Br. Dr. Richard Ing
November 26, 2011
Jesus came to earth in the flesh to open the door and make it possible for God to have a perfect people in the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. His sacrifice on the cross provided the way for our sins to be forgiven once and for all without having to come to a temple with a sin sacrifice. The Lord Jesus became our sin sacrifice for all time. Heb. 10:12: Heb. 9:26. Confession, repentance of sins and forgiveness could be accomplished anywhere without animal sacrifice or a priest to intercede. The Lord became both our sacrifice and our high priest in heaven to intercede for us. Heb. 7:24-28.
The cross of Jesus paved the way for the perfection of the saints. That's why God created the heavens and the earth and everything in it. He wanted perfect sons and daughters in the image of His Son, Jesus, and a perfect church to become the Bride of Christ in the end. Ro. 8:29; Eph. 4:11-15; Eph. 5:25-27; Rev. 19:7-9; Rev. 21:2; Rev. 22:17.
GOD TOOK THE CHURCH BACK
He took the church (temple of God) out of wood and stone buildings and put it in the hearts of His people. The temple of God is the body of each true believer and the Holy Spirit dwells in soft hearts instead of cold stone buildings. 1 Co. 3:16; 2 Co9. 6:16. In so doing, God did away with large and expensive buildings, ornate altars, rituals, holy days, Sabbath days, festivals and celebrations. He required only water baptism and remembrance of his body and blood that was shed on the cross for us whenever we gather to break bread with each other. The elite priesthood was eliminated, along with elaborate and gaudy gowns, hats, candles, impressive seats, hems that announced one's holiness, and impressive titles. He made everyone a king and priest unto Himself. Rev. 1:6; Rev. 5:10.
The Lord Himself became the head shepherd and leader of His church. A direct line to the throne of God was made possible because of the blood of the Lamb. Heb. 10:19. We can come into His presence at any time by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God reveals all truth and teaches things that man cannot teach. 1 Jn. 2:27. He is our comforter, our guide and protector. Jn. 16:7, 13; Jn. 14:17. Regardless, the church still needs human leaders and God appoints apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to be His delegated authorities and teachers. These leaders, however, are to be servants ("slaves" in the Greek") to all and not lord it over the sheep. Mt. 20:25-27; Mt. 23:11. The apostle Paul listed strict guidelines as to who qualifies to be God's delegated authorities and shepherds. 1 Ti. 3:1-13.
There are other important reasons why God put His church into houses. In times of persecution, house churches were indistinguishable from the houses of non-believers and when the enemy came to imprison or kill Christians, they could not easily identify Christians nor locate them. House churches were used to hide Christians. Saul had to go house to house in his attempts to arrest Christians in his day. Ac. 8:3. In the coming "abomination of desolation" spoken of by Daniel, the prophet (Mt. 24:15; Da. 8:11, 24; Da. 9:26, 27; Da. 11:31; Da. 12:11), house churches will play a major role in protecting and saints and providing refuge.
There were times during the first three hundred and twenty-five years after Jesus returned to heaven, when the church was not persecuted for long periods. Yet, the early church remained in houses for 325 years, according to the original pattern given by God.
In mainland China, starting from the 1930's, the Christian church was heavily persecuted and forced to go underground into houses. All church buildings were destroyed and Christians imprisoned or killed. Yet, the church experienced its greatest growth ever. A great harvest of souls spread out over the country and today, it is estimated that there are over 120 million Christians in China. Lack of funds was no hindrance. Money is simply not required to operate a house church and the underground church prospered.
THE BIGGEST PURPOSE
The biggest characteristic of a house church, however, is not its innate ability to conceal during times of persecution, or to handle large numbers of new converts during a revival/harvest. The initial quick expansion of house churches in China and the consequent lack of training facilities and trained leaders gave the Holy Spirit the opportunity to actually lead His people. The people learned to cry out to the Holy Spirit for help and guidance and God began to mature the saints spiritually. Miracles took place daily, the people sought God and God answered them.
MAN TOOK IT AWAY AGAIN
Later, when persecution lessened and the government's Three Self Church made Bibles available and formal lessons more accessible, the church began to weaken and slow down spiritually. As the Bamboo Curtain lifted and Christians from the Western World entered with their various denominations, unity wavered, differences in doctrines arose, money became available and the great harvest of souls took on a different complexion.
As trained leaders took the place of common, uneducated folk, the underground church began looking to man for leadership once again. The story of King Saul and the desire of God's people for human leadership and a human king was re-enacted once more. Today, there are stories coming out of China of bickering among Christians, even fighting and killing one another. Miracles are no longer a daily occurrence. The underground house churches may be growing still, but spiritual growth has been stunted and the church is beginning to slip back into the Dark Ages as man tries to resume leadership of God's people to the exclusion of God.
