Form and Substance!
It is no secret that many
believers have disengaged
themselves from the traditional church structure in favor of structures
more common to the first-century church, such as homechurches or
because of they are weary of controlling hierarchy. It has been
that the traditional church structure lends itself to a hierarchy
more easily than these new structures, and this would seem to be so.
is because there has long been engrained the fallacy that
leading is Biblical--That just because someone is named a pastor or
it is okay for them to have ultimate control over all in the name of
Below is a
testimony sent to us via e-mail after
I had written Living Stones
it to some. This one was forwarded to us off the HomeChurchDiscussion
and typify how the Spirit is giving similar revelations, urging people
to leave what is now being called the "Institutionalized Church" in
of something less structured:
CA has been a roller coaster ride for us in every
way to say the least.
When we first landed, we attended a small church which had a declining
membership due to a new pastor. He was definitely on the mark with the
Spirit, though. We were initially welcomed in the group and the Lord
use us for some powerful things. However, we were not the type to keep
silent about anything that we felt the Lord wanted us to say. We were
a ministry under his leadership and we said that we would pray about
I made the mistake of commenting that the Lord had never led us to be
any other man's authority before. Long story, but eventually, there
a day when the pastor decided that it was time for him to take *his
in the church. Things went spiraling down hill from there. He actually
made a pyramid type diagram of God at the top, he was at the next
elders next, then the rest of us at the bottom. It was obvious that
from God could only come through him in his eyes. =======:( There was
allotment for God speaking directly to another elder or a member of the
congregation without going through him first. It wasn't long after that
before we felt the Lord set us free from going there.
is an outline of a home church
which fell into pride, control spirit, and hierarchy structure within
homechurch. The person who wrote this remains confidential, having
malicious religious abuse by the two leaders. It's interesting to note
how the meeting agenda became more rigid, and how even the position of
chairs became arranged to focus on the two leaders as the center of
The changes were reported to have been gradual.
(edited for length and personal content; initials
given were changed)
MUSINGS ABOUT HOW WE MET
After reading the first + of the book "How To Meet"
by Gene Edwards--
One night I was thinking about the meetings we had at X.'s house (two
X and Y were the leaders) and how, in the beginning of my involvement
those meetings, they came very close to what Gene Edwards described. I
started to write things down, in point form--
1. At the beginning:
- --at first, six to eight people
- --we met in the living room, in an informal way
- --met on Tues. and Sat.
- --dressed casually
- --X. played piano, but anyone could start any song they felt
led to sing.
- --no formal message prepared--for sure no sermons!
- --focus was on worshipping Christ, waiting for His manifest
- --everyone shared what they were getting prophetically
- --everyone was encouraged to use their gifts in ministry time
- --followed by a time of food "pot luck" and fellowship
- --we went to conferences together
- we all attended evangelical churches which did not recognize
of the Spirit and would not allow us to use them and X. encouraged us
- X. and Y. were obviously the leaders, it was at D.'s house
and he and M.
were a "team"
2. Gradual downfall:
- --the group started to grow, to 40-50 people
- --X. announced that God had shown Y. that X. was to take more
in the meetings
- --X & Y became "exclusive" in decisions for the
group, and in their
- --talked more and more (incessantly) about how God called THEM
- --did not invite others to share their testimony.
- --folding chairs brought in now placed in neat rows with an
the middle in the dining room.
- --now, everyone waits until Y shares a vision before sharing
shown to Y)
- --X leading the singing EXCLUSIVELY
- --Y preaching (lecturing) at every service/ lectured for 1-2
- --we endured THAT in order to get to Ministry time, food and
- -- Y gradually withdraws from Ministry times -
- -- Y gets fewer and fewer visions while with the group
- --X promotes Y more and more--brags about how God visits him
over and over,
"hundreds of times per day"--we don't see it.
- --X stops answering his phone, says "God has us boxed in".
Few calls are
returned. Extremely short time limits on conversations.
- --women criticized for not looking feminine enough
- --hair too short, suggestions to wear skirts to meetings
instead of blue
- --X & Y make trips to conferences, exclusive of
- --On their way home, had car trouble, during extra time it
took, said God
showed them they were Overseers to the pastors in the city.
- --Y promoted by X as the "new standard" to measure holiness
Etc, etc, ad nauseam!
