In the midst of the cacophonic borg-esque library of information and opinion about how to do church, some tensions arise. Among the many tensions that exist in American Christianity (including worship style, theological committment, ecclesiology), one that strikes me as pressing is the house church/institutional church tension. This tension hit the institutional church folks with avian flu force, as seen in the dramatic reaction to Barna's book Revolution. Since then, billions of bytes have been sacrificed to information and misinformation about the institutional church/house church divide.
I know a bunch of house church folks -- I really like them, and I talk with them about life and ministry. I read a lot of emerging church literature (don't confuse emerging church with house church -- they have a parallel existence, but they're not the same. Emerging church is the larger set of folks, both institutional and house church, who are trying to discern if the Holy Spirit is giving birth to a new way of being the church. House church folks fall into the camps of looking for new ways of being church and yearning for Acts-like ways of being the church). I like the questions and the challenges that these folks posit -- they offer tough critiques of the institutional church, and the institutional church needs to listen and to learn.
However, I must be honest -- I also hear a tone of dismissal of the institutional church. Most often I hear that tone when a person moves from waxing rhapsodic about their present house church community to explaining how God brought them to that community. Often what happens is the people stop talking about particular communities of faith, and speak generally of the institutional church as a monolith that is lacking or broken or indeed destructive.
I will not answer these critiques -- for many of them are valid; nor would I relish the implication of invalidating the painful experiences of folks in the past. However, I must let it be known why I love the classic way of being church -- why I believe it is still a faithful way of living out my Christian faith -- why I'm investing my life in a traditional community of faith. That's what I plan to explore, however stumblingly and haltingly, in the next several posts -- and I invite you to comment away freely. Please realize that I intend no implicit critique of house churches -- I believe that house church done right should ultimately foster most of these things. But I do believe that some of the things I focus on will more likely to be found in this day and age in institutional churches.