“Scope” Them Out!

30 11 2011

Truth Matters Newsletters – November 2011 – Vol. 16 Issue11 – “Scope” them out! – By Rev. Robert Liichow

 Discernment Ministries International

 “Scope” Them Out!

Rev. Bob Liichow

 I cannot put my finger on the exact moment in time, but at some point church “culture” changed from being more direct and confrontational when dealing with sin and error to growing more silent, complacent and accepting of doctrines and practices that formerly (in my fairly short life time) would had gotten one publically rebuked or possibly excommunicated.

 One of the reason’s the Church is in the pretty sad and confused condition it is today is because a generation of leaders have fostered a non-Christian practice of “see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, and speak no-evil.” this is great advice if you are a monkey, but it is hardly biblical or practical counsel for Christians.

 We’ve been wrongly counseled to “not judge” others, when the Bible plainly tells us to do exactly this. Most certainly, you and I do not know the spiritual state of those professing belief around us; however we are called to examine their fruit. We can surely see their lifestyles and we can easily determine whether or not some one is living a godly life according to the scriptures. Obviously the doctrine they proclaim is open to scrutiny, after all were not the Bereans declared nobler by Paul than the Thessalonians in Acts 17:11 for scoping out what Paul was declaring as truth?

 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf; but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and innocent concerning evil. (1) Romans 16:17-19

 In the Apologetic and Polemic arena of ministry one is often wrongly rebuked for having the audacity to name names when exposing the sources of doctrinal error. Some think it is uncharitable and a form of sinful judgment to be too specific in warning the church of the dangers facing her from within and without. Others accuse us of “casting stones” (John 8:7) and even serving Satan by being his mouthpieces “accusing the brethren” (Rev. 12:10). Virtually all sign-gift aka charismatic devotees continually warn us to “touch not God’s anointed and to do His prophets no harm” (Psalms 105:15). On the surface it would seem in the light of these and some other texts often cited that perhaps our critics are correct and that we have been behaving in an ungodly manner. Let us not be guilty of being superficial people and dig beneath the surface and uncover the truth of this matter; after all we are told in Proverbs 25:2 “that it is the honour of kings to search out a matter.”

 The Apostle Paul in ending his letter to the Roman Christians beseechs (begs) the brethren to “mark” (transliterated as skopeo) them that cause divisions: 5023 (skopeo): vb; = Str 4648; TDNT 7.414—1. LN 2432 notice carefully (Ro. 16:17; Php 3:17+), for another interp, see next; 2 LN 27.58 watch out for, implying a response to the danger (Ro. 16:17, Gal 6:1+), for another interp, see prior; 3. LN 27.36 be concerned about (Php 2.4+); 4 LN 30.20 keep thinking about, ponder fix attention toward (Lk 11:35; 2 Co. 4:18) (2)

 Let me ask you a question —- who is it that causes divisions in the Church? Is it the one who spreads false doctrines and spurious practices within the Church or is it the ones who contend for the faith once delivered unto the saints (Jude 3)? I can assure you it is the former and not the latter.

 How important is this as an issue in our lives as believers? The Holy Spirit through Paul seems to think it necessary enough to be placed in God’s written Word. Here is Paul, having not even visited Rome, yet he begs these young Christians to notice carefully and to keep thinking about with a fixed attention on those who cause divisions and offences of a specific type. What type? We are told to carefully watch out for and take note of (what discovered) anyone who causes divisions and offenses regarding the true apostolic doctrine which has been learned.

 Once we discern such tares among the wheat (Matthew 13:25) what are we to do? We are to avoid them which in the Greek carries the meaning to turn away from to no longer trust and avoid associating with. Why? Because these people do not serve Jesus Christ, they serve instead their own appetites. These false brethren couch their message in “good words and fair speeches” and by their use of “God talk” deceive and ensnare the hearts of the simple (unsuspecting). Iraneaus, the “patron saint” of all heresy-hunters stated it in the following manner as he dealt with the heretics of his time:

 “Error, indeed is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced more true than truth itself.” (3)

 Paul knew well the reality of the danger of false doctrines spread via false apostles, prophets and teachers and he unfailingly fought them by exposing them and their errors as well as proclaiming God’s truth.

