This is part two of my engagement with The Luke 10 Manual by Steve and Marylin Hill. In this post, I will summarize the conclusions that I presently hold after thinking more about the book. The danger of reading any single book is that you will mistake it for the final word in a conversation composed of books. To save yourself from imbalanced reading, you condemn yourself to a life of reading — but I digress. I want to deal with this in five questions. Unfortunately, to keep this post to a readable length, I will have to make a variety of wild and unproven assertions. The only thing I really insist upon right now is the conclusion. Enjoy.
Question 1: Is the house church “method” really the Jesus method, as The Luke 10 Manual seems to be saying?
With reservations, I say yes. Jesus did speak in synagogues and the temple as well as people’s homes, so clearly he wanted to reach people where they are. As a human, he was a Jew; he clearly wanted to move people toward the kingdom of God whether they were in or out of the religious establishment. The key thing is that he left the Holy Spirit to lead us to the next thing, be that the formation of Christian istitutions in areas long reached or to preach the gospel in new places. In any case, no “captured territory” is long held for the gospel. Although we can notionally say that the children of Christians are Christian children, we are never more than one generation away from total loss of the gospel. If making more disciples of Christ ceases to be a primary activity of the Church, then perhaps the Church has given up on its mission. Initiating house church movements may offer a way back.
Question 2: Are Christian institutions at all approved by God?
It is impossible to satisfactorily deal with centuries of Christian history and practice in brief declarations. If we consider the role of prophets, their purpose was not to get a piece of the action in the temple system but to tell the priests and the people to do what God commanded them to do. As house churches go on in time, it seems that they would want to have some organization, but sometimes God breaks them up through Tower of Babel-type dispersions in order to guarantee that they will “fill the Earth”. Institutions might come up, and something like the Roman Catholic Church might be the natural result of the maturation of the “New Testament church”. I had my college education in a Christian institution, but I suppose that I could have gone to a state school and trusted the Holy Spirit instead. I do not have an answer here other than that individual Christians need to be sure that they are listening to the Holy Spirit. The key thing is not to let the lorship of men usurp the authority of Lord Jesus, and that is where the whole institution conversation gets hairy.
Question 3: What of the original focus of this book?
This book was written to guide new Christians in Central Asia. The authors cover a lot of things about Christian institutions very quicky, mostly to say that the Christians in Central Asia should not import what they see coming from the West. Though I marked the book’s treatment of church history as accurate, the book was about why and how to start house churches, not about the history of church institutions. Accordingly, the treatment of church history is tailored to support the book’s thesis and therefore suffers. Perhaps the main thing for us Western Christians to do is to consider Christians abroad as full brothers in Christ and not make them subordinate members of our own denominations. This book does not say a lot about what Christians should DO with the currently existing institutions, other than to check that individual Christians are indeed bearing fruit and making disciples for Christ.
Question 4: What do we do in the West?
I see this book as an invitation for Christians to follow Jesus here and now and not wait for institutional support. Maybe local church pastors can raise mature young people to full Christian brotherhood and, like good spiritual fathers, kick them out of the house. Let them come back for mentoring, but instill in them the expectation that they will mentor their successors. I read an article once about how a declining car culture in American youth is crimping young people’s church attendance to suburban-based megachurches. Speaking for myself, if I have to submit to an economic model (i.e. have a car) to fill your pews, then maybe your church is not worth it. In any case, there are plenty of people from other churches to fill a church. If new people are not coming to Jesus (let alone to the church building), then perhaps we should dispense with the church building.
Question 5: What about cross-cultural missions?
Institutions have a greater ability to project power than do house churches. House churches can fling missionaries abroad, but support networks are harder to sustain. Our missionary agencies today tack a lot onto missionary support levels in the form of payment for missionary care. This makes me uneasy but I cannot yet articulate why. Institutions are helpful in the performance of ministries like Bible translation, and a lot of the house church stuff that I have read thus far seems to lean a lot on having the Bible. Institutions are not the spawn of Satan, but perhaps we need more Western Christians to consider permanently moving abroad for the sake of the gospel. Consider that the way we do missions now is a handoff from the era of colonialism. We don’t have to do things the same way forever.
In the end, we have to get out and make disciples. If the church absorbs you so that you have no social life outside of it, then scale back your involvement. Skip Wednesday night Bible study and start your own Tuesday night study if it keeps you away from the bowling club. Making disciples is not just one more church activity to juggle.