Pssst… There Are No Walls!

People often ask me how I can encourage a group of believers who have spilled out of a religious institution one week and then go to one of those institutions the next week to do a seminar or consult with their leadership. Most times the question is an honest curiosity, but some have questioned whether I’m prostituting my gift of gab to make money from larger groups even if I don’t embrace the way they do things.

First, it would not be true that God provides for us better through larger groups than small ones. Very often the opposite is true and sometimes neither of them are able to help us with what it really takes to get me there. Secondly, I don’t accept an invitation to any group that doesn’t have some familiarity with the passions God has placed on my heart. If I’m in a more structured setting, it is because one of the things we’re talking is how the conformity of an institution easily distorts our perception of God’s working. Finally, I find people passionate to know God and his reality in all kinds of settings and if I sense God wants to be with them, I’ll go. If I’m only with people who agree with me about everything, there would be no value in my going.

I really don’t have a strategy that determines where I go. With each invitation Sara and I pray to see if this is something Father wants us to say yes to and follow whatever growing conviction he puts on our heart. Mostly that works out extraordinarily well, but I wouldn’t want you to think we always get that right I’ve been in some places where I just knew after a few moments that I didn’t belong and had missed his leading. But that’s been as true of alternative groups as it has been of traditional congregations themselves.

I guess I’m finding my perception of Jesus’ church to not be as simple as saying it has to be in a home and all groups who meet in a building are by that fact disobeying God. While I think a home is most conducive to the life of Jesus’ family, who I am to reject others who see it differently? What is most important to me is that folks I spend time with deeply want God’s life and they are allowing him to change them over time to fit with the way Father works. I’m never comfortable in a conversation drawing great distinctions between house church (HC) and the institutional church (IC), as if one is totally Godly and the other totally in bondage. It just isn’t that simple. I am convinced that we make such distinctions so that we can claim to belong to the ‘right’ group, but that Jesus has no such compulsion. He lives alongside people wherever he is allowed access and seeks to draw them into his way of seeing things.

Thus I don’t get dragged into a discussion of a church without walls being better than a church with walls. In fact, I’m convinced that from God’s perspective there are no walls, even if people think they are. Jesus’ church cannot be walled in by any human effort and acting as if it is disconnects me with his reality. I have also been to so many different groups of people living out the reality of their life in Christ and the expressions of church life that produces are vast and diverse. Yes, there are similar priorities in all of them, but how they live that out in their meetings and relationships can take on vastly different forms. I want to embrace all the ways in which God works, not serve any one expression to the loss of others.

On an email list I host at Lifestream, one of our contributors was talking about their own frustration trying to find the right model for church involvement. They had left the institutional forms years before, finding more a detriment to what God put on their heart than a help to it. As they looked for other forms, they never seemed to find something that fit. They went through incredible doubt and faced hardships, thinking they were all alone. However, during this time their home had become a gathering place for a lot of young people and in the naturalness of those relationships people were coming to Christ and learning how to walk in his ways. One day God brought that all together for them as he was struggling over what church life should look like for his family:

I was puzzling over the coming year and asked the young lady who has been staying with us how she and the others see my home, She is a First Nations (North American Indian) young woman who I had the joy of seeing come to faith in my living room shortly after we moved here. She said, “It’s home. I and some of the others have never really had a family home and now we do. This is the only place that I feel at home and part of a family.”

At first I wondered at that. I guess I was hoping for something more profound. Foolish me! What is more profound that being forged into a real family? Here it is happening under my own roof right in front of me. In the midst of all the horror and pain (we experienced for a) number of years, what had Father been doing? Making a Family. Nothing more. How profound and wonderful. We have wept many tears, felt enormous pain and struggled with so much and we are so blessed!

There are no walls in this incredible family. It can look like a hundred things in various places around the world. I simply refuse to live like there are walls, even with those who try to define it that way. And I certainly won’t feel superior to them, because I used think there were walls too!

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10 Comments
  1. Neil Riley March 7, 2005 at 12:02 pm

    I like the balance of this response. It has always been a challenge to ignore or step over the walls that fellow believers in the institutional church focus on. It has been as much of a challenge not to hide behind our own HC ones. While going through the Purpose Driven Life with a group last year, I was confronted with this afresh. The tension I felt was resolved by seeing afresh that, first and foremost, we were called to be family because we had the same father and older brother. In the same way that there was a natural affinity and fellowship amongst my own brothers whom I didn’t see for months on end, there could be that closeness amongst our spiritual family whom we may not see for months on end but with whom there was always open-hearted fellowship that picked up where it left off. I have found this with people both in and out of the institutional church and they are the ones that Dad has linked me to in his body, the church.

