Free Will: A (Brief) Theological Discourse

Free Will

The argument often goes a little something like this: “Calvinists can’t believe in free-will because humans are just robots.” But is this a proper understanding of free will? In this article I intend to highlight and explain three points: 1) the freedom of the will pre-fall  2) the freedom of the will post-fall and 3) the logical conclusion of the Reformed understanding (in contrast to that of the Arminian/Traditional understanding)

The Freedom of the Will Pre-fall

Man was created in the image of God. Genesis 1:27 says “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” among the other implications of being made in the image of God, mankind was made with a will that was “good and well-pleasing to God, but yet unstable, so that he might fall from it.” (LBCF 9.2) This will is the primary thing that distinguishes humanity from animals and the rest of creation. By this will Adam and Eve were able to be obedient to their Creator, and ultimately they could have obtained an eternal, perfect standing by their obedience. But you will notice the last phrase of the above quoted portion of the London Baptist Confession, “but yet unstable, so that he might fall from it.” Adam and Eve had the complete, unhindered ability to obey God and all of His commands, but consequently they also had the ability to disobey God– and that is exactly what they did.

For the sake of argumentation, I would like to point out one thing: if Adam and Eve were not created with a will that was “unstable” then they would in that case be nothing more than robots. But God, in His perfect knowledge, created man with a will that was initially pure and appeasing to Him yet was free to rebel against what He had commanded.

Exercising their free will they blatantly disregarded God’s command to not eat of the tree of Good and Evil (Genesis 3:6). Doing so they plunged themselves and all of future humanity into a state of spiritual deadness. They made the most costly mistake that any human could ever make: they rejected God in favor of sin. Immediately after they sinned, Adam and Eve experienced the punishment for their wrong-doing. “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” (Genesis 3:7) As soon as they ate of the fruit their eyes were opened, they knew they were naked and God banished them from the garden. Even amid the fall of mankind there was mercy.

The Freedom of the Will Post-fall

I noted earlier that when Adam and Eve sinned, they plunged all of humanity into a state of spiritual deadness. This is why Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:1 “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.” At this point we must clarify what is meant by the term “free will”. I have no doubt that every evangelical Christian will agree that Adam and Eve were created with a free will, the debate arises when we talk about the state of their will after the fall.
So what do I (and other Reformed believers) mean when we speak of having (or not having) a free will? The London Baptist Confession, the Westminster Confession, Savoy Declaration, and the Philadelphia Confession all state the same thing concerning the state of man’s will. It goes as follows: “Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able by his own strength to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto” (9.3). At this point let’s clear something up. Reformed theology does not teach that after the fall mankind was stripped void of their free will. Rather the proper understanding is stated clearly in the Second Helvetic Confession of Faith,

To be sure, his reason was not taken from him, nor was he deprived of will, and he was not entirely changed into a stone or a tree. But they were so altered and weakened that they no longer can do what they could before the fall. For the understanding is darkened, and the will which was free has become an enslaved will. Now it serves sin, not unwillingly but willingly. And indeed, it is called a will, not an unwill (ing). [Etenim voluntas, non noluntas dicitur.]”

So after the fall man was enslaved to sin. Mankind still has a will, an altered and weakened will. This is evidenced by the fact that even unregenerate people still do good deeds. What sinful man can’t do is save himself. That is the heart of the argument. Free-will Baptists and other Arminian/Arminian-leaning groups embrace (whether explicitly or implicitly) a line of thought that says that man contributes at least something to his salvation. This is known as synergism. The counter-point is known as monergism. Monergism is the line of thought that says that God is the sole contributor to the salvation of mankind. This is the logical conclusion of Ephesians 2:1. As cliché as it is, dead men can not choose.

The Logical Conclusion of the Reformed Understanding (in contrast to that of the Arminian/Traditional understanding)

This may seem like a dark, sad and gloomy concept but seen in the proper light and context, it is actually a very glorious thing. Calvinism is most basically summed up in the acrostic T.U.L.I.P. Because of the fall of Adam, sin’s effect extends to the last particle of man. We are totally depraved.

