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Apostolic Christianity

Jesus by Curtis Perry

The church in the West is at a crossroads. Beset on every side by dangers from the outside (political and social pressure) and dangers on the inside (immorality, legalism, heresy, etc.), it’s become increasingly clear that we cannot remain where we are and be faithful to Jesus, let alone be effective. If you’re the person arguing that the church in the West needs to stay the same, you are in a small minority.

But how do we change? And what kind of change are we looking for? The discussion typically focuses on two alternatives: A return to more conservative, evangelical Christianity typified by Billy Graham (but possibly with a more Charismatic element) or a move to liberal Christianity typified by Rob Bell or Jim Wallis that is often more acceptable to society as a whole.  Frank Viola and others have argued that there is a third way, focused solely on the person of Jesus that leaves the left and right debate behind.

And while I think there is a trap in some of the left vs. right thinking, I would like to argue that there is actually another way available to us. Instead of going left, right, or beyond, we have the option of going back. Going back, you ask? Go back to what? The answer is to go back to the original design Jesus has for His church. The design is not complicated, it is not hidden, but it is often neglected.  When we return to Christ and His original design for His church, powerful things begin to happen, both in our lives and the lives of those around us.

The good news is this design isn’t lost to history or buried in some Roman catacomb beneath a thousand years worth of rubble- It’s found on the pages of a book in nearly everyone’s home and latent within the hearts of those who believe in Jesus. The answer God has for us is to go back to the movement Jesus started when He was raised from dead. This design for God’s church is what I call “apostolic Christianity.” Apostolic Christianity is Christianity lived out on the earth in the same spirit as the first century church.

This is the goal- to live out a kind of Christianity the apostles Peter and Paul would recognize where they to meet us. We can never completely return to the first century, but we can be captured by the same Spirit that captured the first followers of Jesus.  The culture of our churches should reflect the same vision and values that the church in the book of Acts held.

You should note that apostolic Christianity is not about a person or even a spiritual gift.  It’s about a people radically set apart as belonging to God, living sent lives under the power of the Holy Spirit. The goal of apostolic Christianity is to become a church “attain[ing] to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).  It’s the church becoming a bride who has “made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7) and presented to Christ “without spot or wrinkle” (Ephesians 5:27). It’s this type of Christianity that Jude references when he says to his readers “I found it necessary to…appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

It’s this type of Christianity that the Earth longs to see again.  Today, I’m calling believers to do what Jude admonished us all to do: live and love and serve and pray in a manner that is not just Christian discipline but contends for the apostolic faith.  We must wrestle for the true faith handed down to the apostles to emerge again in our day. We must believe that apostolic Christianity is available to us and walk in faith to see it restored.

Will you join me?

Apostolic Christianity Series

Photo Credit: Jesus by Curtis Perry
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House Church Books

It’s a conversation that happens in house church circles and between those with some experience with house churches and the house church-curious.  “What books on house churches would you reccommend?” The conversation then turns to what people have read and what people haven’t, the strengths of one approach over another, etc.

I originally started this post just as a resource to give people a jump start on their understanding of house churches. But as I began writing about the books that have been meaningful to me, I found that the books I was recommending were different than where most people start the conversation. You’ll notice that this is a global list, three of the five authors aren’t Americans and two of the five don’t speak English as their primary language.  What I love about that, is while these books are applicable to our context, they allow us to sit at the feet of others who aren’t trapped by our particular world-view.  They allow us to look at church and Scripture through a different lens than we do here in America. And I think that that is helpful.

So, submitted for your approval and in no particular order, the five best books on house churches are:

Houses that Change the World by Wolfgang Simson

This was the original house church book for me.  A leader I respected in the church we were part of said “If you want to understand what God is doing in our midst, you have to read ‘Houses that Change the World.'” I picked it up. I didn’t like it. I wrestled with every idea in the book. Eventually it pinned me.  It begins with Wolfgang’s 15 Theses (worth the price of the book, btw) that challenge the state of the current church and then moves to a sweeping vision of why and how we do church in homes. What I love about Houses is that it’s written by a German who saw God raise up a multiplying network of house churches in India.  It’s truly a global, apostolic book that challenges “Church As We Know It.” If you check out one book on this list, this is the one I recommend.

