The house church is an alternate form of church experience (also called a home church).
Although I support the home church movement, I'm unwilling to say that the home church model is the best, or that it is the only model endorsed by the Bible.
My main objections to the house church movement are the same objections I have of the institutional churches — the emphasis is not on:
- Meditative, discussion-based Bible study.
- Liturgical celebration.
- Historical and traditional continuity with the Apostolic church of the New Testament.
Rather, the emphasis of many house church groups is on:
- The leader(s) exhorting the flock to "be good". In other words, they are sermon based, just like the institutional churches.
- Schismatic doctrines and reactionary (radical) teachings. In other words, they are the equivalent of a modern-day Reformation intended to reform the schismatic 16th century Reformation. No thank you, I prefer the stability and continuity of a 2,000 year old sacred tradition.
- Charismatic services and "body" ministry. Please don't misunderstand me, I'm not opposed to the Charismatic movement. In fact, I used to be one. It is the excessive emphasis on things Charismatic to the exclusion of other important aspect that troubles me.
People often say that the reason that people met in houses in the early apostolic church was to avoid persecution. I see no evidence of this being the reason. The only persecution at this time came from Jews, yet Christians were apparently allowed to attend the synagogue and even to speak in the synagogue.
It is likely that there were no large buildings available to the early Christians, so they met in homes.
It is not true that the apostolic house church had no leaders. In every case there was an elder (presbyter) in charge.
The House Church |
Discussion Meetings |
House Church Movement
Bible quotes on the topic of the house church. More about the early church as a house church.
Home Bible Community — My House Church model.
What is a house church?
What . . .
- A small group, maybe a couple dozen, who regularly meet in someone's home. Often this is because they oppose the institutional church.
- Usually with discussion, "body" ministry, and other kinds of interaction.
Why . . .
- They say it's the way the New Testament church was and is based on the Bible.
- They object to institutional church, such things as: (1) questions of authority, (2) use of money and tithing, (3) can't participate in a regular church service.
The issues . . .
- For some, the home church movement is against the authority of church leaders.
- For others, home church is a deeper experience of the Bible and fellowship.
Why people choose home church
- Some once were involved with church but have dropped out. Church programs can't reach them anymore.
- Some mature Christians don't like fitting their church work into one of the available church roles.
- There may be no like-minded churches in the area.
- Some are unconventional in their views of various topics.
- Many simply reject the institutional church.
After careful deliberation I have come to believe . . .
- There is a big need for alternative church models such as the house church.
- The house church model should be embraced as valid without rejecting or condemning the "institutional" church model. There are pros and cons for each.
- The house church model is not the New Testament model.
- The "institutional" church model is not the New Testament model.
- The authority of the elders (called pastors, ministers and/or elders today) is strongly emphasized in scripture.
- Church management is very important, whether in the "institutional" church or in the home church.
- Money and membership are often over-emphasized in the "institutional" church.
- The New Testament church model is not normative for all times; other models including modern church government forms (episcopal, congregational, presbyterian, other) are all valid.
- There are pros and cons to every church model and every form of church government.
Sometimes home church is — but shouldn't be . . .
- Against institutional, traditional, program-based churches.
- Against the biblically mandated authority of church leadership.
But it should be . . .
- Supportive of any work of God and every move of the Holy Spirit.
- Merely another option for Christians.
A reactionary movement?
Is the institutional church anti-Biblical?
Problems with this view:
Is the house church movement anti-authoritarian?
It has that tendency. But not all house churches are anti-authoritarian, some are merely against the traditional church clergy.
Is the house church the New Testament model?
Some say that only home church fits the New Testament model, but — here are passages that say otherwise.
- The house church model doesn't have overseers and deacons.
To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons (Philippians 1:1)
- At times they regularly met somewhere other then the home.
And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade. (Acts 5:12)
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. (Acts 2:46)
- Even if they met in someone's home it was not home-sweet-home but a home as a meeting location.
If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. (1 Corinthians 11:34)
- Their meetings were not necessarily small.
I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you. (1 Corinthians 11:18)
It takes a large group to have divisions.
- They made arrangements to meet outside the home.
There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. (Acts 20:8)
Was this a rented room like Jesus used for the last supper?
He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there. (Mark 14:15)
- They had special places of prayer.
Once when we were going to the place of prayer. (Acts 16:16)
Was it someone's home? Or was it more like a temple where people went at various times to pray?
Authority of the Apostles. There are many Biblical examples of this — here are a few:
- Some went out from us without our authorization. (Acts 15:24)
- For even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us. (2 Corinthians 10:8)
- Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands. (1 Timothy 5:22) In this passage Timothy can withhold the appointment of elders until he feels they are ready — an example of authority.
- For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 4:2)
- This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me. (2 Corinthians 13:10)
- Clearly the Apostles believed they had authority. But does it apply to church leaders today?
