The twelve of us moved to Denver in 2006 in obedience to God, in pursuit of something relational and apostolic. Some called it 'the group.' Others called it 'our church,' with various modifiers--house, organic, simple. But the terms no longer matter since we're no longer together. The twelve has divided into subsets of threes and twos and ones, spanning no farther than eight-states.
It's been nearly two years since I left what Hipps would call a 'communal experience' (pg. 122). From the early church to the Jesus People USA, to the 1400 block of Denver, CO Christians have celebrated the life of Christ in microcosms. I am a statistic in the opening of Chapter Twelve, "Next Door Enemy." Citing an article from This Magazine entitled "Better Living: Too Many Social Experiments Start with the Best Intentions and End in Disaster" (June: 2003), Hipps notes that 'nearly ninety percent of these communal experiments in North America fail" (pg. 122). I would not call my 'experiment' a failure, nor a disaster--for those are short-sided and corporate words-- but my flight to the Midwest betrays my better judgment.
Without getting into a theology for the house church movement, it is safe to say the model is biblical, and its traction in Eastern countries (e.g. China) still captivate me. Unfortunately, the context of Acts and the culture of Asia are different than the deeply selfish wiring of the West. Hipps offers his criticism: "Our deep individualism is partly to blame for the high failure rate of intentional communities..." (pg. 124).
In studying other cultures (minimally, I admit), I have seen the collective identity prevalent in the East (and biblical times). Our Western independence is entrenched in a rebellious history, early adoption of literacy, industry, factory, and democracy. These are all good things...with unintended consequences.
It is no surprise, then, that violent crimes occur at higher rates, that marriages dissolve more frequently, and that the apex of innovation is in Western countries. We have the lowest cultural sense of shame and highest cultural sense of materialism on the planet. And we cannot be so naive as to think these cultural factors do not sully our church experiences.
When was the last time you saw healthy church discipline?
When was the last time you saw an intensely flawed marriage chose reconciliation over divorce?
When was the last time you saw an offended person leave the church and return later because
- someone pursued them (or even noticed they left)
- the deserter swallowed his pride and submitted to God's leadership?
For some reason, in a profoundly autonomous culture, conflict has become a swear word. We'd rather curse from a distance or exit quietly than take turns sparing in the ring. The word conflict envisions a boxing match where two people take turns punching. Com + flictus = together + to strike. Individualism likes to afflict and inflict, not conflict.
Hipps outlines a 'theology of conflict' (pg. 126) based upon the Mennonite rule of "Agreeing and Disagreeing and Love" (pp. 127-129). "Perhaps the most powerful part of this document is the first point: 'Accept conflict,'" Hipps states at the end (pg. 129).
I agree: reconciliation is impossible when everyone leaves the ring.
Integrity Check (these words included)