A Look Back at Wolfgang Simson’s 15 Theses

Wolfgang Simson is releasing a new book on November 10 that I think will shake up the church in many areas. I have read the manuscript and I think it is the most substantial, remarkable, prophetic, stirring, upsetting, revolutionary book I have read all year, or, in fact, for a long time. I am looking forward to the discussion and I predict there will be MUCH of it.

In the meantime, there are two things that you might want to read before the book is launched in its Free PDF format. Those documents are 15 Theses and Houses that Change the World.

The 15 Theses were first sent to me in an email by Brad Sargent back (I think) in 1998. It was like . .. . WOW!. Really WOW. Soooooo . .. WOW. Just . .. . wooooowwwww! And you can quote me on that.

I am posting the 15 Theses here for you to read again and, if you like, leave a comment. It will be interesting to see what has changed and what hasnt in these past 6 years. I know that when his Theses came out, I had something concrete to help me articulate why i was not holding regular services and why we chose to meet in houses. We were a small minority back then. Today there are thousands of us. Anyhoo, enjoy the read.

——————————————–

15 Theses by Wolfgang Simson (1998)

God is changing the Church, and that, in turn, will change the world. Millions of Christians around the world are aware of an imminent reformation of global proportions. They say, in effect: “Church as we know it is preventing Church as God wants it.” A growing number of them are surprisingly hearing God say the very same things. There is a collective new awareness of age-old revelations, a corporate spiritual echo. In the following “15 Theses” I will summarize a part of this, and I am convinced that it reflects a part of what the Spirit of God is saying to the Church today. For some, it might be the proverbial fist-sized cloud on Elijah’s sky. Others already feel the pouring rain.

1. Church is a Way of Life, not a series of religious meetings

Before they where called Christians, followers of Christ have been called “The Way”. One of the reasons was, that they have literally found “the way to live.” The nature of Church is not reflected in a constant series of religious meetings lead by professional clergy in holy rooms specially reserved to experience Jesus, but in the prophetic way followers of Christ live their everyday life in spiritually extended families as a vivid answer to the questions society faces, at the place where it counts most: in their homes.

Technorati Tags:

2. Time to change the system

In aligning itself to the religious patterns of the day, the historic Orthodox Church after Constantine in the 4th century AD adopted a religious system which was in essence Old Testament, complete with priests, altar, a Christian temple (cathedral), frankincense and a Jewish, synagogue-style worship pattern. The Roman Catholic Church went on to canonize the system. Luther did reform the content of the gospel, but left the outer forms of “church” remarkably untouched; the Free-Churches freed the system from the State, the Baptists then baptized it, the Quakers dry-cleaned it, the Salvation Army put it into a uniform, the Pentecostals anointed it and the Charismatics renewed it, but until today nobody has really changed the superstructure. It is about time to do just that.

3. The Third Reformation.

In rediscovering the gospel of salvation by faith and grace alone, Luther started to reform the Church through a reformation of theology. In the 18th century through movements like the Moravians there was a recovery of a new intimacy with God, which led to a reformation of spirituality, the Second Reformation. Now God is touching the wineskins themselves, initiating a Third Reformation, a reformation of structure.

4. From Church-Houses to house-churches

Since New Testament times, there is no such thing as “a house of God”. At the cost of his life, Stephen reminded unequivocally: God does not live in temples made by human hands. The Church is the people of God. The Church, therefore, was and is at home where people are at home: in ordinary houses. There, the people of God: -Share their lives in the power of the Holy Spirit, -Have “meatings,” that is, they eat when they meet, -They often do not even hesitate to sell private property and share material and spiritual blessings, -Teach each other in real-life situations how to obey God’s word, dialogue – and not professor-style, -Pray and prophesy with each other, baptize, `lose their face’ and their ego by confessing their sins, -Regaining a new corporate identity by experiencing love, acceptance and forgiveness.

5. The church has to become small in order to grow big

Most churches of today are simply too big to provide real fellowship. They have too often become “fellowships without fellowship.” The New Testament Church was a mass of small groups, typically between 10 and 15 people. It grew not upward into big congregations between 20 and 300 people filling a cathedral and making real, mutual communication improbable. Instead, it multiplied “sidewards”, like organic cells, once these groups reached around 15-20 people. Then, if possible, it drew all the Christians together into citywide celebrations, as with Solomon’s Temple court in Jerusalem. The traditional congregational church as we know it is, statistically speaking, neither big nor beautiful, but rather a sad compromise, an overgrown house-church and an under-grown celebration, often missing the dynamics of both.