Due to us being totally depraved and unable to save ourselves God must do the saving. God does this by electing, unconditionally, certain individuals. We see this most clearly in Romans 9:11-12 when Paul recounts the Old Testament story of the birth of Jacob and Esau in order to illustrate the doctrine of divine election. Paul says that this election done before either were born and wasn’t based on their works. This then contradicts the false notion that God looked out into the future to see whether or not certain individuals would choose Christ and then God bases His election on that decision. Because we are totally depraved the election of persons must be unconditional, otherwise salvation would be works-based.

If we are totally depraved, it follows that election must be unconditional. With election being unconditional it then follows that the atonement must be limited. There is a substantial amount of people who claim the title “Calvinist” who hold to what is sometimes known as Amyraldism, or four-point Calvinism (for more on this view you can read this article). If Christ died for all men, but not all men are saved, then did Christ fail? What about if Christ’s death made everyone “savable” (like Amyraldism argues) but still not everyone is saved, did Christ fail? Universalism does not satisfy the Biblical testament because we all know of people who rejected Christ until their last fleeting breath. Amyraldism also doesn’t satisfy because it poses a hypothetical redemption that, given God’s character as revealed in Scripture, is a logical fallacy. It is illogical to think that the God who meticulously and sovereignly orchestrated every single detail of time would suddenly become lax when it comes to salvation. However, the Reformed doctrine of Limited Atonement not only flows flawlessly with the other four points of TULIP, but more importantly it is consistent with the Biblical testament.

It is here that I would like to interject that the term “limited atonement” is not the most helpful term. I believe that most people who disagree with this point of the TULIP do so not because they disagree with what is actually meant, but that they don’t fully understand what is meant because the term is a bit vague. I personally prefer the term definite atonement (others would prefer particular atonement) . Please don’t misunderstand me, “limited” is a very valid and useful term and the atonement is limited in its effect and scope– to the elect. Both Matthew 1:21 and John 10:15 convey the idea that Christ died for a particular people. In Isaiah 53 the prophet speaks of “God’s people” and bearing the sins of “many”. Perhaps the biggest problem that any view of the atonement, aside from Limited Atonement, must address is found in 2 Corinthians 5:21. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Would Christ become sin for people who would never profess His name? I think not! Therefore, the atonement must be limited.

If we are totally depraved and election is unconditional, the atonement is limited then God’s grace must be irresistible. At this point some people contend that Calvinism at this point presents a God who forces humans into salvation. This, however, is not the case. Because of our spiritual deadness we need God to soften our hearts– and that is exactly what Irresistible Grace is. If you remember Saul’s conversion story, you’ll remember just how hard his heart was. He was undeniably opposed to the God of Christianity. But something spectacular happened to him. On his way to Damascus God showed up. After that brief encounter, Saul left a changed man. When a sinner encounters God the only option is change. The Spirit draws those whom the Father has called and who Jesus died for. This is plain Biblical teaching. In John 1:13 we are taught that rebirth is not by “the will of the flesh” with the point being that regeneration is only done by the working of the Spirit.

The key to all of this is recognizing our state and our need for salvation. The purpose of this post is to defend a Biblical understanding of free will, and this point is where this excurses on TULIP comes to a climax. If the understanding that sinful men can “choose” Christ is true, then the opposite is true– a regenerate man could become “unregenerate”. Doesn’t this fly directly in the face of passages that speak of security? Let us now turn our thoughts towards the last letter of the acronym.

As we have seen, the first four points of Calvinism are each links in a chain that logically fit together in order. The last point is Perseverance of the Saints. Perhaps the most explicit text in defense of this doctrine is John 10:28 (for a great expositional sermon on this text, listen to this sermon by my pastor). Believers are secure in the hands of the Father. Nothing, not famine, not tribulation, or distress, nothing at all can separate us from Christ! Because believers are elected in Christ, and Christ purchased the salvation of the elect, the elect are secure! If it were left up to sinful men, not only would men choose to forsake God for the sinful desires of their hearts, they would live their lives daily in rejection of God. We need God to hold us tightly in His hands.