Organic Church by Neil Cole

Neil Cole, founder of CMA Resources and Awakening Chapel, has written a book about organic churches that is extremely helpful. He tells the stories of his early days starting Awakening Chapel and the journey the Lord has taken him on multiplying disciples and churches throughout the world. Organic Church is extremely helpful because it places a heavy emphasis on the power of Jesus in the life of believers as the driving force in organic house churches.  Many of the principles are based on church multiplication principles that originated in other countries like India and China, but are fleshed out in an American context.  If you want to know what the multiplication of churches looks like in America, this is a great place to start. (Also, not exactly about house churches, but a great help in understanding context is Ordinary Hero and Church 3.0., also by Neil Cole.)

Viral Jesus by Ross Rodhe

Long-time readers of the blog may recognize Viral Jesus because I reviewed this book several years ago and gave a copy of the book away. This book is an absolutely fantastic invitation into a lifestyle centered around the mission of Jesus, especially how he describes it in Luke 10.  Ross shares multiple stories about planting house churches in a Western context.  All of these stories have Ross or one of his friends following Luke 10 and sharing the Gospel with men and women of peace. Miracles happen, people come to Jesus, and new organic house churches are started as a result.  I highly recommend this book because of its strong emphasis on the church growing through apostolic mission.

The Global House Church Movement by Rad Zdero

This may be the book most unfamiliar to my readers, but it is a gem. Zdero crammed a ton of good theology and practice into a short space, which makes for page after page of profound insights. This book was foundational to me at a time when I was beginning to think about planting my first house church and answers questions with wisdom I haven’t seen anywhere else.  The real asset of this book is its global perspective. It’s not limited by our normal western grievances with “Church As We  Know It,” but really pulls the reader into an understanding of what God has done and is doing around the world.  If you’re looking to plant a Kingdom house church and not just an Americanized-version of house church, this is a great book to pick up.

The Heavenly Man by Brother Yun and Paul Hattaway

Okay, so this one is not technically a house church book, but I included it because it captures the heart of what I believe the house church movement could and should become. It’s the story of Brother Yun, a Chinese leader in the underground house church movement. It’s basically his testimony of following Jesus, preaching the Gospel, starting churches, and enduring persecution. All of this happens in the context of churches that meet in homes and send out others to do the same.  The book is simultaneously filled with miracles and heartbreak. You will be inspired by the stories of believers who have sacrificed much to follow Jesus and challenged to see your church embrace many of the realities described here. While this book was the Christian Book of the Year in 2003, many people read it as an inspiring story and not as a life to imitate. Don’t make the same mistake!

You’ll probably realize that I left some notable titles off. Pagan Christianity, Reimagining Church, and The Rabbit and the Elephant are just a few.  Some of these I haven’t read and others are good books, but much of their content will be found in these books as well.  No matter what our jumping on point is, moving towards a more organic, missional, apostolic form of church that results in Christ-formed followers is the goal.

Lastly, remember, I don’t recommend everything I recommend

Now, what about you? Which books have been helpful in your journey towards an organic, missional, apostolic church?

Note: The links to these books are part of my Amazon Store. While my opinions are mine and offered freely, I do stand to benefit from the purchase of these books through these links.

One Size Does Not Fit All: Why We Have Different Sizes of Meetings

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Our spiritual family has been meeting as house churches for the last seven years. When we started our first house church here in Iowa, we had one size of meeting: the kind that would fit into my living room.  Now, this was more out of reaction than health.  We were scared of any meeting larger than that and didn’t value anything smaller than that. Along the way we learned that one size of meeting doesn’t meet every need and we began meeting in different ways to accomplish different things. 

 
What can happen in a group of two or three people that cannot happen in a group of fifteen? A lot, actually. And as we began to understand this, we started meeting in ways that better allowed life to flow in our churches.  These different types of meetings helped us to grow in depth as disciples, in numbers, and in the number of house churches that are part of our network.  Because there weren’t many resources* like this when I started, I thought it might be helpful to remind our network of why we meet in the sizes we do and pass along what we’ve learned to others just getting started in organic churches.
 
