The House Church Book was a challenging read for me. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Simson has made me more uncomfortable and challenged me more than any author I can remember in the past couple of years. I applaud and welcome this. I am still thinking and rethinking through several of the ideas that he has presented. I also appreciate so much the sincerity with which the author writes. His passion for the church and kingdom is clear and unmistakable. Yet, having said this, I can’t help but sit in judgment on so many of his doctrinal presuppositions, and the manner in which he seems to take liberties with the Bible. I understand that my spiritual heritage leads me to be conservative, even among room full of conservative evangelicals. And usually I can look past my differences in order to appreciate the idea. But Simson was difficult.
For example, Simson is clear about how he believes the house church ought to be structured and led. On page forty-six he speaks briefly about leadership where he states that “house churches do not have leaders in a technical sense; they have elders . . . elders are responsible members of society who are able to assume a parental role in the house church, and who meet the biblical qualifications describing deacons found in 1 Timothy 3.” This makes no sense to my admittedly conservative ears. They are elders, but they function as deacons? In his virtuous attempt to restore pure Christianity, I am disappointed at just how quickly he has corrupted the biblical model (which in fairness makes him no different from the rest of us).
Along with this thought, it seems that Simson has a definitive misunderstanding or lack of understanding of the richness and details of the Bible. I don’t say this because he lacks formal theological training; but instead because it shows up clearly with how he envisions the church coming to life in modern western culture. This shows up in the same comments on elders that were previously alluded to. Simson writes that “these elders are empowered and counseled by apostolic people who usually function beyond the borders of an individual house church.” In citing Acts 15:2, 4, Simson demonstrates a troubling level of biblical illiteracy. This text is referring to a specific group of people who happened to live in or around Jerusalem. The manner in which Simson frames this (and later discusses), makes clear his belief that the apostles were a type of people that may have existed in any location.
I admit that much of my discomfort comes from his complete dismissal of traditional church. He seems ready to burn it all down (which I suppose is why he calls for a third reformation). I agree that he is clearly on the right track. As he argues for, there is a more biblical way in which to “do and be church” than the institutionalized version that has grown up since the 4th century. Again, I disagree with his details and implementation of this more biblical paradigm, I appreciate so much his call to return to a model of church that is clearly more consistent with the Bible than what we have now in the traditional church model. In this sense, his failures (as I perceive them) are also benefits. Because where I feel he takes the house church principle beyond the scope of the New Testament, he does force me to come along with him and as a result forces me out of my box where I have existed in the traditional church. And while I might now take the same trip that he has, I will at least end up at a spot that is closer to the Bible than where I began. This is likely the greatest value of this book.