In part one of Radical house church, what’s the difference? I gave a broad description of the characteristics of the traditional church format for Sunday services. Then I followed that up with my own testimony of how those dynamics rang true both from my many years as an attendee and then also as a minister/leader in the traditional church. In my 4-part description I established that the traditional church service is:
- a spectator activity
- predictable and static in its format
- pre-planned by the church staff
- intentionally limiting in spontaneity in order to be slave to the existing order of worship
- coordinated, enacted, and conducted by a separated group with spiritual privilege
- not an atmosphere conducive to developing personal relationships with those also in the room beyond a surface level
- not open to allowing the attendees speak or address the assembly as they feel inspired to do so
I also preceded my description of the traditional church by expressing my belief that the Sunday church meeting, or any church meeting for that matter, is NOT the foundational, bottom rung of a pyramid of faith—that meetings weren’t intended to be the foundation by which we lay every other brick of our expression of Christian faith. Rather, church meetings are only one spoke in a larger, colorful wheel in which a full and robust lifestyle of community takes place within a personal and interpersonal relationship with Jesus and His Bride.
Therefore, even though we are spending a lot of time on discussing the Sunday service component specifically, we also need to keep in mind that Sunday church is only one part of many other equally sacred and important aspects of Christian life.
Now, let’s see how radical house churches differ from the way we usually do traditional church. The differences are stark in contrast.
THE RADICAL HOUSE CHURCH SERVICE IN FIVE PARTS
Here are at five foundational components that radical house church meetings rest upon:
- open format/program
- all-inclusive fully participatory meetings
- decentralization of conventional leadership roles
- atmosphere where the expressive gifts of the Spirit are coveted, encouraged, shared, weighed, and spontaneously done so during the meeting in a manner that provides a community benefit rather than individual edification
- interdependence and discernment on/of the guidance of the Holy Spirit for order and activities in the meeting
Where am I getting these components from? We find many of those points directly described in I Corinthians 14:26-33 – one of the few passages that describes what the dynamics were like inside the actual meetings of the early church. And in this passage the Apostle Paul gives specific instructions/recommendations for how Christians ought to function with one another and insight into what type of a format by which the early church meetings took place.
Any translation of the Bible shines a bright light on Paul’s words in this passage. I’ve shared The Message Bible’s translation (a interpretive paraphrase) below because I think it summarizes Paul’s words on the subject in a most elegant and beautiful way. Below that I’ve also included the New King James version so you can see what a more word-for-word translation reflects:
“So here’s what I want you to do. When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight. If prayers are offered in tongues, two or three’s the limit, and then only if someone is present who can interpret what you’re saying. Otherwise, keep it between God and yourself. And no more than two or three speakers at a meeting, with the rest of you listening and taking it to heart. Take your turn, no one person taking over. Then each speaker gets a chance to say something special from God, and you all learn from each other. If you choose to speak, you’re also responsible for how and when you speak. When we worship the right way, God doesn’t stir us up into confusion; he brings us into harmony. This goes for all the churches—no exceptions.” – I Corinthians 14:26-33 – The Message
…and now the KJV…
“26 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. 30 But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” – I Corinthians 14:26-33 – NKJV
If you’ve never read these verses while specifically reflecting about how they speak to the format of the church meeting I would recommend you read them a few more times over, slowly and contemplatively, before you move to the next section. That will help because I will be referring to various sections of this passage over and over without specific verse references….and much of the content runs interwoven together.
First of all, this passage is absolutely profound. We don’t know everything that went on within the meetings of the early church, but what we DO know from this passage is that the meetings did not look ANYTHING like the traditional church gatherings we have today. The format of the early church was drastically different.
What I will now lay out are five components I’ve pulled from this passage that break down the format of radical house churches in the first century.
1. OPEN FORMAT/PROGRAM
The meetings of the Early Church were open in their format and programing. The order, timeline, and itinerary of events were flexible. The format for sharing in the meeting was ad-lib, or as we in the church sometimes say, “as the Spirit leads you”. This open format might resemble something closer to the style of an AA or NA meeting (Alcoholics/Narcotics Anonymous). This is in stark contrast to the programmatic and rigid traditional church format.
You wouldn’t be handed an orderly bulletin to follow at an early first century church meeting. Instead each week would be different depending on what each person had brought or was spontaneously motivated to share, whether that be in various expressions such as songs, teachings, edifications, inspired words, prayers, etc.
