Tuesday, January 4, 2011

House Church - Gathering in Homes

I suppose it should be obvious by the name "house church" that the gatherings generally occur in homes. I use the word "generally" because there may be times when a house church decides to meet somewhere else - like a park, the beach, etc.

In keeping with the main idea of the first post in this series, house churches gather in houses because this was the general practice in the New Testament:

Romans 16:5, "Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia."

I Corinthians 16:19, "The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord."

Colossians 4:15, "Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house."

Philemon 1:1-2, "Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house."

Gathering in homes offers certain benefits. Below are five that come to mind:

1. Meeting in homes costs almost nothing. Therefore, financial resources can be used for important things such as supporting missionaries and giving to the poor and needy.

2. Homes are places where real people live. Because of this, gathering together in homes gives a real-world, authentic feeling to the meetings.

3. Related to number 2, gathering in houses helps foster intimacy and community. The reason is that homes are naturally where these things take place.

4. Homes can only hold so many people. Therefore, house churches are limited in size. This therefore encourages church planting and keeps the numbers small enough to maintain community.

5. Meeting in homes embraces the biblical truth that all of life is spiritual. There is no special place where the sacred things happen. Home gatherings reject any sort of spiritual/secular divide.

As for our family (the Carpenters), we have been gathering with other believers in homes for about the past two months. Sometimes the gatherings have happened at our house, sometimes at others' houses. We have found that it is beneficial to all when the gatherings rotate between a few homes.

When we get together, the majority of the action happens in the kitchen and living room. Regardless of which house is hosting, when people arrive the parents tend to gather together while the kids scatter. After a while of greeting and conversation, we tend to all migrate to the living room. We sit on couches, folding chairs, or the floor. It can get crowded at times. The kids and parents get all mixed together.

This setting very much fosters community and intimacy (no house will automatically bring about these things, but houses do certainly allow for them). We all face one another and engage in a I Corinthians 14 type of meeting. The size of the living room keeps us close enough together that we can all hear one another with no problem.

After an hour or so we all begin to realize that we are hungry. At this point we walk the ten feet or so to the kitchen. This is when the feast - the Lord's Supper - begins. This is probably my favorite part of the gathering. After loading up plates, we find a place to sit (wherever) and talk about our lives in Christ. At some point we celebrate with the loaf and the cup.

I love conversations over food in someone's home. It is natural and real. I'm encouraged to share my thoughts, feelings, struggles, etc. with my brothers (and sisters) in this setting. I'm happy that they feel the same.

There is no set ending point to a house church gathering. After several hours we all go home - or stay home as the case may be.

Please let me say that gathering in homes does not by itself lead to mutual edification. There is absolutely nothing automatic about it. The attitudes of the people present are of much more importance than the location.

That said, I have found it very edifying to gather together in homes. The setting lends itself well to the possibility of mutually edifying activities taking place. It is extremely natural. And best, it follows the model we generally see in the bible.


Sarah Swan said...

Greetings Brother, I stumbled across your blog and am working through the posts. I've never been into the mega-church thing but neither am I convinced about the house church model. I have some questions about your 'Bible House Church = Modern House Church' equation. I really would like your responses and I'm not criticizing you, just seeking information. I'm also open to correction:

1) Ancient Christians worshipped in homes because they were driven there by persecution. In the absence of severe persecution, why should we worship in homes when more public venues are possible?

2) As I understand it (and I could be wrong about this) the ancient house churches were often in the home of the wealthiest member. They had the biggest houses often with large gathering rooms and sometimes with specially built chapels. Doesn't this make a very different image than believers gathering around a coffee table?

3) You portray house church as very relaxed and natural. This might appeal to you and could even appeal to me! But what if the ancient church's worship was more formalized than we like to think? Could this be a case of us projecting our preferences anachronistically back onto the ancient church?

4) I'm all for small churches and for planting when the mother ship gets too big but is there anything actually inherently unscriptural about large churches? Once again, large ancient homes could have held a lot more worshippers than modern middle class dwellings.

I'm would genuinely value your responses. I've never worshipped in a house church but neither have I been a part of a large church. I've been wanting to ask these personally to a house-church booster for a while. If these are answered by other posts you have done, just point me to them.

I wish your fellowship (and you) the greatest blessings!


Eric said...

Hi Sarah,

Thanks for reading and commenting. You've asked some excellent questions. I'll tell you what I believe, but I recommend that you ask others as well.

I'll take your questions one by one.

1. You wrote, "Ancient Christians worshipped in homes because they were driven there by persecution." How do you know this is the case?

There was sporadic persecution, but it did not occur consistently or in all places. We do know that the first century believers met in homes. We do not necessarily know why. However, it is significant that the apostles were in the early church and gave approval to this practice.

2. Early local bodies met in homes that were big enough. Many folks would have resided in places that were only large enough for their own family. If a local body had, let's say, 30 people, it would need to gather in a large enough home. This is, however, far different from meeting in a big building that seats hundreds of people.

3. You wrote, "But what if the ancient church's worship was more formalized than we like to think?" What we do know is what we see in scripture. Passages such as I Cor. 12-14 show informal, participatory gatherings. As for more formal gatherings, the bible doesn't mention it.

4. You asked, "Is there anything actually inherently unscriptural about large churches?" I suppose that depends on what "unscriptural" means. If it means only what violates what is commanded in the bible, then large churches probably are OK. If however, it also refers to things that are foreign to scripture, then large churches are problematic. They are not found in the bible.

My basic assumption is that Jesus has provided us with all the information we need in the bible for church life. The Holy Spirit guides us according to biblical principles. We don't have to come up with anything new. If we follow the biblical model for church life, we can know that God approves. When we go outside those boundaries, we really have no idea what God thinks of it.

Interestingly, most Christians rely only on the bible to determine gospel truth. However, when it comes to the church, they freely and easily depart from the scriptures. This disconnect is fascinating and troubling.

Thanks again for your questions. If you have any more, please comment again.

May God bless you as you seek important answers about his church.