Around 18 years ago my wife and I were having fellowship with some friends that we hadn’t seen for some time. That evening we found we had many things in common, especially in our desire for a more simplistic approach to gathering with other believers. During the course of time, the phrase “house church” came up. If I had ever heard it before, it never impacted me like it had then. I already knew that the First Century Church often met in homes, but at this point in my life I envied the them more for this very reason.
From that time on, I began to learn more about various movements in recent history where home meetings were more than home Bible studies and prayer meetings. The people in these groups saw their meetings as legitimate expressions of the Church of Jesus Christ. They did not feel the need to build or purchase a building to meet in. They knew that Christ would be present in their gatherings as they prayed, worshipped, read His Word and ate together
Like the First Century Church!
It was the mid-nineties, and the internet was coming into more widespread use. It was there that I found many others who were rediscovering the New Testament Church and finding out about each other. It was an exciting time, and expectations were high. Several families joined with us, and we began a journey that lasted for over 15 years. In retrospect, I can see how things could have been better for many of us during those years, but also how blessed we were to have experienced Christ together in this way.
One of the downfalls of that movement was the tendency to build a case for the existence of House Churches, by building a case against traditional churches that meet in buildings and are more organized. What I want to do today is to build a case for the Biblical church, and how the House Church can be one among other practical ways to experience the Biblical, New Testament Church.
First, what do I mean by Biblical? When Jesus walked as a man on this earth, He made disciples and trained them as sort of “apprentices” in the Gospel. These were to carry the baton, so to speak, which He had passed down to them. Following His example, they preached the Good News of the Kingdom of God, and gathered the believers together as a community. They are the best resource we have for the message and life of Jesus. As He had commanded them, they spread His teachings to many nations, and also passed them down to later generations verbally and in writings.
This Written Word, the New Testament is more important today than it was back then because we no longer have the original eyewitnesses with us. But the power of the words they left are so self-evident that they have been precious to believers for over two thousand years. Not all following generations stayed true to the pure message of Christ, therefore, we continually go back to the Bible as our standard. Some would say, that the Holy Spirit is all they need. My answer to that statement is that the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible, and I am thankful that I have a way to test any impression or “spirit” to see if it is truly from God!
The same Holy Spirit that lived in the apostles, lives in us today, and when we are in agreement with those sent by Christ, we are in agreement with Him. That agreement produces the power to change lives, communities, and nations for the glory of God. Why would we not want that?
So when we speak of the Biblical Church, or Biblical Christianity, we are talking about that which is faithful to Jesus Christ Himself. He is responsible for what has been written in the New Testament. Without Him, His coming as a baby in Bethlehem, His sinless life, His preaching and teaching of the Kingdom of God, His miracles, His death on the Cross, His Resurrection, His Ascension to the throne on high, and His sending forth the Holy Spirit to fill His people, there would be no Church. Without the faithfulness of the men and women that He discipled, we would have no New Testament, no Twenty-first Century Church.
The Biblical Church is found in a multitude of nations, languages and cultures. There are many differences in the way they dress, in the songs they sing together, and in the way they meet. The one thing that they have in common is their faithfulness to the Words of Christ. They can gather in homes, hotel meeting facilities, and traditional buildings designed for Church meetings. I have attended meetings in all of these settings, as well as in a straw hut with a dirt floor in India. The important thing is that Jesus Christ is loved, honored, worshipped and obeyed.
The case I am attempting to make is not that other settings cannot be Biblical. In fact, I have been in House Church meetings that were frankly less Biblical in many ways than other meetings in traditional settings. However, I do believe there are advantages to meeting in homes. Those who love the Word of God and seek to follow Christ together can find a great freedom to do so in believer’s homes.
Consider the “one anothers” written in the New Testament. All of them are important to a rich, genuine Christian experience that is faithful to the call of Christ for every believer.
We are instructed to:
. . . be at peace with one another (Mark 9:50)
. . . wash one another’s feet (John 13:14)
. . . love one another (John 13:34-35, 15:12, 17, Romans 13:8, 1 Thessalonians. 3:12, 4:9, 1 John 3:11, 1 John 3:23, 1 John 4:7, 1 John 4:11-12, 2 John 5)
……deeply, from the heart (1 Peter 1:22)
. . . realize that we are members of one another (Romans. 12:5)
. . . be devoted to one another in love (Romans. 12:10)
. . . honor one another above yourselves (Romans 12:10)
. . . live in harmony with one another (Romans. 12:16)
. . . stop passing judgment on one another (Romans. 14:13)
. . . edify one another (Romans. 14:19)
. . . be like minded one toward another (Romans. 15:5)
. . . admonish one another (Romans. 15:14).