 It is not enough to say there are “some” among us who do not teach the truth. Everyone hearing such a statement will automatically think their own school of teachers are doctrinally sound, until and unless named by name which normally evokes a response on the part of the hearer. (4)

 To merely declare that there are some people on television preaching lies in Jesus name is insufficient unless one clearly states who it is teaching error and where they have in fact erred. Paul had no problem naming names:

 Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Php 3:17-20

 In this case Paul tells the Philippians to “mark” them that walk properly following the apostolic example set before them by Paul and the genuine leaders. “Many” in the Greek is denoting a large amount of people are in fact enemies of the cross whose end is nothing less than eternal destruction. Paul did not rejoice over their impending judgment, he wept for them, which must be our attitude as well in this field of Christian servant hood. Note that Paul says that he has told them OFTEN about these people, he did not keep silent regarding them and the eternal danger they pose.

 Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 1 Timothy 1:20

 If Paul wrote such things today he would receive emails after the manner of those sent to DMI, something along the lines of: “Get over it Paul, forgive and forget.” Or maybe, “How unloving of you Paul, I rebuke your unloving attitude it sickens me and god.” I doubt these missives would affect his actions any more than they do ours, for we are truly of the same like precious faith (2 Peter 1:1) as the blessed apostle. Paul named the source of the problem “Alexander the Coppersmith,” someone who was still alive and causing divisions in the church. Ultimately the Lord will repay him according to his works, but until that time the Church needs to be warned regarding the existing threat flowing through Alexander (Ephesians 6:12). (5)

 Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme. 1 timothy 1:19-20

 WOW! Not only did Paul name Alexander, he cited him twice in his letters to Timothy. Paul saw their error so damaging that he turned them over to Satan, i.e. excommunicated them from the church and handed them over to be tormented by demons for the purpose of instruction and possible reconciliation.

 This is the same Paul who rebuked Peter openly in front of everyone (not quietly in a corner with a quick hug and back slap). What is more he even told those who were not in attendance, the Galatians, what he did and to whom he did it!

 But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? Galatians 2:11-14

 Paul did this because Peter was wrong and his actions caused others (other Jews, Barnabas) to enter into his hypocrisy and sin. Rebuking Peter openly was not only the right thing to do but it was the loving thing for Paul to do. Paul loved his Lord and this love demanded he take a stand for God’s truth regardless of the personal consequences. What is more, Paul loved Peter and this agape, this divine love shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5) compelled Paul to rebuke Peter first for Peter’s own sake and then for the sake of those following Peter’s errant behavior. One of D.M.I.’s goals is to see these people come to repentance, recant their errors and teach the truth —if I can do it, and by God’s grace I did, so can anyone.

 Jesus in His earthly ministry openly rebuked the religious SINisters of His time:

 Wow unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchers of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our father, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Matthew 23:29-33

 Can you hear these words coming out of the mouth of Joel Osteen or Robert Schuller? Jesus did not pull any punches, yet who among us would dare call Him “unloving” or being an accuser of the brethren?

 Woe unto you, Pharisees! For ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them. Then answered one of the lawyers, and said unto him, Master, thus saying thou reproachest us also. And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! For ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers. Luke 11:43-46

 Speaking “truth to power” is not without its risks. Jesus was crucified at the hands of wicked men (Acts 3:15). Historically we believe that all the Apostles but John the Beloved died martyrs deaths, Stephen was stoned to death (Acts 7:59) and Hebrews chapter eleven speaks at length about those of whom the world was not worthy (Hebrews 11:38). The world loves its own (John 15:19) and anyone who dares to stand up and denounce it and expose it for what it is makes them an enemy of all that the lost and deceived count as of great worth. Paul no doubt felt the sting of being misunderstood when he rhetorically asked “have I become your enemy by telling you the truth” (Gal.4:15)?

 Speaking the truth in any generation has never been easy, and yes those who tread this path are indeed on the road less traveled; but then our Lord said Himself that the way was narrow and few were on it (Matthew 7:14). In all of the above examples we’ve been considering the godly exposure of those proclaiming false doctrines and misleading God’s people or misrepresenting Himself to the lost world. Yet Paul urging us to scope out some other indicators which denote people to “mark” and “avoid” Paul says:

 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought, but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you; Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing. And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15

 Not only are we to mark and rebuke openly those in doctrinal error (1 Timothy 5:20), we are ALSO to mark and avoid those who walk (live) contrary to the apostolic traditions given to the Church. Paul as an apostle, was responsible for helping establish religious traditions in the young Church. Some people within the young Church were already casting aside the genuine apostolic traditions for their own novel ideas while the Apostles themselves were still alive!

