I’ve been musing on the similarities between the apostolic movement in Australia and the movement that I was a part of in the UK during the 70s and 80s.
Back in ’74 I found myself, at the end of a long period of backsliding, thrust into a new thing that was emerging in the UK – a house church. House churches flourished in the 70s in the UK, born out of the Charismatic Movement and expressing a dissatisfaction with the existing expressions of Christianity and a desire to get back to ‘simple’ church. Those in more traditional structures dismissed them or criticised them as being theologically shallow, dangerously independent or ‘fly by night’ but they never the less flourished and many of the most mature and influential churches and networks in the UK today trace their beginnings back to homechurch.
Alongside this movement however was another important move of God that embraced these pioneers and gave them the foundations they needed in order to stay on track and grow. This was the Restoration Movement, a move of God to restore the foundational ministries of apostles and prophets to the church. Men like Terry Virgo, Bryn Jones, Arthur Wallace and Gerald Coates emerged as fathers and mentors to these fledgling churches and brought stability, orthodoxy and vision. Under their ministry there was a restoration to the church of such concepts as true community, discipleship, the true nature of the Church, the oneness of the Body of Christ, the power of grace, and the true destiny of the Church. It was an exciting time.
Consequently the churches that embraced the apostolic began to grow. Many grew too big to meet in a home but, instead of multiplying into a network of home churches, they followed the conventional wisdom of the day and moved out of their homes into a hired hall. And then out of a hired hall into a purpose built building. Then out of a smaller building into a larger one. And on the way, of course, out of jeans into suits, out of simple acoustic worship into a worship band and out of song sheets into overhead projectors, and out of OHPs into Digital Projectors etc etc….. And, in the process, out of ‘simple’ church into ‘sophisticated’ church – Sunday morning ‘event’ church. I did it myself and loved.
The problem was however, that although we loved the new songs, the bigger crowds and the you-beaut technology, our churches in fact often looked very similar to the ones that many had left in the 60s/70s except that the buildings were newer, the songs more contemporary, the technology more up to date and the preaching more entertaining. Sometimes though, if we were honest, we would find ourselves travelling home from ‘church’ wondering whether we had actually touched the throne of God or simply been caught up in the ‘event’. Bit like the effects of a good concert or movie. The trouble is that it is not easy to see that when you are a musician or preacher, caught up in the program of producing the Sunday morning event (and making sure that it is a better event than the one offered up the road). Sometimes you have to leave the thing to see what it has actually become.
IT’S HAPPENING AGAIN
And that, I believe, is where we are right now. Deja vu. It’s happening again. There is an exodus taking place in the Western nations of people who feel that they have for a long time been mere spectators in a system that is geared towards producing the Sunday event, as if it were meant to be the main expression of church. People who are looking for a simpler, more interactive and more intimate expression of church and are out there experimenting and exploring and thoroughly enjoying it. They face the same dangers and are undergoing the same scrutinies and criticisms as those of the 60s and 70s but they are determined to chart a new course for the church – back to the simplicity that has always marked the most outstanding times of the church’s history.
And herein lies a challenge for the apostolic and prophetic ministries, in Australia and elsewhere. There is a maturity among the leaders in today’s house church movement (or, more accurately, ‘simple church’ movement) that cannot simply be dismissed as simplistic or idealistic. They are part of a prophetic movement that is of God. They are part of what Robert Holmes refers to as the move away from the ‘majestic ships’ to the ‘small ships’. And they are not all led by independent men. Far from it, those I’m aware of are very mindful of the need for the restoration of the apostolic and prophetic ministries to the church. Many of the leaders clearly carry such an anointing themselves. We need to embrace them, build relationships with them, learn from them and bless what God is doing.
As I think about all this I am reminded of the sand castles we built as kids – with a mote around them and a channel for the incoming waves, designed to fill the mote. We’d watch the waves with anticipation to see which one would finally come in far enough to fill the mote and bring down the castle. Some would nearly get there but run out of steam, however one would eventually come in that would take the castle. This didn’t mean that the preceding waves were not important. They represented the tide coming in and meant that the winning wave started its journey from further up the beach.
I think that the Restoration movement in the UK, along with many other movements, has brought the church an enormous way up the beach. We in Australia would not possibly be where we are without them. Because of them we are starting from a higher position, with all the benefit of hindsight and a fuller understanding of what God is doing. I believe that we can at least fill the mote if not be the wave that actually brings the fragile, man-made structures of the church crashing down.
However it is never enough just to bring a thing down even though there are many who seem skilled in simply doing that. It is the Spirit’s intention that a House be built in the earth that will withstand whatever wave comes against it. This House will be built of stones that are active and alive, ordinary people who are listening to the Spirit and engaged in the works of Christ. Such stones are not produced by simply ‘going to church’ and passively sitting under a sermon week after week, no matter how lively and ‘anointed’ such a service may seem. God is calling his people out of such deathly religious activity and to this end he is restoring the five fold ministries to the church, not as ends in themselves but as the agents of Christ who will release His followers, release them out of dead ritual and lead them back to the simplicity that marked the Church’s beginnings. The simplicity of Christ and Christ alone. No gimmicks, no formulas, no finely tuned programs or flash structures. Simply Christ.
It’s a challenge. In order to fulfil such a calling we will have to be willing to question much that we take for granted in church life. I believe however that it is a challenge that we must take up. Otherwise, down the track, we’ll find ourselves back here, going through deja vu once again.