So there is this global pandemic thing. Totally ruined a bunch of Saint Paddy Day celebrations.
For me, I have been proud to be Canadian during this time: we have strong, involved leadership, a modern, proactive medical system, and we are citizens of a generous, caring society. In the few news conferences I’ve watched, I have seen two Ministers of Health whose voices broke with emotion as they described the seriousness of the illness.
Now it has become official: government authorities are tightening the rules of ‘social distancing’ as the cases of Covid-19 are ramping up. (Except, of course, for some wacky conservative pastors who insist that their congregations gather as usual because, as one of them said, corona virus is “a liberal disease” and “we aren’t pansies”. Seriously.)
Back in the real Christian world, social media exploded last week with churches reassuring their parishioners and itemizing the extra measures being taken to keep everyone safe. Then on Sunday, church after church streamed the worship proceedings online so people could choose the good option to remain in their homes.
Yes, I understand it is meaningful when large groups worship together in a physical place. But I couldn’t help imagining God’s viewpoint this past weekend, watching, listening, and speaking to his people as they gathered in front of monitors and televisions. His Church, scattered apart in their homes but united together through his Spirit.
- A newly married couple who held hands and hummed with the music while the morning sun streamed though the window;
- The sickly man who was able to sit comfortably without distraction;
- The woman propped up on pillows, Bible open, seeing it with new eyes;
- A family worshipping together for the first time in years thanks to the smart TV in their living room;
- The neighbours sipping coffee and pausing to discuss a point in the sermon they found interesting;
- The elderly couple who could see and hear more clearly than usual;
- The friends who brought their guitars so they could participate in church music for the first time;
- The teenage girl on the sofa with her sister, nibbling Lucky Charms while the pastor speaks;
- The twelve year old listening to the sermon for the first time while his hands keep busy with his squirming puppy;
- A semi-circle of friends hearing their own voices as they sing together;
- A man learning a new truth, eyes glistening at the thought.
Kinda cool, eh? Church online. In the coming weeks congregations will feel strange as they break their Sunday routines and participate in church outside of the building. Some will have trouble getting used to it; others will like it a bit too much.
Last weekend I saw online advertising for a new approach to church during this quarantine – instructions on how people can have church in their house. It was characterized as a radical idea and I have to admit it shocked me when I saw it.
I never imagined Christians didn’t know they could do church in a house.
It’s called house church, or simple church.
And yes, it’s a thing.
Christians have always had house churches.
It’s the only instruction the New Testament gives us about how to gather as the Church.
It’s how the first Christians did church for generations. (That is, until Christianity became the official state religion and went back to temple worship the way the pagans were doing it.)
- St. Paul, when he was a hater, attacked the church by entering people’s houses (Acts 8:3).
- “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes.” (Acts 2:46a).
- “You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.” (St Paul a few years later in Acts 20:20)
- “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus … greet also the church at their house.” (Romans 16:3,5).
- “Give greetings to the brothers in Laodicea and to Nympha and to the church in her house.” (Colossians 4:15).
You get the idea.
Many churches these days have small groups or life groups – people connecting outside of typical church services to talk and learn together. They are cousins to house churches and a very helpful way to personalize our faith.
House churches are a bit different: they’re not based out of worship centres, they don’t need infrastructure, technology, finances, or levels of management. They are also great for people who are deep thinkers or people who need friendship; people who are sickly, people who are shy; people who are curious, people who need support; or just people.
They study the Bible, sing, share personal stories, watch a video, study a book, or just hang out. But always they pray for each other, care for each other, and share a meal together as a way of remembering Jesus. I learned long ago that God’s people are way better at helping each other than lead pastors or guided Bible-studies are.
Meeting in a home is a natural, authentic, family-oriented way to grow in God. But I wonder how many pastors have ever said something like, “Or, you could go ahead and have church in your house”?
This blog isn’t about doing away with our friendly neighbourhood churches, by the way, so don’t start. Of course there are many wonderful places of worship and I hope you have a caring pastor and good friends and godly purpose where you attend. And I’m not advocating for everybody to run out and start a church in their house because they feel like it.
Rather this has to do with our responsibility to educate and prepare people to be ‘the Church’ out in the real world. If our task is to make disciples, then we should be encouraging and educating and enabling all sorts of expressions of the Church, so it can flourish in good times or bad.
So it surprises me, even infuriates me, that there is ignorance about house church. It was practically made for a viral pandemic! And it could multiply and spread everywhere.
Going to church is okay I guess, but it’s better to BE the Church.