Sunday, March 11, 2012


I've been reading through Ross Rohde's excellent book, Viral Jesus, right now and at the end of this month I will join Ross and a few other local organic church practitioners at Momentum 2012. Here's our recent conversation about his book, what it means for the church, and a little of what we can expect when we get together at Momentum.

Keith Giles: What was it that inspired you to write this book?

Ross Rohde: It was more of a process than a moment of inspiration. When I was in Spain the Lord actually directed me to the House Church movement. For the first time in my life I actually heard God speak to me, very specifically, and as a Baptist that was pretty frightening. The Lord said, “I want you to pray for 5 couples to start the house church movement in Spain” – and that was a direct quote. So, I didn’t know what to do with that, but I started praying. I didn’t tell anyone else about this other than my wife.

So, in a place where nobody else was talking about house church (in Spain) and the church itself was pretty weak, something like point 2 percent of Spain’s population is Evangelical, we started praying for God to bring us people to help start house churches. In a place where nobody was even talking or thinking about Evangelical church, we began praying and God started bringing people to us supernaturally, and not just 5 people but 11 people in about three month’s time – out of nowhere.

That was my introduction to a supernatural God.

So, a number of things happened. I got in touch with Wolfgang Simson and I started studying the house church movement. I began to realize that when I read about house church in India, China and even Switzerland it wasn’t just this technique, it was God at work. There was supernatural power involved and as someone who was raised in a context where, to be frank, I was trained to disdain and fear and to mock supernatural power and then once I began to experience it I didn’t know what to do.

In order to discipline myself to study I got involved with a doctoral program. I used that as a way of focusing my thought and I started studying house church and this is the book that came out of all that.

KG: I think you and I are on the same page. I also came from a Baptist background and then my wife and I got involved in the Vineyard movement about 15 years ago and started experiencing more supernatural things like dreams and visions and words of knowledge and healing and all of that. Then, of course, I ended up starting a house church in my home through a series of events where God spoke to me. I think we’re similar in that regard.

So, let me ask you to elaborate, when you say you studied house church, you mean more than simply people meeting in a home to listen to a sermon or a bible study. Explain what you mean when you say, “house church” because I think it’s about more than where we meet, right?

RR: For so long the church has been self-focused, and that’s been a long history, a long process over time, way beyond the middle ages even, the church became narcissistic. Kind of like a bride who looks in the mirror and is stunned by her own beauty and is constantly primping her hair so that she forgets about her fiancĂ©.
House Church – real house church – I’m not talking about getting a bunch of people together in a house – house church is Jesus-focused. It’s people getting together in the presence of the Master to hear what He has to say to them, hear what He wants to do for them, hear what He wants them to do, and then those people go and do whatever He says out of absolute devotion and love. That’s what I mean by house church. It is so Christ centered, and in essence it is the people of God meeting with King Jesus and doing what He says because they love Him, and allowing Him – because He’s so desperately in love with us – to minister to us.

KG: Absolutely! It’s doing more than paying lip service to the idea that Jesus is the Head of the Church.

RR: Yeah, and as you know in my book, the Lordship of Jesus is a major issue. That has to be more than doctrine. We have a huge weakness in the Western Church, and particularly in the American Church. We are so indoctrinated – and I’m not against good doctrine, I think good doctrine is important – but when we look at it from a Hebrew mindset in Scripture, instead of a Greek mindset which is an adulteration of Christianity, it’s not what you say that counts, it’s what you live.

KG: Amen!

RR: And if Jesus is your Lord then you have to do what He says, not just say, ‘I agree with this idea that Jesus is the King of the Universe’ – and that’s lovely, but how does it show?

KG: Exactly, Ross. I’ve been observing this and blogging about this for several years now. There’s a radical difference between Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy. I think the Church in America has majored on having all the right beliefs. We’ve got our doctrine lined up and we believe the right things and we can debate it and study it and we have the study of apologetics and we have seminars and books and Sunday School classes to drill everyone on Orthodoxy – and not that any of that is bad in itself – but we’re so good at that and so bad at putting all of that into practice. Which, actually, when you study Jesus you discover that He seemed to be really, really concerned that people would not only hear His words but then go ahead and put His words into practice. That’s what the parable of the Wise Man building His house on the rock is all about, for instance. Jesus was looking for people who would hear His words and put them into practice (disciples) not people who would hear His words and memorize them (believers).

