I really didn’t mean to be writing a series on the church, but here goes part IV.
Most attempts at starting house churches/simple churches/”the” church don’t go anywhere. That’s acknowledged in most of Gene Edwards’ books. I’m not sure about Frank Viola’s.
Problem 1: Christians Don’t Know What the Church Is
It never ceases to amaze me that Gene Edwards and Frank Viola have been writing about starting home churches for years, and the description always remains this wonderful, free, joyful thing that practically grows and takes care of itself. While Gene Edwards acknowledges that it hardly ever works, his answer is to get more free and don’t try so hard.
People don’t know what they’re getting into. The Church is the most important thing on earth. It’s more important than governments and countries. If Christians get together, hear Jesus Christ and obey him, then they can conquer the world.
We did it once. We overthrew the Roman empire with love, submission, and suffering. We spread across the earth before there were government churches and conversion by the sword.
If we don’t know it, the devil most certainly does. He’s not deceived. He’s quite aware that the gates of hell cannot stand against the church (see Which Church?, my previous post), and he has no intentions of letting it exist.
He’s taking it seriously, and the followers of simple church/home church are not. The battle’s way worse than they have any idea, and it’s a lot more subtle and deceptive.
As the great Cyprian of Carthage put it in A.D. 250:
Caution is more easy where danger is manifest, and the mind is prepared beforehand for the contest when the adversary avows himself. The enemy is more to be feared and to be guarded against, when he creeps on us secretly. (On the Unity of the Church, ch. 1)
Problem 2: Christians Don’t Know What a Christian Is!
One problem with everything I’ve written so far is that I’m using “we” loosely.
Jesus said that no one can be his disciple who doesn’t deny himself, take up his cross, follow him, hate his family, including his wife and kids, hate his own soul, and forsake all his possessions (Luke 9:23; 14:26-33).
Most Christians today think he didn’t mean it.
He did mean it. I’d like to be nice and say that you can be a Christian and ignore those ideas of Jesus, but you can’t.
He’s the one who said it.
You can’t build a church with people that aren’t Christians.
Daring to Make It Just a Little Easier
It’s scary to me to lighten what I just said at all. After all, those were Jesus’ ideas, not mine.
However, I think it’s clear from Scripture that Christians weren’t those who did this perfectly. When Jesus wrote letters to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3 he acknowledged as Christians those who had some problems. He acknowledged as churches people who had a lot of problems.
But he called them to repent.
You can’t have a Laodicean church. If the Laodicean church didn’t repent, Jesus was going to spew them out of his mouth. They were not going to continue being a church.
In fact, look at the Ephesian church. They had only one thing held against them. It was one big thing, they had left their first love, but nonetheless all else said to them was positive. They had works and patience. Jesus tells them that twice. But he was still going to remove their candlestick–and that quickly–unless they repented. (History says they did, by the way.)
In other words, even the righteous Ephesian church, standing against evil and deception, were going to cease to be a church if they did not return to their first love.
Problem 3: Christians Don’t Understand Their Purpose
Jesus takes the Church as seriously as the devil. He’s a lot more powerful than the devil, too. He created the devil. The devil is not a problem for him.
But even Jesus didn’t defeat the devil without a fight. He had to stand up to him. He had to bear real temptation. Overcoming the devil is always a fight.
As Justin Martyr put it some 1850 years ago:
[The demons] subdue all who make no strong opposing effort for their own salvation. (First Apology 14)
The early Christians knew what they were getting into.
They also knew what it meant to be a Christian. Justin added this rather frightening description of the Christian life:
There is no other way than this: to become acquainted with this Christ, to be washed in the fountain spoken of by Isaiah for the forgiveness of sins, and for the rest, to live sinless lives. (Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 44)
Hmm. Impossible? His contemporaries didn’t think so:
If we Christians are compared with you [Romans], although in some things our discipline is inferior, yet we shall be found much better than you. For you forbid, yet commit, adulteries; we are born only for our own wives. You punish crimes when committed; with us, even to think of crimes is sin. You are afraid of those who are aware of what you do; we are afraid even of our own conscience alone, without which we cannot exist. (Minucius Felix, The Octavius, ch. 35)
There is room for stumbling. There is room for public repentance. There is room for forgiveness. There is not room, however, for a Christianity that says, “I don’t have to obey Jesus because it’s impossible.”
Such a Christianity knows nothing of grace.
Problem 4: We Think Real Christianity Is Too Hard
Most “Christians” will look at what I’ve written and begin making the most ridiculous excuses. I don’t know how many times I’ve been told to give away my computer so that I can have forsaken all my possessions and so scoffers and worldly Christians won’t have to read me writing about Jesus’ commands!
They’re not scoffing at me. They’re scoffing at the commands of Christ. There’s no true Christianity except the one that goes all the way with God, and the only Christians that can band together and be the church are those that obey Christ.
Everyone else is a liar.
I tried to think of a nicer word, but “liar” is the word the apostle John–the apostle of love–used (1 Jn. 2:3-4).
We might as well be honest. The fact is, I’m a human, too. The temptations that affect you affect me. I’ve had to cry out to God for mercy. I’ve lived like an American at times, not like a Christian. I fear, like Peter commanded (1 Pet. 1:17), because I know I will be judged by my works. I know how desperately I need the grace that removes sin’s power.
But it’s God that sets the standard, not me. I don’t get to lower it. I only get to submit to it.
And the church that overthrows the gates of hell is going to consist of people who submit to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as he gave it, not as we wish it was in this ridiculously intellectual, divided, and carnal Christian world.