Is the Home Church Movement biblical?
10 August 2010
There is a movement going on today which hinders the fellowship of the saints: the home church movement. This group has deemed churches today to be boring. Perhaps they do not like the apostles’ doctrine. Perhaps they do not like the apostles’ themselves… or other Christians. Perhaps they are like many of us, they have had some bad experiences in man-made churches. Whatever the reason, these have abandoned the public assembly to meet in their own homes with their families.
The confusion here is that this is not altogether unscriptural. We read of churches that met in people’s homes in the days of the infant church. There was a church that met in the home of Priscilla and Aquila (Romans 16:5), as well as others. But there were specific reasons for this practice in the days of the infant church, even in days to follow.
One reason was the absence of meeting houses when the church first began. They were put out of the synagogues, so they met in their homes. Persecution also forced them into the confines of their homes. They hid. This hiding has been practiced by Christians through the centuries. Another reason is because churches, when first planted, are small. They have small memberships. There is no need for a church building. Homes are great places to worship until a congregation grows to such a proportion that a home can not contain them. Homes are the best places to invite neighbors. Many times a neighbor that will not come to a meeting house will come to a home. Yet in light of all of these reasons, we never read that a home church involved only the members of one family. Nor do we read of home churches being the only mode of worship. Though some churches began in homes, their meetings were attended by many families under the leadership of a God-called minister. There are many blessings missed when people flee to the confines of their homes to meet with their families alone. Allow me to mention a few.
One thing that is missed is the teaching, and guidance of God called men. Though fathers of homes are ordained to teach God’s word to their children, and their families, they are not ordained to pastor a church…not even if it consists of their own family. When the father is the pastor of his own family there is not a genuine church in the home. There is a home, but not an ekklesia: a called out assembly. Ekklesia is the biblical term for a church. Therefore, the sacred ordinances of the church, which include baptism and the observing of the Lord’s table, can not be respectfully observed. The New Testament church has men that God has called for that special purpose, who have been given a gift to teach the local assembly, and administer the sacred ordinances. Fathers of homes are to learn from these men and then teach their own families. One of the principle marks of the New Testament church is a God-called ministry.
Another thing we receive in the public assembly that we can never get in a home church is the example of other Christians, and their walk. Here we find peers that we need to observe, and emulate. It is in the assembly of the saints that we find the most wonderful peer examples. Granted, Christians are not perfect, yet many good manners are learned just by being around God’s people. These gifts and graces are too numerous to be found in a mere family setting. These keep us in check as Christ is displayed in their lives. Their speech, their temperament, their love, and kindness, cause self-examination. We all need to be around these God-fearing people.
It is in the local assembly that we hear God speak to His people from His word through one of His chosen vessels. The public proclamation of the word of God has always been the center stage of public worship. Peter preached to thousands; Paul to some women by the river side; Philip to one Ethiopian; Jesus to the multitudes; and we see Ezra, the priest standing on a wooden platform reading the law to the people half the day in the Old Testament. This is worship, par-excellent and was never confined to people’s homes…nowhere in the Bible! This proclamation of God’s word always came from the tongue of God-called men, not fathers of homes. It is in this mode that we learn from God what we would never learn on our own. God is glorified in it.
Another area which is lost in the home-church is a means of discipline, or authority in the life of the believer. As Christians, we need to be accountable to the church, and other Christians. In a home church, this is lost.
The action taken by the Corinthians, as outlined by Paul in 1 Corinthians 5, could never be performed in a home church. As sinners, we need to be accountable to other faithful believers who are not related to us by earthly ties. Relatives can be prejudiced. Even in good churches this can be a problem. We are not isles unto ourselves. Our personal conduct and behavior affects the testimony of Christ, and His cause. It has a bearing on how people view the church, and God’s people in general. It gives the enemy great opportunity when we walk unworthy of Christ. Thus, we need to be accountable, not to our own family alone, but also to a body of baptized believers. This keeps us in check in our daily walk.
There is yet more. It is in the public assembly that we have the opportunity to converse with other Christians. Dialogue is important to our Christian growth, and maturity. This we will never get, in proper measures, in our homes. We need others of like precious faith to discuss scripture, as well as other things that are subject to Christian discipline.