  2. Neil Riley March 7, 2005 at 3:02 pm

    I like the balance of this response. It has always been a challenge to ignore or step over the walls that fellow believers in the institutional church focus on. It has been as much of a challenge not to hide behind our own HC ones. While going through the Purpose Driven Life with a group last year, I was confronted with this afresh. The tension I felt was resolved by seeing afresh that, first and foremost, we were called to be family because we had the same father and older brother. In the same way that there was a natural affinity and fellowship amongst my own brothers whom I didn’t see for months on end, there could be that closeness amongst our spiritual family whom we may not see for months on end but with whom there was always open-hearted fellowship that picked up where it left off. I have found this with people both in and out of the institutional church and they are the ones that Dad has linked me to in his body, the church.

  3. Stan Henderson March 8, 2005 at 9:23 am

    Amen! Amen! We have gone back into a institutional church, and many of our Christian friends thought we were crazy, but by going back to a institutional church, the Lord has been breaking down many attitudes in our heart that caused us to think we were better then those in the institutional church because we saw all of the traps. As those attitudes are being broken, we are seeing a new freedom come our lives to love our Father and other people. We don’t know how long we will be in an institional church, but right now it is definitely the Lord. I also very much appreciate your balance.

  4. Stan Henderson March 8, 2005 at 12:23 pm

    Amen! Amen! We have gone back into a institutional church, and many of our Christian friends thought we were crazy, but by going back to a institutional church, the Lord has been breaking down many attitudes in our heart that caused us to think we were better then those in the institutional church because we saw all of the traps. As those attitudes are being broken, we are seeing a new freedom come our lives to love our Father and other people. We don’t know how long we will be in an institional church, but right now it is definitely the Lord. I also very much appreciate your balance.

  5. Matthew Bowman March 9, 2005 at 11:37 am

    Thanks for this balanced perspective, Wayne. I have found increasingly in my conversations with other Christians lately that it takes extra effort to help them understand that I am not saying people who meet regularly in a building with someone paid to talk to them are wrong or evil. I merely don’t buy the myth that those institutional trappings are somehow necessary for us to be the church. No walls…amen!

  6. Matthew Bowman March 9, 2005 at 2:37 pm

    Thanks for this balanced perspective, Wayne. I have found increasingly in my conversations with other Christians lately that it takes extra effort to help them understand that I am not saying people who meet regularly in a building with someone paid to talk to them are wrong or evil. I merely don’t buy the myth that those institutional trappings are somehow necessary for us to be the church. No walls…amen!

  7. Steve March 10, 2005 at 3:27 pm

    Wayne,

    A part of me, the part that is still smarting from the abuse, says NO, they are dead wrong and I refuse to ever accept them as legitimant ever again and in a sense I won’t, as a covering that I must be under. But another part of me, the part where the Lord of All dwells, the Prince of Peace, is gently showing me to get over it and be willing to be as much of a positive influence on them, when possible, as I wish to be on those who might not believe because of the abuses and manipulations exerted from behind those walls.

    There are still many memories of of the abuses. I havn’t been out that long but I believe that I am healing in those sore spots. Sometimes I still have knee jerk reaction when someone touches me there but I have a very effective Physician who already made me whole. I just have to stay out of the way while He reshapes my mind.

    It seems as though there is a lot of mixture of law and grace in churches where an ethics gospel is being preached. When I was still in church, I used to hope that the we would branch out more over the walls. Maybe Father wishes to "branch in" more with the perfect law of liberty spoken in love and acceptance. In any regard the branches will grow in all directions as the Vine gives them life.

  8. Steve March 10, 2005 at 3:31 pm

    Wayne,

    After finishing the last comment, I realized how well you did in "branching in" with me. Thanks

    😉

  9. Steve March 10, 2005 at 6:27 pm

    Wayne,

    A part of me, the part that is still smarting from the abuse, says NO, they are dead wrong and I refuse to ever accept them as legitimant ever again and in a sense I won’t, as a covering that I must be under. But another part of me, the part where the Lord of All dwells, the Prince of Peace, is gently showing me to get over it and be willing to be as much of a positive influence on them, when possible, as I wish to be on those who might not believe because of the abuses and manipulations exerted from behind those walls.

    There are still many memories of of the abuses. I havn’t been out that long but I believe that I am healing in those sore spots. Sometimes I still have knee jerk reaction when someone touches me there but I have a very effective Physician who already made me whole. I just have to stay out of the way while He reshapes my mind.

    It seems as though there is a lot of mixture of law and grace in churches where an ethics gospel is being preached. When I was still in church, I used to hope that the we would branch out more over the walls. Maybe Father wishes to "branch in" more with the perfect law of liberty spoken in love and acceptance. In any regard the branches will grow in all directions as the Vine gives them life.

  10. Steve March 10, 2005 at 6:31 pm

    Wayne,

    After finishing the last comment, I realized how well you did in "branching in" with me. Thanks

    😉

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