Conclusion

As we have seen, man was created in the image of God which included a will completely free, yet mutable. As a result of this freedom man chose sin over obedience. This choice cursed all of creation and damned every future human soul. It is completely by grace that any human is pulled from the fiery pits of hell and shown mercy! If it were not solely of grace, every human would be destined for hell. Calvinism, in my estimation, presents a robust and thoroughly biblical lens by which to properly understand the doctrine of free will. Free will is intrinsically tied to soteriology, and as such the way you understand one will determine the other. No matter where you fall on the soteriology/free will spectrum, whether you are an Arminian, Calvinist, Molinist or some other -ist, the words of my pastor are profoundly useful: “It is ok to let the tension of Scripture stand.”- Dan Smetana

At the end of the day every believer can give a hearty “amen” to the Psalmist when he says “Salvation belongs to the Lord” (Psalms 3:8).

The Exilic Identity of Believers (Part 2)

In The Exilic Identity of Believers (Part 1) I listed the four reasons that Peter gave concerning why Christians must endure persecution and continue to live as exiles. In part two I want to elaborate on those reasons, and hopefully provide you with the groundwork for a robust theology of living as a Christian in a fallen world.

First, your exilic identity is “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father”. This should give you an immense amount of peace, because the sovereign God, creator and sustainer of the world is not taken by surprise that you are being persecuted, that you are suffering, that you feel misplaced in this world. Rather, it is precisely because of His foreknowledge that you are living in this world. It is not by mistake that Christians endure suffering and persecution in this world. Do you remember Jesus’ words in John 15:18? “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you.” Throughout history believers have been martyred for their faith. Peter, Paul, James, Huss, Tyndale, the list goes on and on. Contrary to what tv “pastors” say, the purpose of the life of the Christian isn’t to go through life without pain. The purpose of the life of a Christian is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 1).

Second, your exilic identity is for “the sanctification of the Spirit”. The Christian life is a life of sanctification. It is a life spent becoming more and more like Christ. Sanctification is a process, not merely a one time event. As you live your life and you battle sin, you are being sanctified by the Spirit. The Spirit is molding you and making you into what God designed you to be, namely, in His image.

Third, your exilic identity is for “obedience to Jesus Christ”. Being obedient to Jesus means that we must forsake the things of the world. It is living a life fully devoted to pursuing holiness and killing sin. Becoming a Christian is more than just a “get out of hell free” card, its a call to obedience and that obedience is holiness.

Last, your exilic state is “for sprinkling with blood”. It is for your purification. The things you endure, by the power of the Spirit, cleanse you. Just like gold is refined by fire, so the Christian is refined by things we endure in this life.

As you wake up every day and embark into a world that hates Christ, remember the words of Paul to Timothy: “Fight the good fight. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (1 Timothy 6:12). The fight is worth it. Your reward is eternal. Jesus is enough.

The Exilic Identity of Believers (Part 1)

It is no secret that Christians feel lost in this sinful world. Often times we go through our day and we feel out of place. Sin is rampant, holiness is scarce. We are seen as “odd” because we wont partake in the folly of the world.

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,  according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.”- 1 Peter 1:1-2 ESV

But in 1 Peter, Peter is writing to Jews who are dispersed throughout the Roman Empire; and are likely under the rule of Nero. They live in a world that is very similar to ours. They are outcasts, misfits, they know that they don’t belong to this world anymore. They live in a time of severe persecution. And though our persecution likely isn’t anywhere near the level of theirs, the principles we draw from Peter’s two letters are nonetheless as valuable to us as they were to them.

Peter opens his letter by giving his readers an identity of hope: those who are elect exiles. That may not sound like an identity you would like to have, because who really wants to be an exile? But its really a term of endearment rather than a negative one. Yes they are exiles, but they are far more than that! They are elect exiles! Without a doubt this wording brought about the memories of the stories that they had heard many times from family members of how their ancestors lived in exile in Egypt and the freedom they finally experienced.

In verse 2 Peter gives his readers four reasons why they must endure the persecution and continue to live as exiles. First, their exile is “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father”. Second it is “for the sanctification of the Spirit”. Third, it is “for obedience to Jesus”. Lastly, it is “for sprinkling with blood”. Your exilic state has a purpose, namely to sanctify you.

