I spent yesterday at a day long seminar which was meant to be about house church but wasn’t really. I came away with a heavy heart. The speaker was an American with an international ministry, but focused on India. He starts a lot of house churches, mainly by discipling people.
His big focus seemed to me to be listening for the voice of God and then obeying it. If you do this, you’ll see thousands of conversions like he has and miracles, from the raising of the dead to words of knowledge about people which provides an opportunity to evangelise them.
I agreed with some of the things he had to say:
- He emphasised empowering every member of the body, which is great. You don’t have to go study for years to become a disciple or to do God’s work.
- He talked about discipleship as going far beyond conversion. (Yet he emphasised all the conversions that he’d seen happening.)
- He traces a lot of what went wrong with the church back to Constantine. (And yet strangely, he seemed to suggest later that his aim was to make India a Christian nation – and every nation a Christian nation. He made me realise that just because you think the Constantine shift was bad, it doesn’t make you a Yoder-ite who thinks that the faithful minority is the pattern for being God’s people.)
- He was humble and sincere.
But all through the day, I felt bad. I think I felt bad because if he was right, I’m wrong and so is every other Christian I know.
Early on, he had me interjecting like I was the conservative evangelical in the room, a position I haven’t held in the last nine years. He told us that when he first converts and disciples people in India, he doesn’t teach them the Bible but to start listening for God’s voice. I objected that we need to know the Bible so we can judge whether we’re actually hearing from God or not. He responded that we’re called to test the spirits, but not God’s voice. (He seems to be referring to 1 John 4:1; if only I was quicker at drawing my Bible evangelical style and I could have pulled out 1 Thessalonians 5:21 – ‘test everything’.) I definitely disagree at this point. It’s essential that new converts be grounded in the story of God’s people, that they know the teachings of Jesus and his life story, and of the way Paul instructed the early church.
The speaker said several times that everyone hears God’s voice, and it’s just a matter of recognising it and obeying it. I think it’s impossible to generalise about people’s experience of God like that. God doesn’t promise to speak to everyone. For a lot of people, their experience of God is his silence. Even Mother Theresa. YWAMers hear God all the time, and so do a lot of Pentecostals; what’s wrong with the rest of us?
I think we should always be listening, and my experience is of occasional gentle promptings which might be from God. I try to obey these when I hear them. I’m open to God speaking clearly to me; I’d love that. But being a disciple doesn’t depend on it.
House church is a broad church and I’m realising that I’m coming from a very different angle to a lot of people within it. I’m worried that house churches attract a lot of people with outlandish ideas. I’m sure plenty of people would put me in that category. Maybe I should just be able to live with other people’s craziness and hope they can live with mine – but I don’t want to engage with craziness at the moment; my faith is too fragile. The idea that church should be small and simple might not be enough common ground to create a movement.