RR: Right.

KG: Your book is wonderful in that respect. The stories help take this out of the theoretical but helps to demonstrate the “how to” part of it.

RR: That’s what I hoped people would take out of it, but I do want to add a caveat here. You know I’ve always thought that the book of Acts was a collection of the early church’s best stories, and in a certain way my book ends up having some of my friends best stories and my best stories.  The reality is that there’s a lot of grind in there, there’s a lot of disappointment in there, you know, ‘I just blew it but God in His grace has taught me a lesson.” There’s all of that in there. I don’t know how much of that comes through to the reader, but that’s the reality of being in the harvest.

KG: Thank you for saying that. Anytime we write about something or speak on a topic – no matter what the topic is – we always tend to tell the story about the touchdowns, because that’s what everybody wants to hear. We don’t often sit down and say, ‘Let me tell you a beautiful story about the time I completely blew it.’

RR: (laughs) I am so good at fumbling!

KG: Exactly, yeah! I think that’s the truth. The same is true for me. If I was going to tell a story it would be about the two or three times I managed by the Grace of God to get it right, and probably not the times I’ve often blown it. We never want to paint a false picture that touchdowns are what happen every single time we step out to serve.

Maybe it’s self-evident, but I wanted to ask you about what you were hoping to accomplish with this book? What sort of impact are you hoping it has on the church today?

RR: As I said this book was a process and I’ve always been sort of a strategic thinker, and that’s what I’ve done and who I am. I was trying to show the strategic roadblocks – the things we have become used to that have nothing to do with real Christianity – but from a strategic point of view of how this impairs us. But over a five year process of writing the book the Lordship of Jesus and the simplicity of the New Covenant became stronger and stronger. I realized that we in the West – and I include myself in this – we focus on doctrine and we love technique. We think, because of American frontier individualism, that we can figure out how to do it and perfect the techniques – if some expert could just teach us how – we could go out and accomplish the Kingdom. But it’s just utter folly. Jesus never once said – I mean, he demonstrated in Luke 10 – he preached it and demonstrated it – but when he talks about fruit he says, if you want to bear much fruit you have to abide in me. Without me you can’t anything, he says.

We have somehow – because of our American mindset – we’ve convinced ourselves that we can apply our ingenuity to figure it out on our own, and we’re basing this on the fundamental principles of the world. That’s the world, that’s not Jesus.

When I left my culture and came back I was able to see things I couldn’t see before. There are some wonderful things in America, but if we really want to follow Jesus into the harvest we have to be aware of where we limp as well.

We limp in spirituality. That’s our weak link.

Why does the Gospel in China? In India? Are they smarter than we are? I don’t think so. Do they have more resources than we do? I know that’s not true.

But what they do that works is they have a raw dependence on Christ. I know very well that people like the heavenly man, Brother Yun, and others in the house church in China would say, “Get after Jesus.” So, we have got to get a grip, not only on our strengths, but we need to be aware that we are severely impaired.

All that we can do is to get on our knees and come to God and say, “Oh God, I know you’re a gracious God, and I know all you want is for me to get close to you so that’s what I’m going to do. I know that not only as an individual, but in community as well.”

Another weakness is that we’re so individualistic that we don’t understand the power of a focused community that is centered on Jesus Christ.

So, that’s my concern and my passion in Viral Jesus.

KG: I want to ask you kind of a loaded question. You made an observation earlier that Jesus never gave us a three step formula for success. Why do you think that is?

RR: Well, he gave us a pattern, but he gave us a pattern that he has to lead. I have been in a whole series of encountering the ‘man of peace’ situations before and none of them has ever been the same way twice. Not with me or with my friends or any other stories I’ve heard. That’s because you have to follow Jesus into this stuff. The pattern is there, but it looks different every time. I think that the answer to your question is that Jesus wants us to be dependent on him – he always has. He wants us to be in deep relationship with him, and looking to him for all the answers. But when we start looking to technique for the answers, you know, like ‘what do you do about kids in the house church?’ as if there’s one answer to that question! We ask, ‘how do we do evangelism’ as if there’s an answer to that question. The answer is, you do what Jesus says. And that sounds simplistic but it’s not, it’s just simple.

