Saturday, March 12, 2011

"It's Not Utopia"

I like the above sign because it shows that we have not reached utopia. This is certainly true of the church, including the house church.

Last year I was talking with Steve Atkerson, editor of the book House Church. He specifically told me of house church life, "It's not utopia." Steve is right. Because the church is composed of people, and we all still struggle with various sins, no model of church is going to lead to any sort of utopia. Like other ways of living out church life, the house church faces various challenges (see here and here).

This should not surprise us. When we look in the New Testament we see churches, which generally gathered in homes, dealing with all sorts of problems. Below is only a partial list:

Acts 6:1, "Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution."

Acts 15:1-2, "But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.' And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question."

I Corinthians 1:10-13, "I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, 'I follow Paul,' or 'I follow Apollos,' or 'I follow Cephas,' or 'I follow Christ.' Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?"

I Corinthians 5:1-2, "It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you."

I Corinthians 11:17-22, "But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not."

Galatians 1:6-9, "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed."

Philippians 4:2-3, "I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life."

Colossians 2:8, "See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ."

II Thessalonians 3:6-12, "Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living."

The above problems in various local bodies illustrate for us just how difficult church life can be.  The struggles we read about are wide-ranging and very significant.  These were average Christian people dealing with residual sin in their individual lives and in the body as a whole.

We make a terrible mistake if we hope for utopia in church life.  If we seek this and set our hope on it, we will be continually disappointed.  No matter if we are part of a house church, a traditional church, a mega church, a seeker church, etc., we must come to grips with the fact that our church family will have to face various problems and trials.  The sooner we understand this, the better able we will be to confront the problems and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, bring a resolution according to biblical principles.

Let us remember that our hope is not in the church (as much as we should love it). Instead, our hope is in Jesus Christ alone. He reigns over His church. He is the unquestioned, benevolent, dictatorial Head. In His wisdom, Christ has determined that we are to be a part of this organism called the church. We all grow up into Christ through His body. Growth often comes through struggles and problems.

When we get to be with Jesus Christ in heaven for eternity, only then will we find true utopia.


Tim A said...

Utopia has only to do with man's view of perfection and idealism. On this basis I'm not even looking for utopia because that is guaranteed to be a bad place when it's driven by the ideas of mere men and our selfishness. Is there a word that describes God's view of perfection for here and now in a fallen world where at any given point in our journey we arrive at God's point of perfection? I think of obedience, faithfulness, abiding in Christ and His words abiding in us. I think of the process of "throwing off the things that hinder and the sin that so easily entangles" and "running the race marked out before us..." This is God's perfection for us, and I see great progress as I move forward in organic fellowship. Rejection, hurt, pain, and all that stuff is here also but it doesn't matter. I'm not even looking for bliss or tranquility. The path towards "increasing in love and good works" must involve a deep commitment to "considering how we can spur one another on" to these things. Obedience in the process is what we are to move towards. Forget Utopia. Throw it off. Put on Christ.

Eric said...


I understand what you are saying and respect that. What I'm trying to do with this post is tell folks that might be considering house church that they had better not hope for something unrealistic. If they leave the traditional church in hopes of finding something perfect they will be in for disappointment.

I suppose that while I'm describing a faulty hope, you are describing the process of sanctification. I agree that growing in Christlikeness is definitely something we must pursue.

Jeffrey said...

I will say that our little gathering, it's pretty pleasant.

Eric said...


I agree. But if I expect or hope for perfection I'll be disappointed (since none of us is perfect yet). One day we will all be with Christ. Now that will be a great day.

Tim A said...

I understood what you were saying to folks who might have expectations of bliss where nothing goes wrong to each persons individual expectations. I was giving some pointers from my journey to help saints recognize their expectations are corrupt based on what God has said we are to expect. The expectation of bliss is pure selfishness driven by our flesh and is fighting against God's call for us to offer our bodies a living sacrifice, refusing to conform to patterns from this world.

Aussie John said...


I'm neither for or against house church, but it pleases me no end to see you recognizing and writing about this aspect of church life.

The church, God's family, are free to meet in many different ways and places, some better than others,as you have revealed,and for the purposes you have recognized from Scripture.

Sadly,many who see the ideal, and leave where they are, are disappointed when they are struck by the reality of the church consisting of imperfect sinners saved by grace, who never make the grade they expect, no matter what the form their meetings.

Eric said...


Thanks for clarifying. I understand what you are getting at. We certainly do need to check our heart motives to ensure that the correspond to scriptural expectations.

Eric said...


I agree completely.

I suppose it is human nature to desire situations where everything is free of pain, problems, etc. Unfortunately, those desires usually aren't positive. They lead us to hope for more from church life than it can deliver.

We must continue to look to Christ. He will guide us through the highs and lows of the church.

Tim A said...

The desire for utopia and bliss is right out of the institutionalized church play book - what's in it for me - what do I get out of it - what are my happiness levels in this church....
I just love our pastors preaching...
I just love the worship music at our church...
I love the children's program for my kids...
I love the youth ministry and so do my teens...
I love the warm socializing in our sunday school class...
I love the new gymnasium and the beautiful sanctuary...
I love how our church sends so many people to see the mission field...
In all these loves, the people of God are so deceived into selfishness. Through so many years of programming and "teaching" they are led to expect these things as "good church", when from a simple observation of scripture, they don't even come close.

In our rich culture that is so infatuated with institutionalized forms where it is normal for 86% of the giving to be devoted to buy goodies for the "givers", there really is utopia to be found in almost every town in our country. In all of this, some are saved and some grow up a little bit, by the grace of God. The grace of God is used to justify continuing the pursuit of church utopia.