Thursday, January 24, 2008

The House Church Experiment - And Its Ruins

When I was first recovering from my brush with theological death (where I almost reverting back to my old atheism or at least agnosticism) I attempted for fit back into the local church. I really couldn’t stomach it. Fake miracles, fake emotions . . . the whole nine yards made me ill. I tried to fit in for about five years, doing things like becoming the “Deacon of Small Groups,” but still, I could not make a difference . . . trying to pour new wine into old skins never seems to work.

It was at this disillusioned juncture that I started considering the House-Church concept. It was not a flippant decision. I mean I spent a year studying the Bible, looking for guidelines for church form. I read book after book (on the house church movement), listened to lecture after lecture on the theology of church forms.

Next I visited, what was considered at the time, to be the premiere house-church in America. I spent most of a week with them.

I returned home with a vision. My next step was writing a 30 page paper on the church doctrinal statement and the guidelines for structure (elders, pastor-teacher etc.)

I did not know personally of anyone who was also interested in this concept, so I ran an ad in a local paper just stating that a house-church was forming and interesting parties should call me.

One by one, people came out of the wood-works and we met each couple (or single) for one on one time, usually over dinner.

When I had an agreement of about five families (they read my paper and supposedly accepted it) we started to meet.

Now there is no way to truly know people by a few contacts and having dinner together. Based on our previous conversations, I really though that we were on the same page. But, it really takes months for the truth about ourselves to come to the surface. Now as you read the following, you are allowed to smile or chuckle. I mean it is tragic, but also a comedy. I can laugh about it now . . . with some sadness sprinkled in.

So here is a group of five couples, each disenfranchised from the traditional church forms. However, I was disenfranchised on the culturally-liberal side (different from theologically liberal). The others were leaving the church on the opposite side, the church not being culturally or theologically conservative enough for them. I will explain this in another posting, but what I would call their position would but Dualistic-Gnostic (only the unseen is important, and God speaks truth to them on a personal level, a secret truth that no one else has.) Actually I really think what is wrong with American Evangelicalism is this extra-Biblical Gnostic-Dualistic influence and I will also explain that late.

So here I was entering a pact with a group of people who were more Gnostic-Dualistic than even traditional Evangelicalism. I was still a bit naïve, still at a point in my journey when I thought that you could really find, maybe not the perfect, but a very good church experience. I will describe the orientation of the other couples and you can see why the house-church failed (I actually disbanded it after a year).

Bill and Faith. Faith really wore the spiritual pants in the family, which isn’t a big deal. But she (and she eventually convinced some of the others) that she was some type of prophetess. I had heard that she was a good Bible teacher, but that insidiously evolved into God was speaking through her, to God was speaking directly to her. This was a secret knowledge (think Gnostic here) that is not in scripture or anywhere else. Not only did she begin to demand the “pulpit” but she also started circulating material among the others that, I think was bizarre. However, I was the only one, and my own wife was no exception, questioned what she was teaching.

The premise of her teaching was Satan was alive and well, and strong . . . implying (in my humble opinion) stronger than even God Himself. Satan was behind every bush and “oppressing” Christians at every turn. The materials suggested that demons entered your house through such things as house flies (hey, I’m trying to be serious here), sneezing and sexual intercourse that isn’t in the missionary position with the man on top. I could go on and on. But just like the challenge that the early church had with the early Gnostics, if she said that she was speaking only what God told hr, who was to question her . . . but me. I quickly found myself on the short-end of the stick as the other house-church members believed her (manipulative) ways.

Next I introduce John and Grace. They came to the house-church because they knew Faith from a previous Church of God. John and Grace had moved from Montana. I don’t know if you have ever heard of the Montana “Freemen” but John was actually involved with that group (outside of Glacier National Park). The best way I can describe them is a splitting image of the Taliban . . . but Christian instead of Islamic. I’m not embellishing here. John had a long, Taliban-type beard. He force his wife to have her head covered. He abused his wife, in the name of God, the same way that the Taliban abuse women. He forbade his wife from speaking to any other man, even in church. She could only speak to other women if he witnessed the conversation. She was not allowed to drive. I think he “spanked her” (not a kind of foreplay) but out of husband discipline. I know, very, very sad. What was even more dangerous, was that he was collecting weapons for the coming war with Bill Clinton and Janet Reno. It’s okay to laugh here . . . but you can still feel sad, especially sad for Grace.

He also didn’t believe in birth control. He also believed that most doctors (especially if they did breast exams or pelvics) were perverts and should executed. So his wife never had pre-natal care and did home deliveries with only John there to help.

Being extremely Dualistic (if you haven’t noticed the Dualism yet) he only allowed the Bible in his house. He burned all other books, art etc.

I had many long talks with John. But every time I spoke to him, he would beat Grace again (in the “name of God”). I wanted to report him to the police, but a social worker made it clear, that unless the victim brought charges, there was no case. I tried to speak to Grace to leave him or bring charges . . . which led to more beatings in the name of God. He, being disgusted with us unspiritual people, packed up and moved back to Montana to be with his fellow Montana Freeman.

Next meet Mike and Laurie. They were Messianic-Christians. I didn’t know what that meant at the time. They expressed that they had a heart to reach the Jews. I didn’t know that there were any Jews around. I asked them how many Jews lived in our town? They answered, “There was one . . . but he had moved away.”

We soon learned that what they meant by being Messianic-Christians, was Christians who (in this feeble attempt to become godly, in this eternal quest of significance) believed that we should put ourselves back under the strictest Jewish law. Eat only kosher foods. Celebrate only Jewish holidays. Wear Jewish clothes. Etc,. The problem was, they considered themselves as “more spiritual” than the rest of us because they were following these laws. So if they were on a higher spiritual plane, then they should be the ones to lead the group.

I guess they were on a higher plane. After our church disbanded, Mike ran off with a co-worker and the last I heard he was living with this young girl.

There was another couple that visited, who had some serious mental heath issues, disguised as usual (as if all of us didn’t have some mental health issues). The were in conflict with the church that we had attended and I think they wanted us to join in their crusade to fight that church for a (messy) finanical problem that they had been involved with. Icould go on.

I shouldn’t feel so bad that our house church failed. The “Ideal” house church that I had visited, the “best one in the country,” also fell apart. Part of it become a cult . . . following an over zealous leader, who considered himself God’s messenger. The others became disillusioned.

So, I still think a house-church could be good. But, they have to leave behind the baggage that has haunted the mainstream Evangelical church. This Gnostic thinking (God has only given me the truth). There has to be the humility that we are deeply, deeply fallen and should not be trusted by others or by ourselves. We must know that we are covered by the blood of Christ, not covered by being Jewish, or being a “prophet” or any other self-assured means of self-righteousness.

More later.

No comments: