By a Seeker of the Kingdom of God
Many Christians in America and other Western countries are dissatisfied and disillusioned with a watered-down version of Christianity. They are looking for fellowship with Christians who stand by historic Christian doctrines and take Jesus’ commands seriously.
One of the main questions these seekers ask is, “Where do I find fellowship?” Many years ago, I faced this same question, and I found there are no easy answers. I made a lot of mistakes along the way, but I also learned a lot, both from experience and from observing and listening to others. I can’t tell you what church you should join, but I can pass on some of the lessons I learned. By the end of this article, you should be equipped with some principles to help guide your search for fellowship.
First Things First
The starting point, even before looking for Scriptural fellowship, is to get your own life in order. On this subject, you might consider listening to two messages available from Scroll Publishing:* Five Laws of the Kingdom Life and On Being a Radical Christian. Those messages may help you focus on what is important in the Christian life and what is not. They will also point out some grave spiritual traps that ensnare many well-meaning Christians.
Over the past thirty years, I’ve observed that many seekers tend to focus on more minor, outward aspects of the Kingdom life, while ignoring the most important things: faith, love, mercy, justice, and forgiveness. The outward man can be changed overnight, but changing the inward man is a much longer and harder process. You can change your outward appearance through your own strength, but real inward change is impossible without the power of Christ. Sometimes Kingdom seekers begin by focusing on these outward changes. Women might start wearing head coverings, get rid of their jewelry, or dress extremely modestly. Families may decide to get rid of their television. Sometimes these issues become problematic because of how they are handled. For example, if a husband has a conviction for something his wife does not, and he announces one day that they must immediately change their practice, this will have a major impact in the family, and an outward matter may become an enormous issue.
Correct doctrine, head-veiling, abstaining from jewelry, and abstaining from worldly entertainment are indeed important, but by themselves they are not the most significant parts of the Christian life. These are not the things Jesus says will condemn us in the Judgment.
Too often, it is the things Jesus says will keep us out of the Kingdom of heaven which people choose to ignore. They argue and debate endlessly about external things and theological doctrines, and nothing comes out of it that advances the Kingdom of God. Please don’t make this mistake. Instead, focus on bearing Kingdom fruit in your own life. Only when you are bearing fruit can you help others in your family to do the same.
In John 15:1–6, we have one of the central teachings of Christianity. It is a chapter where Jesus explains what the Christian life is all about:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned (John 15:1–6).
In this passage, Jesus says the fruit you bear determines whether you remain as a branch on His vine or not. Plenty of other passages in the New Testament confirm that bearing fruit is what Christianity is all about. In fact, John the Baptist, preaching just before the coming of Christ, said, “And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” (Matthew 3:10). Jesus said almost identical words in Matthew 7:19.
Again, as part of the Parable of the Sower in Luke 8:14, Jesus said, “And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.” Again and again, the focus of Jesus’ teaching is fruit. That’s what God is looking for.
In Romans 7:4, Paul says, “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.” According to this scripture, we are married to Christ for the purpose of bearing fruit to God.
What is this fruit? In the New Testament, two different things are spoken of as fruit. The first type of fruit involves our individual character, what most of us might know as the fruit of the Spirit. The second type of fruit involves the work we do for Christ and His kingdom. We will discuss each of these in the next sections.
The Fruit of the Spirit
The fruit of the Spirit describes the character qualities that are part of our new nature in Christ. In Galatians 5:22–25, Paul writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”
Abiding in Christ means living in the Spirit, and living in the Spirit means we will be producing this kind of fruit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, self-control. If our lives are not marked by these virtues, we are not bearing fruit. This should be important to us.
Jesus told His disciples, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). And in Ephesians 4:22–32, Paul says:
Put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil. Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
The fruit described in these passages is impossible to produce on our own; Jesus said in John 15 that without Him we can do nothing. However, Jesus did not say we play no role in the matter. He warns that we will be cut off from His vine if we do not bear fruit. If fruit-bearing is strictly up to God, and if we have no part to play, what is the point of His admonition? For Christ’s warning to mean anything, our own choices and actions must have something to do with the process of bearing fruit.
In the passage above, Paul talks about our role in bearing fruit. He says, “Put on the new man.” Certainly, we cannot do this without Christ. We cannot be born again by ourselves. On the other hand, God has chosen not to do His work in us except with our willing participation. God could produce this fruit in us all by Himself—He doesn’t need our help—but He wants people who will freely surrender their own will to His.