6. No church is led by a Pastor alone



The local church is not led by a Pastor, but fathered by an Elder, a local person of wisdom and reality. The local house-churches are then networked into a movement by the combination of elders and members of the so-called five-fold ministries (Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Evangelists and Teachers) circulating “from house to house,” whereby there is a special foundational role to play for the apostolic and prophetic ministries (Eph. 2:20, and 4:11.12). A Pastor (shepherd) is a very necessary part of the whole team, but he cannot fulfill more than a part of the whole task of “equipping the saints for the ministry,” and has to be complemented synergistically by the other four ministries in order to function properly.

7. The right pieces – fitted together in the wrong way

In doing a puzzle, we need to have the right original for the pieces, otherwise the final product, the whole picture, turns out wrong, and the individual pieces do not make much sense. This has happened to large parts of the Christian world: we have all the right pieces, but have fitted them together wrong, because of fear, tradition, religious jealousy and a power-and-control mentality. As water is found in three forms, ice, water and steam, the five ministries mentioned in Eph. 4:11-12, the Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Teachers and Evangelists are also found today, but not always in the right forms and in the right places: they are often frozen to ice in the rigid system of institutionalized Christianity; they sometimes exist as clear water; or they have vanished like steam into the thin air of free-flying ministries and “independent” churches, accountable to no-one. As it is best to water flowers with the fluid version of water, these five equipping ministries will have to be transformed back into new, and at the same time age-old, forms, so that the whole spiritual organism can flourish and the individual “ministers” can find their proper role and place in the whole. That is one more reason why we need to return back to the Maker’s original and blueprint for the Church.

8. God does not leave the Church in the hands of bureaucratic clergy

No expression of a New Testament church is ever led by just one professional “holy man” doing the business of communicating with God and then feeding some relatively passive religious consumers Moses-style. Christianity has adopted this method from pagan religions, or at best from the Old Testament. The heavy professionalisation of the church since Constantine has now been a pervasive influence long enough, dividing the people of God artificially into laity and clergy. According to the New Testament (1 Tim. 2:5), “there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” God simply does not bless religious professionals to force themselves in-between people and God forever. The veil is torn, and God is allowing people to access Himself directly through Jesus Christ, the only Way. To enable the priesthood of all believers, the present system will have to change completely. Bureaucracy is the most dubious of all administrative systems, because it basically asks only two questions: yes or no. There is no room for spontaneity and humanity, no room for real life. This may be OK for politics and companies, but not the Church. God seems to be in the business of delivering His Church from a Babylonian captivity of religious bureaucrats and controlling spirits into the public domain, the hands of ordinary people made extraordinary by God, who, like in the old days, may still smell of fish, perfume and revolution.

9. Return from organized to organic forms of Christianity

The “Body of Christ” is a vivid description of an organic, not an organized, being. Church consists on its local level of a multitude of spiritual families, which are organically related to each other as a network, where the way the pieces are functioning together is an integral part of the message of the whole. What has become a maximum of organization with a minimum of organism, has to be changed into a minimum of organization to allow a maximum of organism. Too much organization has, like a straightjacket, often choked the organism for fear that something might go wrong. Fear is the opposite of faith, and not exactly a Christian virtue. Fear wants to control, faith can trust. Control, therefore, may be good, but trust is better. The Body of Christ is entrusted by God into the hands of steward-minded people with a supernatural charismatic gift to believe God that He is still in control, even if they are not. A development of trust-related regional and national networks, not a new arrangement of political ecumenism is necessary for organic forms of Christianity to reemerge.

10. From worshipping our worship to worshipping God

The image of much of contemporary Christianity can be summarized, a bit euphemistically, as holy people coming regularly to a holy place at a holy day at a holy hour to participate in a holy ritual lead by a holy man dressed in holy clothes against a holy fee. Since this regular performance-oriented enterprise called “worship service” requires a lot of organizational talent and administrative bureaucracy to keep going, formalized and institutionalized patterns developed quickly into rigid traditions. Statistically, a traditional 1-2 hour “worship service” is very resource-hungry but actually produces very little fruit in terms of discipling people, that is, in changed lives. Economically speaking, it might be a “high input and low output” structure. Traditionally, the desire to “worship in the right way” has led to much denominationalism, confessionalism and nominalism. This not only ignores that Christians are called to “worship in truth and in spirit,” not in cathedrals holding songbooks, but also ignores that most of life is informal, and so is Christianity as “the Way of Life.” Do we need to change from being powerful actors to start “acting powerfully?”

