Friday, August 07, 2009

Is House Church an Apostolic Tradition?

Over on the aomin blog I recently posted Tradition and the House Church Movement. Someone stopped by here and left me an interesting pdf link: Is House Church an Apostolic Tradition? by Michael W. Adams.

My comments on the aomin blog are entirely based on the ISI interview with Mr. Atkerson. I imagine Mr. Atkerson has a more nuanced presentation of "tradition" somewhere in written form. The pdf is a book review of a pro-house church book. I'm sure I only scratched the surface with my review of the interview.

21 comments:

The Four Winds said...

Atkerson's two popular books on the house church subject are
House church: Simple, Strategic, Scriptural
and
Ekklesia: To the Roots of Biblical Church Life

I didn't link to those, but they are easy to find on the internet (Amazon, etc.).

Adams' review is from a few years ago (2004 or 2005 I think).

James Swan said...

Thanks again.

New Covenant Bible Church said...

Don't be too hard on poor Steve--he's really a good guy, and a dear brother. He and I founded NTRF (Steve's current ministry) way back in 1990, and we thought through the whole "apostolic tradition" issue together--which, I would argue, is light years away from RC tradition. I've since tempered my view on the role of the house church as "apostolic tradition," and Steve continued with it (as you know, my focus over the years has been on the defense of the gospel, which I view as eminently more important).

Much of the criticism I've read about Steve's view is, I think, misplaced. The notion, for instance, that "we're told *to* baptize but not *how* to baptize" is a bad example since *baptizo* means literally "to immerse." The argument that "we're not told how to do the Lord's Supper, just to do it" ignores Paul's specific recollection in 1 Cor 11 of the tradition that he "received from the Lord" and that he also "passed down" to the Corinthians (vv. 23-26). Paul takes pains to lay out the fact that there is "bread," "supper," and "cup" at the Lord's Table, and this indeed was the practice of the apostolic church (as is evidenced in that same chapter). In fact, the term *deipnon* ("Supper") is never used of a loaf of bread--it's always evening meal.

Is the specific form commanded? Not quite; but I think that's the wrong question to ask. The better question is, did Paul and the early church see theological significance in the practice. That is, in fact, the basis for meeting for church on Sunday. The practice of meeting on Sunday is nowhere commanded, but it was the practice of the apostolic churches (very likely in commemoration of the day of Christ's resurrection), and it was even given a new name ("The Lord's Day"). It's nowhere commanded, but all Scriptural churches do it--and some even go so far as to call it the new the Sabbath! Hence, there is nothing strange about the concept of following an "apostolic tradition" that is not specifically commanded in Scripture--we all do it to some degree. Steve's just arguing for consistency and asking the question *Why* do we do that but not other well-known practices of the apostolic churches that are likewise not commanded. The criterion for determining such a thing is never the bare, naked fact that "they did it so we should too." On the contrary; there were theological reasons the apostolic churches adopted such practices. I think a deeper dive into the *theology* of a NT church practice is no bad thing.

All that aside, I appreciate the good work you do here.

Eric Svendsen

New Covenant Bible Church said...

By the way, while I do not invoke "apostolic tradition" by name, I would argue strongly--and in fact have (see below)--that we as a church have indeed missed some important apostolic theology in our typical handling of the Lord's Table: http://ntrminblog.blogspot.com/2005/04/lords-table-is-not-funeral.html (see also the "Notable Series" on the Lord's Table in the right margin).

James Swan said...

Hi Eric,

Thanks for stopping by my blog. I keep a copy of your book Evangelical Answers on my desk, and I'd like to thank you for such a great resource, as well as all the work you've done over the years. I'm also grateful for your continual hosting of some of my early Luther papers. I don't know if you have stat counter of how many hits they get, but I do see people still using them, and referring to them. You've been a great help to me over the years, both in my studies, and with your books and website.

I had completely forgotten your affiliation with NTRF and the house church movement, my apologies. I did try to be gentle with my comments about Mr. Atkerson's interview. I consider him a brother, and I'm grateful for his work on hyper-Preterism. I would assume he's probably read my article, and I hope he can tell, I did not attack him personally. I think he's an intelligent, articulate man.

My posting of the article stemmed from a conversation I had over dinner with a young man whom I hardly knew, who seemed very swayed by the house church movement. I admit, while talking with him, he had a very good answer for almost every question I asked. I had never heard of the movement, at least among Reformed people. He mentioned Mr. Atkerson, as a leader of the movement. The name rang a bell, and then I recalled Chris Arnzen had interviewed him. Out of respect for the conversation I had with this brother over dinner, I went and listened to the interview.

I found many of Steve's arguments quite plausible, and very pragmatic. I think others would balk more about Steve's understanding of the role of preaching and homiletics in the house church. I simply commented on the one subject that jumped out at me: tradition.

I would be curious how your view and Steve's view are now different, since you used the word "tempered." If you've written on this subject, please drop me a link.

I agree that Steve's view of apostolic tradition is not Rome's understanding of apostolic tradition (and Rome has quite an array of ways of understanding "Tradition"). However, as I stated in the article, I'm always curious to find out what goes in the tradition set. If something is said to be in that set that doesn't appear to me to be revealed in Scripture, my radar goes up. As I've stated already, I did not read any of Steve's written materials on this subject, I only used his interview. Granted, interviews often don't have the depth of argumentation that a written document would. If I've misconstrued Steve's arguments, please express my apologies to him , and he's welcome to write me with any clarifications.

-continued-

James Swan said...

The Sabbath illustration was an excellent example, and one I had not considered. I'm sure the house church advocates have produced many arguments like this. It indeed was a tradition of the early apostolic church to meet on Sunday, and I'd have to agree it was not overtly stated as a command in the New Testament. Are you suggesting that because of a lack of explicit scriptural command, the command for Sunday must be a part of apostolic tradition that must be followed as if it were a command? That is, the Sunday Sabbath is an apostolic mandate for the New Testament church found in tradition? Or, would you argue without an explicit New Testament command, Christians are free to follow what appears to be the practice of the early church, though they are not required to?

I would also ask, how far are we to parrot (for lack of a better word) the early church? Allow me to use some ridiculous arguments: If you were late to a house church prayer meeting, would you need to knock on the door before you entered, in order to follow Peter's practice (Acts 12)? Should anyone in a church have a possession of his own (Acts 4:32)? Should those in the church share everything they have (Acts 4:32)? If you own land or a house, should you sell it and give it to the church, take the money from those sales, and place it at the feet of church leaders? (Acts 4:34-35)? Similarly, wouldn't the sale of your home require you to give all the money to the church (Acts 5:1-11)? I think you get the point, are these descriptions, or prescriptions? I would be more inclined to place "house church" as description, fitting in this same list.

I admit, I haven't done extensive studies on the Sabbath Day. I would lean towards saying the Sabbath day is a recommended prescription, but not a commanded prescription. But again, I haven't studied the issue. The argumentation l have read leads me to believe the early church had theological reasons for worshipping on Sunday, and those theological reasons point to Sunday being a good choice for worship.

My concern with Steve was his appeal, primarily to the passage in 2 Thessalonians, and his insistence that "house church" was in the tradition set. His reasoning seemed to indicate that by following the house church model, one was following an apostolic teaching, yet I don't see this passage at all substantiating this. Perhaps I have a myopic view, and I'm looking to close at a tree and not taking in the forest.

Blessings,
James

Darlene said...

My husband and I have not had a church home for over two years now. We have been to MANY churches in our area and for reasons I will not elaborate on, could not continue attending. Some of our Christian friends have encouraged us to have a house church (meet in our home). Again, for reasons I will not elaborate on, we decided not to go this route. We have even had some 5-point Calvinist friends invite us to their house church, in which they read Calvin's Institutes along with Scripture. Again, as above, we declined.

Hey, for that matter, I can commune with God in my backyard with Bible in hand. :) Why spend time and money driving to a church building? Church, what church. Church is wherever and whatever you make it. :)

Now, as I said on Father Stephen's blog, "Glory to God For All Things," I speak as one of the mad women.

Nevertheless, with all this said, I find myself being intensely drawn to the Orthodox faith for a few years now. It is in the Divine Liturgy that I am taken to heights of joy and keenly aware of being "in Christ." As time goes on, I am increasingly convinced that the Lord is drawing me to the Orthodox faith and away from Protestant Evangelicalism, of which I have been a part for at least 30 yrs. now.

However, I will always be grateful for the love of Holy Scripture that was implanted within me and I will take that along into Holy Orthodoxy.

In Christ's Immeasurable Love,

Darlene

James Swan said...

Hi Darlene,

Thanks for visiting this blog.

In regards to church attendance, I would direct you to Hebrews 10:25. Whatever your reasons were for not attending church, they probably were not enough to bypass the implications of this verse. I'm fairly certain the writer to the Hebrews would not accept, " I can commune with God in my backyard with Bible in hand." Please don't feel obligated to clarify-, it isn't any of my business, and anything other than a health or safety issue isn't an acceptable reason for not being part of a church fellowship. In my church, we have people, for physical or health reasons cannot attend, and we do our best to make sure they are not forgotten as part of our church family.

I have only a cursory knowledge of Orthodoxy. That being said though, the only external means by which I could evaluate the statement, " I am increasingly convinced that the Lord is drawing me to the Orthodox faith and away from Protestant Evangelicalism" is the only standard of absolute certainty: The Sacred Scriptures. That is, if Orthodoxy can line up with this book, then perhaps it's true. On the other hand, I'm tempted to say it doesn't.

You would do better to stick with "I find myself being intensely drawn to the Orthodox faith." Take responsibility for your decision, because if that decision doesn't work out for you, you don't have to worry about making God look bad for something you decided. Sure, this comment is harsh, but keep in mind, very recently on this blog I addressed an acquaintance of mine who's been driving all over the theological ballpark, and has actually wound up in Orthodoxy again, even after he published a book documenting why he left Orthodoxy. Such people need to be responsible for their choices.

Regards,
James

Darlene said...

Hello Mr. Swan,

Thanks so much for respondig to me. When I said I can commune with God in my backyard, I was being facetious. IOW, I don't really believe that. I think it is imperative to be joined to the body of Christ, not just mystically, but in reality as well. Which means the Christian must show up "physically" somewhere in order to worship God. WHICH church is the topic of my concern.

You said in response to my being drawn to the Orthodox faith, "The only external means by which I could evaluate the statement...is the only standard of absolute certainty: The Sacred Scriptures."

Yes, I have heard this said in various different Protestant camps. So, perhaps you can help me with the dilemma I have been facing. We last attended a non-denom. church that practiced and taught things differently than the previous church we had attended, which was a Reformed Baptist church. Prior to that we had attended a Wesleyan/Methodist church which taught quite differently than the Reformed Church. And, the church we originally were members of went from a sect to a full blown cult...the Church of Bible Understanding. There, the leader taught he had discovered the key to true biblical interpretation. We were taught to believe that the other "church" Christians were like the church of Laodicea.

In all of these churches/fellowships, the belief was that we "held to the standard of absolute certainty: Sacred Scriptures." Yet, the sharp differences among each were pronounced. So, in recent yrs. I began wondering which one of these is right, or are they all wrong? And by what criteria could I know the answer to this question?

After leaving our last church, my husband & I sought to find the answer to this question. We attended many churches: Meth., Lutheran MS, Orthodox Pres, Evan. Free, Bible Fellowship, Assem. of God, Pentecostal, Baptist, more than I care to mention. We became very troubled at how divisive and alienated the church truly is. Yet each holds to the standard by which you mentioned, The Sacred Scriptures.

So, how does one settle this precarious dilemma? If you say Scripture, how exactly does that work practically speaking? I mean this in all seriousness. When we attend a particular church, what process do we apply to test if this church is "biblical"? For they all claim that. I thought the "process" (paradigm) that we used in the sect and all the other churches was biblical. Why then such sharp disagreement?

How does one KNOW that they KNOW they are adhering to Sacred Scripture? I look forward to your answers when you have time.

May Christ be glorified in our lives.

Darlene

Matthew Bellisario said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matthew Bellisario said...

So let me get this straight. You go around and shop for a "church" that falls in line with what you think to be worthy. Then if you can't find one you that you like, you just start your own house church like you are one of the apostles or something? It is not a coincidence that one asks, "How does one KNOW that they KNOW they are adhering to Sacred Scripture?" You can know by going to the one Church that gave us the Scriptures, that is how. You don't know by going around shopping at different Protestant "churches" and then if you cant find one you like, you just start your own as if you are starting your own business. This is where I find the whole notion of Scripture Alone so illogical.

New Covenant Bible Church said...

Hi James – I didn’t take your criticism as harsh in any way. You posed some natural concerns about a view that is not popular in reformed circles, and that is how I took it. To answer your questions:

"Are you suggesting that because of a lack of explicit scriptural command, the command for Sunday must be a part of apostolic tradition that must be followed as if it were a command? That is, the Sunday Sabbath is an apostolic mandate for the New Testament church found in tradition? Or, would you argue without an explicit New Testament command, Christians are free to follow what appears to be the practice of the early church, though they are not required to?"