If you take anything from 1 Peter 1:1-2  my desire is that you find your identity. You are an elect exile. Purposefully chosen and placed in your specific context to spread the Gospel. Take hope in Christ, who was pierced and died so that you could glorify Him in the world that hates Him.

The Battle For Salvation: A Brief Critique of the Traditionalist’s Statement on Salvation 

THe battle for salvation

Recently the Traditionalist sect of the SBC put forth their own statement of faith, contrasting it against the Calvinist sect. As a Calvinists I disagree with the Traditionalist on several points, and most of our differences don’t hinder our relationship too much. However, there is a very problematic article in the statement. My desire is to address the problem with grace, in hopes that my Traditionalist brothers and sisters will reconsider the severity of this article.

In Article Two, entitled “The Sinfulness of Man”, is written:

We affirm that, because of the fall of Adam, every person inherits a nature and environment inclined toward sin and that every person who is capable of moral action will sin. Each person’s sin alone brings the wrath of a holy God, broken fellowship with Him, ever-worsening selfishness and destructiveness, death, and condemnation to an eternity in hell.

We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned. While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel.

This post presents several very severe doctrinal issues. First, We affirm that, because of the fall of Adam, every person inherits a nature and environment inclined toward sin and that every person who is capable of moral action will sin. Some will say that I’m arguing over semantics, but saying we are “inclined” to sin skirts around the main issue: the deadness of the heart. Paul says we are “dead in our trespasses and sins”. If you are dead, you aren’t “inclined” to not breathing, you actually don’t breathe.

The London Baptist Confession of Faith articulates it well by saying:

They being the root, and by God’s appointment, standing in the room and stead of all mankind, the guilt of the sin was imputed, and corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation, being now conceived in sin, and by nature children of wrath, the servants of sin, the subjects of death, and all other miseries, spiritual, temporal, an eternal, unless the Lord Jesus set them free. (6.3)

When Adam sinned, he plunged all of mankind into death with him. Christians, we are not simply “inclined” to sin, we are born into sin, a state that is utterly abhorrent to God and apart from His saving grace we will continue in sin.

Lastly, We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned. The biggest problem here is that it denies both the Federal Headship of Adam and original sin.

First let’s tackle Federal Headship. What is meant by the term “Federal Headship”? In layman’s terms it simply means that in the Garden of Eden Adam represented us, he stood in our place. We see this most clearly in Romans 5:12-21. Shai Linne said it best when he said “one player commits a foul, the whole team gets penalized”. Adam, as our Federal Head, was our representative; he acted on our behalf. Therefore, when he sinned we all sinned (Romans 5:18,19).

Denying the Federal Headship of Adam has implications concerning the atonement of Christ. If Adam didn’t represent us then Christ wasn’t our representative. If Adam’s guilt wasn’t imputed to us, then Christ’s righteousness isn’t imputed to us. This is exactly what Paul meant when he said “by one man’s disobedience…so by one man’s obedience…” If we follow the Traditionalist’s thought here, and begin with everybody being guilty only by their own sins then logically only their death would satisfy God’s wrath. As you can see, being born guilty in Adam is actually good news! Because we are dead in Adam because of his sin, through Christ’s atonement we are made alive because of Christ’s death!

Now, let’s look at Original Sin. If one denies the Federal Headship of Adam then the logical next step is to deny original sin. Without Original Sin humans are born at worst in a neutral state, and at best in a state of perfection. Article Two states very clearly that the articulators of the document (and the signees as well) believe that humans are born into some sort of innocence until they commit their first sin. This is in direct opposition to Psalm 51:5. How could David say he was “brought forth in iniquity” if he was born innocent?

In conclusion I want to make one final argument, not merely for Federal Headship and Original Sin, but for a robustly Reformed view of Soteriology. The Traditionalist Statement is inconsistent. As the wise saying goes, “you can’t have your cake and eat it too”.