11. Stop bringing people to church, and start bringing the church to the people

The church is changing back from being a Come-structure to being again a Go-structure. As one result, the Church needs to stop trying to bring people “into the church,” and start bringing the Church to the people. The mission of the Church will never be accomplished just by adding to the existing structure; it will take nothing less than a mushrooming of the church through spontaneous multiplication of itself into areas of the population of the world, where Christ is not yet known.

12. Rediscovering the “Lord’s Supper” to be a real supper with real food

Church tradition has managed to “celebrate the Lord’s Supper” in a homeopathic and deeply religious form, characteristically with a few drops of wine, a tasteless cookie and a sad face. However, the “Lord’s Supper” was actually more a substantial supper with a symbolic meaning, than a symbolic supper with a substantial meaning. God is restoring eating back into our meeting.

13. From Denominations to city-wide celebrations

Jesus called a universal movement, and what came was a series of religious companies with global chains marketing their special brands of Christianity and competing with each other. Through this branding of Christianity most of Protestantism has, therefore, become politically insignificant and often more concerned with traditional specialties and religious infighting than with developing a collective testimony before the world. Jesus simply never asked people to organize themselves into denominations. In the early days of the Church, Christians had a dual identity: they were truly His church and vertically converted to God, and then organized themselves according to geography, that is, converting also horizontally to each other on earth. This means not only Christian neighbors organizing themselves into neighborhood- or house-churches, where they share their lives locally, but Christians coming together as a collective identity as much as they can for citywide or regional celebrations expressing the corporateness of the Church of the city or region. Authenticity in the neighborhoods connected with a regional or citywide corporate identity will make the Church not only politically significant and spiritually convincing, but will allow a return to the biblical model of the City-Church.

14. Developing a persecution-proof spirit

They crucified Jesus, the Boss of all the Christians. Today, his followers are often more into titles, medals and social respectability, or, worst of all, they remain silent and are not worth being noticed at all. “Blessed are you when you are persecuted”, says Jesus. Biblical Christianity is a healthy threat to pagan godlessness and sinfulness, a world overcome by greed, materialism, jealousy and any amount of demonic standards of ethics, sex, money and power. Contemporary Christianity in many countries is simply too harmless and polite to be worth persecuting. But as Christians again live out New Testament standards of life and, for example, call sin as sin, conversion or persecution has been, is and will be the natural reaction of the world. Instead of nesting comfortably in temporary zones of religious liberty, Christians will have to prepare to be again discovered as the main culprits against global humanism, the modern slavery of having to have fun and the outright worship of Self, the wrong centre of the universe. That is why Christians will and must feel the “repressive tolerance” of a world which has lost any absolutes and therefore refuses to recognize and obey its creator God with his absolute standards. Coupled with the growing ideologisation, privatization and spiritualisation of politics and economics, Christians will, sooner than most think, have their chance to stand happily accused in the company of Jesus. They need to prepare now for the future by developing a persecution-proof spirit and an even more persecution-proof structure.

15. The Church comes home

Where is the easiest place, say, for a man to be spiritual? Maybe again, is it hiding behind a big pulpit, dressed up in holy robes, preaching holy words to a faceless crowd and then disappearing into an office? And what is the most difficult, and therefore most meaningful, place for a man to be spiritual? At home, in the presence of his wife and children, where everything he does and says is automatically put through a spiritual litmus test against reality, where hypocrisy can be effectively weeded out and authenticity can grow. Much of Christianity has fled the family, often as a place of its own spiritual defeat, and then has organized artificial performances in sacred buildings far from the atmosphere of real life. As God is in the business of recapturing the homes, the church turns back to its roots, back to where it came from. It literally comes home, completing the circle of Church history at the end of world history.

As Christians of all walks of life, from all denominations and backgrounds, feel a clear echo in their spirit to what God’s Spirit is saying to the Church, and start to hear globally in order to act locally, they begin to function again as one body. They organize themselves into neighborhood house-churches and meet in regional or city-celebrations. You are invited to become part of this movement and make your own contribution. Maybe your home, too, will become a house that changes the world.