3. What went wrong? a. PRIDE b. Self-promotion c.
Exclusiveness d. Control
The person who
wrote the above draft was eventually
rescued from the group described above by both a revelation God gave
regarding false authority, and by a true prophet who spoke against the
condemnation the two leaders taught. Not to be critical, but in my
there is one very slight error in this person's final
That was to equate leadership (leader mentality) with the control
True leadership has nothing to do with the control spirit. This person
may have been
it 'leader mentality' already because of her exposure to anti-leader
this and other expressions already
woven into the homechurch movement to the effect that there should be
leaders, the Lord has strongly impressed upon me the following warnings:
Stay tuned for more....
is truth to the fact that
lend themselves more to hierarchy because of the traditions to those
These traditions make it very easy for a leader to fall into practicing
- It is a lie that just
because the 'form' is changed,
one is automatically protected from the error of hierarchy. No
or formula of structure is superior. Being proud of a structure and
in its ability to 'protect you' is nothing less than the same
pride that has become the downfall of countless new wine skins.
- Substance must also be
changed in order to guard
against hierarchy, and the most effective way to do that is a renewing
of the mind as to what exactly true leadership is. If not, instability
(anarchy) would occur from rejecting or resisting necessary structure
structure which helps the church to function) and true leadership. If
total 'leaderlessness'/anti structure mentality continues, we are
seeing what the enemy is weaving into the form God is raising up, by
'tares' in order hobble it.
- This disintegration could
include the cell-church
structure, because their structure could easily become rigid with a
hierarchy, and it is just as possible that their home-based meetings
become completely controlled by their leaders. Again, this could only
if there is no understanding of what true leadership is and the freedom
of meetings intended in the New Testament.
Below is a 'position paper' written by a moderator of
the HCDL list, before
leaving the Institutionalized Church.
<---- Begin Included Message
Date: Wed, 30 Oct 1996
From: "Joann M. Hnat" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: HCDL: psuedo-home church
To: HCDL <email@example.com>
Bob, Teri, ... I just finished reading this (long,
testimony from one of the moderators of the Home Church Dot List
Thought you might find refreshment from her as well. If you want to
on, you can write to: firstname.lastname@example.org and put: info HCDL into the
of your message (nothing in subject). They will send you instructions
how to get on--it's not hard, but I believe they have a two week "read
only" time, so that people can get into the flow of things before
However, messages can be sent through the moderators (I find them all
Joanne) or a participant such as myself.
On Tue, 29 Oct 1996, Susan Hook wrote:
So I'd like to know - can the IC add small groups
(called cells or
care groups or whatever) and have that be acceptable as a New Testament
style of meeting? How do you know if it's just another program? What
be the point of grafting a living thing to a dying thing?
About a year ago, I was having a conversation about this very thing
e-mail) with a pastor whose church was moving towards a cell church
He wrote a "position paper," as did I. I've lost his, but here is mine.
It's quite long, and contains little or nothing that's new to anyone
been doing home church for awhile, so please feel free to ignore it if
you're not interested in reading. I hope it's helpful to some of you,
* * * * * * * * *
Well, I have the evening free, so I thought I might
as well take some
time to try to write my "position paper." As you said in yours, this is
not meant as a logical argument; it is a statement of why I feel called
to express my Christianity through Christian community and home church.
It's hard to know where exactly to start. Maybe I
should start with
when I got saved. I was 17 years old, and it was in the context of a
church. The people there loved God, and they taught me that I needed to
"accept Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord." And I did. And they were
but they didn't go far enough.
Because salvation, at its core, is not an individual
thing. It's not
something that's just between God and me. Maybe, sometimes, it begins
way. But if it stays there, it will always be an immature sort of
Salvation is what Christians are meant to work out in the cracks, in
places where their lives butt up against one another.
You have said that we cannot extrapolate one
particular way of being
church from reading the New Testament. I agree. But I do think that
Jesus and the writers of the epistles show us is that our faith is
and inextricably linked with us interweaving our lives with other
so that we can work out our salvation in fear and trembling.
I see very few (actually, I can't think of any, but
I'll hedge in case
I'm missing something) metaphors for the church that do not involve
with other believers. The church is a body. The church is a family. "I
will save you, yeah, and all your household, too."