On the one hand the Traditionalist Statement over and over again pushes for the innocence of man, and the freedom and ability of man to choose God, but then states “We affirm that when a person responds in faith to the Gospel, God promises to complete the process of salvation in the believer into eternity.” Salvation is either wholly of God or wholly of man; synergistic salvation is antithetical to Biblical soteriology.

On the other hand, the Calvinistic understanding of salvation presents a coherency. Beginning with the total depravity of man, God is then the initiator of salvation by electing sinners unconditionally. In light of the unconditionality of election, Christ’s atonement is perfectly applied and completed by atoning for the sins of the elect. Because Christ accomplished his mission to save those that the Father chose, the Grace He provides is irresistible. Because God is the initiator of salvation and because His grace is irresistible, the regenerate sinner is secure in Christ and will undoubtedly persevere.
If you are a Traditionalist, I ask that you consider the implications of your statement concerning salvation. This isn’t simply a secondary issue like eschatology, this is the Gospel.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Christians and Hospice Ministry

ChristiansHospice.jpg

If you see my right arm you’ll notice pretty quickly a tattoo. My tattoo says, very simply, “Imago Dei”. Imago Dei is Latin for “the image of God” and is typically used to express the Biblical fact that every single human being who was or ever will be created is created in the image of God and therefore their life is dignified.

This tattoo has a unique meaning to me nowadays though. I’m twenty-five years old and have worked for two separate hospices in North Carolina. Having worked in Hospice, even though just at a support level, has given me a new understanding of the importance of recognizing the Imago Dei of everybody.

You see, hospices exist to give everyone, regardless of their ability to pay, the care and treatment to die peacefully. Nurses work endlessly to alleviate the pain of the patient and to make sure that the family is taken care of. I interact with countless people daily who tell me how thankful they are for hospice because their family member lived their last days to the fullest extent and they died respectfully.

We live in a world absolutely veiled by discrimination because of the fall and it is saddening. But visit, or better yet volunteer at, your local hospice and you’ll see a glimpse of the depth of the Imago Dei.

There is a sweet sense of peace working in a field where you’re making lasting impressions on entire families. Hospice allows me to take the Gospel, Jesus being the remedy for sin-ridden mankind, and share it in practical ways with hurting families. At some point we all have to face the pains of death. Death sucks. The effects of sin suck, but the Gospel heals.

I want to end this post by encouraging you to talk to your local hospice about volunteering. If you’re a pastor, consider leading your congregation to partnering with hospice. Through hospice you’ll have countless opportunities to magnify Christ. Hospice is much more than end of life care. It is changing lives and impacting the community one life at a time, and in my case, it is fueled by a love for the Gospel and a command of Jesus to make disciples. That starts by ministering to broken people in a broken world in a time when they desperately need the loving comfort of the God who created them.

The Hope Of Believers In Death

The first question of the New City Catechism states: “What is our only hope in life and death? That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our savior Jesus Christ.”

What a great hope! But what is that hope rooted in? What is it’s basis? It’s rooted in the resurrection of Christ! In 1 Corinthians 15 the Apostle Paul pens fifty-eight verses explaining and applying the resurrection of Christ. I want to point out three things that I see in these fifty-eight verses that speak to the hope that we have in both our own death and the death of a loved one, if they are a believer. 

First, the Gospel is verified in and by the resurrection of Christ. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (15:22). The Gospel is about bringing dead people to life. When you were dead in your sins (Ephesians 2:1) the Holy Spirit convicted you of your sins, gave you faith and regenerated your heart. You needed a Savior because Adam sinned and plunged all of creation into sin; Jesus is that Savior! But how does this verify the Gospel, you might ask? Because without the resurrection Jesus Christ saves us no more than having a life jacket on next to you saves you from drowning. We can tell people all day long that Christ died for their sins, but if we don’t tell them that Christ rose from the grave it means absolutely nothing! 

Second, the resurrection promises us a new, glorified body. Our bodies are ravished by the effects of sin. Sickness and death are two inescapable effects of Adam’s sin. Our bodies deteriorate, and eventually decompose into the dust from which they came, but not our new glorified body. Our glorified body, free from sin and it’s effects, is not an earthly body but a heavenly one. Paul writes in 15:44 “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” Our new body is “raised in glory” (15:43), just like Jesus. 