Two or Three
 
The Bible talks regularly about the power of two or three people gathered around a common purpose.  In fact Jesus is so explicit about His intent to meet people when two or three people gather that many have assumed that two or three people is all that is needed for a church to exist. Two or three people have greater authority for dealing with sin, can discern the voice of God, and more easily hold people accountable (Matthew 18:15-17, 2 Corinthians 13:1, 1 Timothy 5:19).  
 
As a result, we’ve taken to meeting in groups of two and three for bible reading, accountability, and mission.  We’ve largely copied our ideas about meeting together in this size from Neil Cole’s book Ordinary Hero.  Two or three people meet each week to discuss large portions of the Bible that they’ve read, ask each other accountability questions, and pray for lost friends they are hoping to reach.  When our two and three groups are healthy, the house church that the two and three is part of is always stronger. 
 
Ten to Fifteen
 
Ten to fifteen people is the top size of our house churches. We had always been meeting in this size of group, largely based out of our conviction that churches in the New Testament met in homes and were extensions of a believer’s relational network (1 Corinthians 16:19, Romans 16:3-5).  This allowed the churches to be simple and reproducible.  It also allowed us to practice many of the “one another” passages in scripture that meeting in a larger church setting made impractical. Oddly enough, modern psychology insists 15 is the highest number of people you can know intimately and we believe this has profound implications for discipleship and church.
 
Because we believe these things, we meet weekly as a church for what we call our “house church meeting.” Those who follow Jesus and come regularly we identify as our spiritual family.  This is where broader sharing, teaching, singing, functioning of the spiritual gifts, and working together towards mission happens.  Our goal is for a gathering that resembles what Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 14:26-33.  This is important to mention because portions of the house church movement here in the United States do not see value in intentional meetings.  But Scripture calls us to regularly gather for the building up of other Christians in our relational network (Hebrews 10:23-25) in a way that (I believe) reflects 1 Corinthians 14:26-33.  
 
Twenty or More
 
When we talk about twenty or more people gathering together, we are typically talking about more than one house church gathering in a place. I see meetings of this size several times throughout the book of Acts: (Acts 14:26-28, Acts 20:7-12, Acts 21:4-6). Paul and the resurrected Christ would often ask letters to be read to churches the encompassed entire cities that obviously would not fit in individual homes (Colossians 4:16, Revelation 2:1, 2:8, 2:12, 2:18, etc.).
 
Because we see this principle in the Bible, we regularly meet as a family of house churches. When we were smaller, this could still happen in one of the larger houses of those that met with us.  But as our house churches have grown, we’ve had to move out of homes and rent a dedicated space to contain the activity.  We call this meeting our All House Church Meeting and invite the house churches that are part of our extended family to join us. From my understanding of scripture, this type of meeting was less focused on teaching and intimacy, but more focused on imparting vision and revelation that the Lord had given apostolic and prophetic individuals for the benefit of the larger body.  This “big picture vision” informs, strengthens, and supports the more day to day work that is ongoing in the lives of the individual house churches.  
 
One specific thing I want to note about this meeting is that we have it once a month or less.  The reason I’m so specific about that is I want to protect us from our natural American tendency to value bigger things over smaller.  Because church as we knew it met regularly, there is a natural temptation to want these big meetings to be the center of our Christian experience where our teaching, community, intimacy, and even identity can be found.  The way we regularly fight this is by keeping these meetings out of our weekly routine.
 
Spontaneity
 
You could be tempted to take away from all of this that our house church network is artificially crafted and not organic at all.  Quite the contrary.  At the basis of all of this is a life lived among dedicated brothers and sisters whose lives intersect in a multitude of ways day in and day out. We call each other, the wives watch each others’ kids during the week, the men gather to talk about Jesus and mission or volunteer for projects outside of the church.  The kids get together and play.  Sometimes our kids’ birthday parties become unofficial all house church meetings. The point is, the life of Jesus that flows through us isn’t limited to our meetings.  If all of the meetings where shut down, much of this life and the encouragement and brotherhood would continue.
 
I remember meeting with a group of folks from an outlying area once who were interested in house churches.  We briefly gave them a description of life similar to what you’ve read, but as we began to talk our conversation shifted from meetings to Jesus, life on life discipleship, and living on mission.  We pointed out to our new friends that these things were the essence of what God was calling us to an I would say the same thing to you.  These meetings I’ve described above facilitate that life and help it grow and mature.  
 