And "metaphor" may be too weak a word for what was
going on in the groups
of believers that Jesus and his disciples touched. Because, apparently,
other people could pick them out from the crowd. "Oh, yes, those are
followers of Jesus. You can tell because they love one another so
To me, the fundamental calling of the church is to
be an expression
of the kingdom of God here on earth. And the kingdom of God is where
love God and love one another. It's not a social club or a public
institution or a place to foster the arts or a political force in the
although Christians certainly will participate in all of these
in the course of loving God and loving one another. But I think that a
church is not really worthy of the name "church" unless people from the
outside look at it and say, "There is *really* something different
on here. These people live as though they really believe what they
And, given the fact that this is a fallen world, I think that means
the church, if it is to be a true expression of the kingdom of God on
will always be radical, as its founder was radical. It will never fit
within the mainstream of life. Its people will always be aware that
are only sojourners here on this earth, and that their country is
So, somehow, whatever structure we humans choose for
the church must
be one which fosters this radical interdependence amongst people who
and love God. Somehow, the structure of the church must give legs to
Christian profession that we are all part of a single body, with Christ
as its head, and with every single part of the body necessary for its
functioning. Somehow, the structure of the church must foster the
of groups that end up looking rather like a family, with members who
and rely upon each other to bear one another's burdens in this world,
than seeing themselves as essentially independent actors on this earth.
It seems clear to me that any structure for the
church which allows
for interdependence amongst Christians to develop must include small
How can we bear one another's burdens if we don't know what they are?
how can we know what they are if we are in churches so large that we
not even know everybody's name? In my experience, virtually every
Christian I know realizes that an hour or two on Sunday morning with
or 500 or 1,000 other people isn't sufficient, and virtually all of
become members of some small group or another. Not all of them are
churches, of course. There are Bible studies, cell groups, fellowship
worship groups, cell churches, and so on.
And these small groups work well, as far as they go.
But, they don't
go far enough. They don't allow people to become as mature as they can
possibly become, because of the presence of the pastor or the priest
is still involved. I think of it like children with their parents. The
children may grow and become quite mature and able to handle just about
anything on their own, but until they take the final step of leaving
protection and the authority of their parents' house, they will never
Many small group members seem to realize this. They
participate in their
small groups, week by week, month by month, and at some point, they
that the small group, whatever its name, has become the venue where
experience what it means to be the body of Christ, to *be* the church.
Sometimes they leave, taking the final, formal step of recognizing what
has already happened in their hearts. Other times, they remain as part
of the institutional church, though in many cases their attendance at
drops off, while they remain very committed to being the church, within
their small groups. They would much sooner miss Sunday morning than
night. Still other times, of course, they remain active in both venues,
but are discontent in the larger one because they see what could be and
isn't. The visionaries fall into the first and the third categories.
seeks to reform from within; the other decides that the structure is
and leaves to pursue a different vision.
I have often talked with visionary Christians within
church who fault those who choose to leave rather than to stay and work
from within. "There is much good here; let's try to preserve what's
and change what isn't." My answer to that is manifold. First, that view
assumes that we Christians should have some sort of allegiance to the
expression of the institutional church which happens to exist at
Since I agree with you that no one structure for the church has God's
of approval on it (although I do find more support in the New Testament
for house churches than you find), I feel no particular loyalty to the
institutional church as it now exists. Yes, there is a lot of good in
but there will always be a lot of good wherever Christians fervently
to follow after God. God sees to that.
Second, significant reform from within almost never
works with institutions
of any sort. Institutions, including the institutional church, have a
of their own. They are purposely designed to be able to perpetuate
in a particular manner, or at least within a fairly narrow range of
They are meant to be relatively permanent, and they have safeguards
attacks from within and without. Because of this, it takes hard knocks
to make them budge even a little bit.
Third, there is an innate conflict between the
of the institutional church, which necessitates that the designated
be in the vanguard of any change that occurs, and the personal
of those leaders. If the people of God really decided that they were
capable of ministering to one another and teaching one another and
for one another and doing the marrying and the burying and the sharing
of the eucharist, and that they didn't need any particular physical
in which to do these things, then a lot of people would be out of jobs,
whether paid or unpaid. And I think that church leaders who are willing
to work tirelessly, knowing that if they are very successful, they will
put themselves out of business, are few and far between.
