A friend of mine has lovingly told me that he knows what I believe the church should not be, but that I haven't been as clear about what the church ought to look like. In light of this, I want to spend some time writing about both what I believe the bible says about the church and how we are currently trying to live this out.
This is the first of a ten-part (gasp!) series that will be two-pronged in nature. My hope for this series is to discuss house church life first from what the bible says, and second from how we are attempting to work this out as the church. I'll use the term "house church" to carry the same meaning as "simple church" or "organic church." Some people use these terms differently, but I basically use them interchangeably.
I apologize in advance for making some over-generalizations. It's almost impossible to avoid this when talking about this issue. There will always be exceptions to the statements I make; therefore, I'm not describing every single house church. Rather, I'm discussing general practices.
What is the defining characteristic of the house church? What makes it unique? Why is it any different from the institutional church?
The primary answer to the above questions is that the house church tries to follow the biblical model for church life. Another way to put it is that the house church makes an effort to follow both what is commanded and what is modeled for us in the scriptures. The house church understands that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of His church; thus, it believes that He has shown us all we need for church life in the pages of the bible.
As we all fail to some degree in following even the commands of scripture (for example, do I really love my enemies?), we in the house church also sometimes fail to follow what is modeled. I would never claim to follow scripture perfectly even if that is my desire. The key is that within the house church the attempt is made to follow scripture in all things.
The house church is not seeking to become a first century church. For example, we don't read from scrolls, we don't read Greek (at least not very well - sorry Dr. Black), we do drive cars to get to other homes, and we do use HVAC.
The house church does desire to follow biblical practices that have theological significance. For example, house churches gather in a participatory style, celebrate the Lord's Supper as a feast, and seek consensus in decision making. These are modeled for us in the bible so we aim to practice them.
The overarching goal of these biblical practices is to give each member of the body both encouragement and opportunity to serve the church as a whole. This leads, in turn, to mutual edification.
House churches are not perfect. They are composed of people. We all sin and make mistakes. In fact, house churches can be difficult places because you are forced to get real with other people. There is no place to hide your faults. It can be uncomfortable.
Certain house churches may even have some practices that are unedifying, purposeless, or even sinful. The church in Corinth likely gathered in homes and we can read about the significant problems they had.
Let me say this loud and clear: an institutional church whose gatherings lead to mutual edification is more biblical than a house church whose practices fail to mutually edify the church family.
In summary, the goal of the house church is to follow biblical commands, principles, and examples. The thinking behind this is that it most glorifies God through the most effective edification of the church body.