My general approach to such things is as follows: I would examine any church practice in its literary context, and ask myself two questions:

(1) Is this a *widespread* practice; that is to say, do we find it being practiced by multiple churches? Sometimes this is simply a matter of seeing the same practice in different places in Scripture by different churches in different regions and in different times. Other times this might be determined by looking at the way a writer states a practice; that is, he may state in in such a way that it is assumed to be a general and wide practice of the church. An example of this might by Acts 20:7 and 1 Cor 16:1-2, where significance is given to the church gathering together "on the first day of the week." This, coupled with the fact that John gives a title to that day ("the Lord's Day", Rev 1:10) places a stamp of apostolic authority on its significance.

(2) Is it a *unique* practice; that is, was it simply part of the first-century culture, religious culture, or general practice of the day, or does it run against the grain of that culture? Going back to the issue of the church gathering together on Sunday, not only does it run against the grain of the culture (the Jews deemed Saturday as the day of meeting), but it also represents an inconvenience (Sunday was not a day off in the first century).

Following #1 above would eliminate emulating the selling of property in Acts 4 since not only does it not appear to be an ongoing practice, but (as the context of Acts 2 makes clear) the likely reason they did this was to provide for the needs of the 5,000 new converts who were from "every nation under heaven" and in Jerusalem only for the Pentecost festival. Obviously, if these new converts were to learn about their new-found faith in Jesus Christ, they would have to stay in Jerusalem for a while to be taught. Without a means of income during the unexpected prolonged stay, the church would need to provide for these new converts till they left the region.

Following #2 would eliminate knocking on doors or wearing tunics as an apostolic tradition, since clearly this practice was not unique to the church.

(3) Once a practice has made it through the filter of 1 & 2 above, I would then ask "Why" they did this? Why did they meet on Sunday? Why didn't they simply follow the familiar practice of the day by meeting together on the Sabbath? This is where the theology of the practice comes in. What I find in the NT is that Jesus rose from the dead "on the first day of the week," that he first appeared to the disciples on the first day of the week, and that he ascended to the Father on the first day of the week.

This leads me to conclude that the reason they met together on the first day of the week, defying the otherwise expected practice of meeting together on the Sabbath, was very likely Christological--it is the day of the Resurrection. (Continued . . .)

New Covenant Bible Church said...

Now, are Christians free to meet on some other day and disregard Sunday as the official day of meeting? I am inclined to say no. This was clearly an apostolic practice, and the addition of the specialized title ("the Lord's Day") places a canonical seal on it. To disregard this practice is to disregard the apostles teaching (I do not believe "teaching" is confined to express commands--one often teaches by example). There is a theology of Resurrection that underlies meeting on the first day of the week.

Let's now apply these criteria to the Agape meal. Both Jude and Peter (Jd 12; 2 Pet 2:13) make reference to this meal, as does Paul (1 Cor 11). It was both a widespread practice and a unique one. The culture of the day--including the Jewish culture--precluded table fellowship with people of other classes and races, whereas the church broke down those barriers (hence, Paul's strong rebuke to the "haves" in 1 Cor 11 for excluding the "have nots" from their table fellowship at the Lord's Supper). There are not one but three specialized titles involved in this practice (Agape ["the Love Feast"], Kurion Deipnon ["the Lord's Supper"], and Trapezes Kuriou ("the Lord's Table"). All of these refer to a full meal accompanied by a single loaf and a single cup (1 Cor 10:16-17). Yet the contemporary church largely ignores this and in the process misses much of the intended theology of the Supper (see my series on the Lord's Supper for more detail on this theology).

"I admit, I haven't done extensive studies on the Sabbath Day. I would lean towards saying the Sabbath day is a recommended prescription, but not a commanded prescription."

I’m not one who equates the Lord's Day with the Sabbath Day. The former took place on Sunday, the latter on Saturday. There are some who believe that Sunday is the new Christian sabbath, but I do not buy it since I see no place in Scripture that equates the two. My view is that the Sabbath Day was fulfilled by Christ along with the rest of the law. HE is our Sabbath rest in the same way he is our Temple (John 2:19), our Passover (1 Cor 5), and our atoning sacrifice. Entering into the "rest" he alone provides IS keeping the true Sabbath (Col 2:16-17).
(Continued . . . )

New Covenant Bible Church said...

"The argumentation l have read leads me to believe the early church had theological reasons for worshipping on Sunday, and those theological reasons point to Sunday being a good choice for worship."