God is not looking for numbers and political strength for His people in these end times. He is looking for perfect sons and daughters and a perfect church. Only the Holy Spirit can bring a Christian into perfection in Jesus Christ. However, the Spirit will not lead where man's plans, strategies and thoughts become more important than God's will and leadership. Obviously, the Western, institutionalized church is run by man and not God.
A RETURN TO GOD
In recent times, this church (Light of the World Missions) returned to house churches with much naïveté. At first, we tried training house group leaders and preparing the members to enter into house churches. It failed. Members wanted to go back to institutional church services and some left. Then, the trained leaders struggled with their home groups and were unhappy because there was little growth in numbers and the meetings were sputtering. People did not show up when they said they would, did not share a word, give a testimony or praise report and mostly reverted back to being bumps on a log. Leaders tried harder and attended leadership meetings, sought a more stable format and program for services, but continued to struggle. In short, they were trying to play church in a house.
As senior pastor, my wife and I would attend a different house group meeting every Sunday as a means of encouraging and guiding. But things did not improve. We were not pleasing God and something was awry. Then, by chance, someone told me that perhaps I should stay home. At first, I was slightly perturbed, to put it mildly. However, I sensed that God was trying to tell me something. So I began to stay away from the home meetings and instead, went out evangelizing every Sunday.
Lo and behold! Reports began coming in of people beginning to hear the audible voice of God, to have visions and dreams from God and to sense the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. House group leaders began to cast out devils and heal the sick on a regular basis. Teaching became more spontaneous and the meetings exciting. God is starting to mature His saints. It is on-going at this very moment. He doesn't need any help.
The highest purpose of house groups (I don't call them "churches" because zoning codes limit churches in residential areas) is to give the Holy Spirit complete liberty to lead His people. When I stepped out of His way, He begin to move in the lives of the saints. Only the Holy Spirit can mature the saints and mold them into the image of Jesus Christ.
GET OUT OF THE WAY!
Pastors need to step out of the way of the Holy Spirit. Give God back His church. It doesn't mean that there is no guidance from man. We still meet every other Tuesday night to share and break bread. We are in constant contact by phone and e-mail. House group leaders still call to get my viewpoint on a problem and the saints call one another for prayer. I am free now to meet with other Christians from other churches and to evangelize my community. God gave us the five-fold ministry and set qualifications for leadership in 1 Timothy 3:1-13. God still uses humans as under-shepherds to handle more mundane affairs for Him.
CELL GROUPS ARE NOT TRUE HOUSE CHURCHES
Cell groups controlled by a mother church can bring great church growth in numbers, but they cannot mature the saints spiritually, nor can they spark a Holy Spirit revival/harvest. There is no way worldwide revival is going to take place because of cell groups still controlled by human thoughts, plans and strategies. No matter how large a mega-church grows, it is but a drop of water in the ocean. Even the underground churches in mainland China cannot compare to a Holy Spirit revival. Needless to say, many denominations and churches will continue using cell groups during the coming revival, and this will cause the sheep to remain spiritually weak.
God is putting His church together for the end times. He is going to have His true church of over-comers, mature in the image of His son, Jesus Christ. Only God can do it. No human leader can. The lessons are not over, but we need to trust God and step out of His way. I don't have all the answers, but I know that God wants His church back.
I recall that the apostle Paul would come to a town or city and teach and preach for a few months and on one occasion for a year. Then he would go away and not revisit for four or five years or more. When he returned, he found a flourishing church more often than not. The Holy Spirit had taken over. Yes, there remained some problems within the local churches, but it was a matter of growing pains. Human leaders are sometimes necessary, but only those who are sent by God, able to hear from Him and can demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit. Very often, a house church consisted of just husband, wife and children. In the early church, most were uneducated, illiterate and lacked knowledge. But, the church grew by leaps and bounds.
GOD'S MINIMUM STANDARD FOR ALL CHRISTIANS
The Lord Jesus set the minimum standard for all Christians in Mark 16:17-18. He said, "And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands o the sick, and they shall recover."
If you cannot do even the above, how can you mature the saints? Babes in Christ cannot produce mature Christians. Is. 3:4-5, 12. They can only feed spiritual milk to the lambs. Heb. 5:11-14. You can't give what you don't have. Leave it to God and seek the strong meat of the Spirit before it is too late. Shepherds will be held accountable for the sheep given them by God.