Greg, John and Pat discuss in this “re-thinking” church moment; is what we are doing preventing Jesus from having the church He wants? They continue to discuss how Wolfgang Simson wrote 15 Theses toward the Re-Incarnation of the church. We must be open about we are presently calling the church. The question we have to ask is: Is God in control? If you are a shepherd of a congregation of 100 of God’s sheep we should ask the question to God’s people; does God speak to you and if yes what is He saying? Should we be concerned whether God’s people are hearing His voice and obeying what he says? Unfortunately we have defined success by attendance, how many people show up for a church gathering. The church must ask herself is what we are presently doing preventing Jesus from having the church He wants?
15 Theses toward a Re-Incarnation of the Church by Wolfgang Simson
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 are 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.
1. 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.
2. 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 the 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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 reach 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.”
6. A church is led by more than a pastor.
A local church is not led by a pastor, but fathered by an elder, a man of wisdom who is engaged with reality. The local house churches are then networked into a movement by the combination of elders and members of the so-called fivefold ministries (apostles, prophets, pastors, evangelists and teachers) circulating from house to house, like blood circulating in a human body. The apostolic and prophetic ministries play a special foundational role (Ephesians 2:20; 4:11-12). A pastor (shepherd) is an important member of the whole team, but he cannot fulfill more than part of the task of equipping the saints from the ministry. He has to be complemented synergistically by the other four ministries in order to function properly.
7. The right pieces-fit together in the wrong way.
To do a jigsaw puzzle, we have to put these pieces together according to the original pattern, otherwise the individual pieces do not make any sense and the whole picture turns out wrong. In the Christian world, we have all the right pieces, but we have fit them together in a wrong way because of fear, tradition, religious jealousy, and a power-and-control mentality. Just as water is found in three forms- ice, liquid and steam-so, too, the fivefold ministries mentioned in Ephesians 4:11-12-the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers-are found today, but not always in the right forms and in the right places. They are either frozen ice in the rigid system of institutionalized Christianity, exist as clear liquid, or vanish like steam into the thin air of free-flying ministries and “independent” churches accountable to no one. Just as it is best to hydrate plants and flowers with the liquid version of water, so these five equipping ministries will have to be transformed back into new-and at the same time, age-old-forms, so that the whole spiritual organism can flourish and the individual “ministers” can find their proper role and place in the whole.
8. Out of the hands of bureaucratic clergy and on toward the priesthood of all believers.
According to the New Testament, “there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ” (I Timothy 2:5). God simply does not want religious professionals to force themselves between Himself and His people. The veil is torn, and God allows people to access Himself directly through Jesus Christ, the only Way. No expression of a New Testament church was ever led by just one professional “holy man” doing the business of communicating with God and then feeding some relatively passive, religious consumers, Moses-style. Christianity has adopted this method from pagan religions, or at best from the Old Testament.
The heavy professionalization of the church since Constantine has been a pervasive influence long enough, dividing the people of God artificially into an infantilized laity and a professional clergy, and developing power-based mentalities and pyramid structures.
To enable the priesthood of all believers, the present system will have to change completely. Bureaucracy is the most dubious of all administrative systems because it basically allows only yes or no answers. There is no room for spontaneity and humanity, no room for real life. This may be all right in politics and business, but not the church. Today God seems to be in the business of delivering His church from a Babylonian-like captivity of religious bureaucrats and controlling spirits and bringing it into the public domain. He is putting it into the hands of ordinary people whom God has made extraordinary and who, as in the old days, may still smell of fish, perfumes, or revolution.
9. Return from organized to organic forms of Christianity.
The body of Christ is a vivid description of an organic being, not an organized mechanism. At the local level, church consists of a multitude of extended spiritual families, which are organically related to each other as a network. The way these communities function together is an integral part of the message of the whole body. What has become a maximum of organization with a minimum of organism has to be changed into a minimum of organization to allow a maximum of organism. Like a straitjacket, too much organization has the potential of restricting and choking the organism simply out of fear that something might go wrong. Fear is the opposite of faith-not exactly a Christian virtue. Fear wants to control; faith can trust. God has entrusted the body of Christ into the hands of stewardship-minded people who believe that He is still in control even if they are not. Today we need to develop regional and national networks based on trust if we want to see organic forms of Christianity reemerge.
