An important difference between the emerging church and the older house church movement is in mission. The emerging church seems a very missional church, at least in the Australian incarnation. It attracts not just Christians who are disaffected with institutional church, but Christians who are both disaffected AND want to reach their local communities. I commend that, while still thinking that missiology shouldn’t determine our ecclesiology.
The house church movement of the eighties – best represented by Robert Banks – was not so missional in its intention. I don’t think that’s a fundamental flaw, because I think Robert Banks’ ecclesiology is excellent. He wasn’t so worried about what would fit prevailing culture, but in continuing the mandate of the first century churches in today’s culture. I would like to think that this will lead into mission. But my experience is that the reality of people – especially disaffected churchgoers – means that this is difficult.
The new generation of house church leaders – Tony and Felicity Dale and Wolfgang Simson – are much more missional in outlook and for that reason fit in more easily with the emerging church movement. The Dales explicitly say that you shouldn’t be starting house churches with Christians, but with unbelievers. You use Luke 10 as a formula for mission – you go and find a person of peace and stay with them, building up a simple church amongst their sphere of influence. It’s simplistic and relies on a formula, but it has worked for a lot of people and is an attempt to be biblical about both church and mission.
Am I being too greedy or idealistic in wanting a church with a strong ecclesiology while also being missional? Surely we shouldn’t have to choose! Half the problem’s moving from paper to reality. I can make a case on paper that a church with an Anabaptist ecclesiology will be missional, but I haven’t yet managed to live it out for you.