If someone wanted to share a testimony they were free to do so. If someone had a dream or vision that would benefit the church they were welcome to share. The format for the meeting was flexible and remained open so that they could be sensitive to the direction God wanted to take the meeting. The congregants were able to share Jesus amongst each other as they felt prompted by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, just as long as what was being shared was done orderly and understandable so that all could benefit and receive an edification.
SECTION SUMMARY: Radical house churches embrace an open format. They don’t exhibit a strict order of worship, or institute a programmatic predictable system, or adhere to an order of spiritual rituals. Meeting dynamics are fluid.
2. FULLY PARTICIPATORY MEETINGS
The next point is the dynamic of all-inclusive and fully participatory meetings.
In Paul’s description of the church meeting, all whom were gathered were encouraged to share whatever God had placed or had been stirring in their hearts.
Verse 16 says, “How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.”
The I Corinthians 14 passage most certainly does not support or advocate a single–lecturer format. Church meetings in the New Testament were not a one man show—where the pastor/priest is the only one doing the talking, praying, performing rites, preaching, and in effect doing all of the “ministry” to the Body. First century house church wasn’t conducted in a format where the learning and edifying only emanated from one or few spiritual gurus in the room. Instead, everyone in this meeting were allowed/expected/encouraged to share, teach, edify, and weigh what the Lord is speaking to them/others. Everyone shared, one to another, as the indwelling Holy Spirit gave inspiration.
This fully participatory dynamic is unfamiliar with most church-going believers today. But it is not an unfamiliar process in the New Testament. Not only do we find mutual sharing in the I Corinthian 14 passage but, in fact, the whole New Testament is littered with this one-to-another approach—up to 50+ times!!
Here are some of my favorites:
“I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another.” Romans 15:14 NIV
“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” I Thessalonians 5:11, ESV
“Let the message about Christ completely fill your lives, while you use all your wisdom to teach and instruct each other. With thankful hearts, sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.” Colossians 3:16, CEV
“But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” Hebrews 3:13, ESV
What we see in all these verses are mutual exhortations for what is a cross-pollination of sharing Jesus interpersonally—one to another. And it is through this horizontal, grass-roots process, not a top/down one to the masses process, that God’s people learn and are encouraged/built up/edified. This is absolutely radical when compared to our traditional, weekend church meetings.
SECTION SUMMARY: Radical house churches embrace a meeting format where everyone present is encouraged to actively participate, share, and minister the life of Jesus to others. Everyone has received the gift of the Holy Spirit and are welcome to serve others with it. No one person dominates. No one, singular person usurps ubiquitous control or takes over; and Jesus is the only guru in the room.
SIDE NOTE: It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that in this type of an intimate gathering everybody knows everybody. Forget about going to a service to be a “fly on the wall”, as you might hope to do at a typical Sunday service. Instead of maintaining a low profile, or being expected to remain silent, you would be welcome and encouraged to share. But within this gathering your sharing would not be done out of obligation, guilt. or feeling pressured to act spiritual. Your eager desire to share would come out knowing that first, God values you as someone who has great worth, and second knowing that He wants to express Himself through you to benefit the others in His body via the specialized insights and gifts He has equipped you with through the Holy Spirit.
3. DECENTRALIZATION OF CONVENTIONAL LEADERSHIP ROLES
Leaders in the traditional church today are tasked with the responsibility of planning and carrying out all of what happens in a worship service meeting. They prepare and deliver sermons, they select and deliver the songs, they lead the prayers, they dictate the start and end of each service element, and they alone give revelations and share teachings of the faith. We usually call the delivery of all these different acts/elements during the service as doing the work of the “ministry”. The leaders minister to the congregants. The congregants sit, listen, observe, and receive what is being ministered to them. It is unmistakably a producer/consumer model.
But this doesn’t line up with the dynamics of the early church as described in the I Corinthians 14 passage. What we see instead is that all of these different ministry elements that we see coming from “leadership” alone,were in fact quite equally shared and expressed amongst all of those at the meeting. Doing the work of the ministry, or perhaps more simply put as “sharing in the Lord”, was accomplished and practiced by all. It was one to another, not one to all.
This raises an interesting point to consider:
If we define those as “leaders” in the church by only those executed “ministry” tasks during the service then by early church standards EVERYONE in the Corinthians church were leaders.
However, if there is any truth to the above statement then we must clarify what “leaders” mean.
