Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Simple Church...Simply Reactionary?

We have been having a great interaction in the comments section of the recent post, "Our church...God's intention?" My new friend, Tony Sisk, has been asking some very good questions in regard to the concept of what I, and several other commenters on this blog, call "simple church". Instead of responding to these questions in the comments section, I decided to create a post out of my comments. I would love for us all to continue this great discussion. For anyone else who has been reading these posts/comments and has not yet responded, please feel free to do so. Your comments are welcome and would serve to enchance our dialogue!

Previously, Tony said:

As I remarked in my previous comment to ded, from someone on the outside looking in, the house church does look like it has formed in response to obscured ideals or unmet expectations.

I do not doubt that this is true for many people. However, I can only speak out of my own experience. While, of course, I had issues with various things inside the traditional church that I was in (like anyone else), no hurt feelings, etc. led me to "strike out on my own". The main reason that I left was because, after examining the Scriptures and Church history (as well as some great dialogue with other believers), I came to believe that the traditional church model was not God's ideal. As a matter of fact, I have come to believe that there is no right way to "do" church. Rather, I believe that we are called to "be" the Church.

I think that this is the concept that Jesus was introducing to the Samaritan woman in John 4. In Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman, a question arose from her as to where or how true worship was to be performed. Today, we might ask "How are we supposed to 'do' church?". Jesus' answer is revealing. Instead of giving the woman a solid answer of "on this mountain" or "in Jerusalem" as the true place of worship, Jesus instead shows the woman that she is altogether missing the point. Worship is not confined to a place or form. Rather, worship transcends time and space, so that true worship forms from a heart attitude instead of as the result of being in the right place at the right time.

Jesus said,

"Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem...a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."
John 4:21-24 NIV

If my move to a simpler concept of church is at all reactionary, I believe that it is no more so than the reaction of the Reformers to what they saw as unscriptural practices within the Roman Catholic church. Or, the reaction of the early disciples to the Grecian widows, which led to the formulation of deacons. In both instances, people saw a problem and reacted with what they perceived to be a solution.

Tony, you also said:

If the simpler church concept takes off and you have a large group of people attending your meetings, what then? You wouldn’t cast them away for the sake of preserving intimacy and fellowship, would you? This is where it seems to get problematic to me and even more insular than traditional church, that once you reach a particular number either you must grow out or just simply refuse to let other folks in. This is where, in my mind, someone then must come in to exercise leadership and say we need to split into separate groups and where I see potentially that problems could arise. So it seems a “cap” must be placed to keep the house church from growing past a particular number. That seems troublesome to me.

Very good questions! I would like to attempt to respond to them in the same way that Jesus responded to the Samaritan woman. I think that while your concern is valid Tony, it really misses the point.:) I think that you are trying to superimpose your concept of the traditional church and how it functions on to the simple church paradigm. A question: "How often would you invite more than 20-30 people into your home?" Now granted, you probably know and have friendships with more than this number of people, but how often would all of the people that you currently have a spiritual connection with meet within your home? If you were to invite all of these people into your home at once, would it not limit the amount of interaction you had with each one? While everyone would feel as if they had been included by the initial invitation, would the gathering truly tend toward intimate fellowship? I doubt it. In other words, there does not have to be a specific time or place in which all of us must gather. At times this can be helpful, but I believe that it is to be the exception and not the rule. Just as Jesus only had 12 disciples with whom He was intimately acquainted, yet found time to minister to many, many others, so it is with our concept of simple church. Just as Jesus informally hung out with the twelve without a certain agenda, so it is with us.

I personally experience "church" in homes, in restaurants, at work, etc. Church is not a place. Church does not "happen" only as the result of certain people gathering at certain times. Rather, Church is an identity. Church is who we are. When we begin to try to figure out how to "do" it, it seems that we are in danger of ceasing to simply "be" it.

When institutional churches begin to grow higher, it seems that many struggle to grow deeper. This is usually combated by the emergence of small groups within the larger body. Isn't this simply an institutionalized version of simple church that attempts to foster intimacy while still seeking to maintain control over the group? I think that your question more readily applies to a small group setting within a traditional church.

Thank you Tony for your willingness to question, and to truly think-out subjects that usually get "canned" answers. I look forward to everyone's continued interaction on this and other topics. While we might not come to a concensus, I believe that we still can serve to strenghten each other as we walk in Christ. What do you think......?


Steve Sensenig said...

How ironic that you mentioned the difference between simple church and small groups within a larger church. I just published a post mentioning the very same terms and saying that they are not the same!

I think that the way the institutional church views small groups (and the way in which we judge the "success" or "failure" of the same) is quite different from the whole simple church (or house church) paradigm.

Great discussion, and I look forward to more of the same!

steve :)

Raborn Johnson said...

I could not agree more! The concept of simple church, and small groups within a traditional church are very different indeed. The small group is simply an extension of the institutional church and a "reaction" (if you will;)) to the inability of the traditional church model to effectively reproduce disciples.

To me, the concept of simple church is an entirely different way of looking at the Church. It is not simply people who meet believing themselves to be just an extension of the "real" church, but rather believers coming together as a full expression of what it means to "be" the Church.

Tony said...


You have been EXTREMELY gracious! Thank you for hearing me out and entertaining my questions. They do arise out of ignorance of the simple church model and I do desrie to learn more about it, so this is really helping.

I think that while your concern is valid Tony, it really misses the point.:) You know what? You're right! I did miss the point, and you caught a flaw in my reasoning.

Thanks for bearing with me. I have been superimposing traditional church onto my understanding of simple church and trying to extrapolate what it "looks like" and make judgments from there. Obviously, I cannot do that.