 “Tradition” is a dirty word to most American evangelical Protestants, (6) after all we are a people who loudly confess “I’ll do it my way” throughout our days. Anything old is quaint at best and outdated at worst. It is the “new” we adore; new is fresh; new bespeaks innovation; new is good and old is bad. Sadly, this culturally driven point of view has been carried into the Church.

 The New Apostolic Reformation SINisters not only are guilty of propagating a wide variety of doctrinal error they are also guilty of subverting the genuine apostolic traditions handed down through the ages with their own non-biblical traditions. Here is a short list of practices now accepted and traditional in and among these brethren (let them be ashamed) which include: (1) altar calls to receive salvation & impartation of spiritual gifts, (2) being slain in the spirit, (3) all Christians can/should speak in tongues, (4) demonic deliverance of believers, (5) 24/7 praise/prayer/fasting centers as the means God is using to glorify the Church. These novel-praxi have replaced the orthodox practice of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, supremacy of the Word in preaching, etc.

 Over the last several months DMI has been exposing specific individuals such as C. Peter Wagner, Mike Bickle, Francis Frangipagne, Paul Cain, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland and others as false ministers. Some of them may be genuine Christians, but they and all that follow their doctrines & practices are to be avoided by the Church so that they may be restored to genuine Christian fellowship.

 Do not allow any misled devotee of whoever browbeats you into being silent about the danger these people pose to the spiritual welfare of those who listen to them. There is no deeper nor more painful wound than that caused by spiritual abuse. Truth Matters, it really does.

 We are commanded to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) and by doing so we grow in Christ. My love for God and the integrity of His Word impel me to action, even so my love for all the Church. If I love someone and I know of something that will seriously harm them I will tell them. Obviously, if I know someone is peddling poison then I will warn them and then others (Matthew 18). Why should I care, if I am not drinking their poison? Love can do no less than all it can for the sake of others, and it is that love motivates what we do and those who support us.

Copyright 2011 Robert S. Liichow

 

Abbreviated End Notes

1. The Holy Bible King James Version Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc. 2009). Bold type, italics and underlining added for emphasis.

2. James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament), electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc, 1997). Bold type added for emphasis.

3. Obtained from http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/1579882.Irenaeus_of_Lyons on 10/20/2011 , taken from Against Heries. Underlining added for emphasis.

4. For example if someone said to me, “Bob, your Pastor Braden is teaching heresy regarding….” At first I would probably be angry at the messenger in that I respect and love my pastor, however, as a thinking person, I would also examine the changes being brought against my pastor and determine whether they are in fact true—-then I will respond appropriately.

5. The problem was coming from/through Alexander. The originator of the error is Satan and his hosts, with whom we do wrestle with, but not flesh and blood per se. Satan uses people and our battles are ultimately spiritual, but that does not give a “mulligan” to those used by Satan, Alexander is still culpable before God as is Hinn, Copeland, etc. . . . .

6. I am an American, but not a “protestant” per se. I am a true “evangelical” a term coined by Dr. Martin Luther to describe what was taking place in what became known as the Reformation. I am an “Evangelical Catholic” I guess if one must call names and label.

 

 





The Next “New” Move?

1 09 2009

Truth Matters Newsletters – June 2006 – Vol. 11 Issue 6 – “The Next “New” Move? By Robert S. Liichow

Discernment Ministries International

The Next “New” Move?

scanglobalhousechurch0001

In the May issue of Truth Matters I took the readers through a brief look at what happened to the leaders of the last revival referred to as “The Toronto Blessing” or “The Pensacola Outpouring.” I also stressed the reality of how most sign-gift believers and Pentecostal people are on a continual pilgrimage seeking to become a part of the current move of the holy Spirit.