First of all, we know that there were recognized elders in the first century churches. This was the apostle Paul’s method as he planted new churches (Acts 14:23, Acts 20:17-31. Titus 1:5). Therefore, when read in I Corinthians that everyone could lead and share during the meeting, we must also remember that there were also handful of elders in the Corinthian church. This means that those who lead and those who are elders are not the same thing.
Secondly, there were also special ministry giftings given to some individuals in the church to help with building and equipping its members (Ephesians 4:11-13). And many of these individual traveled amongst all the churches, including Corinth, helping each other out (Paul, Barnabas, John Mark, Silas, Timothy, Luke, Erastes, Epaphras, Gaius, Trophimus, etc.).Therefore, we know that there were plenty of specially gifted people, both inside the local churches and those traveling to and from the churches, that most folks would recognize we could identify as special “leaders”.
If there were plenty of leaders around, both inside and traveling about, why then wasn’t the ministry during church services centralized to just these elders and big-wigs as we see it now in the traditional church? Why were average lay people in the church doing equal ministry along side elders? Or were the ministry practices of the early churches as described in I Corinthians an error, or an oversight, or as some say, a “holding pattern” intended to be used till the New Testament was fully written until traditional leadership could take over?
I don’t think so.
What I think this means instead is that how we in today’s age define church leadership is not how those in the early church defined it.
Leadership in the Early church did not manifest itself through the conventional means it does now—a separated group of gurus ministering over the laity. Scripture shows that the ministry was spread out among all the brethren. Ministry was one to another, not one to the many. Our current day, unilaterally led, traditional Sunday format would be a completely foreign experience to someone living in one of the apostle Paul’s first century churches.
Amazing! Isn’t this profound? Seeing leadership in the church service in light of how it was acted out in early church makes you do a double take on our current practices. It changes our ideas of how we view the roles of leadership at the fundamental level. It’s a complete paradigm shift.
Another example of this paradigm shift in leadership is in regard to those with special ministry giftings. What we find is that their purpose is not to preside over and be the sole source of ministry during services, or to be the ones where ministry is centralized, but to help assist those in the body to more fully minister to one another. Paul describes Jesus’s purpose of placing those with special giftings in the church, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, and so on, for enabling the Body, the average believers, to DO The work of the ministry themselves:
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” Ephesians 4:11, ESV (emphasis mine)
“He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son.” Ephesians 4:11, CEB (emphasis mine)
Again, this is crazy! Haven’t we been told that people with seminary degrees are there to do all the work? Haven’t we been conditioned to believe that those with ministry giftings are the ones who are supposed to run the service and produce all of the content? And our job as lay people is to sit, watch, and consume? Yes! But New Testament leadership was actually put in place to equip us so ALL can do the work of the ministry.
The far reaching depths of this topic cannot be covered quickly or easily. Challenging leadership norms draws much controversy. This is especially the case among those who hold various types of existing leadership roles in the church..no surprise there.
Leadership is a deep ocean of debate, and the topic deserves more attention than what the scope of this blog post entails. Plus, we are intentionally limiting our discussion/comparison of house church to the worship service alone. So, let me finish this section up with the main take away-points and throw a few teasers out there as well.
SECTION SUMMARY: Radical house churches welcome and support those whom God has enabled with special spiritual giftings for the building and edifying of His Church. They also benefit from recognizing experienced and well-seasoned brothers and sisters (elders) from within their company to share and model their life in Jesus to the community for edification, watch, and care. But at the same time we also recognize that the early churches bore out a more decentralized and less emphasized role for those leaders when it comes to how those dynamics play out during a meeting. Ministry, and the sharing of the Lord together, were not tasks meant to be relegated to only a privileged few, or someone with the title of pastor, priest, or apostle. Radical house churches, in line with the New Testament approach, decentralize the conventional leadership practice and emphasize the value of having each member minister freely one to another. Sharing in the Lord is practiced along side and in conjunction with elders and those with special ministry giftings.
Radical house churches do not exhibit a functional hierarchy. There are no higher-ups, or lower-downs. The division of “laity” and “clergy” is non-existent. Everyone is an equal before the Lord, and among the group, and welcome to share and express Him during the meeting.