KG: Amen. As you point out, Jesus gave us a pattern, but what I find interesting is that we’ve got that pattern backwards. We think that the pattern to plant a church is to first get a ton of money, then assemble a leadership team, and then find a great worship band, and then hire a gifted youth pastor, and on and on. We just segment out everything and to us this is just normal. This is what I did. I responded God’s call on my life and entered the ministry this way because there was an established pattern and we couldn’t imagine any other pattern of doing things.

RR: Absolutely. None of us ever questioned if the Emperor had not clothes on because we were the tailors. All of a sudden someone asks a question and the scales fall off our eyes and we realize that Jesus never did any of this stuff, and he never told anyone to do any of this stuff.

Even when we start with Luke 10 and we want to find the man of peace and go out and heal the sick and raise the dead, that’s still not where Jesus starts. Jesus starts by saying, “Hey, I’ve appointed 72 others besides the 12, and I (Jesus) sent them out ahead into every town and place where I was about to go,” and then he told them that the harvest was plentiful and the workers are few and he commanded them to pray to the Lord of the harvest that he was send out more workers into the field.

So Jesus starts with his own authority and prayer, and we start with technique. ..and that’s the burning thing in my heart. That’s the key thing. What’s the key? It’s Jesus! It’s not just a document, it’s a reality. We’re in a covenant relationship with him and he speaks to our heart and mind and because of that we can actually listen to Jesus and obey, and do it in his power. That is just incredible.

I went to a very good evangelical school and got a Bible degree and went back and got a Master’s degree and was a missionary for 25 years and it wasn’t until the last 4 years of that whole process that I even started to hear about the new covenant. I mean, how do you get through Bible college without ever hearing about the new covenant? Yet I heard it said at least once a month, ‘This is the new covenant in my blood’ and it went right over the top of my head. It’s like, how can we be talking about all the details in the Bible and not get down to how my relationship with Jesus works? How can we study the details and miss the main point?

KG: Not only do most Christians grow up not knowing this – not just the people in the pews – but even the leaders in the pulpit have no idea what the new covenant is, or even know what the Gospel that Jesus preached really is?

For me it wasn’t until about 7 years ago when I first understood that the Gospel wasn’t about saying a prayer so we could go to heaven when we die, and I was a pastor and had been for nearly 20 years at the time. It’s shameful that the core of the Gospel and the reality of the new covenant is so lost to most in the Christian church.

RR: My trajectory was slightly different. I wasn’t a pastor but I was a missionary. But, how could I go to a Christian grad school and entirely miss the point? It’s like we’re so focused on dispensationalism that we’re opposed to covenant theology so we can’t talk about covenant. It’s like, what? That doesn’t even make sense. I mean, you can believe dispensationalism if you want, but for crying out loud, the new covenant is right there (in the scriptures). It’s in Hebrews chapter 8 and 10 and in Jeremiah chapter 31, it’s in 2 Corinthians 2 through 7, it’s everywhere!

KG: Yes, it is.

RR: If I could see one thing happen from people reading Viral Jesus it would be this: Not that we all decide to do house church – that would be nice, but all that does it get the barriers out of the way – but what I hope is that we as a people would seek God with our entire heart. Seek Jesus first. Jesus we want you. We don’t want Pentecost to happen because we want to see tongues of fire again. We want you! And if you want to do that again and give us some kind of Pentecost experience that’s fine, so what? We just want you, Jesus.

Even when the Spirit does move, as in China and at Azusa Street, and all the others, it usually only lasts about 20 years before all our bad ecclesiology grinds everything down like sand in the gears. But look at it the other way, if you have all the ecclesiology and you don’t have Jesus you don’t even get 20 years.

KG: Exactly!

RR: That brings me to what I want to speak on at Momentum later this month. I want to talk about practical spirituality.

KG: Sounds exciting. As you’re talking it makes me think of the original title I played with on my latest book which was “Jesus called, he wants his church back.”

RR: (laughs) Why didn’t you use it?

KG: It was a little too flippant, I guess. I was trying to get people to actually read the book and I knew if I had that title only house church people would crack the cover open.

I was just reading yesterday and today about where Jesus speaks to the churches in the book of Revelation and he warns them not to forget about him. Today the church needs that reminder that we’re doing church without Jesus and he’s on the outside knocking and asking if someone might let him back inside.

