Posts Tagged 'home church'

House Church: Ready for Prime Time? Pt. 2

Happy post-election day!

So a couple of weeks ago I posted concerning house churching, an ancient-future ecclesiological habit that just a decade ago seemed relegated to a listserv backwater*, but is now one of the forefronts of consciousness around the world today. In its North American flavor, the people who have done the most to make this a reality are Tony & Felicity Dale, Neil Cole, and Frank Viola. The latter has been especially visible in publishing and online milieus, and is likely most familiar to emerging church folk.

(*nothing against HCDL, the oldest and one of the best house church discussion lists. I am a member!)

Pagan Maelstrom

In July and again in September, Viola had some fascinating exchanges with noted New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III. First Ben reviewed Pagan Christianity (which I blog about in Coming out of the Pagan Christianity Closet):

Pagan Christianity Pt. 1
Pagan Christianity Pt. 2

Pagan Christianity Pt. 3

Pagan Christianity Pt. 4
Pagan Christianity Postlude

I can’t possibly summarize these posts – they’re so flippin’ long! – so you’ll have to read ’em if you want. But I will give you a coupla quotes. I think BW3 has a point when he said (in post 2):

While I understand the complaint about things done by rote, it all depends on the spirit in which such things are done. If they are simply done mindlessly, repeating words without thinking about what one is saying or without focusing on God—well that’s not a good thing. But frankly I’ve seen far too many people who find joy in the recitation of the liturgy, and meaning, and are drawn closer to God by doing so. And there is nothing unBiblical about ritual. Try reading the psalms for example, which as Ephes. 5 makes clear Christians recited and sang. Here’s an important point When one rules out pre-set liturgies and orders of worship, that in itself becomes a ritual by default if one does it over and over again that way.

Here here! I agree. With community intent and understanding, fellowships can worship in whatever way they choose. And as the alt.worship movement in the UK shows us (not to mention St. Gregory’s in San Francisco) it’s possibly to have open-source, participatory liturgy. ‘Liturgy’ after all is ‘the work of the people.’ My house church has personally benefited, at times, from utilizing Phyllis Tickle’s magisterial compilation The Divine Hours.

[ben_frank.jpg] Nonetheless! Dr. Ben loses me utterly when he says “And here we come to an important point- Christ is not the leader of the worship service.” Sorry, I guess I’m just too Quaker or Pentecostal or what have you, but a sense in which the Spirit is directly leading and guiding our activities together is just too precious to relinquish simply because we can (of course) trace some human agency in the process of God’s speaking in our midst.

Overall, Ben Witherington III’s review of Pagan is insightful in that it shows Christians of good will and historical awareness can disagree – it’s not as though there will ever be a cut-and-dried air-tight case for ‘organic’ church meetings based in homes. But I’ve gotta tell ya: Independent scholar Dr. Jon Zens does a devastatingly good (and irenic) job sparring with Dr. Ben’s posts right here. It’s well worth the read.

Reimagining the Dialogue

So they say controversy sells – it certainly does. While BW3’s posts are only the tip of the blogstorm in terms of online response to Pagan, I’ve noticed that Frank’s followup Reimagining Church has received comparatively little online traction. This is really a shame, as Reimagining is the crucial reconstructing to Pagan’s deconstructing, and as such is my favorite of the two. As I said in my inside-cover endorsement of the book:

Reimagining Church is a readable (and livable!) description of organic, New Testament–rooted church life for the twenty-first century. Avoiding the weeds of both wooden fundamentalism and unreflective overcontextualization, Frank Viola paints a winsome and attractive portrait of a gospel people, inhabited by the Holy Spirit with God in Christ as their energetic center. Frank helps us learn from the peculiar genius of Jesus and his earliest followers, planting seeds for authentic, deeply rooted life together.

Further, I’ve reviewed the book here for TheOOZE. But enough of what I think. While Reimagining hasn’t found as much of a blog traction as I would have liked, BW3 has been a faithful engager. Here’s his (even longer!) series on this one:

Reimagining Church Part One
Reimagining Church Part Two
Reimagining Church Part Three
Reimagining Church Part Four

On these Ben invited Frank to reply directly. So he did:

A Frank Response Part One
A Frank Response Part Two

Ben’s Epilogue

Frank’s Coda

(And Frank also edited his responses together in one handy-dandy PDF document, right here.)

Whew! Their exchange is friendly, and in Frank’s case fairly witty. Ben lets his guard down a little (especially in his Part Three), but in some ways makes Frank’s case for him. When BW3 talks about subordination in the Godhead, or how we might be ‘ontologically’ united with Christ but kinda not really, he comes across as…well, a cautious scholar to Frank’s animated prophet. Which I suppose is all well and good in the grand scheme of things, but makes me feel more clearly that Frank ‘wins’ this round if winning means venturing out and exploring fresh terrain.

