“Please don’t settle for anything less than a normal, biblical church in EVERY respect.”
For a long while I have been praying, hoping and waiting for God to move in the hearts of His people and cause many to return again to the simplicity of the Gospel. Put another way, I look for a return to New Testament Christianity and with that, a return to the New Testament Pattern for churches. One element of such a return to biblical principles for church-life means that local churches should ordinarily meet in homes in accordance with Scripture – (Acts 5:42, 8:3, Rom. 16:5, 1 Cor. 1:11, 16:19, Col. 4:15, Phil. v2). This of course is not a new phenomenon to any era since Pentecost. We know from various sources gathered for church history records that there have always been churches that (for whatever reasons) have made the humble house there place for gathering with the saints.
Scripture does not address the issue of churches beginning to leave the practice of meeting in homes and embarking on special building projects. Such a phenomenon must have only started to occur after the departure of the original apostles. How, when and why churches first started to ‘move out’ into public buildings we can only offer speculations on. What we do know is, that is what happened and subsequently the ‘public building’ church has become the more common practice post Bible times.
The home is undoubtedly the God-intended place for His people to gather together. A church meeting is not a ‘public’ affair but a ‘family’ one – (if you would like to read more on this subject please click on the link at the foot of this article ‘where should a church meet?’). The main thrust of this article is to highlight a couple of points to those who already know the truth of this. My first intention is to make clear the fact that meeting in homes is only one tiny part of behaving as proper New Testament churches. The second point has to do with unhelpful terminology.
Point number one then. Just because you do meet in a house as opposed to a public building it does not necessarily follow that your group/church is in all ways following the biblical pattern for church-life. It is quite possible for a group of Christians to gather in a house and, overall, be further away from God’s purposes than those who meet in a public building. It is also needful that I should point out that many strange cults and ‘isms’ use, or once used, houses as their meeting venue. Of course this should not dissuade anyone from pursuing the biblical line. On the contrary. Any spiritually mature person should readily recognize the fact that all genuine works of God have their heinous (yet often subtle) counterfeit. In fairness it should be also noted that the public building groups have just as often become just as far off track, but this frequently goes unnoticed because of an outward appearance of being ‘orderly’. The point being though is – ‘house church’ does not automatically mean ‘biblical church’. I have met people who have quite a fascination with ‘house churches’ even those who would seriously consider giving up their paid ‘ministries’ in order to embark on such a venture. Yet, sadly, I detected neither understanding nor desire to please God with the intention of doing ALL things according to His Word. It is easily possible to meet in a home and import all the style, method and form of ‘system church’. For these reasons, I for one do not equate the term ‘house church’ with meaning ‘biblical/New Testament church’. This leads us on to our second part.
Point number two has to do with unhelpful terminology. Yes, we all use it at times, and yes we do so because we think that people will then understand what we are talking about, but…..wrong terminology nearly always, sooner or later, leads to wrong practice, or giving the wrong message. In this case it is the latter that concerns me. Referring to a church as a ‘house church’ automatically implies that there is something extra, unusual, not quite of the ordinary kind. For example, if you told me that you go to a ‘Baptist church’ it tells me that the place you attend has its own ‘special’ history and its own ‘special’ ways of doing things. So it is if you use the phrase ‘house church’. God never instituted or ordained that there should be Baptist churches, Pentecostal churches, Methodist churches nor ‘House’ churches. The Lord’s apostles simply established – ‘churches’. For the need of emphasis here – they established ‘normal churches’ (no, don’t worry I’m not suggesting we must always use this appendage either!). They were – normal churches, scriptural churches, biblical churches. Their normal meeting place was in the Believers homes, but there was never any need to refer to them as ‘house churches’ as though there was something special in the fact that they used their homes. There was nothing ‘special’, in the sense of distinct, at all about churches that met in houses.
Of course I realise that now it is not the common practice to meet in homes and so we may feel the need to clarify our situation in some way. Be careful! Be very, very careful! That is exactly the way that denominations are founded! People grasp some element of truth, never something new but always a return to the New Testament principles, God moves and blesses because of the faithfulness to His Word. Perhaps more ‘light’ begins to dawn and more steps are taken to revert to biblical truth. Wonderful. But next there arises some situation where it becomes necessary to clarify the position about things, and so, well-meaning Brethren begin to use a term to describe this ‘something’ that they all know to be wonderfully of God. I realise that the term ‘house church’ has been around some while, I am not suggesting it is new today. However, to give ourselves distinct names as either individuals or churches will invariably lead to a denominational mind set.
In actual fact, it is just as often that those who stand in opposition to such moves of God have been the ones to originally coin the terminology that many groups use of themselves. Once again take the Baptists for example (please, I don’t intend to attack these people). Those that opposed the idea of Believer’s baptism (thinking the sprinkling by some ‘clergyman’ as a child to be sufficient) called these dear Brethren the ‘anabaptists’ (the ‘again baptized’) – it was intended as a derogatory term. Now we have an entire organization that frequently uses the term ‘Baptist’ in place of, or in addition to, the God-inspired word – ‘Christian’. Hence – a ‘Baptist’ convention, or a ‘Baptist’ mission, “we are Baptists.” It would be just as easy to denominationalize ‘house churches’. “The Millennium House church convention,” “I am a House church Christian!” etc.
Actually, I am in little doubt that the denominationalizing and systematising of ‘house churches’ has long since been achieved. That is why I am concerned that those of us in this day who have some vision, some desire to behave again like normal, New Testament churches do not sell ourselves short of this in any way. Please understand, there is much more to this than simply being picky about loose terminology. I hope you can see the spiritual implications of the terminology we use – it is invariably there! Don’t set your heart on ‘house churches’. If you do, you set your sights far too low. God is no more interested in ‘house churches’ than He is ‘public building/denominational churches’. Please, don’t settle for anything less than a normal, biblical, scriptural church in EVERY respect. Please, those that already do, continue to meet in homes, that’s the way it should be, but don’t stop there and settle for having your own ‘distinct’ mark among the other churches – “we belong to a house church!” We must return to every New Testament Church principle that we can grasp from our study of the Scriptures. Meeting in a house is only one aspect (I believe an extremely important one) but let’s go right on back to the start and form normal churches.
Related Reading ~ Bible Study: His Church (study on Biblical Church)
(See section entitled Where should a church meet?)