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.