There are some other posts in this latter mix that are worth reading:

Bill Heroman Part I II & III (I spent a good 4-5 years with Bill in a house church community)

Neil Carter: (Whom I also spent 4-5 slightly-different-but-overlapping years with in the same community.)

Reimagining Church
Reimagining the Trinity
Out on a Limb

With blogs, books, and – oh yes – more and more house churches being planted – it would seem that ‘house church’ has indeed reached prime time. My friends and my family continue to talk, with helpful interjections by scholar-teachers. We will all be the better for the exchange.

Coming in Some Subsequent Post (I cannot guarantee you when): The Future of ‘House Church’ – Where It’s Going (at least for me). In the meantime, enjoy the first chapter of Reimagining Church.

House Church: Ready for Prime Time? Frank Viola says ‘Yes!’

A decade ago, nearly to the month, I took my first plunge into the wild and untamed world of house churching – or, as it’s increasingly called today, ‘organic church.’ It took me over a year to fully trade in my sanctuary for a living room, but I was quite happy to leave doctrinal turf wars, membership classes, and monologue-style sermons behind. 10 years later, I’m more ambivalent. I still don’t miss theological in-fighting, bounded-set ‘in and out’ religion, and unreflective bible screeds, but I see a lot more that I appreciate and embrace across the ecclesiological spectrum. That said, I remain quite committed to organic church community as my community of practice – but specificity, for me, no longer equals exclusivity.

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That Was Then

10 years ago whenever I’d bring up ideas about open, participatory gatherings, clergy-less church, and taking the direct leadership of God in local fellowships seriously, people looked at me like I had a third eye growing out of my spleen, which was somehow visible through my T-shirt. Maybe it was just the small Southern town I grew up in, or perhaps the Baptist (Southern), Pentecostal (A/G), and Presbyterian (PCA) denominations I participated in just didn’t want to hear that the ordinary friend of Jesus has spiritual competency and drive. Me and the Quakers both, eh?

Friends & Family

2-3 years into my house church journey, I discovered the ‘emerging church conversation‘ before it was ever called that. (Back then it was postmodern Christianity, baby! Stranger Things Magazine, Next Wave, and The Ooze were the places to be. But then, I suppose the latter two still are, with some notable newcomers.) Finally, I thought. Some other Christians I could talk about this stuff with. And I was right. Be they Catholic, Orthodox, Anabaptist or anarchist, in the pomo xian conversation I found friends – which was just as important as finding family in house churching a few years prior. Family is vital for obvious reasons, but friends are crucial when you need to get out of the house and get some fresh air, you know? The problem was, I didn’t know how to introduce my friends to my family; my family’s great but they’re a little quirky, sometimes prone to navel-gazing and/or fundamentalist tendencies, what with the ‘let’s return to the first century church’ and all. And my friends are awesome but sometimes a bit pretentious, like they just pulled an all-nighter with a Thesaurus or something to impress their soy-latte drinking peers. So for the last 7 years or so, I’ve had Family and I’ve had Friends, but seldom the twain did meet.

Frankly Speaking

Enter my ‘family friend’ Frank Viola. I started reading Frank right at the beginning of my house church journey in 1998, my freshman year in college. He was and is one of the most prolific pens in house churchdom (though his relationship with ‘house church’ is as nuanced as Brian McLaren’s is with ’emergent church’). One year later, he crashed on a pallet beside me and three other guys on my parents living room floor! Our church was hosting a men’s conference in ’99 and I got to meet The Man Himself. He was younger and more Italian than I anticipated. And so it began.

Around 2005 Frank discovered what dawned on me in 2001; that these ’emerging church’ folks were valuable friends and conversation partners in discovering the life, meaning and mission of Jesus’ followers in the 21st century. He asked me what he should be reading more of, and who he should be talking to. I introduced him to some friends, and gave him some contacts with the e-zines. After digesting more of ‘the conversation,’ Frank penned an article that went viral, Will the Emerging Church Fully Emerge? Andrew Jones and many others weighed in. My own thoughts were ‘Finally! My friends and family having a first conversation.’ It was perhaps a bit too guns-a-blazin’ for an initial conversation, for my tastes, but at least Frank put all his cards on the table. (And Frank’d probably call me a sissy.) It’s been fun watching folks’ responses to ‘organic church’ praxis evolve over the years, from initial wariness to active engagement.

This Is Now

So these days Pagan Christianity? and Reimagining Church hold their own in faith-based best-seller lists alongside other house church-oriented books (that you may or may not have heard of) like The Shack. Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk himself, thinks that emerging church practitioners should take Frank and his ecclesiology seriously. RTS prof Steve Brown is pleasantly surprised by house church ideas. And Relevant’s newly-launched Neue Ministry discovers that house church folks really can care about the poor.