Those with special giftings or as recognized elders do not hold unique, controlling, navigational, or presiding roles over the meeting of the church. They don’t lead or direct the meeting on the sole basis of them having a spiritual gifting. They are there to participate in the open format just as anyone else. And as a result meetings take on a family relational meeting dynamic rather than a top-down business meeting dynamic. Everyone submits to one-another equally as all actively submit to the Lord. Direction and control of the meeting is offered up to God as we press into Him to receive and hear what He desires for us.
In radical house churches everyone knows the Lord (Jeremiah 31:31-34, John 17:3) and everyone is welcome to share Him with one another. From the least in the group assembled, to the greatest in the group, everyone shares and is heard with equal weight and full respect. Radical House Churches don’t limit or relegate their expression of Jesus to only one or a handful of persons who are labeled as “leaders”. We share Him one-to-another and equally welcome those with giftings and those whom the Lord has placed among us with experience and maturity for our health and guidance.
NOTE: One might say, “How the heck do you do this in a large church? It would be chaotic, or it would take like 157 hours with an open format with everyone sharing.”—Good question!
Radical house church advocates respond to this by encouraging group meetings sizes to be proportional to the number that can comfortably fit inside a house (that’s why they are called house churches). When the group size exceeds house capacity, and/or where the family dynamic begins to be choked out, the encouragement is to divide up and branch off in another local area. One group becomes two. Two becomes four and so on, similar to cell division in the human body.
4. EXPRESSIVE SPIRITUAL GIFTS
The next dynamic from the I Corinthians 14 passage that distinguishes radical house churches from traditional churches is creating a meeting atmosphere where the expressive and spontaneous gifts of the Spirit are coveted, encouraged, shared, weighed, and done so in a manner that provides both individual and communal edification.
The manifest gifts of the Spirit (speaking in tongues, prophesy, words of knowledge, words of wisdom, gifts of healing, etc) were alive and active in the meetings of the early church. In reading the entire chapter of I Corinthians 14 we see that the Corinthians were expressing these gifts quite regularly during church meetings. Unfortunately some of them were expressing the gifts in a way that only benefited themselves and didn’t provide a benefit for the rest of those gathered. Maybe these folks were self-serving and were using the gifts to say, “Wow, look at ME!”, or maybe they lost focus on how the gifts should be incorporated into the meeting.
Looking across the whole book of I Corinthians we see that not only did the believers in Corinth have errors with how the used the expressive gifts of the Spirit but they had a myriad of other issues they were dealing with:
- they were divided and forming sects,
- men were going to prostitutes,
- the church had taken an apathetic attitude toward someone sleeping with his own mother-in-law,
- they were taking each other to court rather than settling matters in a heart of love among themselves,
- they were using liberty in food regulations without regard to weaker members,
- they were getting drunk during the meeting,
- they wre denying the resurrection of the dead, and so on.
Just like us today, their church had lots of problems. So, keep in mind that their errors in sharing the manifested gifts of the Spirit during their meetings was just one of many issues needing to be addressed.
However, what is fascinating is that even with all the issues around the expression of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul never told them to stop using the gifts during the meeting. What is even crazier is that he encouraged them to continue to seek and desire the manifestations of the gifts and continue to use them at the meeting. And to make it clear He specifically told them not to forbid the giftings in the meeting (I Corinthians 14:1, 14:5, 14:12, 14:26, 14:39-40).
Sounds backwards doesn’t it? When I think of this approach I think of an adult giving a some kids a bunch of paint cans with brushes and then telling them to have fun and paint a bedroom together. Later the adult comes back and finds out that everything is out of order—there’s paint on the hardwood floor, each kid is doing their own thing irrespective of the other, each one is painting over the others’ work with no regard, some kids are being dominated, others are goofing off and clearly off task, and some have withdrawn from the process and are hurt. As a parent my first instinct would be to take them off the job and take away their paint and paint cans because they are obviously not mature enough to handle them. But in regard to the Corinthians misuse of spiritual gifts this wasn’t the approach Paul recommended. Rather than telling them to stop using the manifested gifts of the Spirit, Paul just tells them to get a better handle on how they’re being used spending three whole chapters dedicated the understanding and instruction of the gifts (1 Corinthians 12-14).
By no stretch of the imagination the Corinthian church was a dysfunctional and immature church (I Cor. 3:1-13). Alongside the other churches in Galatia the Corinthians had major problems. Yet the gifts were not squelched. Their usage was encouraged remained an essential part of the church (I Cor. 12:31, 14:1, 14:39). Better to have dysfunctional gifts and the presence of the Holy Spirit manifesting among the church than to call it quits until it was done right—AMAZING!