. . . wait for one another (1 Corinthians 11:33)
. . . have the same care for one another (1 Corinthians 12:25)
. . . greet one another with a holy kiss (Romans. 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Peter 5:14)
. . . serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13)
. . . bear with one another in love (Ephesians. 4:2, Colossians 3:13)
. . . speak truth for we are members of one another (Ephesians. 4:25)
. . . be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians. 4:32)
. . . submit to one another (Ephesians. 5:21)
. . . not lie to one another (Colossians 3:9)
. . . forgive one another (Colossians 3:13)
. . . comfort one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18)
. . . incite one another to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24)
. . . encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25)
. . . not speak evil of one another (James 4:11)
. . . not make complaints against one another (James 5:9)
. . . confess your sins to one another (James 5:16)
. . . pray for one another (James 5:16)
. . . offer hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:9)
. . . clothe yourselves with humility toward one another (1 Peter 5:5).
. . . have fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7)
All of these exhortations must be responded to in the context of personal relationships. It would be difficult to visualize any of them outside of that context. Each of them implies that we know each other. Of course there are ways that people get to know one another outside of the church gathering. But a more informal House Church setting can facilitate the process. Whereas, a person could attend a large mega-church meeting for some time without getting to know the other believers, let alone the leaders. Thankfully, many larger churches are becoming more intentional about relationships within the local church, by organizing various small groups.
However, my concern is that far too many believers view the relationship side as secondary, while they understand their primary service to be passively observing a lovely program performed on a stage. Certainly there is a time to sit quietly and learn. I have learned tremendously from sitting under inspired, Godly teachers during my lifetime. But some things I probably would not have learned outside of an environment that is characterized by interaction. Many of those who look to the New Testament have come to see that the stage performance resulted more from the Greek culture than the less formal synagogue style from which the New Testament meeting evolved.
Love is the highest priority for believers in Christ. Anything else we do is meaningless without it! (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). This is not the kind of casual, convenient love that is common today. The love that God has for us and that we are to give to one another includes loving even when faults are known.
Another important advantage to the Biblical style house meeting is the checks and balances available. Scriptures concerning leadership become immensely practical, when your leaders are not standing above the people. It is much easier to question a strange doctrine in a personal, close, relationship-oriented gathering. The same goes for strange and spooky manifestations of “the Spirit.” I have found that it is not as easy to get into grandstanding and showmanship in a meeting where everyone knows one another personally. Again, there is less intimidation and more freedom to question what goes on.
Over the years I have met with believers from many theological backgrounds. I have come to appreciate the perspectives of both sides of the free-will verses election debate, as well as those who do not agree with my view of the charismatic experience. Leaders in House Churches are less likely to become isolated from the others in the church – if they are using the New Testament as their model. Other respected and mature members of the congregation can help them to avoid extremes in their teachings which damage the unity we have in Christ.
Another advantage for House Church and other small group meetings is in the area of discipleship and mentoring. The older women can be responsible for the younger women, and the older men for the younger men. The fundamentals of the faith can be transmitted to faithful men, who in turn personally teach other faithful men. (Titus 2:3-5 1 Peter 5:5, 2 Timothy 2:2). The House Church is more like a family than a business or political organization. There is order, but an order based upon proven relationships and the degree of care and concern we have for one another.
The one great disadvantage to House Church/Simple Church is the tendency to see everyone else as completely wrong. The Cross of Christ must continue to work in us a humility and willingness to honor Christ in all of those who love Him. Ultimately, it is only by His power at work within us that we can demonstrate His True Church, His body to the world!
Maybe God has called you to serve in a denominational church or a mega-church. That is between you and the Lord. I personally do not envy that position. May He grant His grace to avoid the pitfalls of such a situation as well as to those who need to avoid the pitfalls of House Church. We all need to be careful that we are not pressed into situations by people, or traditions, rather than the Holy Spirit of God.