Thus Paul counsels us to take action. He exhorts us to “put away” some things, to “put on” other things, to “be kind” to one another, and more. If we live in Christ, surrendering our will to His, we will have the power to do these things.
The Fruit of Faithful Work
In the New Testament, fruit is also used as a metaphor for advancing the interests of God’s kingdom. In His parable about the sower of seed, Jesus said, “And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred” (Mark 4:20). Here Jesus seems to be talking about a kingdom worker, who is expected to multiply the truth of God’s Word that has been entrusted to him.
The Parable of the Sower resembles another of Jesus’ well-known parables, the Parable of the Talents. In this parable, the word talent does not refer to our abilities; it refers to a common silver coin of Jesus’ time.
For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord (Matthew 25:14–21).
You probably know the rest of the story by heart. The servant who earned two talents, like the servant who earned five, is commended; but the servant who merely returns his one talent, producing nothing for his lord, is condemned. Once again Jesus seems to be talking about work in the kingdom of God.
When we think of kingdom work, evangelism is often the first thing that comes to mind. However, according to Jesus, this is not the only kingdom work, or even the most important. Later in the very same discussion as the story of the talents, Jesus taught about the division of the sheep and the goats. When He separates the sheep to His right, listen to what He says:
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me (Matthew 25:34–40).
The works listed in this passage are so important that Christ portrays them as making all the difference between the sheep and the goats—these works determine who is invited to inherit the kingdom and who is thrown into outer darkness. James 1:27 says, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
Powered by Love
Remember, all the works we have discussed in the last section must flow from the first kind of fruit, the fruit of the Spirit. If your good deeds are not motivated by love, but merely to gain spiritual brownie points or to satisfy or impress others, your work is wasted. Jesus said this was the problem with the scribes and Pharisees. In 1 Corinthians 13:3, Paul says, “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”
Our good deeds cannot be mere mechanical works; they must flow from love. However, good works are definitely part of the fruit we will bear if we are abiding in Christ and His Spirit is controlling our life.
Fruit-bearing Starts Now
Ultimately, it is not your church setting that will determine whether or not you produce the fruit of the Spirit and become a fruitful kingdom worker. You can bear fruit and grow in Christ in virtually any church setting.
This matter of putting your own life in order first is vitally important, and the emphasis on it here comes from observing the struggles of many seekers. There are literally thousands of well-meaning seekers who look like radical disciples of Jesus Christ, yet whose personal and family affairs are a disaster. In such families the sisters may be dressed modestly, with covered heads, while the men wear beards and plain clothes, yet below the surface there may be troubled marriages and rebellious children. These seekers may owe a lot of people money, forcing them to constantly ask for support instead of helping others.
Furthermore, radical-looking disciples often have trouble submitting to authority in the body of Christ, and they end up causing strife and controversy everywhere they go. My wife and I strongly support the head covering for women, yet, ironically, many sisters who wear head coverings, a symbol of submission to God’s order, completely dominate their husbands and even try to run the church. This is not just a problem for women either. Husbands often fail to set an example, refusing to submit to the expectations and leadership of the local congregation.
Unfortunately, those who have this spirit of rebellion are often totally blind to it. In their minds, they are simply standing up for truth. Because of this, if you find yourself in a situation where your stand for truth seems to place you constantly at odds with the Christians around you, it is wise to take some time out for serious, honest self-examination. Spend time in prayer, search the Scripture, and ask trusted Christian friends to help you examine your life.
If your radical Christianity is external rather than internal—if your focus is on how you look to other people—it won’t matter where you go for fellowship. You absolutely must get your inner life on track first, through the power of Christ, so you can begin bearing real kingdom fruit. Then, wherever you end up finding fellowship, you’ll be a blessing to that church and not a burden.
You Find What You Bring
As we said at the beginning of this section, if your own life is not in order, merely changing churches is unlikely to enable you to bear more fruit or solve your family or financial problems. An old story illustrates this truth well:
A couple moved to a new town and visited the pastor of a local church they thought might be a good fit for them. They were pleased to hear that the church’s beliefs were much like their own. “And what are the people in your congregation like?” they asked the pastor.
“Let me ask you a question first,” said the pastor. “What were the people like in the church you just came from?”
“Oh, they were wonderful, kind people. We never would have left them if we hadn’t needed to move for other reasons.”
The pastor smiled. “That’s just what the people are like here. I think you’re going to love us.”