Conclusion
 
As you’ve read, our house church network meets in different sizes for different purposes.  The end goal is that Jesus is glorified through committed relationships that lift up the name of Jesus to others.  I’d love to know if the group sizes I’ve discussed here resonate with you.  Have you seen the effectiveness of these size of groups to conduct the life of Jesus? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. 

 

Photo Credit: IMG_8917 by openg
 
*Much of this was in large part thanks to some information and training we received from CMA Resources and Neil Cole. If you’re looking for some more thoughts on this subject, I highly recommend Church 3.0 by Neil Cole.

 

The Frozen Church is Thawing

A month ago, I had a dream.

In that dream I was walking through the downtown, urban section of a city. I came across a storefront church.  It was bustling with young, urban attenders that were very much of the hipster variety.  Everything about this church had the buzz of “cool.”

After hanging around for a while with people I didn’t know, I found out that the person I was hanging with invited me to preach but I was totally unaware. The leader of this church had asked me to preach on servanthood, but he was wanting a message on servanthood so that he would have an easier time recruiting people to serve the ministries of this church. He had no interest in servanthood as a value in the Kingdom.

From the front of the building, we walked into the sanctuary with the pastor and his assistant.  The sanctuary was actually a stadium-style ice rink.  The pastor asked me to sit in the highest row, which is where he spoke from, but the worship of the meeting actually took place at the bottom of the stadium out on the ice. As the worship progressed, I began to realize that this church’s worship was a very detailed production/show and that everyone was dressed very formally. There was an orchestra, dancers and because an ice rink was central to this church, they even had ice skaters. Somehow I had ended up in dressed in a suit but had no shoes and was feeling very awkward about it.

Then suddenly towards the end of the “worship time” it became clear that the ice rink was melting.  But it wasn’t just the ice in the rink at the center of the stadium that was melting, but the whole building. Unbeknownst to me the entire building was made of ice and was beginning to melt. The stadium seats, the floors, and even the walls were melting and cracking.  It disrupted the whole service and we could not continue.  I woke up with this phrase on my spirit: “The frozen church is melting.”

Interpretation: I believe that this is a warning to the church, particularly in the West.  The church built on entertainment, cultural relativity, and business values will begin to come undone.  This will be in large part due to “atmospheric change” that the church in the West will find itself in.  I’m unclear about whether this will come from greater hostility toward the church from society in general or a greater intensity brought to bear on the church by the Lord Himself, resulting in more fervency in the body and a rejection of these values.  But one thing is clear: a Christian organization built on man’s organizational values that feeds a consumer mentality in the body of Christ in order to further the success of one or two leaders will be a recipe for a “melting church.”

Hebrews 12:26-27: “At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.”

Application: The call then, based on all of this, is to repent.  We need to repent of those areas where we’ve been working for our fulfillment and notoriety instead of the Lord’s glory and the advancement of the Gospel.  We need to reject human leadership values and church structures based on marketing principles and not God’s word, even if you can vaguely construe Scripture to justify your approach.  Go back and do the things you did at first when Jesus was your first love.  Begin again to follow Jesus, listen to His voice, and look to Him and His word for how you and your church can begin to follow Him based on what He values.

Now: Do you see anything in the interpretation or application of the dream that I missed? If you do, please feel free to leave a comment in the comment section below.

Photo Credit: Flying Through a Crack in the Ice by NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Redefining Spirituality: Seven Benchmarks for a Discipling Culture

Christianity in the West has settled for something significantly lower than a culture of discipleship.  Our “spiritual” members are typically those who have consistently read their Bible and maintained a devotional private life.  The most honored among us are those who have brought their spiritual life to bare on one area of their public life, be it their job or their friends.  The point is, much of this falls significantly short of what Jesus intended for His church.