Once the last so-called revival (Holy Laughter/Sign & Wonders) died out and most of the initial leaders either got booted out of their pulpits or left when the people and money dried up. This left millions of people wondering “what is the next move of the Spirit?” I felt like screaming “EUREKA I’VE FOUND IT”! In the June 2006 issue of Charisma magazine, I believe I have discovered what some “big hitters” are calling the next movement which they claim redefines what Church is. The tag line of the article reads as follows:

“Who said Christians have to meet in a traditional building with a pulpit? Innovative Christians today are Redefining Church.”

On page 32 of Charisma it reads, God is Out of the Box,” introducing this new and exciting ministry trend simply called the house church. Basically what this means is that certain people, usually disillusioned with their former congregational life and their position in it, have left the traditional church and banded together in small groups that meet in homes. Let me cite from the beginning of the article:

Not everyone at her home church follows Christ, including her husband, a disillusioned former church member….who accepted Christ in 1978, but quickly faded away from a church she found cold and formal….’I didn’t want to participate in what I saw going on in the name of Christ, ‘ Weger says of her shunning of traditional congregations for more than 25 years. (1)

It is immediately evident that Weger’s initial concept of the Church was faulty. It is not about her it is about the worship of Jesus! It is obvious from the following statement that in her mind her needs were not being met.

Years ago when Weger was hurting and collapsed in tears at her old church, she says several leaders walked by without speaking [to her]. (2)

Understand that Weger is a sign-gift person, so the church she attended years ago was undoubtedly a charismatic congregation where, and I speak from personal patoral experience, it was not at all an uncommon sight to see people weeping before, during and after services. Did these “several” leaders even see her? Were they involved in a discussion among themselves as they passed? Was weeping a common occurrence in that congregation? Did she follow up this possible slight by going to any of these leaders and ask for an explanation, telling them that they had offended her?

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. Matthew 18:15

I am sure that she did not, she simply took the offense as a sign that her church was cold formal and uncaring. Like many little kids, she took her “ball and went home and started her own church. How do I know this is what happened? To begin with she does not share in the article that she followed the simple biblical pattern for conflict resolution. Secondly, in my varied positions of over twenty three years in congregational leadership I have yet to see but a handful of Christians enact the Matthew 18:15 principle. It is easier to run to the pastor and “tattle” on someone who has seemingly wronged you, or tell a “prayer partner” which somehow sanctifies the gossip.

Allow Me to Digress A moment

I am off topic here but this is vitally important to all our spiritual lives. When you have been offended by someone then in obedience to Christ’s own command go to that person first. Nine times out of ten you will learn that the person who “hurt” you was not even aware that her or she did do. Often you will learn that it was not their intention to hurt you (I know from some comments on sermons I’ve delivered). In fact, you may even discover that you were wrong in feeling hurt in the first place and that it is you who ought to be asking forgiveness from the one you are addressing. Or, if the person was indeed in the wrong then he or she should say they are sorry and ask your forgiveness. If this does not happen then our Master lays out the next steps to be taken. For the life of me I do not know why people do not follow this simple commandment. At least 90% of the problems within the life of any congregation would be squelched if this was followed. Instead people go to others first, then like the old telephone game by the time the message reaches the accused offending party it is totally overblown. What is the result of such behavior?

Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God: lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled: Hebrews 12:15

People get offended and simply ignore or refuse to work with the “accused” in community life. (3) More times than not people leave that congregation and take their unhealed wounds to another place of worship and often cause problems in the new congregation due to past unresolved issues.

End of Digression

Weger is totally against traditional churches and seems to have a low opinion of those who still remain “in the box.”

Ironically, today Weger says the hardest people to discuss Jesus’ love with are traditional church members. (4)

Obviously not everyone who attends Church is a genuine Christian, yet the Bible clearly states the following:

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:14

She gives no further clarification of her statement, but she is implying that either non-Christians or the new breed of house church folk are easier to discuss the love of Christ with! Non-Christians cannot understand biblical truth, so how can Christians be harder to talk to about the One who saved them? As for me, this certainly has not been my experience in talking about Jesus to my brothers and sisters.