Members of churches also receive the special ministration of the saints. When they have problems bigger than themselves, they have other Christians to pray for them; counsel them; help them over the hump; to love them. They also learn how to minister to others in need. It has been a special blessing for me as a pastor to see our church family minister to one another. When a family has lost a loved one, when they have been in hospitals, when they have had family problems, when they have been depressed, I have seen them stand by one another, and minister to each particular need. I see Christ displayed in their lives. Nothing is better for a pastor’s heart than to see Christ in the lives of the congregation he serves. This is fellowship which goes beyond the bounds of a home.
I do believe there is a slight tinge of Pharisee-ism in the home church movement. Many parents, though it is a God-honoring motive, want to keep themselves, and their children from bad examples. When they bring their children to the public assembly there are children there who do not hold their particular views of dress and behavior. So, to keep their children pristine, they worship in their homes. Yet, if their children are the good examples, would not these be a special blessing to those children who need peer examples? I am not suggesting (as I hope you all know) that parents subject their children to gross, immoral examples. But the Christian church, the biblical picture of the Christian church, the historical picture of the Christian church, has always been one of people from all walks of life, from many different nations, tongues, languages, traditions, and they have found a blessing in being together. A child may see a bad example of some sort, but that is the parents great opportunity to point it out while allowing their child to be a light to others in the church.
As we read the New Testament, we become acquainted with many individuals who made up the initial membership of the New Testament Church. We find a composite of people from various walks of life. There were fishermen, tax collectors, doctors, business men and women, soldiers, tent makers, moms, dads, sisters, brothers, children, as well as a host of others who all shared one common bond which drew their hearts and lives together. This bond was their love for Jesus Christ. It was from this relationship that these brethren were brought together to enjoy "the fellowship of the saints".
Just imagine how these people, coming from diverse backgrounds, affected one another? Imagine the diverse membership at Corinth, with some members coming from the temple of idol worship. Heathens with tattoos, cuttings, nose rings, green hair, and everything else imaginable were probably observed there. The effeminate visited Corinth; the sodomite; the fornicator; the adulterer; the thief; the drunkard; and a host of others (See 1 Cor. 6:9-10). Yet, as they learned of Christ, the nose rings, green hair and other trappings of a dark world began do fall off, and fade away. Sinners repented under the sound of the gospel. Lives changed before their eyes. And remember, some of these did not have a home. How could they have ever heard the gospel message that changed their lives if all of the people of Corinth had been selfishly worshiping in their own homes? The real church is truly an ecclesia.
Paul’s words to the Pharisees of Corinth were, “And such were some of you”. Their were children present in that day, and Paul didn’t command them to keep their children at home. They worshipped together, and saw real changes in peoples lives. Imagine how their individual testimonies helped, and compliment one other. Fellowship in the local assembly is a testing ground for genuine faith! If I can’t get along with other believers, with other lovers of Jesus Christ in His church, what am I anyway?
It is from the public assembly that the light of Christ shines brighter in our communities, in our country. If every Christian worshipped within the walls of their own homes who would know that Christ even existed? How would other strangers and pilgrims find truth, other Christians, and learn the apostle’s doctrine? How could they be the witness they should be in a dark world. They would be the ones under a bushel. Had Paul, Peter and the other Christians of the infant church worshipped in their homes they would never have been put in jail, beaten, and persecuted for Christ. The church would have died at birth. God wants a public witness for Christ!
Though this is negative, it seems that there are some (not all) in the home church movement who want to worship in their own homes so they will not be subject to the things I have mentioned. They do not want to be subject to the authority and discipline of a local church. They do not want to be financially obligated to a church. They want to teach their own doctrine. They want their own timetable. They do not want to be around some they deem to be bigger sinners than they are (Which, according to Jesus is the worst sin). Basically, it is a worship of self under the guise of home church. As pious as it may seem, it is not God honoring, and many innocent families, who want to protect their families, follow them to their own hurt. The home church movement is not scriptural.