Not much later, another newly-arrived family visited the pastor and asked him the same questions the first couple had. Like the other couple, they also wanted to know what they could expect from the people of the church. As before, the pastor asked them what the people were like in the church they came from.
They rolled their eyes. “You don’t even want to hear about it,” they sighed. “Those people simply couldn’t get along. Nobody would cooperate on anything, and they gossiped constantly! Our only regret is that we didn’t leave sooner.”
Shaking his head sadly, the pastor said, “I wish I could say it’s different here, but unfortunately I think you’ll find our people much the same.”
Of course, the moral of the story is that whether we fit well into a church is often up to us. It is largely our own character and behavior that determines whether we find other people welcoming and agreeable, or unfriendly and contentious. This is why you should not look to a change of churches to solve your problems. Focus first on building a genuine, obedient, love-faith relationship with Christ.
Different Approaches to Seeking Fellowship
So, you’ve prayerfully considered the warnings and encouragement in the earlier sections of this article, and you’re ready for some practical advice on finding fellowship. As you try to find a setting where you can live a Kingdom life, you can choose from three basic approaches:
- Stay in your current church or join another “conventional” church. For reasons explained below, we’ll call this the “William Law” approach.
- Join a conservative Anabaptist church.
- Join a like-minded house church, or help form one.
Which of these options is best will depend on the individual circumstances of your family. As much as possible, you should try to chart your spiritual course together as a family, especially where major external changes are involved. Don’t needlessly leave your spouse or older children behind. I’ve seen cases where one person in a family zealously tries to adopt lots of new practices which are commandments of God and good in themselves but pursues this course without regard to the rest of the family. Perhaps a sister runs ahead of her husband, or the husband doesn’t wait on his wife to come to the same conclusions, or parents fail to consider the feelings of their teenage children. Teens do need to submit to their parents, but you can easily lose your children spiritually by trying to move too fast.
Because of these considerations, the age of your children and your own family situation play a big role in which fellowship option will be the best choice for you. There is no perfect option out there; each of these approaches has its drawbacks and advantages, and you will need to decide which is best for your family.
The “William Law” Approach
First, let’s talk about what I call the William Law approach—just staying right where you are. Ask yourself honestly:
- Am I the most loving person I can be in the church I presently attend?
- Am I the kindest person I can be in this church?
- Am I the meekest person I can be in this church?
- Do I bear as much Kingdom fruit as possible in the church?
This is not an encouragement for you to boast, just an opportunity for honest self-examination. Can you answer yes to the questions above? If you think you can, is that what everyone else in the church would say about you? If you find the answer to one or more of those questions is no, as it would be for most of us, you might want to stay right where you are and focus on becoming the kindest, most loving, Christ-like person in your church.
The reason I call this the William Law approach is that this is basically the choice he made. William Law attended Emmanuel College, Cambridge and studied to become an Anglican teacher and priest. He passed all his studies, but lost his position when he was refused, on the basis of conscience, to give a required oath of allegiance to King George. Since the Anglican church was a state church, William Law was not allowed to practice as a clergyman, so he began tutoring the children of wealthy families. It wasn’t a high-paying job, but a man could make a living at it.
William Law became what one might call a Protestant “saint,” in the way that the Catholics use the term. He stayed single throughout his life to devote himself entirely to service in the Kingdom. He did a lot of writing on behalf of Christianity and a lot of private teaching.
Toward the end of his life, William and two Christian sisters he had taught and discipled moved to the village of King’s Cliff, where he had been born. They attended the Anglican Church there and established a little sanctuary there, something like a monastery. They all lived celibate lives and supported each other, but they used most of their income to help the poor. When someone came to their door, they tried to apply literally Jesus’ command to “give to him who asks you,” so they gave most of their money to the needy. They also started a school for girls and an orphanage.
The generosity of William Law and his friends attracted lots of tramps looking for some free funds, and the locals, including the pastor of the local church, didn’t appreciate this much. Still, William remained in the Anglican Church, and there he lived a more effective Kingdom life than most of us ever will.
William Law’s approach is possible. Do not assume that when you develop Kingdom convictions, your only choice is to find an entire church that believes as you do. That may be ideal, but few of us on this journey have found that “perfect” church.
Another form of the “William Law” approach would be finding a different conventional church. If you are attending a Baptist church, for example, where the pastor opposes you and sees your ideas as a threat to others, you might find that another Baptist church or church of a similar denomination is more supportive of somebody who holds to nonresistance and wants to live by the Kingdom teachings of Jesus.
From my contacts over many years, those who have taken the William Law approach have generally had the happiest results. I would not have predicted that, and it’s not the course of action I would have recommended twenty years ago; I’m just reporting my observations.
• Advantages of the William Law Approach
One big advantage to staying and being a Kingdom Christian in one’s home community is that you don’t have to move. Moving can be a highly stressful experience in itself, and it usually means finding a new job as well. Finding a job in a new location can require changing one’s profession, and if it takes awhile to find work, you can get into an economic hole that’s hard to get out of, adding still more stress. Staying in the church where you are or switching to a more supportive one across town saves you all this extra stress.
Also, moving somewhere to join what I would call a Kingdom-oriented church, such as an Anabaptist congregation, is difficult if your family it is not supportive. If one spouse is not in favor of the move, it usually ends up being a bad experience. Also, if you have teenage children with a lot of close friends in your current church, they are likely to be resentful about moving to a different type of church in a new place. No, your children should not rule your family, but you need to work for their salvation, and I know of many people who lost their children spiritually because they insisted on moving to a more radical Christian fellowship.
• Disadvantages of the William Law Approach
The drawbacks of the approach we’ve discussed are that if you continue in a church that merely tolerates your values, you will be walking against the current of your congregation. People might view you as odd, and if you don’t develop a lot of Kingdom fruit, but end up just being somebody with lots of “strange” ideas, you will have a very unpleasant experience. If you tend to be confrontational about differences, you may find yourself in constant conflict in such a church. In this case, unless you switch to a more mellow approach, you may feel forced to go somewhere else.
Another disadvantage of staying put, depending on the age of your children, is that the church where you attend might have an unhealthy influence on your children. Perhaps it strongly promotes the nationalistic, militaristic beliefs you want to move away from, and you don’t want your children indoctrinated in this.
Staying where you are can also be a negative experience on Sunday mornings. I find it really gets under my skin to sit and listen to a sermon I’m convinced in my heart is false and contrary to historic Christianity and the teaching of Jesus Christ. This can be troubling if it is just one questionable sermon in a place where the teaching is usually good, but when this kind of sermon is preached Sunday after Sunday, it can become a negative experience.
Ultimately, you will need to decide whether the William Law approach is compatible with your convictions, personality, and family, or whether another option might work better for you.
Joining a Conservative Anabaptist Church
Your second option is to join a church somewhere in the conservative Anabaptist world. By conservative Anabaptist, I mean Mennonites, Hutterites, Amish, Brethren, and what are sometimes called “Remnant” churches. The Apostolic Christian Church might also fit into this category.
When I think of the term Kingdom Christians, the Anabaptists are the first ones who pop into my mind. In fact, Anabaptists are about the only Kingdom churches still around. There are individual Kingdom Christians in many places, but aside from some house churches, the Anabaptists are pretty much the only option. Conservative Anabaptists have been practicing Kingdom Christianity according to the Sermon on the Mount for nearly five hundred years. (Liberal Mennonites, liberal Brethren, and liberal Apostolic Christian churches, on the other hand, largely resemble conventional Western churches.)
The conservative Anabaptist world encompasses a broad spectrum of cultures and practices. At one end are the horse-and-buggy Old Order groups. Not many Kingdom seekers end up joining those groups, but some do, and for those who can make that big a change in culture, it can be very successful. However, the vast majority of people from non-Anabaptist background find the shift to Old Order is just too difficult. With such a change, a husband and wife definitely would need to agree, and the children too, unless they are very young.
At the other end of the spectrum are the “Charity” or “Remnant” churches. These are usually made up partly of people who were raised in other Anabaptist churches and sought a less regulated church than most conservative Anabaptist churches. Remnant churches often emphasize some Evangelical theology, and their preaching may be Revivalistic in flavor. However, these churches vary considerably among themselves.
Most Remnant churches have a Kingdom theology. They certainly belong in the category of Kingdom churches. Many people in these churches are seekers from non-Anabaptist backgrounds, and possibly more of them “make it” in Remnant churches than in traditional Mennonite and Amish churches.
• Advantages of Joining a Conservative Anabaptist Church
Let me tell you about some of the advantages of fellowshipping with Anabaptists. The biggest advantage is that they are the only Kingdom churches except for certain house churches. Certainly the Anabaptists are not the only Kingdom Christians, but I don’t know of any churches outside of the Anabaptists (with the possible exception of a few Holiness churches) who teach the Sermon on the Mount as the way Christ requires us to live. While many churches teach the Sermon on the Mount as an ideal, they don’t require their members to live by Jesus’ teachings when it comes to war, swearing oaths, divorce, and many other matters Jesus taught about.