If you’re a house churcher or emerging churcher (or baffled onlooker), what do you think of this confluence of HC and EC?

Tomorrow (or thereabouts), I bring some attention to two of the most significant recent diaologues between house church folks and high church/liturgical folks – two segments of the church that I have enormous respect for.

Frank Viola is Blogging

Check it out.

Coming Out of the “Pagan Christianity” Closet

pagan1.jpg

Update: Brother Maynard at Subversive Influence has completed a good three-part interview with Frank; check it out here, here and here.

Also: P.C. has been breaking into Amazon best-seller territory.

So: My buddy Frank Viola‘s book Pagan Christianity? has been causing quite the stir. Many responses have been positive, but some clearly have taken issue with matters both of tone or content. I’ve sort of just realized that I’ve largely been sitting on the sidelines of the debate raging through the blogosphere, even though many of the participants are my friends and I care deeply about what’s being discussed. Why?

Because I suck at time management. It’s tough being a new daddy, husband, have 2.5 businesses, and take graduate-level courses. I’m seeing a life coach friend. I’m getting better–slowly but surely. So here’s my belated entry into the fray.

I feel deeply ambivalent about the talk going ’round, like the kid with a lot of friends whose friends are really really different from each other. One day the kid has a birthday party, and the friends are all under the same roof for the first time…and they ain’t getting along so well. My journey of knowing Jesus led me into house church waters in 1998, and into the pre-emergent discussion in 2001 (back when it was just PoMo Christianity, baby! Who remembers Stranger Things?). I have since felt like the bastard child of both, a hopeful amphibian breathing the air and water of two similar yet distinct movements/phenomena. Of course emerging saints are waaaay more media saavy (new media, old media, all of it) and so have made far more headway into the popular religious imagination and discourse. But now that me pal Frank has graduated from guerilla publishing to real, live publishers, our subterranean wares are being offered in the marketplace of ideas for the first time and eeesh! We’re like that odd gypsy family offering homemade trinkets to snobby European connoisseurs. What to do?

Continue reading ‘Coming Out of the “Pagan Christianity” Closet’

Our Composting God: Making Meaning of the Mess

My ever-thoughtful wife has written a post comparing house church practice with Communism. I suggest you read it, then come back to my comment here below…

Well, wife-o-mine, a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ was pretty tough to implement–it had never been done before! For years, Marxist thinkers and revolutionaries had fine-tuned their critique of capitalism, and it was largely quite valid. I think had they spent as much energy articulating what they were for, the transition from Russian czardom to a distributed system could have worked better and with less bloodshed.

Hmm…

As you no doubt know, I think that many of the critiques that we house-churchers have against more institutionally-driven expressions of Church are grounded in some solid intuition and research. And I also think that some of our positive visions of what a more egalitarian, ‘organic’ way of being under the guidance of the Spirit (or headship of Christ, as you put it) have beauty and merit too. BUT I’m thinking that maybe evolution is a better metaphor for what we’re seeking to embody than revolution. Lasting change tends to be gradual, and only then punctuated by a time of cataclysmic upheaval. We’ve been riding the wave of upheaval for awhile, but it might well be that greater humility toward established expressions are called for.

These days, instead of anticipating a remnant ‘torch of the testimony,’ I see Church History (and indeed, all history) as compost. At one point something was alive (and probably still is alive, in some manifestation), but then it died. After this, it begins to decompose-it might even stink a good deal. But that decomposing stew releases very helpful nutrients back into the soil–indeed, the soil itself is the product of eons of compost.

So even us ‘organic churches’ are planted in the soil of rich compost, of all that’s come before. We don’t need to eat from the Tree of Judgment, and determine what was good, bad, and ugly in the beliefs and actions of our forbears. Quaker, Anabaptist, Catholic, Pentecostal, Orthodox–and yes, even house church…it’s all our compost. It’s all our soil. And we have one big God–disclosed in Christ–who transcends and includes all of this, helping us discern what was most good, true and beautiful about these past (and continuing) expressions, to celebrate and wisely use today. And of course, we have our sacred text, contemporary context, and Holy Spirit subtext to help us weave new meanings and trajectories for today and tomorrow.

God is at work, fermenting God’s good creation. Let’s compost church today!

Recommended Reading:

The Seeker’s Way by Dave Fleming

Streams of Living Water by Richard Foster

A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren


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    My Writings: Varied and Sundry Pieces Online

    Illumination and Darkness: An Anne Rice Feature from Burnside Writer's Collective
    Shadows & Light: An Anne Rice Interview in MP3 format from Relevant Magazine
    God's Ultimate Passion: A Trinity of Frank Viola interview on Next Wave: Part I, Part II, Part III
    Review: Furious Pursuit by Tim King, from The Ooze
    Church Planting Chat from Next-Wave
    Review: Untold Story of the New Testament Church by Frank Viola, from Next-Wave

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