Grandiose claims are being made for these small independent house churches. The Charisma article goes as far to declare it as an actual movement called the “house-church movement” (as if we need another movement). Here is the next tag line for the article:

The Revolution now upon us is a complete paradigm shift, taking us back to the time of Christ. It is going to be a lot bigger than the Reformation” James Rutz, author of Megashift

Oh really? Casting off all traditional orthodox structure, having no biblically trained pastors and sitting around in small disaffected groups singing Kumbaya is going to be bigger than the Evangelical Reformation? I sincerely doubt it, Charisma magazine doesn’t:

Judging by the house-church movement that is exploding across North America, Weger’s story can be repeated millions of times. (5)

What is the basis for the claim of “millions” of house-church groups in America today? Enter “big hitter” number one, George Barna. Mr. Barna is best known for his poll taking and statistical data is the source for deeming this an “exploding” movement:

Christian demographer George Barna estimates 8 percent to 9 percent of adults in the United States—22 million to 24 million people—are now involved in some form of house church. (6)

Anyone who has ever taken a class on statistics knows how inaccurate the results can be. I’m willing to wager that no one reading this newsletter was polled. I know we were not asked. I wonder where he gets his data, or is it as he says an “estimate.” It should come as no surprise that Mr. Barna himself has left traditional Christianity and is part of this so-called house-church movement.

In the minds of these people they see the Church as a failure. A common expression I used to hear is “it isn’t working anymore,” the “it” being the Church. Whenever you hear comments like that, or, “we need to do things a new way,” don’t blithely accept those comments. Instead, challenge them. Ask the individual to define what is not working? How do you measure success? I know in America success means bigger numbers and better stuff, we often call that growth. There is a HUGE difference between numerical and spiritual growth my brothers and sisters. What is the “new way?” Is the role of the Church to conform to a fallen society’s ever-changing mode (what I call dumbing-down) or are we called to be salt (see Matt 5:13) and light (see Matt. 5:14) and by God’s grace change society?

The next “big hitter” who surely recognizes a move of the Holy Spirit when he sees it is John Arnott:

John Arnott, former senior pastor of Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship says, If we are going to reach the world for Jesus, we need a completely new model of ‘doing church,’ Arnott wrote in the most recent issue of House2House magazine. (7)

Arnott must one day stand before God and give account for facilitating the deception of millions of people who flocked to TACF to obtain the “new wine” that was allegedly being poured out. When the wine stopped flowing, it seems that Mr. Arnott had to get going…somewhere else. Now he is an advocate for the house-church movement. I guess he can only find a handful of people willing to follow him at this point.

Another significant player in this latest fad is Neil Cole, a church planter for the Grace Brethren denomination. He has started at least 700 of these house-churches.

After leaving his traditional pulpit seven years ago to launch a church in a coffeehouse, Cole says the network that sprang up from that effort soon led to Christians meeting every day of the week in Long Beach. (8)

Latte and a lectionary (opps, they don’t know what one is), or how about espresso and a short exhortation, maybe some java and jubilation? Cole goes on to reveal his heart in the following statement:

I think the most significant breakthrough is the concept that Christians can hear and obey God without an established leader telling them what to do…We have removed a lot of filters between God’s people and God’s voice. (9)

God speaks to us only through His Word, and so it is true that all Christians can “hear” God through His Word and without a doubt all Christians should obey what God says in His Word. The great danger I see in this movement is that of the blind leading the blind. There are rules for interpreting the Bible, it is called hermeneutics.

Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation   2 Peter 1:20

Faulty biblical interpretation has led to the creation of every Bible-based cult, sect and aberrant group in the world. All of the heresies today, all of the biblical errors being taught and all of the false practices stem from an initial improper interpretation of the scriptures.

What filters have been removed? I assume the role of an educated pastor and biblically trained elders. In Cole’s mind what is keeping God’s people from true communion with God is the leadership He Himself has ordained. The sad reality is that Christian people still have to deal with their own sinful flesh and this flesh abhors being told what to do by anybody, including God. Just tell your teenager to please clean up his or her bedroom! It is so much easier when we do not really have any authority over us to listen to and obey. So the house-church movement is very appealing to people who want no one to have any spiritual oversight in their lives. Yet God’s Word says:

Obey them that have the rule over you and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give an account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. Hebrews 13:17

Yes I know there are limits to our obedience; we obey our leaders inasmuch as they are preaching the true Gospel. That is a given. But recognize that we are to obey and we are to submit ourselves to pastoral leadership. This is not the case in the house-church movement because they have no recognized leaders per se. These house-church groups say they are based on Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 14:26:

Felicity says the typical format in their network in an Acts 2 style of fellowship–breaking of bread, prayer and praise and worship…Many house-churches offer women an opportunity for full participation in congregational life. (10)