The Anabaptist’s obedience extends beyond the Sermon on the Mount to other New Testament commandments, such as the head covering, modest dress, and headship in the home. Again, the Anabaptists are almost the only churches who still teach these things and require them of their members.
Personally, I find the Anabaptist spirituality and lifestyle very attractive. When I think of Anabaptists, I think of the statement of the early Christian writer, Minucius Felix, who said, “We don’t speak great things; we live them.” The Christianity of the conservative Anabaptists isn’t flamboyant, but it is powerful in its quiet simplicity.
I grew up in the 50s, and I miss many aspects of the life I knew as a boy. When I was growing up, families were more stable, and divorce was uncommon. Most people believed in an ethic of hard work. There were no bank credit cards such as Visa and MasterCard, so people were less apt to be over their heads in consumer debt. Children were raised at home, not in daycare centers. Husbands were the heads of their homes.
In the 50s there was such a stigma associated with declaring bankruptcy that most people would make great sacrifices to avoid going bankrupt. Likewise, there was such a stigma associated with living on welfare that most people preferred to do without rather than to accept a government handout. Premarital sex was rare. Drug use was mainly confined to large cities.
In the conservative Anabaptist world, life is still much like this. These people have rejected most of the detours of modern society and live by what I call old-fashioned values.
Another advantage of attending an Anabaptist church is that it is generally much more stable than a house church. Anabaptist churches, especially traditional Mennonites and Amish, tend to be stable congregations made up of stable families. In a conservative Anabaptist church, you also have a larger community of other churches to turn to if you need help, compared to a house church. For example, if your house burns down, or some other calamity strikes, you have a huge network there to support you.
• Disadvantages of Joining a Conservative Anabaptist Church
Now you may be wondering, “If life among the Anabaptists is so wonderful, why don’t all Kingdom Christians join an Anabaptist church?”
The conservative Anabaptist world is not a spiritual paradise, and it isn’t easy for those of us from a non-Anabaptist background to make the transition to the Anabaptist world. Earlier I mentioned that one advantage of staying in the church where you are is that you avoid the stress of moving and changing jobs. For most of us, joining an Anabaptist church will require moving and changing jobs. That means we’re already under a lot of stress to start with, and then we run into the challenges of Mennonite, Amish, or Brethren culture.
I mentioned earlier that I love most things about Anabaptist culture, but there are aspects of it that can be vexing. Hundreds of years of persecution forced the Anabaptists into isolated communities that developed cultures, quite different from society around them. Parts of this culture that were originally connected with Biblical principles no longer are.
A seeker coming into the conservative Anabaptist world will run into many of these cultural issues. We seekers usually don’t mind making changes when we can see their connection to a clear New Testament teaching, but the many changes that must be made merely for the sake of tradition or culture, based on rules that had meaning perhaps a century ago, can begin to wear on us.
This leads to the larger issue of what Anabaptists call standards. Some standards may no longer have a solid Biblical principle behind them, but most Anabaptist standards are applications of a present-day Biblical principle. With these standards, we seekers usually can see the Biblical principle involved; however, the idea of a church deciding for everyone in the church how to apply this or that New Testament principle is something new to most of us. A few such applications would not bother most of us, but the list is often quite long, and the applications can be debatable.
To add to that problem, when a church legislates so many specific applications of Biblical principles, invariably there will be glaring inconsistencies between them. Again, a bit of this doesn’t bother most seekers, but over time it tends to wear on people.
Another challenge in joining an Anabaptist church is that we seekers, seeing how well Anabaptists do in many areas, tend to expect them to be perfect. Anabaptists are great people, but they are not perfect and they don’t claim to be. Anabaptist churches have many of the same problems that plague most churches, such as gossip, cliques, ambition for positions of authority, disagreements, jealousies, and other such things. Most of us would expect to find those things in conventional churches, but we may imagine that the Anabaptists have risen above such things, only to be deeply disappointed when we find they haven’t.
One final issue: if you value the example of the early church, you will find that the Anabaptists do quite well, better than any group I know of, in following the lifestyle of the early church, but when it comes to theological issues, they disagree with a lot of early church teachings.
