Sunday, August 29, 2010

Strawman Argument: Free-for-All Gatherings

This is the final installment in this series on strawman arguments against house churches. The previous post titles are:

I waited until Sunday to post this one because most of us gather with church families today. We will all be doing something today as we come together.

This strawman argument goes like this, "House church gatherings are similar to a free-for-all."

The primary problem with this argument is simple: it isn't true.

We must remember that those who make this strawman argument have almost always spent their entire lives in traditional churches. When traditional churches come together, what happens is carefully scripted. Certain people ("worship leader," pastor, ushers, etc.) all do certain things. It is planned out beforehand. There is little deviation from the script. This is one of the reasons there is a bulletin. What people experience each week in the big church gathering borders on a performance. There is certainly a ceremonial quality to it.

When a person thinks that what I have just described is normal and "the way it should be," then a more spontaneous, free-flowing, participatory church meeting might seem like a free-for-all. But remember, the problem is with the expectation that the traditional church meeting is normal.

What is fascinating about all this is that we as Protestant Christians rarely ask what the bible models for us about the church gathering. By far the longest and most extensive discussion of the church gathering occurs in I Corinthians chapters 11-14. As Paul deals with various issues, he makes mention of the church gathering again and again.

In I Corinthians 14:26, Paul writes, "What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up." It is clear that the Corinthian church gatherings were participatory and at least somewhat spontaneous. It is interesting that Paul told the Corinthian church to change many things, but he never told them to stop meeting in this manner. He just wanted to make sure that everything was done for the edification of the church family.

House churches desire to follow this model as they gather. What is important to recognize is that what Paul describes in I Corinthians 14 is orderly. For example, speaking in tongues was regulated. If there was no interpretation, it was not to happen at all. Prophecy was regulated. Only one person was to speak at a time. No women were to judge the prophets.

If house churches attempt to follow what we see in I Corinthians 14, then they are simply following the broader biblical model. For example, Hebrews 10:24-25 says, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." What we read of is group participation.

So we see that there are actually two main problems with this strawman argument. First, it's simply not true. Second, it is based on the traditionalist understanding of what a church gathering should look like. He has based this not on scripture but on his own tradition of a "worship service" where there is little deviation from the script and where no freedom of expression exists.

We must look to the scriptural model for all things. The bible is sufficient for us. Let's strive to emulate what the apostolic writers wanted when they described church gatherings. When we do this, we are in a position for real edification of the entire body to take place.


Jeffrey said...


It can be a challenge to balance the ability for all to share and contribute, while also keeping things edifying and orderly, but that is what we're instructed to do. The pastor (Jesus) has a way of making it clear when things are off-track; The scriptures have the corrective action for any conceivable type (though perhaps not specific) problem; We have the mandate to actively conform to the instructions. It's not an undisciplined free-for-all, it's mutual edification with room for error and correction.

I suspect some of the strawman arguments come from the fear of having to get ones own hands dirty rather than letting the professional handle problems that may arise. There's freedom in home fellowships, but there's responsibility too. As each believer grows, they should exercise both more input and more self-control. Far be it from me to interpret the Lord's motives in instructing a bunch of sinner/saints to gather regularly, but perhaps part of it is our need to not only exercise our gifts to edify one another, but also to learn how to behave as the training wheels begin to come off, and we each learn to behave maturely within the body.

I've enjoyed reading your journey through dealing with some of these issues and find it refreshing that you examine your own practice in light of the scriptures. It's an good example to us all.


Eric said...


You said, "There's freedom in home fellowships, but there's responsibility too. As each believer grows, they should exercise both more input and more self-control." I agree completely.

It seems that what might look messy to the traditional church is the model that brings about real Christian growth. My hope is that increasing numbers of Christians begin to see the light.