RR: I don’t want to be critical but the mission I was in, we were so intent on doing ministry through the business paradigm that we really didn’t need Jesus. We had it all figured out. I mean, in 25 years I don’t remember anyone ever saying, “Let’s just stop and see what Jesus wants us to do.” Never once!

KG: But I do understand, from a purely human sense, why asking Jesus to lead us every step of the way eventually got replaced by liturgy and tradition – because trusting Jesus for every single thing is very scary, and it’s really uncomfortable, and it brings a measure of uncertainty that most people really don’t want to deal with on a regular basis. I mean, who could survive in a system where you couldn’t predict at any given moment what was going to happen next? I mean, it’s a scary thing to actually let Jesus hold the steering wheel. He’s an unpredictable guy. You never know where He might take things, and He never seems to do anything the same way twice. So, following Jesus means staying in a constant place of unbalance. It means embracing uncertainty. That’s really terrifying to most people. We want safe, not scary. We want a nice sermon and an uplifting worship song, and we want God to be our co-pilot.

Of course, that’s not what we see in the New Testament. What we see in the first century church is a people so in love with Jesus, so devoted to Him, and excited about what Jesus was doing and where He was leading, that they wouldn’t dare put their hands on it to steer it somewhere else.

RR: Well, it’s a warts and all story, so we see that the Apostles can’t leave Jerusalem in Acts chapter 8 because they were so tied to the Temple. But another way of saying what you’re saying is that we don’t want to give up our agenda. That has been the storyline in the Bible since Genesis chapter 3. Like you said, Jesus just wants His church back.

I was really encouraged as you were talking about that and how we’re all in seasons of ministry. Frank Viola mentioned in his blog this morning, that sometimes we’re in a season of planting or watering or sprouting or plowing. But we want to be in the harvest mode all the time. That’s not how it works.

I know that people are going to read my book and assume that there must be some vast network of hundreds of house churches all over the Bay area (where I live) but it’s not really like that. There’s a bunch of people who love Jesus and are ministering to people, and sometimes they fail, and it’s kind of messy, but the Kingdom goes forward, and that’s what really counts.

KG: Amen. We can’t wrap our egos up in this and define success by how many churches we’ve planted, or how long they stay together, or any of that. Sometimes God’s plan is for a church to come together for a year, maybe less, and for them to be encouraged and blessed and sent back out again. That’s not failure, that’s the Kingdom and it’s Jesus’ church, it’s not mine. It’s His agenda, not mine. We have to let go and let Him do with His Church what He wants.

RR: That goes back to our American success story. We want to be successful and Jesus wants us to die. We just have to give up on being successful and just focus on being obedient, and that is success. We have to get over trying to impress other people or pastors. Who cares about that? All I care about is what Jesus thinks.

KG: We have to redefine success as being obedient to Jesus.  More and more I feel like we need to re-name all of this as Jesus Church rather than Organic Church or House Church or Simple Church. We need to just major on gathering together to see Jesus, hear Jesus, worship Jesus, listen to Jesus, and love Jesus. That’s really what it’s all about.

RR: We need to realize our weakness. My wife reminded me of a saying of Benedict who said, “Always we start again,” and that’s real spirituality. Not that we have some kind of flawless life but it’s that we’re frail, weak human beings who fall down and Jesus picks us up again. Even in the house church movement we have wonderful leaders, and we all know their names, but we don’t need heroes – and I know them, and they don’t want to be the heroes – they want to see Jesus exalted in the Body of Christ.

KG: That’s my prayer too. It reminds me of the phrase, “Conversatio Morem” which is a Latin phrase that means “constant conversion” which means that we need to be constantly converted to Christ, constantly sacrificed on the cross, and daily surrendered to Jesus.

RR: Yeah, we need to remember that we’re all weak. We’re quirky. We need to allow ourselves to be ourselves and be ok with we’re not all the same.

KG: I think that’s what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 12 about how we’re all different members of the Body with different strengths and weaknesses. It’s not true that the church would be a better place if everyone were just like me. The truth is that if everyone in the Church were just like me we’d be in a very bad place.

RR: (laughs) You’re heart and my heart are aligned. I want us to break away from some of our cultural tendencies that keep us from looking True North, because Jesus is our True North.

No comments: