Are We A House Church?
Some people ask if we are a house church. More precisely we are a church that meets in a home. Meeting in a house was nothing new to the New Testament church. Since the church's founding groups of Christians have met in homes. As noted in the verse above, the letter to Philemon was also addressed to the church that met in his house. The proper emphasis placement is on the church, not the place where it meets. Some in the modern house church movement tend to place unorthodox prominence on the building, the house. Ironically, a building is often that very thing many in the house church movement are fleeing. We easily find that the church in the Bible (NT) met in private houses. Homes were not the sole place of meeting but is seems to be by far the primary.
And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple,
and breaking bread from house to house... Acts 2:46
Undeniably the early church met from house to house. Yet, did they meet in houses only? Acts tells us they did not. They met in the temple which was in Jerusalem. The church met openly in the temple until severe persecution came. Then the temple was destroyed in 70 AD. It was like God gave an unmistakable illustration to his people that the old dispensation (Law) had come to a close and the new dispensation (Grace) had begun. The fresh work of the Holy Spirit ushered in a new era. The church is not a nation, has no land and has no building belonging to it. The church ministers in all nations, can meet on any land and in any building. A church does not strictly have to meet in a house to be a church. The Biblical pattern is that they did. Since the church in the New Testament met in houses, we should take note of that fact and see what we can learn.
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
Speaking to the church leaders from Ephesus, Paul states that he taught them in a public forum and from house to house. There was a public ministry of Paul to all. He also provided separate meetings in homes for selected groups. Paul taught in both places. There were no public church buildings at that time. Paul went into the synagogues to preach the gospel first. When he was rejected he gathered the Christians into groups at other locations. Paul's method was to meet in a house. This hard-working apostle continued to openly debate and he did so in a school within the city (Acts. 19:9). The important point here is that there is a place for a public outreach and place for a limited gathering. Both are important.
And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house,
and received all that came in unto him. Acts 28:30
The historical narrative of Acts ends with Paul teaching in his own rented house. People wonder if Paul couldn't get out to go to church, possibly. However, there were no designated church buildings in his ministry context. Thinking the church is a building minimizes the nature of the church. The church was meeting with Paul in his house. That was the church. It was not a house church per say, it was a church meeting in his house. The book of Acts ends with Paul meeting in his house. Should we not learn from this important apostle who was commissioned by the Lord Jesus himself? His method was to plant churches throughout the Roman Empire. Wherever a group of people trusted the gospel of Christ they were gathered into groups to meet together. These groups of Christians were the church … and they met in homes. This is the way church planting began. We find the church meeting the same way as Acts concludes. The key isn't so much the meeting place but in whose name they were meeting. They were meeting because of the person and work of the Lord Jesus. He is the one who made the assembly important, not the building in which they met. Let us now see if those closest to Paul modeled his manner of church planting.
Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus...
Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Romans 16:3,5
Aquila and Priscilla were doing the same thing. Wherever they went they shared the gospel and started churches. They did so by holding meetings in their own house. Both Paul and these two beloved helpers had jobs as tent makers. They provided a home for themselves and for those who would meet with them in the name of Christ. Their house was the place for the church to take communion and hear instruction in the Word of God. On one occasion the church that met in their house sent greetings to the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 16:9). Yes, a church that meets in a house is a bonafide church. Nymphas is another example of someone who hosted a church that met in his home. “Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.” (Colossians 4:15) Other Biblical examples of church ministry taking place in homes can be found as one searches the Scriptures.
Those things, which ye have both learned, and received,
and heard, and seen in me, do... Philippians 4:9
There are benefits of meeting in a house like Paul. It takes a lot less longer to get to know someone in a church that meets in a house as compared to in an institutional building. After years of Sundays people still might not know one another very well. One or two times meeting in someone's home Christians may have more of an opportunity to grow closer to the Lord and to one another. By nature meeting in a home is more personal. Sitting in a pew is nice for a lecture. Looking at the back of someone's head is not very conducive to developing a friendship (Ex. 33:11). The Lord is personal and friendly and so should we be. It cannot be argued against that the early church broke bread from house to house (Acts 2:46). The Lord's Supper, or communion, was never meant to be routine, cold, or distant. Partaking of communion together in a home gives more opportunity to demonstrate care for each other. It is normally more cost effective to meet in a home. Without a large building to upkeep there may be more funds to directly help people. An efficient home ministry has the potential to give more to those needing help in the church, with a personal touch. Missionaries sometimes can be supported easier since there is not the drag of another building to maintain. Practical Bible teaching has the potential of providing more personal application. The church has been able to survive, even thrive, during times of persecution. The Lord saw at its founding that the church would need to minister during times of duress. Churches meeting in houses might get by better in tough times than those who do not. If you are longing for a more personal church and for one that follows the New Testament example, you may want to try a: “church that meets in thy house.”
James Utter is pastor of Home Fellowship in Park City, Montana.