(Just as an aside, there is a parallel situation in
my own life. Massachusetts
has very high auto insurance rates, always ranked within the top 4-5
out of the 50. The main reason for this is because of all the lawsuits
for relatively insignificant injuries. The way to change this, IMO, is
to enact legislation narrowing the right to sue. However, if this sort
of legislation is enacted, I will lose money. So, should I work to
the legislation which I know would be beneficial to the populace of the
state as a whole? Probably, but I don't. Instead, I bury my head in the
sand to a degree, although I try very hard to be personally ethical in
the sorts of cases I take, and not to represent people who are not
injured. And I also try very hard to remember that I am not a
party in this matter.)
My third point, of course, assumes that formal
leadership within the
church is antithetical to its mission of being the expression of God's
kingdom on earth. As I said before, I think that clergy are unnecessary
for the life of the church and, in fact, actually inhibit the
of a body of mature Christians who weave their lives together in love,
minister to one another, and preserve the vision of the church as a
I think of this in terms of classical group dynamics
theory. It's sociology
rather than Christianity, of course, but I think it is a helpful
to use when thinking of the church. Most sociologists seem to find two
basic forms of groups -- the top-down, hierarchical model, focused on a
single, formally-identified leader or set of leaders, and a more
model in which the focus is on the goal or purpose of the group rather
than any particular leader or leaders. (Hey, look at the cool ASCII art
O - O
' \ / `
O O - G - O
\ / \ /
O O O
` O - O '
In the first model, the formal leadership of the
group are the guardians
of its goals and its vision. The people look to the formal leadership
tell them what to do and how to do it. If members of the group have
for the group which are not shared by the leadership, they must either
convince the leadership that those goals are worth pursuing, or they
abandon the goals (or the group). Or they will attempt to convince
among the group, and will generally be seen by the leadership as
Of course, it is certainly not that clear-cut. Good
leaders, in any
group, will try to bring out the gifts and talents of the group
This is shown, for example, in corporations which attempt to adopt less
traditional structural models, concentrating on team-building and the
The workers use more of their skills, develop more of a cooperative
with other workers, have a voice in goal-setting. But, nonetheless, the
leadership still has the final say. And, time and again, this
the "peons". The leaders keep saying that they're trying to empower the
workers, and that "we're all one big happy family" and that "each one
you is very important to the group," but it doesn't feel genuine
in the end, what the boss says goes.
This model also doesn't require the workers to take
for their work. They *work for* the corporation, but they don't really
feel that they *are* the corporation in the same way that the formal
might. The CEO of a company often feels that s/he speaks for the
and, in some sense, *is* the company. And when it's time to answer for
what happened in the corporation, like to the Board of Directors, it is
the formal leaders who bear the ultimate responsibility. No one from
Board of Directors is going to go to a line worker on the manufacturing
floor and ask him or her why the company is running in the red.
In the second model, things look more like a wheel,
with the vision
or goal at the center. In this model, people are, of necessity, forced
to take responsibility for the group as a whole. They see clearly how
person's talents and gifts fit into the group vision, because there are
gaping holes evident to all when a member is not living up to his or
potential. This is unlike the top-down model, where the leadership
see the potential of individual members of the group, but members
stop to think of the group as a whole, and of what each person's
Leadership in the diffuse model is definitely
present. There are always
leaders in any group. But the difference is that pretty much everyone
leadership at some point, in the areas where each person has talent
expertise. People are leaders for specific tasks, rather than as an
Of course, there will be areas where no one is particularly talented or
expert, and at those times, the people who are most comfortable with
in general will step in to sort of jump-start things.
Classical group dynamics theory holds that the first
model works well
when the group has a very specific, well-defined task. When you're
to build a house, it's good to have someone who knows what they're
to tell you what to do. However, the second model is the one to use if
your goals are more diffuse, less well-defined, and if you want to
good relationships between the group members. The second model is much
less efficient at first, but as time goes on and the group gels, it is
far more efficient that the first model. The first is the model of the
institution. The second is the model of family and friends.
Many churches today are trying to meld these two
models, using some
version of the relational model at the small group level, while still
the institutional model farther on up the line. This cannot work,
it robs the relational model of the very things that make it vital. The
relational model only works if the members of the group are truly,
responsible for the life and well-being of the group. No pastor to step
in and pick up the slack. The members have to know that if they don't
it, it won't get done. They have to be free to fail -- fail
in some cases.
One thing that you talked about when you wrote to me
was your concern
that groups like this would only be able to minister to a minuscule
of the population. At least at first, I think you are absolutely right.