Thanks for answering my questions, and as far as the growth and leadership issues are concerned, I am satisfied with your responses. The simple church paradigm is not any more reactionary than the Reformers' responses to abuses of their day.

I do have another question, and I am fearful and trepidacious in asking it. It is off the subject of this post, so if you need to convey a cyber-slap my way then go for it!

Anyway, here it is. After reading Steve's, ded's, and your comments, I have this nagging concern in my heart and mind I cannot let go of. The only thing I can do is ask and suffer the fallout if I need to.

It seems that a lot of "blame" is placed at the feet of the traditional church for failing to raise up mature members. It may be just a difference of perspective, but I fail to see the warrant in "blaming" the traditional church for not turning out responsible, mature Christians.

You may be correct in the assesment that the traditional church is not turning out mature Christians as she ought, but isn't growth, maturity, sanctification up to the individual Christian? I know the church is tasked by God to build up, not tear down or hinder growth, but it seems to me unfair to blame the traditional church for failures I would see fall on the shoulders of individual Christians who don't progress in their walk with Christ. Obviosuly, you guys saw this failure and took the necessary steps to ensure that growth. Nevertheless, growth in Christ is a choice and God is going to hold each of us responsible not for how we respond at church but how we respond to Jesus. I know church is supposed to facilitate this process and numerous churches fail miserably here but...I'm still holding out hope for her!

I may still have my "traditional church" goggles on, so help me to see clearly, OK guys?

Kindly and graciously,

ded said...


Great post!! I really appreciated the concept that simple church cannot be regarded against the traditional church paradigm. It will not measure up and can't under such.


Wow! Have you hit the nail on the head! The traditional church is not to "blame" for not raising up mature Christians. Yes, everyone is responsible for themselves, ultimately, before God. The leaders and the people together have inherited a slowly evolving system that has moved away from God's plan. Most leaders are wholeheartedly seeking the welfare of the sheep they serve using an apparatus that is inherently flawed.

This is the overall problem I see with the traditional structure. The leaders and the people are making a false assumption about their practice. That being, what they are doing is first God's will and second effective for developing spiritual knowledge. An atmosphere pervades in which individuals expect the teaching to cause maturity. Sort of a general feeling of, "Do what you are taught, in order to be considered a doer of the Word, and spiritual maturity will happen", right? Sadly, I have heard so many pulpit preachers, and I did as well, make statements designed to inform the congregation of their need for the leaders' teaching. We people being the sheep we are, wanting to trust in God, accept that we should listen to God's "appointed, annointed" leadership. Both sides of the laity, clergy divide quite innocently get drawn into this paradigm where people think they need weekly sermons to mature.
The leadership believes it, the people believe it. Yet mechanically doing sermons to achieve spiritual maturity doesn't do it. One size does not fit all.

With the same trepidation in which you asked your question, I make this statement, "It is a classic co-dependent relationship."

People need to be trusting in God for their maturing. The paradigm shift to "church" as an identity, not a place or a set of rules about functioning places responsibility on the believer.

Blessings on you, Tony!!

ded said...


One other thought. A qualification. You and people like Gordon Cloud are doing a great work. What God can do with you goes beyond anything I can think of or imagine.

In following the Spirit of the Lord, you shall be used within the system. God has not abandoned any of the people who call upon His name regardless of association or lack thereof with organized church.
This dialogue is not as much about organized church or not, though it may seem that way. It is about what does effectively build people up and encourage them to move in faith with their God.

Steve Sensenig said...

OK, guys. My response was getting WAY too long, so I just wrote a new post on my blog instead.

Who's to Blame for the Failure? I'll spare you the intense curiosity (ha!) and tell you that my short answer is that we all are to blame (leaders and laity alike), but that the system itself is, as ded has already pointed out, flawed.

Tony, thank you for continuing to be iron sharpening iron here. I probably can speak for Raborn and ded in saying that I really appreciate your thoughts and questions here!

Oh, and by the way, I agree with ded that it's not so much about the system (even though I just wrote a whole post once again lamenting some flaws in it! hehe) but about seeking the true maturity that should be reflected in lives of disciples of Jesus Christ everywhere.

steve :)

Raborn Johnson said...


Speaking of EXTREMELY gracious, I was just telling my wife how I felt the same way about you and your tone. You have exemplified the spirit which I deeply desire to experience (and portray), not only in the cyber-world, but in my daily life.


I could not have said it better myself!:) I concur wholeheartedly with your comments! Thanks so much for your input in this conversation:)


Just as ded said, I believe that while the traditional church cannot take the "blame" for immature believers, these same believers have been held captive by a cycle of immaturity propped up by the traditional church model. So many people have been led to believe that the traditional church model is the source of spiritual maturity, that they therefore never allow themselves to ask if it's really working. Because (as ded said) of the seemingly "co-dependent" nature of the traditional church model, people do not feel that it is "safe" to ask the hard questions.


Great post! You have detailed in a more comprehensive way what I would like to say. Kudos!:)


Make sure to stop over at Steve's blog for his latest post "Who's to Blame for the Failure?". It serves to clarify some of what we are talking about here!

ded said...

I agree. It is hypocritical to slam Hallowe'en in its pagan roots when we hang greenery at Christmas, celebrate Christmas when we do, the word Easter appears in the text of the KJV, there is an altar at the front of the church building, and Christians do not recognize how often their feelings are swayed by circumstances in the material world. I have heard the pulpit referred to as the "sacred desk" as if wood was made holy by its function. Christendom is rife with paganism!!