Several times a year I receive an update from Bro. Sergey, a good and godly man I had the privilege of meeting and preaching with while ministering in Siberia several years ago. I thought of the work he is doing in house churches while the Notre Dame Cathedral was still smoldering from the terrible fire that destroyed much of the building. While the world mourned the loss of a magnificent artifact, which it plans to reconstruct, my brother is building the true church in the hearts of people as he gathers with humble believers in homes. With that image in mind, consider some Scriptural thoughts about house churches.
First, it is the will of God that Christians meet formally and informally for worship. One of the royal commands to gather for worship is found in Hebrews 10:24, 25. “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
When this exhortation was given in AD 66, Christians were being persecuted by Rome, as were the Jews. Jerusalem was under seize by the Roman army due to a revolt that had broken out in Judea. If Christians were to meet, if the Church assembly was not to be forsaken, then God’s people would have to gather in the catacombs, or in homes for worship. The larger point is that stone and mortar do not make a Church. “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).
Today, so much emphasis is placed on buildings and physical structures, that some Christians have lost sight of what it really means for the Church to gather for food, fun, fellowship, worship, and spiritual pleasure. The Jews demanded that worshippers come to the Temple for proper worship. Then came the gospel to teach people that “the Most High does not live in houses made by men” (Acts 7:48).
When the disciples of Jesus placed an undue emphasis on the glory of Herod’s Temple, a mere building, “Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Matt. 24:2). God is a jealous God, and is not going to share his glory with anyone, or anything. When His people become enamored with a building to the point that it obscures their understanding of the gospel and Biblical truth, God has a way of taking structures away to refocus attention on Himself.
Second, the existence of house churches is clearly established in the New Testament where the communion celebration, the “breaking bread”, was practiced, and religious instruction was given.
Fellowship. “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 2:46).
Instruction. “And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house” (Acts 20:20).
Third, there are compelling reasons to encourage Bible studies to take place in homes, and communion fellowship, as the Church gathers in small groups.
There is greater intimacy.
Stronger relationships can be developed.
Uninhibited and more comfortable worship can take place as people are not self-conscious.
People can learn to be of one heart and mind.
Fourth, while house churches are authorized in the New Testament, and should not be denounced or minimized in importance, neither should they be magnified as the normative for every society, in every age. What is very important, is what must not go on in house churches.
A house church must not become a place where Christians think they are more spiritual than large churches.
A house church must not become a place of division, or serve as a place to persuade people to take part in a schism.
A house church must not be untrustworthy, whereby certain individuals seek to have the preeminence over others, or where the hearts of people are turned away from leadership.
Fifth, on the positive side, what must take place in a house church is spiritual worship, learning, fellowship, and accountability.
In a house church, there must be a leader, or a group of spiritual people, who have taken the time to gain the skills and knowledge to accurately handle the word of God. “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; 15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:14-16).
Sixth, for those leading a Bible study, two factors must be present.
There must be some degree of Biblical education is needed to become a teacher of the Word. “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation” (James 3:1).
There must be a spiritual gifted person recognized by the Church. “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:11-15).
Finally, if home churches are to meet in a manner that is pleasing to God, Biblical guidelines are to be embraced.
The gathered church, in small groups, in homes, or in larger assemblies, are to continue “steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).
Attention is to be given, not to gossip, slander, and sedition, but to “reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:13).
The Word of God is to be preached. “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2).
It has been correctly stated that, “So long as biblical teachings (orthodoxy) and practices (orthopraxy) are undertaken by those in assembly, it really does not matter what meeting format one chooses.” To that, God’s people can say, “Amen.”