Acts 2 is indeed a historical reality, but nowhere are we told that it is the pattern for how church is to be done.  To begin with in Acts 2 the original (genuine) Apostles were the leaders. Those who were converted came and listened to their teachings (maybe Cole would consider them a filter between God and His people). It was a time of “come as you are an say what you will.” The Apostles taught and made disciples educating them doctrinally. They were raising up leaders to go and lead others in the true Christian faith. Another group in Canada says:

We try to [follow] 1 Corinthians 14:26, which says everyone brings a word [or] prophecy, says Zdero, who wrote a book on the global house-church movement two years ago. ‘Our house-church meetings are like spiritual potlucks, where everyone brings something. (11)

On the surface, apart from the context of 1 Cor. 14 Zdero would seem to be following a biblical pattern for how a church service is to be run. The Apostle Paul is addressing the abuses and carnality of the Corinthians and how their “services” had devolved into self-edification versus the building up of all the people. Naturally both Dale and Zdero do not mention Paul’s admonition in the same letter in which he commends the women to be silent (see 1 Cor. 14:34)!

I have been apart of countless home Bible studies, which in general were great times of fellowship. I have also seen what happens without properly educated leaders and everyone brings out their own subjective interpretation of a text, or shares a dream they think God gave them, or utters an alleged word of prophecy from the Lord. It is nothing but chaos, which is why the Apostle Paul was teaching them on how to bridle in some excess enthusiasm.

As with all excesses the first thing to get tossed aside is the objective truths of the Bible. “Doctrine divideshas long been the cry of the charismatic movement. To which I have responded ‘you bet your sweet bippy it does it is supposed to!” According to Cole he is seeing a melding of various Protestant and charismatic people within house-churches:

He says he has never seen such a strong blending of multiple backgrounds in advancing God’s kingdom. Despite often being divided in the past, both groups must bring their strengths and weaknesses to the table in the house-church movement and acknowledge that their agreements are more important then their issues, Cole says. (12)

In other words, doctrinal issues are divisive and thus doctrinal truth which separates people is deemed unimportant. What is deemed more important than doctrinal truth is whatever can be agreed upon by the diverse group. Ergo, subjective group-think replaces doctrinal foundations. The following adage is true for the house church movement—”If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.” In these groups there can be no agreement on the meaning or method of water baptism, there cannot be agreement on the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. What can they agree about? Even something as seemingly simple as “we believe Jesus Christ is Lord” is fraught with thunderous doctrinal implications. A Modalist heretic, like T.D. Jakes will declare Jesus is Lord, but does not acknowledge the reality of the Trinity. Even simple statements of belief have at their core doctrinal significance. On the other hand if one is willing to never dig deeper beyond the “God-talk” and get to the meaning and import of the statements made, then one can be happy in such a group. I will coin a new term:

“SHALLOWNESS SELLS  ©

How did this movement start to get traction? That depends on who you ask. I believe the independent spirit and anti-denominational teachings fostered by the Latter Rain movement of the 1940’s had a great deal to do with it. I also believe the lack of feeling connected in the mega-churches led many people to feel like nothing more than a number. Out of 30,000+ members, how many does Joel Osteen know personally? Even in a congregation of 1,000 how many people can actually get time to talk to their pastor? These huge mega-churches try to meet the need of feeling personally connected by having home groups. These home groups undoubtedly led many of the leaders to think “humm, I can do this on my own, apart from the mother church.” Thus man’s natural fallen tendency towards independence and the lack of a true sense of belonging hae gone a long way in forging this house-church movement.

Ken Walker, author of the Charisma article is honest enough to expose the most dangerous inherent weakness within this movement; one that I believe in the long run will send these people back to the stability of traditional orthodox Christianity. Here Walker quotes Jacobsen who supports this movement with reservations:

Likewise, one glaring weakness of house churches is that many are governed by authoritarian leaders. Often there are leaders who couldn’t ‘cut it’ in a traditional church, so they form a group to follow in a smaller setting, Jacobsen says. (14)

Regardless of the setting, someone will rise to leadership. As Walker astutely points out often these leaders were deemed unfit to lead within an orthodox setting. Jacobsen further states:

