Missional Engagement Part 4: The House Church Book Book Review and Reflection (Part 1)
Updated: Aug 19, 2022
In the last article, I reviewed Neighborhood Mapping by Fuder. This book was fully focused on helping the church become more local and listening to the communities in which we live in order to know how to engage them. The House Church Book by Simpson presents one way we can be local: house church. While I think God works through all kinds of churches and structures, house church does seem to be the most prominent form of church in the New Testament. Simpson presents it as the only form of church in the New Testament. In the next article, I’ll get into why I disagree with that. However, the modern church and church throughout history often does not give enough credit to the form of church that could not be more local, bodily, or relational. Simpson’s book does a great job of presenting the many benefits of the house church setting. In the next article, I’ll get into where he may lack nuance, but overall this is an important and needed book to challenge our traditional conceptions of church.
I’m currently doing a house church every other week so you’ll see some of how I’ve processed this book from my own experience. My house church meetings consist of eating together and discussing scripture together (we’ve been going through Matthew chapter by chapter). I don’t have to plan a lesson, or sermon, because it is centered around everyone discovering something new in scripture, and everyone growing in relationship. I’ll be able to mention whether what Simpson says rings true for me in my experience or not.
If you are looking for a dispassionate, unbiased, academic argument for house churches, this is not the book for you. Simpson clearly believes in the house church setting very strongly, and often presents his case with more passion than nuance.
I’ll center my review around Simpson’s “15 Theses toward a Reincarnation of Church”, which are basically an introduction and give a more concise representation of Simpson’s arguments in the book. There is other information that I will not be able to explore in this review for the sake of brevity, like Simpson’s “20 barrier”, church growth barriers, some history on house churches, scriptural support, accountability for house churches in a given location, and much more. My purpose here will be to interact with the overall ideas and in the next article give some critique so some things Simpson says can be taken with a grain of salt.
Simpson’s “15 Theses toward a Reincarnation of Church”
Christianity is a way of life, not a series of religious meetings:
-Simpson wants to present the church meeting as more of a family gathering. As I’ve met as a house church, I’ve found that it does have more the family feel. It doesn’t take much to connect and have great conversations together. I find myself sympathetic to Simpson on this point:
“As any family get-together proves, we can accomplish the goal of fellowship without the need for heavy structure. Families can get along quite well without a master of ceremonies, a word of introduction, a special song, a sermon by Father, and a vote of thanks by Mother. These formalities happen at weddings and on other occasions but not in everyday life. Church, however, is not to be an artificial performance; it is for everyday life, because it is a way of life.” (Pg. 3)
2. Time to change the “cathetogue system” and 3. The Third Reformation
-These points from Simpson are where I have the most criticism, which I’ll get into in the next post.
4. From church houses to house churches
-The church is the people of God, not the place where the church meets. House church can make it easier for the people of God to share lives together, to invite each other into our lives. It’s easy to hide in a crowd of people, but in house church it’s easier to be vulnerable, and easier to trust one another and share with one another.
-I like the concept of “meatings.” In my house church, we have been practicing eating together as our practice of communion, which is, in my opinion, a more biblical expression of communion.
5. The church has to become small in order to grow large
-I agree with Simpson on this point, but also think he could leave more room for house churches remaining small for a time, so as to not lead people to feeling like they’ve failed unless they “multiply.”
-Especially in today’s culture where trust in institutions is at an all-time low, the house church setting may be more conducive to the one another relationships of trust that scripture calls us to. We will get more into the concept of being okay with “small” when I review Subterranean by Dan White Jr.
6. A church is led by more than a pastor, 7. The right pieces—fit together in the wrong way, 8. Out of the Hands of bureacratic clergy and on toward the priesthood of all believers
- While the traditional setting for church doesn’t necessarily intend to center everything around the pastor, the church meeting does tend to revolve around the sermon. Where I think I would differ with Simpson is that this is not wrong or “against God’s blueprint,” but is simply one valid expression of a Christian meeting. In the American context, we need church meetings that allow God’s people to fully engage while at church, that are both communal and embodied. I love a good sermon or message, but it often falls short of training me to embody what is preached and build authentic community. Sure, I can do that when I leave church, but then people begin wondering, “What’s the point of church?” Church as “information download” in our generation of podcasts, limitless information, and Youtube can lead people to start asking, “What’s the point? I can get this elsewhere, and often the information is better.”
9. Return from organized to organic forms of Christianity
“At the local level, church consists of a multitude of extended spiritual families, which are organically related to each other as a network…has to be changed into a minimum of organization to allow a maximum of organism.” (Kindle loc. 171)
-One reason house churches might be a difficult experiment for many churches is because control is put in the hands of the “laity.” However, when we entrust everyday people it might actually go pretty well. Still, I like the model Simpson gives of elders going around to different house churches in a local area giving accountability so there are not simply a lot of “free-flying ministries and ‘independent’ churches accountable to no one.” (Kindle Loc. 153)
-It’s also difficult to try something different for many churches because as humans we tend to be attracted to homogeneity. We become attached to the ways we've done things for a while. Unity in diversity does not come naturally. It’s easier to separate into different camps than to stay unified in difference, and I don’t know about you, but I think it’s possible to stay unified with different forms of church structure going on as long as we have a little humility towards one another.
10. From worshipping our worship to worshipping God
“Statistically, a traditional one- or two hour worship service is very resource-hungry but produces very little fruit in terms of discipling people and changing lives. Economically, it’s a high-input, low-output structure.” (kindle loc. 179)
-It’s true that house churches require very little money, and discipleship tends to happen naturally at church. As you reflect honestly on scripture together, people's hearts come out and difficult issues are often discussed. In my case, in order to eat together consistently the people in the group contribute to buying food for one another on a regular basis.
11. Stop Bringing people to church, and start bringing church to the people
-I 100% agree with Simpson on this point. A missional church goes into the world. It does not ask the world to come into it. Check out Jesus’ method of mission in Matthew 10 and Luke 10 and tell me what you see there.
12. Rediscovering the Lord’s Supper as a real supper with real food
-As I’ve already mentioned this can be a very real benefit. Eating together makes church both bodily and relational. We all come to a literal table together. It's not just metaphorical and individualized, but bodily and communal.
13. From denominations to the city church
-As you’ve seen from my review of “Neighborhood Mapping” I completely agree with the church being organized according to geography. This is much more feasible through house churches or churches that consistently meet publicly.
14. Developing a persecution-proof spirit
-Simpson’s point here is that when we really start living Jesus’ way in discipleship, it will lead to persecution. To Simpson, house churches are more likely to survive a wave of persecution by the surrounding culture than other forms of church structure. There may be some truth to this. In fact, we see throughout history that house churches are the only option in times of persecution.
15. The church comes home
-Character comes more into the light when we meet in our homes. It’s harder to hide in a crowd or behind a pulpit. I completely agree.
In part two of this review/reflection you’ll see some of my criticisms.