Thursday, January 6, 2011

House Church - Holy Spirit Guided Participation

I can see that this series of posts on house church life is going to exceed my original plan of ten. So be it. So far I've discussed the attempt to follow the biblical model, gathering in homes, and seeking community.

In today's post I'm discussing some of what happens when the house church gathers together. In particular I'll be talking about the weekly gathering (which for us happens in Sundays). In a later post I'll focus on the purpose of the gathering; for now the topic is the participation of the body.

In keeping with the attempt to follow the biblical model, the house church seeks to follow what we see in the bible of the church gathering. The difficulty is that the scriptures do not speak in bulk about this topic. However, that is not to say that the bible is silent. We can learn a great deal from a few places.

The book of Acts helps us quite a bit. Acts 2:42 says, "And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers."

Later, in 20:7-12, we read, "On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, 'Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.' And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted."

Both 2:42 and 20:7-12 show us participation by a great number of people. We don't know details, but we sense group involvement and activity.

I Corinthians chapter 14 provides us with the clearest and most detailed picture of church gatherings in the New Testament. What we see is Holy Spirit guided participation. We might also refer to it as Holy Spirit controlled. The point is that everyone is free to participate, but this is guided/controlled in certain ways. In particular, all that occurs is to be for the edification of the entire church family (more about that in a later post). Read I Corinthians 14:26-40 here.

The word "each" in 14:26 is extremely important. It tells us that everyone present is invited to bring something to add to the gathering.

We also see strict regulation of topics such as tongues, prophecy, and women's speech. Without delving into the details of these things, I want to point out that the activity is both open and controlled. We see in 14:40 that all that occurs is to be "done decently and in order."

I find it fascinating that these gatherings are both planned and spontaneous. They are planned in that "each" person is encouraged to consider what to bring and to bring it. This may be "a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation." The key is that whatever is brought to be shared must be edifying.

The participation is spontaneous in the sense that the order is not prescribed. No one speaks first each week. No one leads like some sort of emcee. Each person is responsible for speaking as the Holy Spirit tells him (or her) to. Each person is responsible to keep quiet when told to by the Spirit. Each person is to ask himself whether or not what he has to say will build up the body.

As for our Sunday gatherings, the participation looks a little different depending on what is going on. When we first arrive and later during the Lord's Supper we are usually in small groups having multiple conversations. Everyone engages fairly freely in this. These conversations frequently focus on what is happening in our lives.

When we are seated as a group in a living room, the discussion is somewhat more guided/controlled. This is where we seek to more fully follow the I Cor. 14 pattern. We often begin this time with prayer. After that we may sing songs, pray more, discuss a specific scripture passage, teach on a passage, simply read a passage, talk about what God is doing in our lives, discuss how we can serve others more effectively, challenge one another, encourage one another, etc.

The gathering is open but controlled. It is both planned and spontaneous. It is guided by the principle of body edification.

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