The House Church Vision
Living in a country where the only accepted church is the one approved by the government, we have been forced to re-examine its format. Circumstances and conditions led us to hold our own fellowship through informal meetings where regularly with other fellow Christians we read and study the Word of God, praise and worship, pray and reach out to others who are searching and eager to find Jesus, A church in the home, or a home church, may be a new and questionable form of worship for some. But is this a new concept? Is it not Biblical? Here is a study we made on the issue:
Rediscovering the House Church
- There is one form of church that has existed since Pentecost. Currently it is said to contain more Christians than any other kind of church worldwide. It is called "house church." As the name implies, it is a church that meets in a home. It was the only form of church found in the New Testament or in the world until the time of the emperor Constantine (with one or two archeological exceptions). Between the years A.D. 313 and 321, Constantine made Christianity the official state religion, gave tax benefits for donated buildings, put clergy on his payroll and claimed Sunday as the official day of worship. A tax-exempt, property-holding organization with paid clergy replaced the simple form of house church. Nevertheless, the house church has continued to exist to this day.
- A simple definition of a house church is a group of believers who meet in a home to function as a New Testament church. This usually means a focus on the basics of prayer, fellowship, learning and evangelism among a smaller group of people. All are encouraged to participate, use their spiritual gifts and share life together in community that extends beyond meeting times. Examining the idea of house church challenges common ways of doing church and helps point us back to its biblical functions, because the house church essentially challenges three unnecessary forms in Western churches: buildings, clergy and programs.
- A specific church building is one form that hinders essential church functioning. If a traveler came asking for "the church" in a typical second-century Roman town, he was directed toward a gathering of people, not a physical structure. Even the Greek word for church literally means "called-out ones," with an underlying idea of gathering together. So why is the question, "Where is your church?" answered today with directions to a physical address? The form of the building has overtaken the basic nature and function of the church as people.
- There are no holy places in biblical Christianity. Only one holy God lives with a holy people. This notion began in the Old Testament. The holy ground around the burning bush was holy only because God was in the middle. The same was true for the tabernacle and the temple — God's presence made them holy. The coming of Jesus brought a full understanding of this concept. He spoke to the woman at the well, and when asked about the proper holy place He said, "... a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth ..."(John 4:23). No exact address needed.
- Church began at Pentecost. Instead of filling a "holy place" God filled the people who were seeking Him together in a house. [Acts 2:1]Again, there is nothing magical about the form of church in a house. It emphasizes the biblical idea that church is people and can begin and exist anywhere God's people breathe. It drives the truth of Jesus' words: "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. " (Matthew 18:20). Instead of the emphasis on God's filling a "holy building" should we not ask God to fill a holy people? Paul asked the same question of the Corinthians: "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?" (1 Corinthians 3:16). The form of a building confines church to meetings under steeple and cross. The form of a house church creates space where it is easier to remember that church is people and that Jesus is among them.
- Jesus spoke of more than physical structure when He claimed to be replacing the temple. He also abolished the division and hierarchy of the priesthood. Matthew 27:51 reads, "And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; " Only the high priest could go behind that curtain, so when priests were instituted in the church the temple curtain was hung again. This curtain of "clergy" versus "laity" has separated holy people from God and mired their functioning in the church. Martin Luther coined the phrase "the priesthood of all believers." Unfortunately, he only applied it in the sense that we no longer need to go through a priest but have direct access to God for salvation. He forgot that it means every believer also has gifts and a role of ministry in the body of Christ. While I'm thankful for Luther, he simply replaced the old priestly structure with new priests and the same old structure. The church will never fully function until that curtain comes down once again. This idea will shake some earth and split a few rocks, but rediscovering church is worth suffering a little violence.
- "Church is people" and "the priesthood of all believers" are both essential elements within the church, but what should happen when the church gathers together is continually at the center of focus and controversy. There is a worship renewal happening around the world. Not the thousands in the North American "renewal" movement or the tens of thousands buying the latest worship CD. The real renewal is happening with the millions around the world who are learning how to gather in someone's home and circle in prayer. People are leaving the complications of church programs and returning to the basic functions described in the book of Acts: "And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. ... And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart ..." (Acts 2:42, 46). Prayer, learning and fellowship are the biblical, basic functions of the church. Meeting in the temple courts and in homes, having the Lord's Supper and eating together were the basic forms for these functions in the early church.