I would say a lot of house-churches are incredibly unhealthy. They’re led by people who have their ego all twisted up. If it’s manipulative, the smaller the environment the more dangerous it is. (15)

A tremendous amount of spiritual abuse can and does occur in these small group settings. People who join come with the attitude that the traditional church has failed and can easily be led into a “siege” mentality where ‘their little group’ are the only true Christians. Kreider, another semi-proponent of house-churches admits the following:

In the past, Kreider says, house church movement is reactionary towards the traditional orthodox Christian Church. These groups are most often formed by wounded and hurt people who are dysfunctional to some degree. The depth of their dysfunction will determine the level of control or spiritual abuse within their group. Isolated?  Without doubt, there is no one to appeal to beyond the little house-church and its members. This movement is based totally on being independent from organized historic Christianity. That is their whole intention, to do their own thing, in their own way without having to submit to any spiritual authority. Heresy? Well technically heresy really deals with Christology, its more accurate to say faulty biblical interpretation and false doctrines of one sort or another will abound in these groups, since everyone can share their own understanding of the biblical texts.

Discernment Ministries International encounters many Christians who have been sexually abused by church leaders, others who’ve been taken advantage of financially and others who are simply disgusted with the foolishness they heard being taught and practiced. These people have told us that they no longer attend any church and are not planning to go back. They explain that they love Jesus Christ, read His Word, pray and support mission outreaches (like DMI in some cases).

Brothers and sisters if there was ever anyone who had more than enough reasons to throw up his hands and walk away from the “church” it would be me. I can fully empathize with those who have been deeply wounded. I even support taking some time away from church to allow the Holy Spirit to work through God’s Word to begin the healing process, but that process will never come to completion until you get connected back into a solid biblically based congregation.

Staying away from congregational life is simply burying your God-given talents that God gave you to bless your brothers and sisters; not to mention the rich blessings that come from receiving the unique fragrance of Christ that all His sheep emanate.

Let me close by saying there is no perfect church in this life. Some are much better than others and I urge anyone who does not have a local church to not give up. Begin to visit congregations, ask the leaders hard questions, talk to the members and see what (if anything) the Lord is doing in their midst. I am so glad that we did not give up on the church and are happily ensconced in a Traditional confessional Evangelical congregation. Is it a perfect church? Nope. But the people are sincere, the doctrine and practice is as biblical as it gets and our leaders are men of integrity. God ordained the creation of the Church, Jesus is still the Head of the Body of Christ and the Spirit of grace is still working through the proclamation of the Gospel (from pulpits) and sacraments.

And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works; Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhort one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25  ♦

Copyright © Robert S. Liichow

 

End Notes:

1. Charisma,  God is Out of the Box,  June 2006, p. 53. Underlining and bold type aded for emphasis.

2. Ibid

3. In one church I was preaching at one women fell out with another sister, both of whom headed committees and neither one spoke to one another for over a year. Yet they came to church regularly, served on their committees which ceased to work together as they previously had done. In short, it was a very ugly mess.

4. Charisma, God is Out of the Box,  2006, p. 53. Underlining and bold type added for emphasis.

5. Ibid p. 54 Underlining added.

6. Ibid. p. 54 Underlining added.

7. Ibid. p. 54

8. Ibid. p. 54 Underlining added.

9. Ibid p. 54 Underlining added.

10. Ibid p. 56 Felicity is “Felicity Dale” a wife of a house-church group in England and author of several books on this topic.

11. Ibid. p. 56

12. Ibid p. 58. Underlining added.

13. The problem with the home group/mini-churches is that they are run by lay people with little to no theological training. They did have a spirit of hospitality which I applaud. At the mega-church my family attended the home groups were organized around felt-needs. There were really no “restrictions” on what group members attended. When a member had a problem or issue they were in theory to go to their home group leader for help since they would probably not get a meeting with one of the several pastors on staff. That’s fine if your home group leader had the capacity to help. In our experience we noted that problems cropped up occasionally when a group would veer off course and teach things our church did not agree with. Each group had more or less autonomy in what they studied. It might have been more effective if these groups simply all focused on the prior sermon and how to apply it to their lives.

14. Charisma, God is Out of the Box, June 2006. P. 60. Underlining and bold type added for emphasis

15. Ibid. p. 60

16. Ibid. p.60 Underlining added.