the faces of your house church is to look into the face of Jesus. Learn to love that face.
Joe Higginbotham is a nationally acclaimed freelance writer. He is just the kind of person we love to encounter along life's road - he loves God and he loves people. He's the proverbial mountain man who has never met a stranger. He brings not years - but decades of experience and wisdom to the table.