New situation, new (old) ways

If meetings back then were small, informal, and participatory, could that become the norm again for us?

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I’d better begin by explaining the title – ‘New situation, new (old) ways’. We are certainly in a new situation! Covid-19 requires us to avoid large gatherings of people in close proximity, whether at the beach, in the supermarket, at sports events, or in church. It may be a long time before the situation will ease, so this could become the new normal for most of us. In terms of church meetings, many of us have been learning to make do with internet services and small group meetings using Zoom or some other form of online discussion. These are stop-gap measures.

Meeting at home in the New Testament – image from Michael Frost

So what do I mean by ‘New (old) ways’? The original form of church meeting is described very clearly in the New Testament (see this tweet from Michael Frost – I borrowed his image for the article). It was based in people’s homes. What is preventing us making this old form of church life into our ‘new’ form in response to our current circumstances? I suggest two answers – habit and prejudice – or to roll them into one, familiarity. More about that in a moment, but first I’d like to suggest reading through some of the replies to Michael’s tweet. All sides of the debate are pretty well covered.

Familiarity

For most believers in Western and some other contexts, church meetings normally take place in church buildings and have done so for many generations. Closely allied to the church building experience come other expectations, among them a worship band, rituals, a minister or pastor, sitting in rows, a liturgy, hierarchical leadership, and limited participation. Not all of these factors are found in every church, but some mix of them is normal. The danger is that familiarity gives us expectations and blinkers us to alternatives.

Not only does the New Testament remind us that people often met in homes, it also describes what these meetings were like (1 Cor 14:26-40, for example). They were informal, everyone was encouraged to contribute, spiritual gifts were exercised freely, there was a shared meal, and sometimes things got a bit out of hand. So if meetings back then were small, informal, and participatory, could that become the norm again for us?

House church in our time

House church meetings do exist today, they are common in places and times of persecution – China, Iran, India, Pakistan, North Korea to name a few examples. But they are also quite widespread in the USA, the UK, and the Western world in general. Try a Google search for ‘house church uk‘ and you’ll be surprised at what pops up. Bear in mind that most groups of this kind don’t have an internet presence so the hits you see are the tip of a considerable iceberg. Some of the websites represent wide groups or networks of home churches.

Is this ‘the new (old)’? I think it could be, in part. One way of dealing with Covid-19, would be meeting in limited groups in homes or, indeed, in the open air. It’s important to respect government guidelines on gatherings, but even a few people face to face might be better than trying to get by online. Jesus said, ‘Where one or two are gathered in my name, I’ll be right there with them.’

You do not need permission to start a home meeting in the UK. So if anyone in or near Cirencester wants to meet like this or is already doing so, I’d be very interested in exploring the possibilities. Please leave a comment and I’ll be in touch.

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