Authority of the elders:
- Encourage and rebuke with all authority. (Titus 2:15)
- Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. (Hebrews 13:17) In the context, this passage refers to Christian leaders.
- Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. (1 Timothy 5:19) Implies that elders have authority.
- Certainly the ministry of elders is still in operation today.
- The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. (Titus 1:5)
Authority to manage
- If any woman who is a believer has widows in her family, she should help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need. (1 Timothy 5:16) The church leadership has authority to determine who it will and who it won't help.
- The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. (1 Timothy 5:17) Directing implies authority.
Emphasis on money
It is Biblical to consider money issues in ministry. Yet I believe the issue is often overemphasized.
Payment of church leaders . . .
- The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, "Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain," and "The worker deserves his wages." (1 Timothy 5:17,18)
- Those who benefit from their work should be the ones who contribute money to pay them.
Money for buildings and programs . . .
- There is nothing wrong with collecting money to be used for church programs.
- So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. (1 Corinthians 11:33) Who pays for these meals?
- Joseph . . . sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet. (Acts 4:36,37) Apparently the apostles had no problem with collecting money.
- So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:3) This is Paul's first missionary journey. Who paid for Paul's missionary journeys? Certainly collecting money for missions is a good thing.
- Can we judge how an institution (even a church) chooses to raise money?
That there are different rules for ministers . . .
- After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?" "Yes, he does," he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. "What do you think, Simon?" he asked. "From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own sons or from others?" "From others," Peter answered. "Then the sons are exempt," Jesus said to him. (Matthew 17:24-26)
Church leaders are commanded to be good managers
- He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church? (1 Tim 3:4,5)
- Every group of people needs leaders who practice good leadership skills — this includes family, business, church, clubs.
- Even a home church must have leadership and leaders.
- A home church with poor leadership will not be healthy. By way of example, a family where the father is an alcoholic will be unhealthy and unbalanced. A home church which is not managed well will be unhealthy.
Is the New Testament church model normative for all times?
If so then we should have everything in common.
All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. (Acts 2:44,45)
Few house church proponents suggest we do this.
Analysis of Issues
Strengths of traditional churches
There are many . . .
- Strength in numbers.
- More finances available to support missionaries and offer financial assistance.
- Unity around specific denominational doctrines.
- Can support church planting efforts.
- The potential for more gifted people leading church ministries such as worship, children's church, etc.
Many traditional churches . . .
- Help the poor
- Support missions
- Offer evangelism programs
Limitations of traditional churches
Why people might be attracted to a home church instead . . .
- Few teaching opportunities for mature believers who work full time.
- Too much financial overhead for buildings, salaries.
- Burn out is common among volunteer workers.
- The group is too large to be able to know everybody.
- Some churches have home fellowships but the expectation is that you will still attend Sunday service.
- Easier for people to go unnoticed as "pew warmers."
- The "core group" is usually somewhat cliquish and unapproachable.
Problems with emphasis . . .
- Focused on building an institution
- Volunteers often reach burn-out due to emphasis on church ministry work
- Too much emphasis on money to pay for salaries and buildings
- Emphasis on weekly sermon
- Emphasis on programs
Strengths of house churches
There are some . . .
- Small group allows people to get to know each other.
- Easy to manage for a leader who has a full-time job.
- Easy to get started.
Limitations of house churches
Can a house church do this?
- In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. (Acts 6:1)
- Doctrinally unbalanced
- No accountability
- Lack of programs — for example children's church and youth groups
- Lack of resources for supporting missions work
The host home
- It's really only a home church for the family who hosts it — everyone else has to drive to it.
- Your home is not a neutral place for others, after all, it's your home not their home.
For the house church leader
The cost of starting a house church
Everything has its price . . .
- Institutional churches ought to be willing to embrace the house church movement but probably won't. Therefore to launch a house church you must be willing to be rejected by institutional church leaders.
- You might be thought of as a cult and be persecuted by church going members of the community.
- You might be rejecting the "institutional" church because you have a problem with authority. Leading a house church without resolving these issues can lead to an unhealthy and unbalanced group.
- Legal issues — insurance, zoning. Your neighbors might complain. Liability if someone gets hurt.
The future of your home church
What happens when your house church grows to be too large?
- Get a building and become an "institutional" church.
- Don't let it grow (keep it small). But how do you do this?
- Split the group. But what if there is no second leader capable or interested? What if everyone likes you as the leader? Forcing a split might be unwise and unkind.
What happens when another person in your home church acquires the leadership skills and desire to lead your group?
- Send him off to start another home church.
- Let him take over your group and you start another home church.
- Send him off with your blessing to work with a local institutional church.
What happens when your loyal home church members change their mind and decide they want to join a local "institutional" church that has more programs (such as children's church, youth group, worship team)?
- Send them off with your blessing.
- Disfellowship them, branding them as traitors to the home church movement.
- Talk them out of it using power tactics, legalism and peer pressure — but isn't that what the home church proponents object to with the "institutional" church?