Book Review: House churches will they survive?

Apparently in America the house church movement is taking off which is curious because in the UK the house churches of the 1970s and 80s are now warehouse churches or in schools or theatres or wherever. We’re seeking the buildings just as those who have had massive campuses are thinking they should let go of them.

Anyway, the subtitle to this 1988 book by John Noble is ‘A call to action from a prominent leader within the movement.’ Having found myself, in the sovereign plan of God (although it felt like ‘by accident’) in a restoration movement with its roots in house churches I like to read about its history and critiques from the outside and within, so I saw this going for next to nothing and decided to dip in.

John Noble has been a leader in the Pioneer network of churches since its earliest days and this book would have been written around 20 years after the heady days of the beginnings of the house church and charismatic renewal in the UK. As such it is an ‘insider’ view and for some of it you’d need to be ‘in’ to pick up on the names, prophecies and references.

There’s much that is familiar – foundations of grace, charismatic worship which is Jesus centred, generous giving and team leadership. All these things were affirmed then and remain so now. The chapter on hospitality and shared lives however didn’t ring true to my experience in this sort of church for the last 20 years – more the exception rather than the norm to discover families sharing life together or opening their home beyond the nuclear family.

In 1988 Noble detected ‘a settling down in many of the new churches. There is a grasping for middle-class values which in themselves are not wrong, but are not Christian either’. Which was spot on and on the whole, I think, those middle class values have had the upper hand. Although if the values aren’t Christian then for the Christian they are wrong, so this was a pulled punch I think.

Then come the challenges to remain committed to word, works and wonders. I’m grateful that in Newfrontiers we’re seeing an increasing number of healings, deeper commitment to engage in society at every level and to keep doing our best to faithfully preach the Bible.

We differ on the inclusion of women in eldership (not as so many detractors say to leadership) with Noble being egalitarian. Followed by a short chapter encourages the agenda being picked up by the Everything conference to influence culture and to see the kingdom advance through evangelism and one on working with other denominations and branches of the church.

The chapter titled ‘Objective 2000’ is interesting given that we are now ten years on the other side. Sadly his hope that the ‘last ten years of the millenium are actually going to be a tremendous period of ingathering’ wasn’t fulfilled.

Noble ends with a curious piece of eschatology that sees different ages in the Bible linked to the various days of creation in Genesis to conclude that we are in the sixth day before the return of Christ for a 1000 years (the 7th day) after which is the 8th and unending day of the new heavens and new earth.

All in all this is an interesting snapshot of the values and hopes of the new church streams 20 years ago but 20 years or so from their inception. As you would expect many still hold while others have changed. It’s an interesting read if you have an interest in this growing niche of history but otherwise not one to particularly seek out.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: House churches will they survive?”

  1. Jon M says:

    That eschatology may be curious, but it’s not particularly new. I’ve heard it from a few people (all within the evo wing of the church admittedly, especially among literal young earth creationists). It fits into dispensational theology.

    I think the idea we’re in the Sabbath goes even further back. I’d have to look into it, but it may have its roots in the Church Fathers. Jesus = Lord of the Sabbath sort of thing.

    1. Simplepastor says:

      Thanks Jon, that’s helpful. I’ve never come across it before and the various phases struck me as a bit arbitrary and a slightly odd system to force scripture into. Still when you get to eschatology there’s a lot of strange ideas to choose from!

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