Historically, house churches have bloomed when traditional churches couldn’t meet because of persecution or other extenuating circumstances. House churches in such times have been a beautiful expression of the Bride of Christ. The following is not an indictment on all house churches, rather it’s a simple recognition that not all house churches are created equal. If birthed under less than holy conditions than for all its promises of purity and righteousness, the “house church” can be a brief layover to “no church” for is members.
The following is the dangerous downward spiral of the toxic house church:
The Disgruntled House Church
When the establishment of a house church (with a few select friends) is because members have been hurt, ignored or simply disagreed with the majority of the church body over politics, social issues, or theological practices without attempts at reconciliation, the result may be less than ideal. It’s the same reason so many church splits end with one or both churches dying. Churches (house or traditional) started in division have short life spans.
The Diversity-lacking House church
One of the beauties of the Church is that people DON’T have same backgrounds, educational equivalencies, and life experiences and yet find their oneness in Christ. Too often, the toxic house church (for their often-espoused liberties) are quite closed to disagreements from the dominant group think. Those with a different perspective than the prevailing view of the group need not attend.
The Disrespectful House Church
If discontented and closed-off attitudes toward the larger church body exist a puffed-up, self-importance is sure to follow. This prideful, personal “deconstruction” of the church leads to disrespect for leaders, a disregard of church institutions and a cavalier approach to historical Biblical interpretations. The outlook often is: “My house church is doing it right. Everyone else is doing it wrong.”
The Disengaged House Church
A church disgruntled quickly becomes disengaged. The group may start with ideals of service, but disgruntled and dissatisfied people tend to be inward focused and service quickly wanes.
The Defeated House church
The inevitable result of a few like-minded disgruntled and disengaged people meeting on an increasingly inconsistent basis is closure. Those folks who once were serving the Lord in the body fall back to the age-old line, “I can be a Christian without going to church.” While technically true (it’s the same argument that one doesn’t “need” to be baptized, because of the thief on the cross wasn’t baptized), the Church is still Jesus’ plan. Just as Jesus calls believers to be baptized, the New Testament expectation is that believers will meet together in a regular weekly gathering.
There is a downward spiral in faith when not connected (or loosely connected) to the greater body of Christ. People first drift away from the larger church body, then drift from their smaller faith body, then drift from faith altogether. Henri Nouwen was right when he wrote: “…the greatest danger for our times is separation of Jesus from the church…I’ve yet to meet anyone who has come closer to Jesus by forsaking the church.”
Many house churches (maybe most) are wonderful expressions of the kingdom of God. Not all are toxic. But those house churches started by division will subtract from the Kingdom of God as members use the “house church” as the brief stopover before attending “no church.”