- People ask what house church is like. House church is like an extended family that puts Jesus at the center and reaches out to those who are orphans. What we do is gather in homes to pray, learn and grow in relationship. Sound simple? It is. Delightfully simple.
[excerpts from an article by Jason Johnson]
Why House Churches?
[excerpts from an article by Floyd McClung]
- There are over three billion people on our planet who have never heard the name of Jesus one time. There remain thousands of people groups that have not been reached with the good news of God's love. Poverty, corruption, preventable diseases, and famine have turned whole countries and continents to ruin. We are stirred to face these challenges with faith in God's goodness and obedience to his commands.
- I believe the church of Jesus Christ is the hope of the world. Some would say that this leaves out Jesus, that he alone is the hope of the world. Not at all! Jesus himself chose the church to be his answer to the world's needs. Anything good that comes from the church is from Jesus.
- I believe the church has been commissioned to respond with Jesus-like compassion to the physical challenges of the world and respond with the good news of the cross to the spiritual challenges. I believe in sharing God's love with two hands: one hand with food, medicine and clean water, and the other hand with the message of God's love.
- Because I love the church and have served the church for a total of seventy years, I am in no way prepared to give up on the church. She has needs. She has weaknesses. And yes, she is hopeless without Jesus. But she is his bride, his family, and we love her because of that. I love the whole church, big and small, black and white, rich and poor, young and old. I am excited about house churches, but not to the exclusion of the rest of the body of Christ. If you are looking for someone that hammers and criticizes the institutional church, denominations, or mega-churches, I am the wrong man for you.
- I am excited about house churches because God's spirit is moving through them to touch our planet. These are not just words. What is happening around the world right now through house church movements is spectacular. The tremendous growth of house churches world-wide has caught my attention. There is probably no more significant factor in the growth of the church world-wide than the rediscovery of the power of small, simple, easily reproducible churches. God is breathing on this form of church, and we should pay attention.
- I am not saying there are a few thousand house churches worldwide, and that because of this I would like to see the same thing happen in North America or Europe. I am saying that tens of millions of people are coming to Christ through hundreds of thousands of small, simple churches in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. I am desirous that my own nation and the nations of the developing world experience the same blessing.
- The principles that make small, simple churches work well also help individuals grow spiritually. They produce ownership, accountability, spontaneity, involvement, responsibility, and growth in people's lives.
- I believe that God has a big dream, but I also believe that he builds his church one life, one family, and one small church community at a time. I, too, dream big dreams, but I have learned that to build well I must "build small." The maturity and effectiveness of any movement of lasting impact can be measured by how effective it is in fostering a culture of small groups that effectively function as church for the people.
- I am excited about the house church model because that is where God?s spirit is moving around the world today. And no wonder. Most of those who have never heard the good news about Jesus live in countries closed to traditional expressions of Sunday-oriented, building-driven churches. If the church is going to reach the three billion poor people of our planet who live in small villages and crowded cities, it will not be through program-driven, professional clergy models of Western church.
- But it is not this model of church that excites me, but what the Spirit of God does in people's lives when they discover the New Testament principles of doing church in small communities. It is those principles that are the engine that powers the house church model, not the model itself. These principles are not complicated, and they don?t require a theological education to figure them out. They are woven all through the story of the church in the book of Acts. And they permeate the house church movement world-wide.
- With this in mind, I have given my life to train church planters to go the unreached and believe that God uses them to give birth to a church planting movement of small, simple, grass roots churches.
Home Churches vs. Church Buildings
[excerpts from an article by Dan Trotter]
- Where we meet is very important. It is, of course, not as important as the living stones that are being plastered together as the church, but it is still important. I am fascinated by how often people who think like we do on many different points, will balk at my emphasis on meeting in the house. Why is this?
- One reason, I think, is super-spirituality. Let the organized church worry about buildings, these folks say, but we're going to worry about building the body of Christ, and we can do that anywhere, in any building. This sounds good, but it is entirely unrealistic.
