Review: "15 Theses" of House Churches, Part 2

This is part of an ongoing series examining Wolfgang Simpson's "15 Theses". If you have not done so, you may click here in order to read the first part.

2. Time to change the system.
If we are to assume that the current way we do church is flawed, then Thesis #2 goes without saying. Simpson writes,
In aligning itself to the religious patterns of the day, the historic Orthodox Church after Constantine in the 4th century AD adopted a religious system which was in essence Old Testament, complete with priests, altar, a Christian temple (cathedral), frankincense and a Jewish, synagogue-style worship pattern. ... [U]ntil today nobody has really changed the superstructure. It is about time to do just that.
There is a general consensus among believers with some knowledge of church history that Constantine the Great represents a flawed Christianity. That consensus is somewhat warranted, as Constantine was not someone you would want as pastor of your church. Coming from a pagan background, there is little evidence to say he ever moved beyond a respect for the faith and love for its political expediency. Constantine died a heretic, baptized by an Arian bishop, and practically ruled Christendom.

However, much more criticism is lobbed at Constantine than he deserves, usually by critics of historic Christianity. While there is plenty over which we can disagree with him, many seem to pick up on myths. Simpson is our example of this today, who seems to have adopted a couple of strange notions during his historical studies of this Roman emperor.

In fairness, Simpson does not directly state that Constantine is the cause of what is wrong with Christianity, but the phrase "after Constantine" (and "since Constantine" later on a similar point) leaves the following impressions.

First, Constantine was not the one who first had Christians meet in temples. Christians meet in homes at the beginning, of course, and it was natural for growing fellowships to look for alternative meeting places. When persecution was heavy, those alternatives often included tombs.

However, when there was no Roman persecution, Christians pooled resources and bought larger buildings. Remember, heavy persecution only constituted around seventy years of the early church, certainly less than a hundred, so there were wide gaps of time in which believers actually reestablished themselves in society and began constructing solid congregations. It was these early temples that future persecutors reacquired or simply burned to the ground before Constantine stepped in as Emperor enforcing the edicts of toleration.

Second, Constantine did not institute ecclesiastical orders. Those orders were already in place for the most part. Comparisons between the OT system of worship and NT church hierarchy appear as early as the second century, and a select few among all the bishops of Christendom (the bishops of Apostolic Churches) had prominence over the rest.

While the Roman Catholic Church did not exist at this time in any comparable form (despite the claims of the Vatican), the march in that direction began long before Constantine. He just gave increased opportunity for the means and methods of the early church to go astray.

So what's the system?
Even if Constantine wasn't the start of the downhill trend, that doesn't mean there was no trend. Some contend that while it was not with Constantine that the church "fell," it was with the death of the Apostle John.

Thus, if buildings and teaching elders and worship services are flawed, then they appear to have been flawed for nearly 2,000 years of operation.

The question then becomes this: is it possible that Jesus, in His sovereignty, would allow the church He built to fall to pieces only a few years after He left earth to be its Great High Priest, recovering it twenty centuries later? One wonders about the effectiveness of God's preserving power and the Holy Spirit's indwelling presence if that is the case.

To the contrary: the biblical evidence indicates that the basics of how we "do" church is exactly the model of the Apostles. While some churches and denominations need tweaks and remodeling in places, it seems that Simpon's suggestions are the most unbiblical.

It would be impossible in the space we have remaining to enter into a detailed analysis of the NT model of doing church. For that, I recommend John MacArthur's book, The Master's Plan for the Church. However, here are the points I believe are key in order to have a NT church. A biblical church, home or otherwise, will…
  • …have elders/overseers leading and teaching the fellowship who fit the qualifications Paul lays out (1 Cor 4:2; 1 Tim 3:1–7; 5:17; Tit 1:5–9; 1 Pet 5:5). They rule by unanimity, as opposed to majority vote (see 1 Cor. 1:10; cf. Eph. 4:3; Phil. 1:27; 2:2).

  • …have one particular elder who serves as shepherd and primary teacher, but who walks in the council of the other elders (note the interchangeability of the terms overseer, elder, and shepherd in 1 Pet 5:1–2, 1 Tim 3:7, and Acts 20:17, 28; note that the same phrase for shepherd is used of Christ Hebrew 13:20–21, 1 Pet 2:25, and Eph 5:17 [pastor-teacher]; the overseer of the church is a fine office that takes care of the church, 1 Tim 3:1, 5, 5:17; etc.).

  • …raise up deacons as the fellowship grows who
    1. are men or women who are biblically qualified and

    2. who take on tasks so the elders can focus more on the ministry of the Word (Rom 12:6–8; 1 Cor 4:2; 1 Tim 3:8–13)

  • …regularly observe the Lord’s table (see Acts 2:42–47; 1 Cor 11:26).

  • …baptize new believers (though I disagree with good brethren, of course, that infant baptism is also a requirement of a sound church).

  • …read from and teach the Word of God (see Acts 2:42–47; 2 Tim 3:16–4:5).

  • …engage in prayer for all things (see Acts 2:42–47).

  • …encourage and facilitate Christian service, which includes
    1. individuals using their spiritual gifts inside and outside the church, whenever appropriate, and

    2. individuals loving and training each other in righteousness (John 13:34; Rom 12:6–8; 15:4; Gal 6:2; Heb 10:24; Titus 2).

  • …exult God, not evangelism, fellowship, theological emphasizes, church-growth, or “missional-living,” as its primary purpose for existing. Everything good the church does in this life is secondary to its primary goal of glorifying God above all else.

  • …teach a theology exulting the Gospel as the church’s primary message (see Rom 1:1–6, 16–17; 15:15–16, 19; 16:25; 1 Cor 1:17; et al).

  • …adhere to the fundamentals of the faith,
    1. separating from those individuals, churches, denominations, or organizations who do not have the same convictions in word or in practice (Matt 18:15–17; Rom 12:1–2; 1 Cor 5:9–13; 2 Cor 6:14–7:1; Tit 3:10; 2 The 3; 1 John 2:15–17; 2 John 7–11),

    2. while showing grace to all believers who profess Christ (John 13:35; Rom 12:16; 1 Cor 13:4–7; Col 3:14; Phil 2:2; etc.).
These are the primary and priority items of every church. Obviously, churches of varying sizes may have these items in differing quantities (while ideally not in differing quality). Other issues may come in a particular doctrinal distinctive, such as the church’s convictions concerning spiritual gifts or eschatology; secondary issues over which good Christians can disagree, but issues that do not define a biblical church.

If Simpson wants to have biblical home churches, then he needs to find a way to implement the above items. However, as his rallying cry seems to be
Church as we know it is preventing Church as God wants it,” there is an inherent danger to his model. The question I hope readers will ask when they read such theses is whether they are based on true biblical exegesis.

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