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name "Precious" :-)

16 Comments

  • Well, i read his Book back in 2000. And i like (or should i say liked) it alot. In the past few years i could not see an great impact of house chruches in society in Germany. The house churches i know are small groups that turning and living around them selfs. But maybe i just do not know the real houese churches. And, that is a little of my dilemma, i like the idea of houes churches. But… well i am just wondering how the inplementation in germany could look like. After all the Theses are great and maybe just because of your comments i will give it a try and read his new book aswell. Lets journey on…

  • Protective or Transformative Social Action

    Bob Robinson over at Vanguard Church has posted here on what I think is a perceptive and discerning insight how Christians have succumbed to pushing a “protective social action” agenda rather than following the Lord’s calling for “trans…

  • I echo your wow…and I think there can be a tremendous potential for people to take off with this kind of structure. However, does that really mean that the traditional model of church needs to be shelved in order for this to happen. Could there be some good healthy churches that have Christians that go into the community, or is the only way to accomplish this through house churches? What about churches that have healthy, holistic home groups (whatever they want to call them). I share the dream of having city churches again…but that would take a reverse reformation. Wasn’t the reformation really what splintered what was a too centralized institutionalized model of church.
    Wolfgang does a good job in his first thesis to set up the straw man. Not every meeting that has religious stuff in it is anthetical to what organicly could happen in house churches to turn Christians back to the way.
    He also uses strong language like a blueprint that God gave to the church. Where is that blueprint found. Did Jesus ever tell the apostles set it up this way? Did James ever address structure as head of the church? They made contextual to every city and place they went with the good news. Jesus taught them for fourty days the things of the kingdom…not any kind of church structure as we see in the beginning of Acts.
    Historically, Constantine was not the beginning of structure and organization. Their were bishops and the beginnings of institutional workings long before that. Bishops were set up as a response to heresey coming mostly from the gnostics…so authority systems were set in place earlier than when the government recognized Christianity in Rome. When James wrote to the churches and talked about favoritism, the sort of meeting described did not sound like a house church. If these were equal people sitting around a house, why would the rich guy be given a seat up in the front…a place of honor. I think we need to find a way to embrace house churches as coming from a traditional church model, but at the same time house churches need not discount everything all at the same time.
    On the one hand, house churches have extreme potential for discipleship and authentic Christianity…multiplication over addition, but the model on its face is not more pure than the other. House churches could just as easy become an ingrown blab fest of disenfranchised former church goers (I use church goer loosely as the people are the church). I am sure that is not your experience or why would there be such passion from you in this area…but it is there just as much potentially as hyerachal structures present fear, authority and mistrust as they run out of hand.
    Well, here you go…I finally got in the mix after lurking so long. I am curious how the five-fold ministry will take form in this sort of structure. God be with you as you continue to see new forms of worship and gathering emerge.
    Andy

  • I keep hearing great things about this book, I really need to read it.
    In my experience when people act “outside” of the bounds of an organization, this sort of thing starts to happen.
    What if instead of naming our buildings, a more tribalistic method was adopted. The easiest was to see this working is to go to a high school or college campus. Unofficial groups of people are named, with unoffical leaders, and they have unofficial places of meeting.
    Does this fit Simsons ideas? I guess I am trying to find a way to flesh this out a little more. It is great stuff, but threatens me, since we have come up in an age where ministry is a vocation providing a livelyhood.
    Great stuff. I also love seeing all the Reformation references at this time of year.

  • thanks andy – wolfgang will make an argument in his upcoming book that God was very specific in his details for the Temple and the same God is also desiring his church to be built on a specific plan. you will enjoy the book.
    and yes, Chad, its a threat to the traditional model. but wolfgang is not out to demolish the old structures – most of the countries he is involved in often dont have a large number of traditional churches anyway.

  • I can relate to these theses and especially like number 14 where he speaks of excessively polite Christianity which is too gutless to deal with sin, and explains that the reason why is our fear of persecution. I can’t quite go with an abolishing of the traditional church structure though, for two reasons.
    1. In the NT Jesus worshipped IN THE TEMPLE on the first day of the week; hence our resason to come together corporately on Sunday.
    2. Satan is even less particular of the structure of worship than God. He is more than willing to invade the home. We must be on our guard against him in either place and have confidence that he will indeed be there.
    My daughter and SIL have attended a home church for several years and I have seen them grow in the Lord there, so I am not opposed to the idea, but I do have some reservations. Unfortunately, a great many evangelical churches have become so self-focused that the holy spirit has quitely left.

