By Dr. George Guthrie
Several years ago I had the great privilege of teaching a group of house church ministers from a closed country in Asia. For a week we spent the bulk of every day in lectures on the books of Hebrews and James, delivered through a translator. Then, in the evenings we came back together for a couple of hours of sharing and a question and answer time. It was exhausting, profoundly fulfilling, and life-changing for me. I went thinking I was going to meet a need (and there is need there), but my perspective on the need and the needy changed in the experience.
Our house church brothers and sisters really get how profoundly their lives and ministries depend on God’s Word and prayer. Not the right programs plus God’s Word and prayer. Not a gifted communicator plus God’s Word and prayer. Not enough resources, or education, or buildings, or connections, or technology plus God’s Word and prayer. I struggle against an attitude (and I am guessing you do too, if you think about it) that says, “We need a place to meet, and a rockin’ band, and a gifted preacher, and a strong core (which will mean an adequate budget), and a right growth strategy—and then we will orient ourselves to the Word and we will plan a time for prayer. I think my brothers and sisters in the house churches would see this as strange and profoundly backwards. Depending on where they are in the country I visited, they do deal with such issues as money (although many of them, even those with 1,000+ member congregations, take no salary), and where to meet (although most of them do not have a church building and have to shift locations constantly due to security issues). But my strong impression is that the greatest difference in our two church cultures is that they take the Word and prayer far, far more seriously than we do, as if their lives and their churches literally depended on them. Of course, they know they do. In our great, oppressive wealth of resources, I don’t think most of us in the West do. If all of the resources, all the budgets, all of the buildings, all of the programs in your city were shut down suddenly, what would happen to the Christian movement there?
Having been deprived of buildings and resources and education and strategies—all of our “advantages”—our brothers and sisters in the persecuted house churches of the world go with utter dependence on the Spirit’s work through prayer and the Word. They know those are the non-negotiable, solid foundations on which the work of God is built, just as we find in the book of Acts. In fact, when I was with the brothers and sisters from the western part of that country, they told me stories of the advancement of the gospel and healings, of exorcisms and amazing interventions by God, that reminded me very much of Acts. This dynamic experience of the Word and prayer touched me personally.
While I was there my wife, who was back home, got very sick and was experiencing a strong sense of spiritual oppression. When I asked the group I was with to pray for her, all of them immediately stood up and spent the next thirty-five minutes praying heart-felt, urgent prayers to God, pleading on behalf of my wife. When I asked the interpreter what they were praying, she said, “It was almost pure Scripture.” Within twenty-four hours, both the physical symptoms and spiritual oppression had lifted from Pat.
Every setting has its strengths and weaknesses, and God moves in different ways in different parts of the church at different times in history. But I discovered in Asia an intense hunger for the Word and a profound passion for prayer that we in the West desperately need. May God grace us with both, for in my travels I found the truly needy church—when I returned home.
Dr. George Guthrie serves as the Benjamin W. Perry Professor of Bible at Union University in Jackson, TN. At Union University he has led in the establishment of, and serves as Senior Fellow in, the Ryan Center for Biblical Studies, which is committed to promoting sound Bible reading, study, and interpretation at the grassroots level of the church. Dr. Guthrie holds both the Ph.D. and the M.Div. degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Th.M. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. You can follow Dr. Guthrie by clicking HERE.
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