- Architects and business consultants have realized for a long time that buildings and their accoutrements will affect people's moods and relationships. One thinks of the proverbial banker's desk and visitor's chair. When you sit in the chair, the desk is about neck-high, and you feel very small and very inferior to the banker. Take another example: suppose you want to have close, intimate communion with your brothers and sisters. You go to a church building. You put the chairs in a circle. You're still faced with the open spaces that kill intimacy, and make it hard to hear. You've got cold fluorescent lights overhead. And you've got decades of acculturation to deal with. When you're in a building, you're used to thinking institutionally and formally.
- Let me quote from a critic who believes in church life, but who thinks the building in which the church meets is not important: “I do not believe that the answer lies in forsaking ‘church buildings' in favor of ‘living rooms.' Nor are sweat shirts and jeans inherently more conducive to effective fellowship and ministry than three piece suits and neckties. It seems to me that such proposals merely exchange one external ‘hang-up' for another. To prove that there were no ‘church buildings' in the first few decades of the church's existence is to prove nothing. There were also no automobiles, or telephones, or computers, or printing presses . . . Should we also view these advances as detrimental to church life? Or does the real problem actually lie in the way we use these tools? If a church ‘building' is worshiped more than the One in whose name we gather, something has certainly gone wrong. If such is the case, selling the building and crowding into a living room will do little to solve the problem. What is needed is a change of heart and mind, not of location and surroundings . . . It is just as easy to spawn and perpetuate false teaching, factionalism, groundless ritual, and stifling traditions in a living room as it is in a ‘church building.' And one can be deliberately ostentatious in ragged jeans and worn-out Reeboks as in a well pressed suit and polished wing-tips.”
- Let's examine one by one the propositions set forth above. The first is, “I do not believe that the answer lies in forsaking ‘church buildings' in favor of ‘living rooms'.” This is a half-truth, and like all half-truths, it is entirely misleading. Of course, exchanging church buildings in favor of living rooms is not the whole answer. It is however, part of the answer. In fact, it is a necessary part of the answer (although it is not sufficient in and of itself). More on this later.
- His second proposition is, “Sweat shirts and jeans are not inherently more conducive to fellowship and ministry than three piece suits and neckties.” At this point, you will have to excuse me. Heretofore, I have been measured, rational, and moderate. But I refuse to be measured, rational, and moderate when one tries to defend neckties. Ladies and gentlemen, if you want to grab hold of a piece of wisdom that will bless you for the rest of your life, please listen to this truth: neckties are of the devil! (I, of course, jest here). I know a brother who calls a necktie a “choking spirit.” I sometimes suspect that he is right. The problem is not merely that the thing is so utterly useless; rather, a necktie is a positive evil relative to church life. It's very purpose is to choke off intimacy, and establish formality. It is actually written in the code of ethics for lawyers that they have to wear “appropriate” dress, so as not to bring disrepute on the profession. Have you ever seen a lawyer at work without a necktie? The purpose is to establish professionalism. The purpose is to make you think that he is competent, intelligent, and important. It's purpose is not to make you more intimate with him. How many people do you know that insist on wearing a tie to church, then go home and wear one? They don't. Why not? Because they are with their family, and they don't need to be formal with their family. Why do Christians need to be formal with their brothers and sisters? I know of many churches which started wonderfully, and then began to institutionalize. It is inevitable that at some point along the way, the leaders will be told they must wear ties. It is at this point that you may be certain the church has died, just as you know a patient has died when his EKG shows no brain waves.
- A third point is, “To prove that there were no church buildings in the early church is to prove nothing. There were also no automobiles, or telephones, or computers, or printing presses.” And, of course, as this old argument runs, there is nothing wrong with cars or phones, they are morally neutral, they can be used for good as well as bad, and so can church buildings. This argument has a surface validity, but it is fallacious. A church building is often not “morally neutral.” It is not an adventitious piece of technology that can be used for good or evil. If church buildings are not important, why have Christians sunk 180 billion dollars into building them? If you don't think they are important, go ask a traditional church pastor to sell his church building and give the money to the poor in the name of Jesus, and see what kind of response you'll get. Of all the money Christians faithfully put in the plate, how much of it goes to the gospel, or to the needy, and how much goes to the parking lots, the steeples, the carpets? How many church splits are generated by disputes over the color of carpets, the placement of church furniture, and other momentous issues? Everyone reading this knows as well as I do that the church building today is typically nothing more than a holy shrine, a phony substitute temple for the true temple of God, which is the body of Christ. People don't fight over computers, automobiles, telephones, and printing presses. But they will fight over a church building. Why? Because the church building can easily become an idolatrous object of worship.