  • I must say that I find these theses very challenging and thought provoking.
    However, I am shocked to learn that I am still worshipping according to the Old Testament! Indeed, as apparently has most of the Church for 1600 years. So when I wear vestments, bow to the altar, make the sign of the Cross, and follow a sacramental liturgy, I am basically an Aaronic priest.
    Don’t misunderstand me. I think there are problems too. But it wasn’t in the 4th century that all this crept in, it was much earlier. Much, much earlier. Perhaps even when Jesus said, This (this, notice, not the meal, but this) is my body and this (this, notice, not the meal, but this)is my blood.
    Of course, we need desperately to be and act as a family and to have real family experiences, but is my liturgy, and that of so many Christians, really the 21st century equivalent of indulgences?
    On another note: did anyone watch the funeral of Pope John Paul? It did connect, culturally speaking, didn’t it?

  • Ross, I’m not a house church guy… but I, too, see the connections between your (and to a more limited extent my) worship model and the OT Temple. Where in the NT do we see that pastors/elders are supposed to model themselves after OT priests? Yet that’s clearly what happens in the Roman Catholic church, and to a somewhat lesser degree in all the others, including mine. Where in the NT do we see the need for elaborate, Temple-like buildings? Etc.
    You’re right that it started creeping in before Constantine… but that doesn’t make it good or healthy or true to the NT or necessary today.

  • 15 Theses about Changing that way we do Church

    From the Tall Skinny Kiwi Blog, 15 Theses by Wolfgang Simson. I have just given the heading here Go to Andrews site and read the entire theses. Excellent and thought provoking.
    Church is a Way of Life, not a series of religious meetings
    Time to…

  • I’m a newbie. I just found Simpson’s book this last May, right before graduating from seminary. I was all set to do big program-oriented ministry, which my evangelical tradition-script dictated to me. I’d just began to be challenged by Walter Brueggemann, N. T. Wright, and others who beat a different path from the word to practical ministry.
    Simpson’s book was really a final shock to my system, and I stayed up all night reading when I should have been getting some rest. The next day, one of my fellow-students and I talked over the philosophy. He’s in California now, working at a battery factory to support his family, and a group of co-workers and neighbors meets in his living room.
    Me? I’ve read about every emerging/house/cell/whatever book since then, just seeing what others have thought and done. I’m finishing up a contractual obligation to a big program church, itching to get started…um, changing the world?
    Can’t wait to read the new book!

  • links for 2006-11-13

    The Dilbert Blog: The Most Obscene Letter since theoretically you could do your own research and discover that sh*thead does not mean asking a guy named Thead to be quiet. But it’s a lot of work to do that research, and few people are willing to put in

  • think will shake up the church in many areas. I have read the manuscript and I think it is the most substantial, remarkable, prophetic, stirring, upsetting, revolutionary book I have read all year, or, in fact, for a long time. I am looking forward to the discussion and I predict there will be MUCH of it. Is this available Yet? Where can I find it in english?

  • I’ve been processing through a series of CDs that Wolf did in Long Beach, CA and am being critically challenged to rethink my 40+ yrs of faith. I believe that Wolf is appointed to speak to the institutional church and serve as a modern day prophet uplifting Gods timeless call for His body to function organically in our compromised culture. The apparent overemphasis on ‘house church’ may be misleading at times as I believe Wolf’s call is for the main of us to get out of the comfortable pews and seek Him with a humble, pure, contrite heart to hear His voice afresh for us today. Yes, less structure whether it be in the building and/or in the form of worship is needed. Only a truly functioning organic fellowship will be prepared/positioned to withstand/survive what the future holds. To establish His Kingdom is our common call Without having read Wolf’s 15 Theses, his voice and clarion call is needed in our ‘Post 9/11’ American culture.

  • I’ve been processing through a series of CDs that Wolf did in Long Beach, CA and am being critically challenged to rethink my 40+ yrs of faith. I believe that Wolf is appointed to speak to the institutional church and serve as a modern day prophet uplifting Gods timeless call for His body to function organically in our compromised culture. The apparent overemphasis on ‘house church’ may be misleading at times as I believe Wolf’s call is for the main of us to get out of the comfortable pews and seek Him with a humble, pure, contrite heart to hear His voice afresh for us today. Yes, less structure whether it be in the building and/or in the form of worship is needed. Only a truly functioning organic fellowship will be prepared/positioned to withstand/survive what the future holds. To establish His Kingdom is our common call Without having read Wolf’s 15 Theses, his voice and clarion call is needed in our ‘Post 9/11’ American culture.

Leave a Reply