Agreed, but I would go further and ask what would drive a church to view or practice it differently? This was, after all, a counter-cultural practice of the apostolic church, and one dripping with theological significance. I believe the more we abandon these practices the further we take ourselves from the “practice” of Christian theology.

"My concern with Steve was his appeal, primarily to the passage in 2 Thessalonians, and his insistence that "house church" was in the tradition set. His reasoning seemed to indicate that by following the house church model, one was following an apostolic teaching, yet I don't see this passage at all substantiating this. Perhaps I have a myopic view, and I'm looking to close at a tree and not taking in the forest."

I’m sympathetic with your concern; "house church" per se is not in those passages. I think Steve is arguing more for the general concept of Apostolic Tradition; that is, he is arguing that there was such a thing, and that house church (and other practices) may very well have been part of it. What makes it different from RC tradition is that we do indeed find these practices in the NT (where the RC tradition is conspicuous by its absence). We also find they are widespread practices, and that many of them took of specialized titles. I don't think it's at all unreasonable to assume they may have been part of the apostles' teaching. If we don't confine "teaching" to express commands, then I do not see a problem with this.

Where I might differ from Steve's view is precisely in his focus on the "practice" of house church. I'm not sure I see "house" church as the governing principle, but rather "small" church--one in which the church can encourage one another, partake of a meal together, and do other things that we find is a practice of the NT church. This may very well best be done in the context of the living room, but I'm not a stickler on it. I do think, however, that the further away we get from this setting the more formalized and less like the NT church we become.

Thanks for the opportunity to clarify.

Eric Svendsen

James Swan said...

Hi Darlene,

Your questions and comments intrigued me enough to post my responses in a new blog post. It should be up shortly, dated 8/9/09.

Thanks again for stopping by.

James

James Swan said...

Matthew,

How would one know which is the true church? Orthodoxy or Romanism?

And once you've made that decision, how can you trust your own fallible choice?

Matthew Bellisario said...

James, the Orthodox and Catholic Churches are united together by common belief of the Sacraments, apostolic succession, and the priesthood. In that much we are a part of the same Church. As far as the Protestants go, they are not a part of that "Church" because they reject these core principles in which the Church is able to liturgically function. Christ is not present in your liturgical functions. In referring to Protestant Churches the Catholic Church teaches,

"According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery[19] cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called “Churches” in the proper sense[20]. "

William Cardinal Levada
Prefect

As far as choosing the fullness of faith, to me that is a no-brainer. Without unity to the Chair of Peter there is no unity in doctrine. We can see that plainly because even the Orthodox have given in on the use of contraception in recent years, just like the Protestants. They are now trying to rope that back in line if you read the news. The Catholic Church has never wavered in her moral beliefs.

I would just love for one of the "Reformed" apologists to finally take up a challenge on the teaching of contraception one day instead of running from it. I have posted numerous times on it on my blog and not once has it been challenged. It is a fact that all Protestants condemned it before the 1930's using Scripture as the teaching, and now you all reject it. How interesting indeed.

James Swan said...

Eric,

Thanks for your detailed clarifications and answers to my questions. I'm going to take some time to digest what you wrote, as I've not thought through some of what you brought up before. I especially appreciate your clarification as to the difference between your view and Steve's.

Thanks also for stopping by this blog- I miss the old Areopagus and Heavenly Realm. I learned quite a bit from you and others while there.

Blessings,
James

James Swan said...

the Orthodox and Catholic Churches are united together by common belief of the Sacraments, apostolic succession, and the priesthood. In that much we are a part of the same Church.

Without unity to the Chair of Peter there is no unity in doctrine.

Ah, well give with one hand, take away with the other. It was good while it lasted.

Matthew Bellisario said...

James wrote, "Ah, well give with one hand, take away with the other. It was good while it lasted."

What are you talking about? Please explain your statement. Did you red my writing in the proper context?

Dozie said...

“Should anyone in a church have a possession of his own (Acts 4:32)? Should those in the church share everything they have (Acts 4:32)? If you own land or a house, should you sell it and give it to the church, take the money from those sales, and place it at the feet of church leaders? (Acts 4:34-35)? Similarly, wouldn't the sale of your home require you to give all the money to the church (Acts 5:1-11)?”

This presentation found here http://catholicaudio.blogspot.com/2007/12/catholic-vs-protestant-debates.html, (see Thursday Night, Third Affirmative by Dr. Daniel Callam -towards the end) may be helpful to you in understanding how the difficult passages you cite are lived out in the Church of Christ. The four-night presentations will provide good introduction to Catholicism.