But I think that is a *good* thing.
With the way things stand now, it is entirely
possible for people to
spend their whole lives going to church, either regularly or just from
time to time, and yet never feel compelled to make any sort of decision
about whether or not they really want to walk with Jesus. They go to
on Sunday morning because it's the right thing to do, or it's good for
the kids, or it's a nice social activity, or it's so nice and peaceful
to listen to the beautiful music and listen to an inspiring sermon.
unless they are somewhat thoughtful folk, they probably even consider
to be Christians. And in times of trouble, like when there's an illness
or a death, there is a priest or pastor there to say the God-words and
make them feel better.
Who was it that said that religion is the opiate of
the masses? Marx?
Well, whoever it was, this is the sort of religion he was talking
Not the radical faith that Jesus preached, the kind that actually
its followers to change their lives.
I think that the church catholic would be far, far
better off, both
in terms of the individuals involved *and* in terms of its ability to
to the apostate world, if it consisted of maybe 1/10 or 1/20 of the
who are involved now, but if each and every one of those people were
dedicated to following the hard path that Jesus set before us and
in the fullness of the gifts given to him or her by God. And what of
rest of the people? Well, for starters, they wouldn't be able to sleep
through their lives and still think of themselves as Christians. They
know that being a Christian really meant something. Perhaps with some
their comfortable supports gone, they might turn to God when
strikes at their souls. Maybe not. That's up to God.
As for civilization's need for the priesthood, for
shamans, I feel pretty
much the same way as about all the other archetypes. It is natural to
one's archetypes onto others. However, the process of individuation
moving beyond this, to integrating the archetypes within oneself. Just
as I think it is very sad when a man or woman does not mature past the
anima/animus projection stage with a spouse or lover, I think it is
sad when a people does not mature past the projection of the shaman
onto certain individuals. In both cases, the projection may give great
comfort and nourishment to the one doing the projecting, but it
him or her from really growing up and moving on to an even better
As far as supporting someone to study and think is
concerned, that may
well be an appropriate use of the church's resources, at least for a
I do think that Paul's pleasure in being able to say that he earned his
own living, even though he could have legitimately claimed the support
of those to whom he ministered, says something about this. I have no
whatsoever with full-time, paid, Christian workers. Home churches,
in concert, are perfectly capable of (and do) pay people to minister.
home churches have a lot more money than the institutional church,
there is no building to maintain and no clergy to pay.) But these
minister to the world, not to the church. The church, the body of
can take care of itself. Finally, you mention the transcendence which
from being part of a mass of people. I agree. Just as the large church
has serious problems which can only be managed through the use of small
groups, the house church has serious problems which can only be managed
through the use of large groups. That's okay. House churches around the
world band together in networks and communities that allow them to take
advantage of one another's gifts, to pool resources for ministry, and
worship. Before I end what has turned into a *much* longer dissertation
than I intended to write, I just want to touch on a couple of other
about house church that I love -- the teaching and the prayer. Teaching
in house church is virtually never dry and boring. It's not preachy.
I listen to a preacher orating, I think "politician".) And it's always
open for discussion, so you get the advantage of 6 or 8 viewpoints,
of only one. I feel so sad when I go to an institutional church and
to an excellent sermon, only to have it end with everyone saying
walking out of church, and shaking the pastor's hand, "good sermon,
I like teaching that engages the minds of the listeners and draws them
into a discussion where they really wrestle with the issues involved
come to deeper and deeper levels of understanding.
And the corporate prayer in house church is
wonderful. I can always
tell when visitors aren't used to it, because they try to be eloquent
use a lot of God-words. They're usually long-winded, too, and sometimes
end up giving little mini-sermons within their prayers. People in house
church are used to everyone participating, so there is a very nice ebb
and flow with regard to who speaks and what they say. No one goes on
on. It's not necessary, because we're all in it together, and what one
of us forgets, another will remember.
Oh, and one more thing. People really *do* know that
There is barely a one of my non-Christian friends who hasn't commented
favorably (sometimes in utter amazement) at the way in which my
and sisters in the church love and support one another. Friends of mine
who want nothing to do with the church in general ("a bunch of
will listen to me talk on and on about God, because they see the fruits
of the Spirit in our corporate life. People really *do* tell us that
know we are Christians by our love.
Trails Too ('initial' dissertations/ leaving IC)