Lastly, in the resurrection sin has lost its sting. What does Paul mean by “sting”? 15:56 sheds some light for us. According to Paul the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin (or maybe another way of saying it is “the fuel of sin”) is the Law. The Law of God does not save, rather it condemns. Two observations concerning the Law: 1) The Law is a mirror, revealing our sin to us (Romans 7:7-12). 2) Bondage to the Law “arouses” sinful passions within us. Why is it that when you put a sign up that says “Do Not Touch” we are always tempted to touch it? Because in our sinful and fallen nature we eagerly do contrary to what is commanded. The same is true with going against and breaking God’s Law. As unregenerate people, when we see the Law of God our instinct is to either rely upon it to save us or push against it in utter rebellion. The Law fuels our sinfulness, not because the Law is evil, but because it calls us to a holy life that sinners aren’t interested in living. 

Back to determining what Paul meant by “sting”! He says that the sting of death is sin, but death has now lost its sting (i.e. sin). In the resurrection of Christ, Christ has set us free from sin. Sin no longer has a grasp on those who have turned and repented of their sins. 

In conclusion I want to tie this into the hope that believers have in both their death and the death of loved ones who have professed genuine faith in Christ. Death is not easy to grasp, but the Gospel provides a handrail for us to hold on to. When believers die, they don’t go to hell or purgatory to pay for their sins– Christ paid for their sins already! Rather, they obtain their glorified body. In the death of a believer, sin’s last finger tip slips off of the person. No longer are they affected by the fall. There’s no more weeping, heartache, sickness, or decay. There’s only joyous praise in the realization and collection of their promised reward– Jesus! 
If you are grieving the loss of someone close to you, and they believed in Christ, rest assured in the words of Paul “God, who gives us the victory through Christ”. Christ has obtained the Salvation of all those that the Father commands, and the Spirit seals all those that Jesus purchased redemption for. There is hope, a sweet and joyous hope, and His name is Jesus!

Why You Should Consider A House Church

We live in a day and age where (especially in America) people work more than forty hours just to make ends meet. Then on top of that their kids play sports, or are part of various clubs and societies. Parents come home, turn the tv on and desperately try to zone out and escape reality. Then, on the weekends they get together with friends and family. The kids play together while the adults bemoan about having to go to church tomorrow. I’ve heard it for years while working in a “secular” job—“I don’t have time for church on Sunday, I just want to rest” (ignoring the fact that 3 out of 4 times Saturday was spent with friends and family doing something that was physically exhausting and thus not resting). So as someone who loves the church, I can’t help but lament at the weight the American church has added to the family. “Join a small group!” “Come out and serve!” “Invite your friends (who are really just as beat and weary as you and likely wont come either)!” And I know churches mean well, and that the program system once worked but, frankly, now it doesn’t.

I say all of that to say this: we need something different. Something natural, organic. Something that alleviates families from the burdensome weight of going to church and gives them the freedom found in the Gospel to be the church. Thus, I am highly favorable of the house church. Below are the pros and cons that I see in the house church model.

