Not long ago I made a statement on facebook about how “‘home churching’ makes me wince”. After receiving a question about it, I started to think it might be a good topic to take up here – and so I do.
Let’s start by delineating what kind of home church I had in mind when I made the above statement. First, what I don’t mean.
1) I don’t mean a small congregation with an ordained minister who, due to whatever situation, find themselves gathering in someone’s home for services, etc. until more expansive accommodations can be made.
2) I don’t mean congregations in regions of persecution which meet in secret and cannot have an actual church building, for the obvious reason that it wouldn’t be secret anymore if they did.
3) I don’t mean families gathering together to read the Word and have devotionals around the dinner table in the peace of their own home – provided that they still belong to a greater church body with which they are in regular fellowship.
That being said
As shown by the above, it is not so much the concept of home-churching that concerns me; more, it is the reasons it is done that concern me. Said a little differently, it isn’t that home-churching is done, but in many cases why it is done that my concerns are rooted in. If the members of any given home-church were to be asked “why are you doing this?”, it would be predominantly the answer to that question which would determine my feelings about it.
Now, I live in the United States of America, and thus I will be dealing strictly with the concept of home-churching in the USA.
This is a nation where the vast majority of people live within an hour’s drive of some at least semi-solid church. That being the case, the question has to be asked, why home-church instead of attending one of these?
The answer? Ultimately, there can be only one: “because we don’t want to fellowship with them.”
Seriously, when you boil it all away that’s the single common denominator. Of course, every instance may be different in why they don’t want to fellowship with any of the local church bodies, and thus we have to probe a bit deeper. But already on the surface we see problems: when Christians don’t want to fellowship with other Christians in an organized church body, and so form their own little enclave with two, three, maybe four other families to avoid this… well, something smells fishy.
So let’s ask the question, why would a family not want to fellowship with other believers in the context of an organized church body? Here are the answers that I tend to see:
A) Because someone (usually the man of the house) does not want to be under a spiritual authority. This could be because he feels he’s been burned by one too many pastors, or it could be that he’s the rebellious type who just wants to buck every source of authority in his life, to the extent that he can get away with it.
B) Because they think that the people in those churches around them are not “True” Christians. Sometimes due to being badly treated by one too many churches, or sometimes because they are the self-righteous types who operate with a “holier-than-thou” complex that colors their perception.
C) Because they don’t agree with their doctrine. Possibly because they are of a confessional stripe and the only church bodies for miles are liberal hotboxes, or possibly because they have a “me and my Bible” and “you can take your creeds and stuff them” approach to interpreting Scripture and have thus come up with their own, out-in-left-field interpretations which no one else in the world shares.
These I would say are the most common, though I’m sure there are others. You may have noticed that for each point I noted both a reasonable reason to have that position, and a dangerous reason, respectively. In my experience (which, granted, is fairly limited), it tends to be the latter.
Let me push a little bit further and give you some more things to consider.
- Home-churches make it easy for one party to usurp power and in so doing exert a strong doctrinal effect on the members
- Usually home-churches start with a concept of “shared leadership”, where the heads of the respective households involved constitute a council of sorts
- This tends to be short lived as some of the men get lazy and let the more hard-driven ones pick up the slack
- The “co-op” form of leadership is further dissolved when over time the men with strong, controlling personalities begin to have conflicts of opinion, and ultimately they arrive at an impasse where one wins (the one with the bigger following, more charisma, or just biggest jerk), and the others take their families and leave
- With some of the men taking the lazy road, and the others having left Dodge, there remains at the top one single man, with sole control over where the group that remains will go
- This is now the beginning of a cult group
- Home-churches allow for the rampant spread of false-doctrine
- Unfortunately, discernment is not a universal gift, and when you’re dealing with tiny cloisters of people you don’t exactly maximize your odds of having people with the gift among your ranks
- In such settings, it is easy for one deceived person to step up to “prophesy” (since such groups tend to have a misunderstanding of what that means, anyway), and regales the group with some yarn about the dream God gave them, and what it must mean
- Lacking the capacity for discernment, the group accepts this testimony uncritically, and begins to build doctrine on it as if it were truly a word from God
- This is now the beginning of a cult group
- Home-churches [can] promote isolationism
- This is especially true for children growing up in such movements, who can consequently tend to think that only their group are true Christians
- This happens because often these groups – due to a multitude of factors including members lacking discernment and understanding regarding the historic interpretation of Scripture – tend to have very unique views
- Over time, these unique (not correct, just unique) views come to be a means of distinguishing between us (the home-church group) and them (every other Christian, living or dead)
- Once that happens, it’s a hop, skip, and a jump to believing that those unique views are in fact salvation issues
- Once they become salvation issues, since the little group is the only one who confesses them, the logical conclusion is that they are the only ones who are saved
- You now have the beginning of a cult group
I could go on, but three is a good number and so I’ll stop. I realize that some of these are worst-case scenarios; fine. But believe me when I tell you that I’ve seen them happen. In fact, knowing people affected in this way is the reason I started this blog.
Think about that.
In any case, maybe someday I’ll be able to really systematize my concerns with home-churching better and more comprehensively than here, but I think this should give a basic idea as to why they “make me wince”.