I must say that this one always makes me smile because I actually get to meet some of them. (I could tell you some stories, believe me!) But let’s immediately get this into some kind of perspective. If we are defining house churches as being those which are outside of, and in contradistinction to, traditional/institutional churches, then it does have to be said that the traditional/institutional churches have always had, and still do have, their fair share of nutcases too. Indeed, the mere fact that traditional/institutional churches have historically outnumbered house churches by a quite fantastic ratio (a hundred thousand to one, a million to one, or even more?) means that the vast majority of church based nutcases have actually been traditional/institutional church ones.
But let me say that I am quite happy to concede that it is very possibly the case that the ‘house church scene’ (for want of a better phrase) does have a higher proportion of nutcases getting in on the act than its traditional/institutional counterpart. And I think I know why! And it goes back to the reason why I so much prefer to think in terms of biblical churches rather than just house churches. Think about it! A church based purely on the teaching of scripture, as opposed to embracing the unbiblical traditions and practices of the early Church Fathers will indeed be what you might call a house church; but the converse is not necessarily the case. After all, there are churches that meet in people’s homes which aren’t, when it comes to their church practice, biblically based at all, and which actually more resemble traditional/institutional churches. Indeed, there is a Catholic priest here in England who was defrocked because of his defiance of the Pope’s decree that the Mass should no longer only be said in Latin, but in the language of the people in whose country it is being celebrated. He only has a small following, and of course being without funding is also bereft of infrastructure, and so conducts his pure Latin Masses in various people’s houses.
Now I don’t actually accept that the so-called Catholic Church is a Christian Church anyhow, although I am fully aware that there are some genuine, though badly misled, believers in it, but you can nevertheless see the point I am making. In so far as terminology is concerned, then those who accept that Catholic Priest’s leadership and follow him comprise house churches, but they also clearly have little to do with biblical church practice in any wider sense. Further, I also know of a network of house churches just a couple of hundred miles away from where I live that are the result of a split in the Mormon Church. (It could probably only happen in England too.) Again, just like the Catholic Church, this movement isn’t even a Christian one, yet they are nevertheless doing what can only be termed house church. And so the point is clear; you can have so-called house churches which aren’t even genuinely Christian, let alone biblical in their practice. So don’t be surprised when you come across genuine Christian house churches, but which have little in common with the New Testament churches when it comes to church practice. Indeed, they are actually merely another variation on the traditional/institutional churches, only meeting in people’s homes rather than in public or religious buildings.
Now I don’t mean to imply by this that everyone in what I would call unbiblical house churches are nutcases, any more than I would suggest that everyone in traditional/institutional churches are, but one can at least see the potential for some very definite nutcase-type problems emerging on the house church scene. And if you further consider that those in house churches are, by definition, outside of the system then there is always an increased propensity for those on the lunatic fringe of discipleship to gravitate in that particular direction. In other words, whereas there are believers (like myself) who are outside the system because of properly thought out and carefully implemented scriptural conviction, there are also those who are outside the system, and therefore often found in house churches, who are outside the system precisely because they are nutcases and want to be different and radical for it’s own sake. If the history of Christian churches had been that of remaining meeting in homes, then these guys would, I am sure, be busily pioneering traditional/institutional church. You see, they aren’t actually interested in being biblical at all; they just want to be different. And often they just want to be different so as to increase their chances of being big fish in small ponds. However, I am delighted to testify that such people are a minority in what is going on, and that those who are more biblically responsible in what they are doing are usually well able to see them coming and can then try to help them come to maturity and a more balanced Christian life. If nothing else, at least the vulnerable can be protected from them. The very last thing we need in this business of the Lord restoring biblical church practice to his people are sundry would be and wannabe self-styled prophets, apostles and visionaries, who are really just nutcases, looking for a platform they couldn’t possibly get anywhere else.
There is another problem that needs to be addressed here too, and it’s the fact that the only thing worse than a charismaniac is a charismaniac in a house church. You know the type; they have a personal ‘hotline to God’ and maintain a rapport with the Holy Spirit so intimate and close that they are able to hear from Him all those revelations, teachings and practices which, for some reason, He didn’t get around to putting in the Bible, but which are nevertheless now absolutely essential for any successful living of the Christian life. Not for these types anything as mundane or unspiritual as living under the authority of the written Word of God, but rather the excitement of their own subjective ability to ‘hear what the Spirit is saying’ (irrespective, incidentally, of whether or not it ties up with, or goes against, scripture), and then to pass it on (prophetically, of course) to those who are supposed to be just hanging onto their every utterance as one who is so spiritual and so on the perceived prophetic cutting edge.
The correct biblical practice of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is, of course, extremely important, as is increasingly being able to receive subjective guidance from the Lord. But all this must be on the strict understanding that it must be constantly tested against scripture precisely in order to ascertain whether or not it is the leading of the Holy Spirit or a deception of some kind. Once you get these ‘hotline to God’ people in small intimate house churches then watch out! Indeed, you will need all your biblical wits about you to keep them in check and prevent them from just taking over. As ever, staying close to the teaching of the Word of God is our greatest protection.
So yes, there are nutcases out there in house churches. But do be very careful not to judge all believers who are pursuing biblical church practice by them. Indeed, you will actually find that a very great proportion of those in churches such as we are advocating have ended up in them precisely because they understand the importance of living scripturally, and because they precisely want to escape the nuttiness (and especially the charismatic nuttiness) that prevails in so many traditional/institutional churches.
But of course there will always be those who say that anyone doing house church (by which I mean biblical church) is a nutcase by definition. Not interested in what scripture teaches, they just write the whole thing off with sweeping generalizations along the lines that only believers who have something wrong in their heads would want to practice church life like the New Testament believers and apostles did. Well, it actually seems to me to be a pretty good idea, and all I can say to those who think it makes me a nutcase is that I may be a nut, but at least I’m screwed onto the right bolt!
I leave you with this thought: Beautiful forests are just a load of nuts that held their ground!