Month: March 2007

Review – Frank Viola: So you want to start a house church

Present Testimony Ministries, Salem, Oregon : 2003

The title is misleading. The preoccupation of this book is the conviction that what the house church movement needs are extra-local church planters who model their ministry after Paul’s. Viola describes it like this:
As was the case in his own life, the men that Paul trained were: 1) Called by God, 2) Prepared in the context of church life, and 3) Later sent through the Spirit by Paul himself… Thus the divine principle of being called, prepared, and sent unshakably holds throughout the entire NT.

These apostles plant a church and stay with it for six to eighteen months, bringing it to enough maturity to be able to leave it and move onto somewhere else. Despite the fact that he spends so much time on explaining this, I remain unclear about the benefit of church-planting in this way, beyond the fact that it follows the New Testament pattern and, in Viola’s eyes, will help create enduring churches.

Having said this, I am fairly convinced by Viola’s account of how Paul ministered (drawing as it does on Roland Allen’s book Missionary methods : St Paul’s or ours?). I am also challenged by the criticisms Viola makes of the way house churches operate today. Chapter 4, “The modern house church movement” is worthy of a long book. His description of house-church subcultures is stinging in its insight. He identifies seven unhealthy subcultures which dominate the movement –
· The glorified Bible study – marked by endless fruitless debate.
· The special interest group – formed around a particular interest, whether organic farming or Holy Ghost laugher.
· The personality cult – formed around an individual.
· The bless-me club – a collection of individuals.
· The socially amorphous party – a church without direction, who don’t progress beyond meeting for fellowship.
· The disgruntled malcontent society – dominated by a negative spirit about the mainstream church, and ending in attacks on each other.
· The unwritten liturgy driven church – there is an unspoken requirement for a certain type of worship meeting; each week it goes through the motions.
After reading through these and finding a part of my church in all of them, I’m left feeling bad and not really offered an alternative. (The alternative, Viola tells us, is to be centred in Christ; a good thing, but vague.)

On Viola’s website, I read that he publishes two books a year. This could be part of the problem. The whole book feels rushed, incomplete and half-baked. Maybe if he wrote one thorough book every two years, they would be much more helpful.