House Churches Versus Meeting in Houses
Let me begin by simply saying that any religion or religious movement that places undue stress on the place of meeting rather than the assembly itself is flawed. In reality, the trained religious historian sees two movements, both very common today: The Church Building Movement and the House Church Movement. There are proponents of the thinking that in order to have a church, you must have a nice, traditional church building, one owned by the church in which to assemble. The house church advocates believe there is the necessity to meet in houses versus a building owned by the church. House church enthusiasts are really "home church" promoters. Yes, there is an important difference, as we shall see, in their thinking between "house church" (Christians simply meeting in a private dwelling) and Christians meeting in a "home church" (a certain atmosphere).
Concerned reader, the Church Building Movement has been underway for many centuries and usually places the focus on the building owned by the church, often referring to the physical building as "the church." Groups are often judged as to spiritual desirability by the size and magnificence of their church building. Proponents of the church building thinking often build the building, having the philosophy of, "Build it and they will come." However, the house church or home church phenomenal, as it is called, is relatively new, becoming appreciably noticeable in America starting in about 1962.
One wrote of the house church movement as follows:
"A growing number of Christians across the country are choosing a do-it-yourself worship experience in what they call a ‘house church.’ Although numbers for such an intentionally decentralized religious phenomenon are hard to pin down, as many as 1,600 groups in all 50 states are listed on house church Web sites" (Laurie Goodstein, New York Times).
Some have estimated that there are currently one hundred and twelve million who do not attend what they call traditional churches and that out of this number, eleven million are into the house church experience. Hence, the House or Home Church Movement is not to be lightly taken.
While the New Testament no where emphasizes the place of meeting (see addendum 1), we are more incidentally told of a number of meeting places used by the early Christians. They met by the riverside (Acts 16: 13); the school of Tyrannus (Acts 19: 9); an upper room (Acts 20: 8); a rented quarters (Acts 28: 30, 31), and in the temple in Jerusalem (Acts 2: 46, see addendum 2). Notice how the historian does not supply detailed information as to the places of meeting because such is relatively unimportant and must be so viewed today.
In addition to the just mentioned, Christians also met in houses (Rom. 16: 5; I Cor. 16: 19; Col. 4: 15; Phile. 2, see addendum 3).
As a rule, the true house church or home church advocate is actually opposed to a church owning and meeting in their own building. Consider what one wrote:
"I suggest that the reason none of the apostles ever built a church building was because such a thing, at bare minimum, would have been considered outside of God's will, since Jesus left no such example or instruction. He made disciples without special buildings, and He told His disciples to make disciples. They would have not seen any need for special buildings. It is just that simple. When Jesus told His disciples to go into all the world and make disciples, His disciples did not think to themselves, "What Jesus wants us to do is to build buildings and give sermons to people there once a week."
Relative to such buildings, another wrote:
"Additionally, building special buildings may even have been considered a direct violation of Christ's commandment to not lay up treasures on the earth, wasting money on something that was entirely unnecessary, and robbing God's kingdom of resources that could be used for transformational ministry." (David S. Kirkwood.)
Still another proponent of the house church movement wrote, also injecting more the concept of "home church" (notice his reference to the "warmth of hearth") rather than just "house church":
"That no evidence exists of large congregations meeting in spacious 'church buildings' for observing the memorial meal together tells us much about what we aren't always told by way of detail: that first-century Christians obviously met together in a variety of homes, large and small. Have we robbed ourselves of special opportunities by shifting the venue of evangelism from the warmth of hearth and home to the relative coldness of auditoriums in church buildings? I have no doubt but that moving away from the house-church concept has given rise to a system without scriptural support which has fundamentally changed the form and nature of worship as practiced in the apostolic church." (F. LaGard Smith, Radical Restoration, p. 150, 151, 166).
Smith views buildings owned by churches in which to meet as so opposed to "Christianity" that he urges Christians to do away with their owned buildings (Radical Restoration, pg. 244, 245, 269).
The place of meeting is simply an expedient. This is why, I suggest, that more detail is not provided as to the type, place, etc. of the building in which Christians met to worship. We do know that the early Christians met together (Acts 2: 42). In fact, certain commands cannot be executed without such assemblies (cp. Eph. 5: 19, I Cor. 11: 18ff.). Christians are, moreover, commanded to not forsake these assemblies and to do so incurs serious consequences (Heb. 10: 24-31). Another important fact about expedients is that the viewed expedient must not substitute or impede the carrying out of the specified action. Regarding this matter, I agree that the Church Building Movement has created a system that both substitutes and impedes the practice of pristine Christianity (addendum 4).