Additionally, were the gifts reserved for the elite, super-duper Christians? Or perhaps just for the super-spiritual? Were they reserved for only the mature or for only those who lead holy or sinless lives? No, clearly not. The gifts were for everyone regardless of what stage of growth, maturity, or ministry gifting they found themselves in.
What we know from I Corinthians 14 is that the prophetic, spiritual gifts were active among the members of the church and that everyone was encouraged to express them in the meeting.
But what was the ultimate purpose of these gifts? Let’s frame those gifts in the context of God’s purpose in creation of human beings:
God wants to be in a loving non-coercive two-way relationship with His family. And one of the many methods that God loves to have relationship with us is through the expression of spiritual gifts. Through the expression spiritual gifts God speaks, directs, ministers, encourages, teaches, edifies, and comforts His family.
Yes, the Apostle Paul did have to rein in some of the Corinthians practice of these gifts (mostly the gift of tongues). This is because the Corinthians had strayed off course from God’s intention of use—to be in relationship with Him and hear His voice for the edification of His body the Church. Therefore, it is imperative that we be striving to share spiritual gifts with our brothers and sisters during meetings. But we should also make sure that they are not motivated or done so for any other reason other than to express God’s love outwardly and serve His Family.
Lastly, many of us have seen videos or television programs where people appear to be manifesting these gifts. Some seem to be genuine, while others seem quite absurd. There is no shortage of fruits, flakes, and nuts in the charismatic wing of the church (as a tongue-talking charismatic like myself it is embarrassing). We usually see these manifestations coming from one person on a stage in the form of a church pastor, leader, or a traveling minister. These manifestations seem to be met with no objection or accountability. Why? Because the whole system of traditional church is a “hands-off policy”—remember, it’s a one man show, closed lecture format, and it is not open to real time feedback from mere lay people. There is an unspoken rule in the church that no one stands up and questions the minister in the service, unless of course you want to be escorted out of the meeting. So, as a result of the hierarchal system, the gifts are left unchecked.
The I Corinthians 14 passage has an small overlooked verse that is sandwiched among the text that would challenge that laissez faire traditional approach to conspicuous expressions of spiritual gifts. I Corinthians 14:29 says:
“Let two or three prophets speak [as inspired by the Holy Spirit], while the rest pay attention and weigh carefully what is said.” AMP
Isn’t that interesting—”the rest” of the church is tasked with weighing what is said. The King James translates the word weigh as judge, and the Common English Bible translates it as evaluate. (This verse might be specifically talking about evaluating what is given as a prophesy but I think the general principle has a wider application than mere prophecy alone).
If everyone at a meeting, including the leadership, knows that whatever is addressed to the church through a gift of the Spirit will be judged, weighed, and evaluated in real time during the service, then I suspect much of what we see that bothers us would be minimized. Of course, any rebuke would need to be done in a heart of genuine love for our brothers and sisters. A rebuke without love is worthless and creates even greater problems. Reintroducing some checks and balances to spiritual gifts, including those from leaders, would be well welcomed.
The beautiful benefit of expressing gifts in the smaller community setting of house church is that its cozy house nature allows it to function more like a family than as a large company of individuals. House churches are relational, not institutional. Everyone knows everybody and we all have a certain level of trust built up with each other. Because of that we are free to step out, take chances, refine, and make mistakes in sharing the gifts. Even if the there is a message in tongues, or a prophesy, or a word of wisdom that seems off, our loving brothers and sisters are there to guide and right us in love. The pressure to preform, and perform perfectly when we share our giftings, is off.
Gifts are not a show to be spectated. They are sharing intimacies of the Lord one to another.
SECTION SUMMARY: Radical house churches produce an atmosphere where the expressive gifts of the Spirit are coveted, encouraged, and able to be shared. Expression of the gifts are welcomed from ALL participants for the edification of the church. Exercising the gifts, to reveal the mind of the Lord for His Church, is focused around on providing a benefit/edification to the community. Believers also carefully weigh and judge what is shared.
5. THE HOLY SPIRIT DIRECTS THE MEETING
The final component about radical house churches that I’ll touch upon is the essential need for the interdependence on and discernment of the guidance of the Holy Spirit for directing the meeting. While there isn’t a section directly pointing to this in our I Corinthians 14:26-33 passage I believe this concept underpins our life in Jesus and the whole New Testament experience—including when the church comes together and meets. Allow me to set the backdrop:
Prophesies of the Old Testament (Isaiah 44:3, Joel 2:28), the Testimony of John the Baptist and Jesus (Luke 3:16, Acts 1: 1-5, Acts 11:15-18) and Jesus’s own teachings (John 7:38-39, John 14:16, 14:26, 15:26, 16:12-15, 20:22, Luke 11:13, 24:25-29) all point to a new era of God’s presence and interaction with His people on earth. A presence that is actually even better than having the physical presence on Jesus with us on earth (John 16:7)!
This is the era in which His Spirit takes up a permanent and sealed residence in the body of the believer (John 14:16, Romans 5:4, 8:9-11, Ephesians 1:13, 4:30, Colossians 1:27, II Corinthians 1:22, 5:5, Galatians 3:2, 3:14, 4:6). And wonderfully, this new era is now at hand now (Acts 2:11-39) through faith in Jesus. This was further confirmed by the message that Jesus’s disciples carried after His death and resurrection. The disciples ministry testifies to spreading the new message that the Spirit of God, Jesus’s very own intimate and close presence, is available to come to live and forever abide with us (Acts 2:38-39, 8:14-16, 15:6-8, 10:44-48+11:15-18, 19:1-4, I Corinthians 6:19, I John 3:24, 4:13; 2 Timothy 1:14, Galatians 3:14, 4:6, Titus 3:4-6). And their writings additional reveal that it is the Spirit who empowers, teaches, leads, influences, helps, and guides every part of our lives as believers (Acts 1 :6-8, I John 2:27, Romans chapter 8, Acts 13:1-4, 16:6-10, 21:4, I Corinthians chapter 14, Galatians 5:16, Ephesians 5:19). God’s very life, living among His people through the Spirit, is the power, the guiding force, and the relationally divine means by which we live out our lives in wait for Jesus’s return.
Having now received Him we are encouraged to live and walk by His Spirit (Galatians 5:25). The word walk in Galatians 5:25 is translated in other Bible versions as: to be lead by, to follow, to keep in step with, to be guided, to surrender to, to be governed by. Surrendering to and being governed by the Spirit is as much an individual approach to life as it is a corporate and interpersonal lifestyle. For we know that God’s presence dwells in our midst in a special way when believers come together in His name (Matthew 18:20, I Corinthians 3:16, 14:23-25, Ephesians 2:19-22). And God does not force His leading upon us. This is why we, as mere mortal, puny created beings, can actually quench and grieve the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30, I Thessalonians 5:19). His will may not come automatically. We have to actively to surrender to it. And this is not only compartmentalized within our personal lives but also when we are assembled. That is why we see so much written about the Spirit’s workings and involvement in the I Corinthians 14 passage.
“Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” – Galatians 5:25, NTL (emphasis mine)
The leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit doesn’t have to stop once we hit the doors of the church building. I Corinthians chapter 14 shows us that it didn’t. The minute to minute direction of the Spirit, that we as believers depend on for our lives, doesn’t have to be quenched when the meeting starts. Nor does is need to be suspended or substituted for a ritual, a system, or a fixed order of services, or a ministerial hierarchy of worship. Just as we walk and live dependent upon the Holy Spirit’s leading in our everyday lives, aware to His presence and surrendered to His leadership, we also yield and give place to His leadership in our meetings. We lay aside predictable formats and offer up leadership up God alone so that He Himself is able to preside and direct our service as He leads us in direction through His Spirit.
The open format and decentralized leadership roles of the radical house church creates an environment where sharing during the service can be fluid and diverse. We are able to share as we feel prompted by the Spirit:
Am I being inspired to share a song? Do I feel led to ask for prayer for a personal need or for others? Has God shown me something this week which I feel compelled to share with the others? Should I share a teaching that I’ve recently been enlightened to? Do I feel an urge to express a gift of the Spirit? Should I share a spiritual song that has been on my heart? Is there a particular direction that we should move in today?
