There’s nothing as alive as life and nothing us dull as un-life. I walked in at the end of a house church meeting once. Those present were trying a new thing - that of being the church rather than going to church. An enthusiastic pastor had gotten onto the latest thing: The planting of small groups in homes, cafes and work places. This was one of the ‘plants’ he had initiated.
As new as this venture was, as I entered I could have cut the spiritual dullness with a knife. As keen as the Believers were, there was a total absence of spirit and life. These Believers were keen. But there was as much spirit and life in their fellowship as there was on Abraham’s bid to make God’s will happen for him through Hagar and Ishmael.
I’m not saying house churches are bad idea. They have great potential. Any group has potential that enjoys new covenant life in the Spirit. This is the spirit-life Paul talks of in Romans 8, the life of Jesus in us and among us which is the engine of the new testament. But the Spirit comes from Jesus, His Father and the presence of Holy Spirit among us. These Believers were already behind the eight-ball in this matter. They came from a tradition rooted in the law where legalism was not only part of their culture. It was their doctrine. Rather than Jesus mediating life they came from a position pretty close to the law mediating Jesus. But a law culture smothers the spirit of God no matter how enthusiastic we may be. Jesus taught that the flesh has nothing to offer. Law is the flesh. It promotes woodenness and dullness. But rooted in our Father we multiply spirit and life and have joined ourselves to life without limit. If the basis of our life is law then we will be prone to imagining that a new formula of the church will produce life. If our assumption is that religion is life then we will busy ourselves in seeking that which we already have: God in us and with us.
What is needed is not a new configuration of church. It is Christ our life.
Any fellowship with real life will contain Spirit-filled Believers. Jesus instructed us to never to leave home base without the baptism of Holy Spirit. He is the difference between Godliness with power and mere religion. While it is true that God is incarnated in every Believer it is also true that Jesus manifests Himself by the Spirit today in ways that are supernatural and self-authenticating. In the Spirit people hear from God and speak His words. In the Spirit people multiply what Jesus began healing the sick and casting out demons. In the Spirit heaven comes to earth and people see that God is real and that His Son is among us.
There is this kind of fellowship where God is present and real. There are other kinds of fellowship where God is present as a concept - where He is no more manifest than He might be among a bunch of atheists and agnostics. There is a kind of church planting that is the multiplication of these god-empty boxes and another kind of planting that consists of the power and the presence of God multiplying from house to house. I have seen this in India where a man of God will go to a house in a village and start healing people in Jesus’ name. People gather like bees to a honey pot.
There’s a difference in being a man of God and a man of the religion of the of God.
Genuine church planting is not institutions replanted in another form. A genuine plant means planting Jesus and the genuine harvest is the harvest of sons of God. A church plant must begin with a son of God who is a son in spirit and in truth. This will be a person joined to our Father and operating in the spirit of sonship with an apostolic anointing. This is not difficult. Anyone for whom Jesus is life is one with Father as was Jesus. As such we represent Father in Spirit and in truth. We do what Father is doing because we are part of Him as sons. This is apostolic.
Apostleship is premised on the doctrine of the apostles - a new covenant understanding, the anointing of Holy Spirit and guidance by the spirit of wisdom and revelation. I have seen plants initiated by those who are none of these. They are without authority to plant churches and when they do they plant them under the leadership of people who do not understand the new covenant, are not spiritual leaders, and basically unlearned in the gospel of the Kingdom. Such plants last a few months or a year and then wilt. They wilt because they are Ishmael’s and because they are tares. Law, old covenant and formulae do not produce sons and daughters of God because they are not one with our Father.
These practices result from the marketing of religion rather than the heart and presence of God. They are a form of piracy in which the treasure house is raided for nuggets of Kingdom truth that are then used to establish institutions of the flesh that are dull with un-life and which clog up what is meant to be the new creation with weeds and tares. People who do this are not wicked people. They are just believers who live in religion rather than Christ as their life.
The hope of the expanding Kingdom of God in this hour is not some new version of church. It is Christ our life expressed as you and I. Christ come in the flesh is His Kingdom come in you and in all Believers. The trinity lives in you and you have been positioned in the trinity. Live from where you are. Be who you are. You are the manifest presence of Father, Son and Holy Spirit!
‘Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life’ 1 John 5.12 NIV.