Pros

  1. Money is not an obstacle. It’s no secret that planting a church costs money. It is also no secret that ministry often times does not provide substantial amounts of money. But with a house church all the incoming money can go straight to missions—local and otherwise. The house church is able to actually help those in need, and not just direct them to another ministry for assistance.
  2. You meet where people are most comfortable (and open): I personally love having people over to hang out! Even as an introvert, it is some of the most fun that I have. People generally are more comfortable and open to going to someone’s house over and against going to a church building. If we’re completely honest with ourselves, it is really awkward to invite others to church. And most of the time it’s a failed attempt.
  3. Hospitality drives the movement: In order for the house church movement to thrive, the people must be hospitable. You aren’t just gathering together with other believers, but with unbelievers and skeptics who are taking a huge step by coming over to a stranger’s home with a bunch of Christians. If people aren’t hospitable, especially the host family, then the chances of being able to speak Gospel life into the lives of unbelievers become all but null and void.
  4. Teaching is more practical and life-giving: Ideally the teaching becomes less structured (i.e. the meeting is less formal and bound to a schedule) and more organic. As people share about their week and the struggles they’ve faced each person has the opportunity to share Biblical truths with others and that in turn leads into the teaching time. The Gospel becomes incredibly freeing when it is taught in a way that speaks directly to the daily life of a believer and not in a lecture-style sermon.
  5. Believers are encouraged to bear the burdens of others: Galatians 6:2 is a clear command to believers to come beside other believers and walk with them in times of trial. It’s not uncommon for people to join a larger church because they can get lost in the crowd. In a house church, because of its small size, it is imperative for everyone to bear the weight of the daily battle with sin.
  6. Neighborhoods are changed from the inside: It’s not uncommon to hear a pastor say “we have a heart for (insert city name)” and while that is a good goal, it’s a rather large goal. The house church says “we have a heart for our neighbors”, which is a more manageable goal. By changing our own neighborhood, we take steps to changing the city as a whole.
  7. It is elder-led and deacon-served, by nature: Servant leadership comes a lot more naturally in a house church. Elders are able to pastor the flock with more precision and diligence because the flock is a lot smaller. Deacons are also able to serve more easily. This is especially true if the house church is specifically focusing on their neighborhood alone. In that case, ministry by the deacons and elders are able to make visits to the sick and hurting in a quick manner because they are literally living among their sheep.
  8. Spiritual gifts can more be more freely expressed: Obviously Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians about operating orderly when it comes to the gifts is still to be adhered to. However, unlike in a traditional church service where there is a time limit for the service, in a house church believers are free to use their gifts in a more natural manner rather than a in a set time frame. For instance, perhaps someone has a word of knowledge, it is not nearly as distracting to speak this word in a house church setting as it would be to stand up and interrupt the pastor in a traditional church setting.
  9. Evangelism becomes more personal: Instead of the pastor giving a blanket offering of salvation, everybody is encouraged to share the Gospel in one way or another with any unbeliever that is present. Further more, nonbelievers are exposed to the Gospel through real-life situations, and not necessarily through a time of teaching when the invitation to repent is a footnote.

Cons

  1. It’s not “traditional”: It’s not traditional, which means its not going to be highly looked upon as a legitimate church. If you do choose to pursue this model, I would warn you of the probable “but that’s just a Bible study, not a real church” comment.
  2. You won’t become super popular: House churches are by nature a small setting. So while you wont become popular, you will be able to pastor more specifically. Your church won’t grow to a large number, and unless the house churches in the house church network decide to come together periodically for a larger meeting, you won’t be standing in front of a large crowd of people, but rather sitting among the sheep you faithfully pastor.
  3. You won’t reach a lot of people (quickly): Every pastor wants to reach a lot of people and to do that you have to invite a lot of people in. But with the house church you simply can’t do that. And I argue that this is actually a good thing. Obviously you still want to reach people, but you do so by training up other elders to host a congregation in their own home and when they do you joyfully give them some of your flock so that there is more room for new people. So while in the first three years of ministry you might not see a growth from 50 people to 300, you might see 6 elders raised up and sent out and that is a much healthier approach to discipleship.
  4. You will likely be bi-vo: While it is possible to be a full-time house church pastor, it probably isn’t the most practical plan. But again, this is good! Being bi-vocational allows you to have genuine friendships with people you meet everyday at work. Instead of being able to disengage from the culture around you, you are forced to be a part of it and to utilize it for the glory of God!

A lot more could be said in favor of this, like discipleship, discipline and communion but for brevity sake I’ll save that for a later post! However, I am becoming a more strong proponent of the house church model every day. I really believe it is one of the healthiest models. I have included a list of practical resources I have personally benefitted from as I have studied this model.

Resources for further study

  1. The House Church Book (Wolfgang Simpson)
  2. Everyday Church (Steve Timmis & Tim Chester)
  3. Total Church (Steve Timmis & Tim Chester)
  4. Housechurch.org
  5. Thecrowdedhouse.org
  6. Christfellowshipkc.org