What About the House Church?

In the last post I said that scripture speaks of only one kind of church, the church in the city. Brother Johnny over at Phoenix Rising, however, was kind enough to point out that this isn’t entirely accurate. On more than one occasion, in fact, Paul also spoke of the church in so-and-so’s house (Romans 16:5, Colossians 4:15). This means that house churches are warranted by scripture, too, right? All I can say to this is that I believe the home meetings spoken of in the New Testament were fundamentally different in nature from a lot of what we see in the “house church movement” of today. Allow me to explain.

First of all, I am a fan of “house church” in the sense that there is no better or more natural place for believers to meet than in their own homes. Not only was this the tendency of the early Christians, but there is nothing better suited to the “family” aspect of the church than gatherings that take place in some brother’s living room rather than a large gothic building with hard back pews all lined up in a row facing the front.

However, there is no reason for any of us to be under the delusion that meeting in a home rather than a “church” building will form the panacea for all our spiritual ills. In fact, very much of what you encounter out there in the world of “house church”, “simple church”, and even “organic church” (so-called) seems to be nothing more than a scaled down version of the same old thing. And for this very reason I am not a fan of house church, because I’m very definitely not a fan of the same old thing. 🙂

Most of that is another story, though. For the moment, the thing that relates to this matter of church unity is the simple yet regrettable fact that most of what goes by the name of “house church” in our day is at its core no different in nature than the denominational and organizational divisions that characterize the institutional church from which they have departed. While there may not be all of the same titles, offices, and organizational labels, the heart of the matter remains the same. Unless they are meeting on the ground of the one Body locally expressed, the field is still left wide open for divisions on the basis of doctrine, practice, or personal opinion of any kind. We who have gone “outside the camp” of institutional Christianity can talk all we want about “unity in diversity” and believers coming together in Christ, but until we become bound to one another with a revelation of God’s design for the local church, we will still naturally gravitate toward and group together only with those “like-minded” believers who possess a “vision” that is similar to our own. And like it or not, this is still sectarianism.

Suffice it to say that the house churches spoken of in scripture had no such consciousness of being a sect. That is, they did not view themselves as their own unique “body,” separate in life and administration from the rest of the church in their town. That, I believe, is the fundamental difference between house churches in the first century and (most) house churches today. Aside from this, I’m also of the persuasion that in such places as Colossae or Laodicea it’s very likely that the church in so-and-so’s home may have represented the totality of the church in that town, as most churches in the first century were “no doubt small, often no more than a handful of poor people” (historian Philip Schaff). In other words, the church in the home was often equal to the church in the city.

Make sense?


About Joshua

Writer, husband, father, friend. View all posts by Joshua

20 responses to “What About the House Church?

  • brotherjohnny

    Yes, it does make sense.
    Just to be clear, my point in emphasizing the ‘church in so and so’s house’ was not so much about promoting ‘house church’ as it was about recognizing a smaller gathering in a given locale as an actual “church” even though all of the believers in that city did not make up it’s composition.

    So far, Josh (for the most part) I think that you and I seem to have the same mind. Perhaps we can find others who agree with what you have said thus far. It is, after all, very biblical.

    • brotherjohnny

      Ooops. I just caught what you said at the end…about the church in so & so’s house being equal to the church in a given city (in Paul’s day/ministry).
      That has crossed my mind, and I’m pretty sure that it could be true for certain contexts, but I don’t know about all of them. Not convinced that it is true of Rome.

      It could be so, though….

  • Bill

    Hmmm. When Paul refers to “the gathering in Chloe’s house”, is he talking about all the Christians in Corinth? I doubt it. But Corinth was in dire straits at that time, so that example’s not ideal.

    At any rate, I would say the *oneness* of the church, locally, extends to all believers living within a particular city. And the gathering of Christ’s body is expressed by every member who’s present at the time of a gathering.

    But whether or not all the believers in one city were the same as all the believers in one house… would seem to depend on the size of the house. 😉

  • lawdawg23

    Yeah, obviously the church in the home wasn’t always equal to the church in the city. Jerusalem is the clearest example of this, I’d say. Thousands of believers meeting in many homes scattered all throughout the city makes it pretty well impossible to identify the entire church with a single home gathering.