From my perspective, I would caution against joining an Anabaptist church unless you and your spouse both want to do this. If you do not agree, it is doubtful if it will work to join an Anabaptist church. Likewise, I would advise you against it if you have teenage children and they do not support this decision; you may well find your children turning not only against the Anabaptists, but against God. But if you go into it realistically, understanding the challenges involved in joining an Anabaptist church, you may find it is a solution that works for you, as it has for hundreds—perhaps thousands—of Christian families.
Starting a House Church
A third option available to you is starting a house church, or joining one in your area. This will require existing bonds of friendship and brotherhood with other Christians in your area, bonds which often develop through homeschool groups. I have been involved in a number of house churches myself, so I speak from experience here.
• Advantages of a House Church
The great thing about a house church is that you get to follow all your own Kingdom convictions, in contrast to an established conservative Anabaptist church, where you’ll have to live by the convictions of the group whether you share them or not. A house church tends to encourage very close bonds of fellowship; members of a house church often share a meal after the Sunday morning meeting, with fellowship lasting all afternoon.
• Disadvantages of a House Church
The main disadvantage of house churches is that they tend to be unstable. House churches are usually short-lived, lasting from six months to five years. Problems in house churches arise as people discover their areas of disagreement. Now differences can arise in any church, not just house churches. However, in a church of thirty families, if two families become dissatisfied and decide to go elsewhere, it’s not a big deal, and the church goes on. However, in a house church of four families, if two families leave, that’s fifty percent of your membership, and it may well mean the end of the church. This is why house churches are fragile; it’s the logistics of having just a few families. You all have to stick together, and any division will likely end the church.
Another disadvantage is that even in a house church where everything goes well, as children approach marrying age, their choices for a partner may be very limited. One solution to this problem is to let young people attend some of the many Bible schools and other gatherings that are common in Anabaptist circles. You don’t have to belong to a Mennonite church to attend many of these gatherings. Many young Anabaptist men and women find mates in such places, and that can happen for other Kingdom families as well.
Because of the considerations above, I strongly advise you not to move to a new location to join a house church. Moving to a stable, established church is hard enough, but when everyone involved is going through a transition, with all the stress and financial uncertainty involved in relocating, it makes for a highly unstable situation. If you choose to become part of a house church, start locally with the people already in your community.
My observation is that people who try house churches usually find it doesn’t work, and they often end up joining an Anabaptist church or a conventional church in the end. They conclude that the stability of these established churches more than offsets their disadvantages. I’m not saying you absolutely should not try a house church; just don’t set your expectations too high.
Fellowship with Purpose
Dean Taylor has recorded a message entitled “Does Your Church Have a Purpose?” (available from Scroll Publishing as a CD or download) that addresses some important ideas I missed for many years. One of the encouragements he gives in this message is not to build a church around the idea of “doing everything right.” In the various house churches I’ve been in, we tried hard to nail down everything, to reach full agreement about the “right” positions regarding baptism, communion, and a host of other doctrines. I think this mindset is common in house churches; since we are starting our own church, this is our opportunity to finally get everything right.
Of course, it would be wonderful to find full agreement on every issue and have consistent teaching all the time, but this focus on “rightness” can bog us down and end up highlighting our differences instead of bringing unity. House churches often spend months and months going systematically over various doctrinal issues, only to divide and scatter when they fail to resolve their differences.
Instead of focusing on hammering out an intellectual agreement on a whole list of beliefs, Dean suggests building your church’s identity and sense of purpose around ministry to others: how can we serve the poor and others in our community with deep unmet needs? What would happen if churches were established with the kinds of ministry Jesus talks about as their top priority and focus: visiting the sick and imprisoned, feeding the hungry, and clothing the naked. When the work of the Kingdom is your primary purpose as a church, you’ll find fewer reasons to divide, and you won’t mind so much if not everyone agrees on every detail of doctrine. If you have not done so already, I encourage you to get a copy of Dean Taylor’s message and listen to it.
Don’t Lose Heart!
The problem of finding Kingdom fellowship in the 21st century has no easy answer. It’s not impossible, however; I’ve enjoyed Kingdom fellowship for over twenty years now, but it hasn’t been easy and, like most of you, I’ve tried several different paths during my journey. So I encourage you not to give up in your quest for fellowship.
God will answer your prayer for fellowship if you are in the right place spiritually. That’s why I spent so much of this article talking about getting your own spiritual life in order. If everyone you meet can see Kingdom fruit abounding in you, you will find a place to fellowship where you can be a blessing to others, and where you can be blessed.