- His fourth statement is that “What is needed is a change of heart and mind, not of location and surroundings.” This argument is one whose foundation rests in super-spirituality. It would work if human beings were airy wraiths who floated through life totally unaffected by their grubby material surroundings. But unfortunately, we humans are very much influenced by our surroundings. Lets take this argument to its logical extreme. Suppose you had a brother who was destitute, jobless, homeless, and miserable. Would you tell him, “Brother, what you need is a change of heart and mind, not a change of location and surroundings!”?
- We cannot divorce our attitudes and assumptions from the environmental influences which shape us from a very young age. Thus, if a child attends church his whole life in a church building, he or she will wind up later in life thinking that church buildings hold a holy position in God's eyes as the appropriate place to meet. To say that we should examine our hearts before we examine our church buildings ignores the reciprocal influence that each has on the other.
- A fifth assertion the critic is that, “It is just as easy to spawn and perpetuate false teaching, factionalism, groundless ritual, and stifling traditions in a living room as it is in a ‘church building.'” This is not true. Although false teaching, factionalism, groundless ritual, etc. can easily be spawned in a house, it is not true that they can easily be perpetuated in a living room. Why? Because it takes the living Christ dwelling inside people to keep the church alive without bureaucracy, ritual, and building. And as soon as the life of Christ is replaced by fleshly substitutes, the house church dies, because there is not bureaucracy, ritual, and building to keep it perpetuated. In fact, as human flesh moves in on a house church, you will begin to hear calls for one or more of three things: imported pastors, buildings, and neckties. Why the call for a building? Because human flesh loves illusions of permanence, beauty, and protection. And if Jesus isn't providing those things, fleshly religious people are going to instinctively look to a building for a substitute. This is not to blame the death and fleshiness on the building, but it is to say that the building is the outward sign of the death and fleshiness that is within.
- So far this critique of church buildings has focused on two main points: their obscene and wasted expense, and their frequent use as idolatrous substitutes for the worship of Christ. However, there are other reasons we should avoid church buildings like the plague. One reason is that buildings are harmful to church life because they permit the church to grow to such a size that it is impossible to have intimate fellowship anymore. How many times have you heard Christians say, “This was a wonderful church back in the old days when we were small, but now we don't know anybody.” A house church can never grow that large, because not everyone can fit in the living room. (Which means, incidentally, that for house churches to grow, they must divide and multiply.)
- Another reason is that certain normative New Testament practices can't be accomplished easily in a large church setting. For example, weekly partaking of the Lord's Supper, taking of the Lord's Supper with one loaf and one cup, partaking of the Lord's Feast, and mutual participation and sharing are easily handled in a house church setting, but not so in larger institutional churches.
- A third reason not to have a special building is the total absence in the New Testament of instructions to construct such buildings. If we obey the commandment in Deuteronomy 12:32 , we must not add to God's word. It is only logical to assume that if God wanted us to have buildings, He would have so ordered in His Word. Consider that all of the gospel and letter writers in the New Testament, with the exception of Luke, formerly participated in temple worship. It is highly significant that not one of them ever built or instructed anyone to build any type of Christian building. This includes Paul, Peter, and John. The absence of special buildings in the New Testament is noteworthy to say the least.
- Finally, it has never been the way of God to extend His witness through a building made with the hands of human beings! [Acts 17:24] [Acts 7:49] His method of extending his witness is through the flesh, blood, and bones of the believing body of Jesus Christ. The entire book of Acts verifies this doctrinal truth. How much it must grieve the heart of God to watch His body operate in the unsuccessful Jewish method of witness extension: confining the primary energies, ministries, and vision of God to a building. God's commission to His church is to go to the lost in their environment, not invite them into an edifice! We must get out of this inwardly focused building mentality and into real ministry.
- [For a deeper and broader study of the House Church Movement try THIS (pdf)]