There seems to always be some segment within Christianity which is trying to take God’s people back to the “original church.” Since the Reformation there have been numerous such efforts. Some of the better known have included the Restoration Movement (Church of Christ), Quakers, Moravians, the Brethren and the Anabaptist.
Ultimately these efforts either lose their focus and morph into the type of organization they once rejected or they lose their influence and fade into the background. As a result, every so often a new “restoration” movement begins using much the same rhetoric, denouncing the same kind of excesses, rallying around the same battle cries and always promising to return the church to its New Testament roots. The House Church Movement is the latest rendition and, like those of the past, brings both good and bad to the table.
On the positive side, the House Church Movement, like similar movements in the past, challenges the status quo, forcing church leaders to reexamine their methods and beliefs. It is good to be pushed out of our comfort zones and ask ourselves why we do what we do. House churches have been a time-honored tradition and greatly used of God through the years. They can be highly effective today in many places and can be a viable alternative to the more traditional church. But of course a movement is not content with alternatives—it must prove that only it represents the true church.
This leads to the negative aspects of the HCM. In general, the HCM believes in form/function. That is, the modern church is not only bound by the doctrine of the New Testament, but also by the forms and methods of the first century church. If they met in houses, so must we. If their churches were small, so must ours be. If they had no paid clergy, then we can’t either, and so forth. Of course there are at least two problems with form/function philosophy. First is proving that the patterns of the first century church are perpetually mandated on the church. These patterns are not commanded in the New Testament and the HCM must make the assumption that God wants us to duplicate these methods throughout church history. A more viable understanding is that God revealed to us little about the early church’s methodology for the expressed reason that He did not want us to try and copy it. And it could also be assumed, with confidence, that the reason God did not mandate certain practices was to allow us the freedom to adjust to different societies and times. A second problem is trying to discern what the early church actually did. Since there is little information about this, the HCM must constantly be guessing. For this reason Zdero’s book is filled with phrases like “it seems”, “I assume”, “may have”, “probable” or “it appears.” If one is going to structure the church around the teachings of Scripture, we will need more than “seems”—we need clear teaching.
This leads to another concern with the book: the author’s atrocious use of Scripture. A small book could be written correcting Zdero’s distortion of the biblical text (e.g. pp. 12, 18, 30, 37, 43-44, 47, 54-55). We could give the man some slack; after all his Ph.D. is in engineering, not theology. As a result he apparently does not understand hermeneutics and we might be inclined to give him a break. The problem is that he sees his lack of training as a plus. The HCM is a lay movement, led by theologically untrained people—just like the New Testament, we are told. What he misses is that the first church was led by divinely-inspired apostles who did not need to study theology as we do today (although Zdero believes himself to be divinely inspired as well) (p. 12). I wonder how this educated engineer would like it if I tried to design a bridge. He would quickly protest my lack of training and ignorance—and rightly so-but he sees no need for God’s church to be led by men who are trained in theology and have devoted a lifetime to the study of the Word.
This leads to a tragic flaw in the HCM—it is open to every wind of doctrine. This is most evident in The Global House Church Movement in the beginning and end of the book. In the acknowledgments, the author wants to thank “warrior poet Bob Dylan and social prophets U2” for providing him “with musical and spiritual solace during the book’s creation.” When a Christian is looking to Bob Dylan and U2 for “spiritual solace” it ought to send some powerful warning signs to the reader. Things don’t improve in his recommended resources section. Under “Christian Leadership and Spirituality” he lists a who’s who of Christian mystics: Larry Crabb, Henri Nouwen, D. S. Whitney and Dallas Willard. If this is representative of HCM it tells us volumes about where it is headed. In addition, Zdero speaks positively of Roman Catholic and cultic house churches.
One other thing should be mentioned: the author is part of a church of nine adults and two children. Prior to the writing of this book there have been no outside conversions. His church of nine is trying to start another church. In their network of churches they now have four churches in three cities. If each averages ten people, that makes about 40 people. One would have to question Zdero’s qualifications, not only doctrinally (as we have done) but also experientially. Zdero is writing hypothetically. He is an untrained, unqualified believer with flawed theology and no clue how to approach the Scriptures. Anyone can write a book, but the reader must be careful before he decides that such a person, or movement, is worthy of being followed.