As our title suggests, "House Churches Versus Meeting in Houses," there can be a significant difference between the house church and simply meeting in a house. Carefully examine the following:
"Bringing the home into the church. Bring what we do in our own homes – our relationships with our families, with our sons, daughters, with our wives – we should bring that into the church…."
I am in no way seeking to deprecate the family as set up by God; however, it must not be the aim of the Christian to reduce the local church circumstance to the physical family. Assembling on the Lord’s Day is about extolling God by honoring His appointments for public worship and gathering around the Lord’s table to remember Jesus (cp. Acts 2: 42). It is not about the "warmth of the hearth."
The House Church Movement attempts to put into place a certain atmosphere. This atmosphere, I submit, is a relaxed and casual setting, one of spontaneity and informality. It is more the environment of the family setting than the reverent and serious circumstance of worship to God (Heb. 12: 28). One home church promoter actually teaches that as the house church is assembled around the kitchen table, the kitchen table is important to the house church movement, partaking of a family type meal that this meal actually becomes the Lord’s Supper! (Radical Restoration, by F. LaGard Smith, pg. 13, 128, 129, 132, 133, 145, 146.)
"House Churches Versus Meeting in Houses," what have we learned? I think we have identified the Church Building Movement and also the House Church Movement. We have seen that the House Church Movement is really the Home Church Movement. I believe we have shown that both of these movements are aberrant and foreign to the scriptures. There is not anything wrong with meeting in a building owned by the church, all things equal, and meeting in a private house is not necessarily against the teaching of the New Testament. The place of meeting is relatively unimportant, we have seen, and the real emphasis is to be placed on the worship itself. Certain movements such as the Church Building Movement and the Home Church Movement need a certain atmosphere in order to effect their religion. Such is wrong (see addendum 5).
In conclusion, Jesus told the woman of Samaria that the place of worship was not the important thing, either the "maintain" (Gerizim) as in the case of the Samaritans or in Jerusalem (Jews). What mattered, Jesus said, is that God be worshipped in spirit and in truth, this is the emphasis of the gospel (John 4: 21-24). (You might profit from reading, "Starting a New Testament Local Church".)
Addendum 1: The absence of such emphasis is very noticeable, especially in view of the great importance in the Jewish system placed on the temple as the meeting place (2 Chroni. 6, etc.).
Addendum 2: Some of these meeting references involved, no doubt, the apostles taking advantage of circumstances to preach to the lost in their religious gatherings (Acts 16: 13).
Addendum 3: Some scholars view the reference to the ekklesia (Greek for church) meeting in the house as simply the saved family members of those whom Paul recognized. However, I view such a view as forced and unnatural (cp. 2 John 1-4). These allusions appear to have been Christians in a geographic location who had banded together to form a local church and who met in the house of one family who also constituted a part of the local church.
Addendum 4: "Christianity" has too often become more about building edifices than the people who are the church. People select a church based on their place of meeting and would not consider meeting with a scriptural group who meet in a rented building or private house. Such is wrong. Also, some churches have so indebted themselves in paying for a place in which to meet that they cannot do the real work God has assigned to the local church (cp. I Tim. 3: 15).
Addendum 5: The House Church Movement has its own vocabulary and associated concepts, which, I might add, are contrary to the New Testament. Some of them speak of each house church being a cell of the local church; each house church having one elder over it and having regional elders for a group of house churches in a geographic area (cp. Acts 14: 23). Then there is the "organic church" thinking and what they call "networking." None of these terms, concepts, and practices are found in the New Testament.
As I write this material, I am working with a new group of Christians in central Louisiana. We are averaging about twelve in attendance. At this time, we are meeting in a private house. We are careful to control the atmosphere to avoid the meeting simply being friends coming together or a family meeting. Notwithstanding the fact that the facility is privately owned, during the time of assembly the circumstances are limited to the assembly and not to serving common meals, etc. In view of space limitations, we are presently looking into renting or purchasing a meeting place. All have agreed, though, that monies spent for a place of meeting must not be large enough to hinder doing what the church is all about, preaching to the lost and edifying the saved.