The caveat behind this open, spirit-prompted sharing, is that it’s not always easy to put aside our own agendas, personal delights, and/or spiritual defaults. Discerning what is actually a leading of the Spirit or a just an excitement for a personal preference, or a random thought, can be challenging. Those who like to hear their own voice and talk (which I am one of them) can often dominate the meeting. Those that like exploring philosophy and doctrine can unintentionally steer the group into discussing those passions. Those that are more active in the gifts of the Spirit might naturally gravitate to expressing those, while others might default to sharing in general conversation. Teachers can default to teaching and worshipers can default to worshiping. And then for some who might be introverted or shy, even though it’s an open and fully-participatory meeting, might default to listening…then in addition we have the human component to contend with, the flesh. A flare up or wet season of the flesh can dull our sensitivity to the Holy Spirit: Am I stressed work or home? Am I running on an empty tank of sleep? Did my wife and I get into an argument before we arrived to the meeting? Am lacking in taking care of myself physically? Then, on then on top of that, we seem to have natural dry spells: Have I had a week where I was less motivated to spend time with God individually? Am I in a season of life where my hunger for things of the Spirit have waned? Am I just not hearing anything from God right now?
Bottom line is that hearing God’s voice isn’t always easy or necessarily clear. And when we do hear from Him we additionally need a little discernment before we just “put it out there” and first gauge whether the insight He is giving us is for the benefit of the group or just something he is revealing or working with us on personally.
While we fully acknowledge our human limitations we strive to give place and make room for the spontaneous Spirit-led direction of the Lord knowing that He is in our midst as sovereign ruler and sole leader of our time together. Group sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit allows Him to minister to us in real time as He expresses Himself among us.
Radical house churches affirm that God has placed His Holy Spirit into all believers to abide with, direct, guide, empower, and influence our lives. We recognize the importance of these works to be active among us both in an individual capacity as well as in corporate settings. Radical house churches seek to give Jesus control over the meeting dynamics as much as possible by allowing for fluid sharing that is directed by prompting and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Promptings need to be evaluated with some degree of discernment to ensure the inspiration is indeed God-led.
RADICAL HOUSE CHURCH FULL SUMMARY
Radical house churches embrace an open format/program. They don’t exhibit a strict order of worship or an institute a programmatic predictable system. Meeting dynamics are fluid. Everyone present is encouraged to actively participate, share, and minister Jesus to others. It is a fully-participatory experience. Radical house churches welcome and support those whom God has enabled with special spiritual giftings for the building and edifying of His Church. They also benefit from recognizing experienced and well-seasoned brothers and sisters (elders), from within their company, to share and model their life in Jesus to the community for edification and care. However, radical house churches do not exhibit a functional hierarchy. The division of “laity” and “clergy” is non-existent and the conventional roles of traditional leadership are decentralized. Everyone is an equal before the Lord, and among the group, and welcome to share and express Him during the meeting. Radical house churches produce an atmosphere where the expressive gifts of the Spirit are coveted, encouraged, and able to be shared. Exercising the gifts, to reveal the mind of the Lord for His Church, is focused around providing a benefit/edification to the community. Radical house churches rely heavily on the interdependence and discernment on/of the guidance of the Holy Spirit for order and activities in the meeting. They affirm that God has placed His Spirit into all believers to abide with, direct, guide, empower, and influences our lives. Both as individuals and together as a group. They seek to give Jesus control over the meeting dynamics as much possible by pursuing corporate sharing that is, by all best attempts, directed by promptings and inspirations of the Holy Spirit.
This is the format of the radical house church service.
SO WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED?
From what I covered in parts 1 and 2 of this blog series I sincerely believe that the Apostle Paul’s passage in I Corinthians chapter 14 paints a picture of a worship service that is vastly different than the traditional service that now permeates the Christian faith. When comparing the four components of the traditional church, and the five points of the radical house church, their vast differences are self-evident. In comparison they look nothing like each other.
If the Apostle Paul encouraged Christian communities to conduct its meetings in the fashion of what we discussed from the I Corinthians 14 passage, then how do we make sense of how church is practiced today—What the heck happened?
How did we go from first century church services in which everyone could share, speak, and teach, to where now only one or a few pre-selected person(s) are allowed to dominate over the whole service. How did we go from meetings where the format and the order of the meetings were fluid and spontaneous, and the Spirit of God was given opportunity to influence and direct its happenings, to now where the service format and order is ridged, static, and predictable?
And, maybe more importantly, does embracing a worship service dynamic that is more based upon the 1 Corinthians 14 model lead to a better experience in the church? Does choosing to participate in a radical house church automatically equal a greater and enhanced expression of Jesus in our midst as we gather? Will it ultimately lead to a fuller Christian life?
Let’s find out in part 3…
*As always, I’d love to hear what’s on your mind so please drop your thoughts in the comment section below!