One of the sayings of CMA, an organic church planting fellowship I’ve learned a lot from is “we need to lower the bar on what it means to be a church and raise the bar of what it means to be a disciple.”  They believe that if church is simple enough for anyone to participate in it and everyone is a committed disciple, churches will begin to be established quickly and repeatedly.  My question then is, how high should we raise the bar?  The following is my list of seven benchmarks for discipleship:

  1. Intimacy with Jesus- Every spiritual reality in the Kingdom of God is born out of a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus.  When a person is truly born into the Kingdom, they are immediately grafted in to a real relationship with a resurrected Lord.  But we never graduate beyond that relationship.  There is no level of spiritual maturity where listening, loving, and abiding becomes something you did when you were young in the Lord.  Cultivating this ongoing relationship with Jesus becomes the basis for every other Kingdom activity we do. (Matthew 22:34-40, John 14:15, John 15:1-10)
  2. Ability to Follow the Holy Spirit- Jesus expected the ministry of His Son to be carried on through those who followed Him.  Jesus-style ministry did not stop when He ascended to Heaven.  It continued on in the lives of those who had followed Him and in the lives of those who would come to believe in their testimony.  The Holy Spirit led the expansion of the church, the direction of its mission, and fueled the internal growth of holiness in His people.  It’s not necessary to take a class on following the Holy Spirit, but we all need to grow in understanding how He leads individually and practice obeying His leadership. This will include knowing His voice, following His promptings, and manifesting His gifts. (John 20:21-22, Acts 2:33, Acts 2:38, Acts 9:31, Acts 13:52, Acts 16:6-10)
  3. Growing Character- We all come to Christ as enemies of God and it’s the work of God to cause us to surrender to Christ.  This change from a captive of Satan to a citizen of the Kingdom of God will have ramifications on our lifestyle. As we develop intimacy with Jesus and follow the Holy Spirit there will be continual change of character reflected in our lifestyle.  This is fueled not out of religious pressure but the work of God in the soul of man.  Jesus called us to be perfect even as our Heavenly Father is perfect, Paul told us he pressed on to the upward call of Christ but had not reached it.  Our lifestyles are to grow up into the image of the One who saved us.  (Romans 5:8, Colossians 1:13, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Galatians 5:22-24, Matthew 5:48, Philippians 3:12-15, Ephesians 4:15-16)
  4. Retelling the Gospel with Relevancy- Anyone who has been to a third world country and seen effective ministry being carried out by the illiterate and unlearned will understand that it doesn’t take a seminary degree to be a disciple.  But the ability to grasp the Gospel is essential in coming to Christ.  The ability to retell the Gospel is crucial if we desire to see others come to Christ.  So every believer from the newest to the most mature should be able to retell their story of Christ meeting them (their testimony) and the story of how that was accomplished by Jesus (the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, otherwise known as the Gospel). (1 Corinthians 1 :26-31, Romans 10:14-15, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
  5. A Commitment to the Body of Christ- When Jesus saves us, He sets us in spiritual families that corporately represent Christ.  We lose our individuality and gain a corporate family more amazing than anything we have ever participated in.  This family is at the same time a universal brotherhood and a specific and local group to which we belong. We begin to tangibly demonstrate our love for Jesus and our status as disciples as we demonstrate love for other broken humans redeemed by Jesus.  (Psalm 68:5-6, Ephesians 4:4-6, Romans 16:3-5, 1 John 3:14-18, John 13:35, Romans 12:9-21)
  6. A Commitment to Care for Orphans and Widows- God found us when we were unwanted orphans (spiritually) and adopted us into His family.  Truly following Him, then, means we take care of the weakest and most broken parts of society, whether they are believers or not.  We demonstrate the reality of our Gospel by caring for widows and orphans. (Romans 8:15, James 1:27, Galatians 6:10)
  7. A Commitment to Reproduction- The Gospel and and it’s effects were designed to spread from person to person with little difficulty. Our commission from Jesus is to teach whole nations the realities we’ve learned from Him.  If we miss this element, we cease to be a discipling culture.  Paul wanted Timothy to not just teach other people, but to teach people in a way that they could pass his teaching on to others.  It was this commitment to spreading both the Gospel and it’s associated lifestyle that allowed it to reach most of Europe in a short period of time.  The same will be true today.  (Matthew 28:18-20, 2 Timothy 2:2)

Simply put, we are to be people who know Jesus deeply and follow the Holy Spirit.  This will cause us to grow in character, express the Gospel in word and deed, care for fellow believers and take care of widows and orphans wherever we find them.  When we commit to reproducing this lifestyle in those that are following Jesus around us, we begin to see a discipling culture take root.

One thing to know is that none of these characteristics require extensive schooling or training.  Most of them are just the result of you following Jesus and learning to trust His leadership.  All of this can be taught (and more likely caught) in the context of the body of Christ on mission.  That has deep implications for our current training systems across the body of Christ, but that’s a topic for another post….

Now the question today is this: What would you add?  Let me know in the comment section below.

Photo Credit: Masters Commission DR by AmslerPIX

Guest Post: What is So Special About House Church

Editor’s Note: This post was written by David Washburn.  In addition to being a great writer and an all around nice guy, he is also my father-in-law.  Recently David attended a house church for the very first time and I asked him to write about his experience.  

I have been going to a traditional church all sixty years of my life.  I have been a member of high churches as well as the more casual, contemporary churches.  Presently I am a member of a charismatic church were hundreds of people attend each week.  All those years and all of those churches and it was not until last Sunday that I attended a house church.

What songs we sang, what Bible verses were read or what we prayed really does not matter.  There really was very little difference in how this house church worshipped together than what you could find in organized churches in this area.  The difference was found in the love of these people for each other and for people in need.

I have attended churches where everyone is called brother or sister.  “Brother Dave, how are you doing today?”  “Sister Kathy, you look marvelous in that dress.”  They are very friendly and welcoming people.   They have big smiles and will give you a hug as soon as they see you.  I love those churches.  This house church was different.  They didn’t call each other brother or sister but they treated each other as genuine family.  They laughed and tease one young girl about her new boyfriend.  Laughed with one man who the week before had forgotten that they were going to be singing at a senior care center and was at the place  they meet for Church instead.  They were not putting on a smile to impress anyone, but rather because they enjoyed each others company.

During our time there I got the sense that they had genuine love and caring for each other.  If one of them were to say something out of line, I am sure they would have lovingly set them straight.  If one hurt, they all felt the pain.

Their love did not stop with just those in their group.  Every first and third Sunday they would all go to sing at a senior care center.  They had an outreach to others who were in need of God’s love.  How many people in your church have an outreach outside your church members?  This house church had 100% participation in reaching out to others.

These are simple people joined together in the Love of Christ to help each other to grow and to reach out to their community.  They are not just brothers and sisters in name but in the love of Christ.  That is what makes this house church so good.   Perhaps a better terms would be to call it a Home Church instead, because you feel as if they really are a family who are loving and caring for each other in their home.

David Washburn is a follower of Jesus, a husband, a father, and a grandfather. He is an author of short stories and a blogger. His blog “Searching God’s Heart” focuses on knowing God’s heart and preparing for the revival of the last days.  

Review: Viral Jesus by Ross Rohde

This is my personal review of “Viral Jesus” by Ross Rohde.  You can also find this review posted online at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.  In the interest of full disclosure, Ross was kind enough to provide me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review of the book.

Christianity was designed to spread like a virus, moving from person to person, contact point to contact point, quickly changing people and making them an agent of change.  That all came to an end after a sustained period of growth several hundred years after Jesus’ resurrection. The church slowly abandoned it’s commitment to the “epidemic principles” they were founded on and adopted a different method of living.  This is the premise of Ross Rhode’s new book, Viral Jesus.  According to Rhode, though, these “epidemic principles” can be recaptured and a viral Christianity can again become the norm.

I had been eagerly anticipating the release of Viral Jesus ever since Rhode began blogging at Viral Jesus a few years ago.  If you’ve read the blog or enjoy the missional house church/ organic church/ simple church discussion, you will certainly find an enjoyable read in this book.  But this is not just another book about doing house church.  This is a book about spreading the Lordship of Jesus throughout a society, something that house churches become a vehicle for.  This is a radically different approach than most “house church” books take, but it was incredibly helpful.

I want to offer one warning up front before I continue with the review: Do not read this book if you’re looking to transition into a new church fad.  This book is fairly unique and it will not give you step by step instructions for getting new converts.  This book presents Jesus Christ as Lord, both of the world and of the church, and that means you won’t find strategies that work apart from Him.  Rohde takes a lot of necessary time presenting this truth and because of that, someone only wanting change without prayerfully submitting to Jesus would get very frustrated. But if you desire to follow the real Jesus into His harvest field, this book will be both incredibly helpful and challenging, but well worth the read.

