Strawman Arguments and House Churches
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.