10. From worshiping our worship to worshiping God.
The image of much of contemporary Christianity could be described as a holy people coming regularly to a holy place on a holy day at a holy hour to participate in a holy ritual led by a holy man dressed in holy clothes for a holy fee. Since this regular performance-oriented enterprise, called a “worship service,” requires a lot of organizational talent and administrative bureaucracy, formalized and institutionalized patterns develop quickly into rigid traditions. Statistically, a traditional one-or two-hour worship service is very resource-hungry but produces very little fruit in terms of disciplining people and changing lives. Economically, it is a high-input, low-output structure. Traditionally, the desires to worship “in the right way” has led to denominationalism, confessionalism, and nominalism. This ignores the fact that Christians are called to worship “in spirit and truth” rather than in cathedrals holding songbooks. It also ignores the fact that most of life is informal, and so, too, is Christianity as “the Way of Life.” We need to change from being powerful actors to people who act powerfully.
11. Stop bringing people to church, and start bringing the church to the people.
The church is moving from being a come-structure to being a go-structure. As a result, Christians need to stop trying to bring people to church, and start bringing the church to the people. The mission of the church will never be accomplished just by adding to the existing structure. It will take nothing less than a mushrooming of the church through spontaneous multiplication into areas of the world where Christ is not yet known.
12. Rediscovering the Lord’s Supper as a real supper with real food.
Church tradition has managed to celebrate the Lord’s Supper in a homeopathic and deeply religious form, characteristically with a few drops of wine, a tasteless cookie, and a sad face. However, the Lord’s Supper was actually more of a substantial supper with a symbolic meaning than a symbolic supper with a substantial meaning. God is restoring eating back into our meetings.
13. From denominations to the city church.
Jesus called us to a universal movement, and what resulted instead was a series of religious corporations with global chains marketing their specific brand of Christianity and competing with each other. Through this branding of Christianity, most of Protestantism has lost its voice in the world and become politically insignificant-more concerned with traditional distinctive and religious infighting than with developing a collective testimony before the world. Jesus simply never asked people to organize themselves into factions and denominations, and Paul even spoke of it as “worldly,” a sign of baby Christians.
In the early days of the church, Christians had a dual identity: They were truly His church, vertically belonging to God. They then organized themselves according to geography, relating horizontally to each other on earth as well. This means that not only should Christian neighbors organize themselves into neighborhood or house churches where they share their lives locally, they should also come together as a collective identity as much as they can to express the unity of the city church, in citywide or regional celebrations expressing the corporate nature of the church. Authenticity in the neighborhoods connected with a regional or citywide corporate identity will make the church not only politically significant and spiritually convincing, but it will also allow a return to the biblical model of the city church, the sum total of all born-again Christians of a city or an area.
14. Developing a persecution-proof spirit.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted,” Jesus said in Matthew 5:10. Unfortunately, contemporary Christianity is often too harmless and polite to be worth persecuting. Many of Christ’s followers today are more into titles, medals, and social respectability-or worse, they remain silent and are not worth being noticed at all-to be targets of persecution. But as Christians again begin to live out New Testament standards of life, the natural reaction of the world will be as it always has been: conversion or persecution. Instead of nesting comfortably in a temporary zones of religions liberty, Christians can expect to again be called out as the main culprits standing in the way of global humanism. That is why Christians will and must feel the “repressive tolerance” of a world that has lost its absolutes and therefore refuses to recognize and obey its creator God with His absolute standards. Coupled with the growing privatization and spiritualization of politics and economics, Christians will-sooner than most think-have their chance to stand happily accused in the company of Jesus. We need to prepare now for the future by developing a persecution-proof spirit and an even more persecution-proof structure.
15. The church comes home.
Where is the easiest place for people to be outwardly spiritual? Is it, perhaps, hiding behind a big pulpit, dressed in holy robes, preaching holy words to the faceless crowd and then disappearing into an office? And where is the most difficult-and therefore most meaningful-place to be spiritual? At home, in the presence of our spouses and children, where everything we do and say is automatically put through a spiritual litmus test against reality, where hypocrisy can be effectively weeded out and authenticity can grow. Much of Christianity has fled the family and instead organized artificial performances in sacred buildings far from the atmosphere of real life. As God is in the business of recapturing the homes, the church turns back to its roots-back to where it came from. It literally comes home, completing the circle of church history at the end of world history.
Excerpt from “The House Church Book” by Wolfgang Simson. Published September 2009