    One thing that troubles me most is seeing a brother roll into town, hold a conference, and plant an “organic” church in a city where there are already believers gathering around Christ as their Head. I see very little respect being given to the practical oneness of the church in a case like this. Maybe it’s not always possible to know if there are believers gathering in such a manner in a bigger city, but it would at least be nice to know that the men who are ministers of Christ in our day actually care about this sort of thing. After all, the gifts Christ gives to His body are meant to foster unity and bind the saints together (Ephesians 4), not further their separation from one another. Any thoughts on this, Bill or Johnny? Or anybody for that matter?

  • brotherjohnny

    Yes. I don’t see anything wrong with going to a city and holding a conference and ministering to groups or individuals who are or are not meeting in and around Christ, but to simply disregard what the Lord may be doing among a group of people in a given location is a different story.

    Much of the problem that you are referring to, I think, is rooted in the fact that some of these kinds of ministers are more interested in flocking people to themselves rather than to Christ. Likewise, Christian workers should not be either territorial in regards to locale, nor possessive in terms of ‘ownership’ in regards to those whom they serve.

    Concerning the latter; there is some degree of exception in the case where an apostle actually “gives birth” to a local church and where he is actually a Spiritual father to the community. But even in that scenario (which would probably be rare in this day and age here in the States), the worker must realize that the church does not belong to him, but he to the church.

  • Bill

    I think I agree with what Johnny said.

    On the other hand, I’m VERY much in favor of getting a (well qualified, ideally) church planter (or team, again ideally) to come in and work with a group of folks – as a group. Practically, we DO need some segregation in order to learn these new (ancient) ways of body life.

    At that point, perhaps both for better AND worse, the matter of city-wide unity becomes largely academic. HOWEVER, it should be emphasized among the new group that their view should be as if ALL the believers in their town ARE one church, in God’s eyes. IMHO.

    (PS: Have you read Climb the Highest Mountain, formerly entitled Our Mission, from Seedsowers?)

  • lawdawg23

    Good thoughts, guys.

    Yeah, Bill, I’ve read Climb the Highest Mountain. Great book. I like Gene’s view and his advice on the matter.

    And Johnny, I definitely agree with what you said. The world is not waiting for the manifestation of the apostles, prophets, and “church planters”. It is waiting for the manifestation of the sons and daughters of God. The worker exists for the church, not the church for the worker.

    Part of the reason I’m giving so much attention to this right now is because the brothers and sisters I meet with are currently in the process of “merging” with another group of believers who have also been meeting in our town for a good year or so themselves. We first discovered each other about eight months ago and have been spending more and more time together since then, and now we’re at the point of beginning to meet together regularly and exploring ways we can practically be one as members of the church in our city.

    • brotherjohnny

      That is encouraging to hear, Joshua! Glad to hear, also, that y’all are taking the initiative in the explorations that you mention.

      @ Bill: I would be interested to know what, in your opinion, qualifies a person or group of people to the kind of work that you mention.

  • Bill

    @ Johnny: you mean what would qualify a worker? Experience, hopefully. In my (idealistic) humble opinion, the only requirement for doing the job is the ability to do the job. But in Josh’s case, or for anyone where there is currently no such (qualified) worker, then get going and just do what you can.

    And hopefully, we all learn enough to pass on…

  • brotherjohnny

    “Hopefully” is a key word, here, for me. Experience can be a very helpful and positive thing, or it can be harmful and negative.
    What I am saying is that I don’t think that experience in and of itself is all that is needed.

    I would add to your qualification, “Good track record”.

    There are some men (and women?) out there who have been ‘at it’ a long time, but that, in my opinion, doesn’t qualify them for the job.

  • Bill

    I agree. “Good track record” is what I meant by “experience”. Thanks for clarifying the point.

  • Christopher M.

    I can see where you are coming from. I think of the church in the New Test. as the best model one can achieve. Certainly the cultures are different and people aren’t as close to each other in our society than compared to those in older cultures.

    I believe house church in the New Test. referred more to a concept like, “the church, at house”. Not that they gathered all together at the house, but sort of like what we see as small groups. Probably even deeper then our cultures equivalent in the sense that they didn’t have curriculum to follow as much as they discussed things directly pertaining to the individual.

