Friday, March 19, 2010

Meeting in Temples? No

Acts 2:42-47: "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." (emphasis added)

I have heard several people use the above passage, specifically the section I have emphasized, to justify the modern church gathering taking place in both large buildings and homes. Those who say this believe strongly that they are following the biblical model. After all, the early church we read about above met in a large building (the temple) and in homes.

There is a problem, however, with suggesting that this is the biblical model for us to follow. The problem is this: nowhere else to we see this model in action. What we see in the rest of the bible is the church meeting in homes only.

For example, as we read Paul's epistles, we see churches that met in homes. On Paul's journeys, he planted several churches. They didn't meet in large buildings. Paul never suggested that they construct a model of the Jerusalem temple or make any other sort of large meeting place. Paul knew that they could gather where people normally gather - homes.

The situation in Jerusalem, then, was a very unique one. The early church was a Jewish-Christian church. Therefore, they still went to the temple. However, once the church spread outside of Jerusalem, the new Christians met only in homes. There is no indication anywhere that they met together in large numbers in big buildings.

So, what can we take from this? Let us avoid taking one example (the Jerusalem church) and using it to apply to all churches. Instead, let us look at the broad picture to see where churches gathered together. It is clear that the home was the place.

I am not suggesting that if a modern church uses a large building it is sinning. However, I am saying that if a church today desires to follow the model set forth in scripture, it will meet exclusively in homes.

7 comments:

Christiane said...

"However, I am saying that if a church today desires to follow the model set forth in scripture, it will meet exclusively in homes."

No, it won't.
The Church is wherever two or more gather together in His Name. It is not limited by walls, or by time. The early Christians met in many places. They visited the sites where their martyrs were killed, and built early churches on the ground that had received the martyrs' blood.
The early Christians met in the catecombs, where they buried their dead. The walls of the catecombs contain incriptions and icons witnessing to Christ and to how He was worshipped by them. You can visit these early Christian catecombs yourself and see what they drew and wrote on the walls there, among their beloved dead.

No. A house is a place. But Christ may be present among two or more gathered for Him in places like a stable, a poor Church with a dirt floor and a tin roof in South America, in a place by the still waters where sins are washed away in Baptism, or in the great Cathedrals of the world. His home is in the hearts of His followers. He will come to the humble people who let Him in.

Eric said...

Christiane,

Thank you for commenting.

I think we are speaking from two different authorities. I'm simply arguing from the model set forth in the bible. Your comment speaks to church history and experience.

Can a church meet somewhere other than a house? Yes.

Can a church meet somewhere other than a house and follow the scriptural model at the same time? No.

Christiane said...

Hi ERIC,

Thank you for allowing me to post. I think that the emphasis for me is also found in the emphasis in the scriptures, not on place, but on meeting with 'steadfastness' and 'with one accord', as the called-out Ekklesia, having its unity in Christ.

Different traditions from the same Scriptures. Maybe not so much 'different' as a matter of what is emphasized. Thanks again for the Christian kindness shown in allowing me to comment.
Remain in Christ's Peace always,
Christiane

Eric said...

Christiane,

Your comments are always welcome. I hope we can all learn from one another.

As far as the church gathering goes, the most important thing really is the heart issue. One group of people, focused on Christ, could meet under a tree and honor God. Another group, meeting in a house, could be doing so for the wrong reasons (maybe pride).

As for location, the model is the house, but the key is the heart condition.

As I have just written about above, any place where the group is small enough for mutual edification to occur through mutual communication is probably a good place to gather.

Nicholas said...

Eric,

Brother, I think you're making the mistake of taking what is descriptive in the Bible and making that to be prescriptive. When you say "Scriptural Model" the implication seems to be that it's the way it should be done if a local church wants to be biblical, which certainly is not the case. The fact is that most churches DO start in homes (just like we saw churches beginning in the NT), but because of size restraints and other practicalities, it doesn't stay there long. I know you're not accusing of sin here, but it does sound like you're saying, "If a church is not meeting in a home, it's not doing what's best, because that was the descriptive order of things in the Bible."

I will be the first to admit that many Christians have fallen into building/property idolatry and cannot see anything beyond "their church" as those things - but one ditch is no more correct than the other. We must find the middle road - is this an area where discernment, wisdom, and practical godliness can take a role? Absolutely - it must! In fact, while you might say when a church gets too big for a home, it should split off into another home, I would say if the church is doing what it should, the home will be outgrown very quickly, should the Lord be saving souls. When thousands were being saved at once, we cannot assume the Apostles were saying "go meet in your homes, and we'll come see you and provide pastoral care for you." But on the other hand, if we hold to a "homes only" view, then we would have to abandon the offices of pastors/deacons because men were not becoming Christians one day, church in their home the next. So what about their pastoral care? Who was doing that if it was not the leader(s) of their local church?

I think what we DO see as more prescriptive is that Christians are to be hospitable and together. Therefore, Christians should be in each others homes often. A lot of congregations try to encourage this through things like small groups/home groups (as we do), but it should ultimately be a fruit of a mature Christian life.

Nicholas said...

Christiane,

"wherever two or more gather together in His Name" is in Matthew 18 and is in the context of a discussion on church discipline - it is not a reference to what the church is, but rather a description and/or confirmation of Jesus' presence amongst the believers in the church when they are rendering godly judgment against a non-repentant person who professes to be a believer.

Eric said...

Nick,

I agree with you that being hospitable and together is extremely important. We certainly do need more of this in the church as a whole.

As for this post, my primary emphasis was that if we want to follow the model given in scripture, we will meet in homes. When we do, we know we are meeting in a place that is approved of scripturally. As for gathering in other places, we just don't know because the early church did not do this.

The key to the gathering place is that the body be positioned to edify one another through their various gifts. Small gatherings that allow for mutual building-up and group participation foster this best. Homes are excellent for this.