Strengths

The first obvious strength of this book is the fact that it presents Jesus as the operating system for life, both inside and outside the church.  This is not a how-to book.  It forces you to acknowledge the ways in which you’ve been dependent on other things besides Jesus, especially in the church.  Rohde significantly develops the idea of “Jesus as Lord” that Hirsch and Frost discuss in books like “The Shaping of Things to Come” and “The Forgotten Ways.” But instead of developing the theology of “Jesus as Lord” Rohde presents very tangible examples from Scripture and experience of “Jesus as Lord” playing out in the life of the church.

One of the things I appreciated in the book was it’s strong endorsement of supernatural phenomenon in the life of Jesus movements.  Most of the current books on church planting and organic church argue for returning to most of the principles of the book of Acts, but spend little or no time discussing the place miracles plays. This is confusing because it is one of the most prominent features of the early church.  I suspect that because Rohde truly believes that the Lordship of Christ is the issue for viral Christianity to be restored, he has no problem presenting the Holy Spirit as active and involved if we submit to Jesus.  I can’t emphasize enough that these two issues need to be stressed over and over in the organic church conversation, and that fact alone makes Rohde’s book an invaluable contribution to the discussion.

Another strength of the book are the multiple stories Rohde tells about the adventures he and his co-workers have in the harvest field.  These stories take place in locations where many people think the Gospel is irrelevant, hardened Western Europe and California, and they make the principles Rohde lays out believable.  I’ve heard plenty of stories about miracles and conversions happening in America and Europe, but Rohde tells the stories in ways that make everyone believe they are capable of doing the same.  He and his friends aren’t the heroes of the stories, Jesus is, and because of that you gain faith you can participate in similar stories yourself.

Finally, Rohde’s chapters on Viral Evangelism and Viral Church Planting are worth the price of the book. Both chapters are a look at how, once submitted to Jesus, a believer is typically led by Him to share the gospel and see churches started.  Rohde makes evangelism and church planting a joy, not a burden, and accessible to everyone.  I’m actually going to list this book in the evangelism section of my Amazon bookstore because it so easily encourages and trains believers in basic principles for sharing their faith and planting churches.

Weaknesses

The one weakness I found in the book is it’s treatment of the historical Jesus movements of the past.  Rohde traces the fall of the early church away from the “epidemic principles” it was originally founded upon.  He then looks at times throughout history most Christians would call revivals and dissects how these revivals missed turning into full-fledged Jesus movements that God had intended.  I think this is the point where most Christians would have problems.  However, I actually agree with Rohde on most of the issues he presents as problems.

Rohde argues that each of these revivals were short-circuited because they didn’t completely abandon the trappings of Christendom that they emerged out of.  Because of that, these revivals eventually died down and became trapped in a dead religious state that they had been awakened out of.  I don’t even disagree with Rohde on this point. However, what was written seemed to imply that even though God moved powerfully many different times, these Jesus movements continually fell back into the Christendom mindsets they emerged out of.  Can a viral Christianity emerge in a country where Christendom is present and operating? I believe it can and I even think Rohde believes it can, but I walked away from the chapter having to truly process these thoughts out.

In the end, I believe that even this was helpful, because these chapters forced me to examine where I’ve compromised with foundational principles of the world in my Christian experience.  But my hope is that even though much of Christianity in the West is still steeped in Christendom, that viral Christianity lived out in front of the rest of the church will actually convince the church of the validity of abandoning many of the Christendom principles it has built itself on.

Should You Read Viral Jesus?

Yes, yes, and yes!  You will be encouraged, stretched, and challenged in ways you cannot imagine.  Rohde is really balanced in a radical, Jesus-following way.  Reading this book will push you in the most healthy direction you’ve been pushed in awhile—closer to Jesus.  If you’ve never been part of an organic church this a great book to get you started.  If you’ve read every book by every guy about church planting movements and house churches, this is still a really helpful and inspiring book.  And this is not a book for leaders, it’s a book for everyone, because viral Christianity is for everyone.

Because of all of this, I want to recommend you pick a copy of this book, take a journal and a Bible with you, and go and wrestle with the issues Rohde presents.  My hope is that it causes Jesus movements to spring up throughout the West and changes Christianity as we know it.