I believe that God is changing the church today, which in turn will change the world. Millions of Christians around the world are already aware of an imminent reformation of global proportions. They are saying, in effect: “Church as we know it is preventing church as God wants it.” There is a new collective awareness of an age-old revelation, a corporate spiritual echo. In the following 15 theses I will summarize a part of this reformation of the church, and I am convinced that these ideas reflect a part of what the Spirit of God is saying to the church today. For some, this information might be the proverbial fist-sized cloud in Elijah’s sky. Others already feel the pouring rain.
Christianity is a way of life, not a series of religious meetings.
Before they were called Christians, followers of Christ were called “The Way.” One of the reasons for this title was that these believers had literally found the way to live. The nature of church is not reflected in a constant series of religious meetings led by professional clergy in holy places especially reserved to experience Jesus. Rather, it is mirrored in the prophetic way followers of Christ live their everyday lives in spiritual extended families, as vivid answers to the questions that society asks, and in the place where it counts most —in their homes.
Time to change the “cathegogue system.”
The historic Orthodox and Catholic Church —that existed after Constantine in the fourth century —developed and adopted a religious system based on two elements: a Christian version of the Old Testament Temple —the cathedral —and a worship pattern styled after the Jewish synagogue. They thus adopted, as the foundational pattern for the times to follow, a blueprint for Christian meetings and worship that was neither expressly revealed, nor ever endorsed by God in New Testament times: the “cathegogue,” linking the house-of-God mentality and the synagogue. Baptized with the Greek pagan philosophy of separating the sacred from the secular, the cathegogue system became the black hole of Christianity, swallowing most of its society-transforming energies and inducing the church to become self-absorbed for centuries to come. The Roman Catholic Church went on to canonize the system. Luther reformed the theology surrounding the gospel, but left the outer forms of “church” remarkably untouched. The Free Churches freed the system from the state, the Baptists then baptized it, the Quakers dry-cleaned it, the Salvation Army put it in uniform, the Pentecostals anointed it, and the charismatics renewed it, but until today nobody has really changed the system. The time to do that has now arrived.
The third Reformation.
In rediscovering the gospel of salvation by faith and grace alone, Luther started to reform the church through reforming theology. In the seventeenth century, through movements in the pietistic renewal, Christians recovered a new intimacy with God, which led to a reformation of spirituality, the second reformation. Now God is touching the wineskins, initiating a third reformation, a reformation of structure.
From church houses to house churches.
From the time of the New Testament there has been no such thing as “a house of God.” At the cost of his life, Stephen reminded us that God does not live in temples made by human hands. The church is the people of God. The church, therefore, was and is at home where people are at home: in ordinary houses. There the people of God share their lives in the power of the Holy Spirit and have “meatings,” i.e., they eat when they meet. They often do not even hesitate to sell private property and share material and spiritual blessings; they teach each other in real-life situations how to obey God’s Word —not with professorial lectures, but dynamically, with dialogue and questions and answers. There they pray and prophesy with each other and baptize one another. There they can let their masks drop and confess their sins, regaining a new corporate identity through love, acceptance, and forgiveness.
The church has to become small in order to grow large.
The New Testament church was made up of small groups, typically between ten and fifteen people. It grew, but not by forming big congregations of three hundred people who filled cathedrals and lost fellowship. Instead it multiplied “sideways,” dividing like organic cells once these groups reached around fifteen or twenty people. This then made it possible for all the Christians to get together in citywide celebrations, as in Solomon’s Temple Colonnade in Jerusalem. The traditional congregational church is by comparison a sad compromise. Most churches of today are simply too big to provide real fellowship. They have too often become “fellowships without fellowship.”
Wolfgang Simson and George Barna, The House Church Book: Rediscover the Dynamic, Organic, Relational, Viral Community Jesus Started (Carol Stream, IL: BarnaBooks, 2015).