Coming from a mainline church into a smaller house church can be like emerging from an oppressive relationship. It can take time to readjust. And sometimes the old ways cling tightly, especially when they were allied closely to the concept of pleasing or offending God.
That was the appeal of returning to Judaism in New Testament times. For a thousand years they had had a religion that could be seen, smelled, and touched. There was a sacred building, sacred men, and cycles of religious days. And now, the apostles were saying that those things were shadows that had been brilliantly dissolved in the light of the coming of Jesus. For some, it was far too emotionally challenging.
As they slipped back, the apostles would urge them to return to freedom. “You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid I have laboured over you in vain,” wrote Paul to the Galatians. Indeed some of his harshest words were reserved for those who went back to embrace the security of observable religion.
Ever since we were cast out of Eden, we have innately longed for a sacred place to meet God and for someone to intercede. So sacred buildings, priests, sacred days, and scared rituals – they all crept back to become part of even evangelical Christianity, just as they are part of every major religion. Sunday became the new Sabbath. The Pastor became the new priest dispensing truth and prayer. The church building became the new place to meet and worship God.
In walking away from those things, we are not just walking away from “big church” and going to “little church” or house church. No, in many instances, we are actually walking towards the Gospel and a much tighter embrace of Christ. Because, without pastors, priests, sermons, sacred days, sacred buildings, and sacred plates and glasses, the only thing left is Jesus. It is Jesus plus nothing.
For those who have lived under life-long oppression, freedom is a scary place. And like the people of Galatian, Colosse and Rome, and the Hebrews, it is all too easy to slip back. As Paul expressed it, to “build up again those things that I tore down.”
That is why some house churches slip back into doing “big church” things. Someone must preach a sermon. There have to be three hymns. There has to be a worship leader. They silently observe a ritualistic Lord’s supper. The main meeting is mandatorily on Sunday, the Christian “Sabbath.”
There is nothing wrong with order, but when order is seen as a means of appeasing God, we have abandoned the Gospel. And, were he alive today, we would expect in our inboxes a very serious, biting letter from Paul in which he would say to us what he said to the Galatians: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
Ray Barnett is the author of THE GATHERING: Rediscovering the simplicity, power and effectiveness of God’s first-century pattern for the church. A Bible teacher and former church leader, for the past twenty years, Ray has focused on teaching church leaders in emerging nations. To learn more about his books visit: www.raybarnettbooks.com