    I think our house churches are more, “We don’t necessarily believe in every part of this denomination so we are going to strive for the best we can by understanding for us.” Which is cool I guess, but it isn’t like every denomination out there is an anti-christ because it may have a sketchy point of view on a verse.

    Personally I focus on the basics of Christianity instead of the intricacies (where most of the fragmentation comes from). I agree to disagree and I don’t make any deal out of it. I think that the house churches spoken of in the New Test. were just people of the church coming together privately to edify one selfs.

    • lawdawg23

      Hey Christopher! Thanks for the comment.

      In my opinion, the whole essence of “organic” church is simply this: Whatever “form” we take, let it be one that is born out of spiritual life rather than being constructed through merely human effort and ideas. Nowadays you are just as likely to find the latter in “house” churches as in “institutional” churches. My whole point is that neither of these kinds of churches really exist in the sight of God. There is only the local fellowship of God’s people in Christ, inclusive of all believers who reside in a particular locality. How we express that fellowship, how we define and practice it, should not divide us. If they do, we surely must be missing the mark somewhere.

      • akismet-464ea5d9d52f5ef5f4b0c22e4012d0cc

        I agree slightly with that. I agree that it should be the way it. The way God wants it. But in our day and age with our culture you see churches vs. churches and denominations vs. denominations. I wish that my community would come together as Christians and realize that we are all the same. But for the most part Christianity broken into more parts then there are in a lego box.

  • Christopher M.

    Wow, some reason I wasn’t logged into my account weird. That above comment is mine …

  • craig

    I still haven’t been able to wrap my head around the concept of a practical church gathering outside of the typical institutional church because I’ve never seen one. I’ve never been to a house church meeting but I have the feeling that if the “organic” “house” and “emerging” church isn’t careful it will quickly fall into just another model of “doing” church which is what so many of them broke away from the institutional church to get away from in the first place.

  • George Dunn

    I have found that the very word “church”, unfortunately, is pregnant with much cultural symbolism. I have found it helpful to alter my vocabulary so as not to use such loaded words. It is most interesting to me that that “ecclesia” or ‘called out ones’ is also used over 70 times in the Septuagent. It is used to translate the Hebrew word “congregation” (which is the English word used for ‘church’ in some early translations, such as Darby.

    jesus is saying just as Moses had a “congregation” i will have a congregation…the difference being that MY congregation will prevail and kick the gates of hell in!

    I think that one very important aspect is that our Lord was saying that I will build MY congregation. I and MY are the key as opposed to ‘church’. It seems we put the emphasis on “congregation” or “church” as opposed to I and MY!

    I find so much talk about “the church’ as so little talk about Jesus. If we return to focusing on Him then perhaps He will again build HIS church out of livibng stones instead of our “churches”!

    It is much like the upper room ‘gathering”. When it says they were “gathered” together…gathered is in the passive voice, indicating that they did not gather themselves but were gathered (as by the action of another)!

    I must admit that I have experienced Christ in community and have had the joy of being gathered with other believers where Christ is central. Such has ruined me for any lesser expression of the community of the redeemed.

    Our ideas of ‘church” are shadow or a mere imitation…and in this case imitation is not the greatest form of flattery. Perhaps, if we once begin to focus on him we will find ourselves being gathered together (as a hen would gather her chicks).

    The “church” is neither an end nor a means to an end 9building the kingdom) but an expression or better yet an extension of the life of our Lord. There is a principle of physics that says that any two things (bodies) closer to a third object are closer to each other. If we draw closer to Christ we will find ourselves closer to each other and can once again experience the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace and we will be together in one mind and one heart.

    Wouldn’t that be a switch!

  • lawdawg23

    Absolutely, George! I love your comments here, bro. Many good thoughts. I’m curious how you came upon my blog. Do we have any mutual acquaintances? I would also love to hear your story sometime, as you mentioned having the joy of being gathered with other believers around Christ. Email me anytime at j_lawdawg23@hotmail.com.

  • “To the church in Corinth” « Called to Rebuild

    […] (The possible exception to this rule is the church in the home. For my thoughts on that check here.) […]

  • oikoskrk

    Nice blog!
    I think you would appreciate mine too.
    Been housechurching and planting for 30 years now.
    My blog is about Jesus, church and life in general
    with a Star Trek theme

    Christopher “Captain” Kirk

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