Building a Biblical Model for House Churches

The following is reprinted with permission from Paraklesis, a publication of Baptist Bible Seminary. The article first appeared in the Summer ‘08 issue.

The move from conventional congregations to house churches has been termed a revolution. Researcher George Barna estimates at least 1 million Americans have shifted to small-groups worshiping primarily in homes or businesses.

But the revolution comes in this statistic: by 2025, Barna predicts 70 percent of Christians will be worshiping in such “alternative faith communities.”1

While the trend is clear, the benefits and biblical focus of such gatherings is more muddled. The early church detailed in the New Testament indeed met “house to house,” and the Apostle Paul regularly gathered new believers in homes. But this is not an exclusive or biblically prescribed model for worshiping.

The home church model can work today, and in circumstances where proper ty is scarce or expensive it can be a practical approach. Pastors and church leaders, though, need to think clearly before moving to a house church model. They must keep a biblical focus paramount and not let relational benefits overrun sound doctrine and New Testament church polity.

Inside house churches

House churches are small bodies of believers that meet primarily in homes, have generally fewer than 30 members, and normally have unpaid lay leaders. These back-to-basics congregations do not start in a home with the goal of moving later to a permanent facility. They are designed to stay in a private residence or similar surroundings.

Because some meet in coffee shops, restaurants, or on university campuses, practitioners prefer to use other terms to describe this kind of church: simple church, organic church, koinos church, relational church, participatory church, etc.

What defines these churches is not location but emphasis. Decentralized in structure, they are committed to forming in-depth relationships. Most are very participatory, with prayer, Bible study, discussion, mentoring, and outreach, as well as food and fun. Many are nondenominational and independent.

The trend is not just a reaction to the megachurch. The next generation cares more about authenticity and community than institutions. Many are looking for a safe place to connect with God and friends. Smaller relational churches meet this need.

A growing number of North Americans identify themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” These people rarely attend a conventional church but will often seek alternatives. Face-to-face churches have great appeal in a culture that values intimate relationships, shared leadership, transparency, and teamwork.

Meeting Biblical Basics

There are three main uses of “church” (ekklesia) in the New Testament: believers gathering in someone’s home, the citywide or regional church, and the universal church. The Scriptures indicate common ordinary dwellings were used for spreading the Gospel and for discipling new converts during Jesus’ lifetime and later.

The Jerusalem church met daily from house to house to pray, study, break bread, and share (Acts 2:42-46; 5:42; 12:12), and Paul regularly gathered new converts into private homes. Lydia’s house in Philippi may have been Europe’s first church (Acts 16:14-15, 40). In Corinth, believers evidently met in the homes of Gaius (Rom. 16:23), Stephanus (I Cor. 16: 5, 15), and Chloe (I Cor. 1:11). Paul tells us his habit was to teach “publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20).

But the New Testament indicates the first believers also met in public places such as the temple courts and in synagogues—sometimes in large groups. Believers used rented facilities (Acts 19:9; 28:30-31) and public forums (Acts 16:13).

While the early church met in homes both for believers’ meetings and even some evangelistic efforts, it is not an apostolic blueprint for all congregations in future generations. No New Testament sermon or epistle gives direct commands to follow the house church as the prescribed form.

Because biblical truth can be less pronounced in home churches, leaders need to be discerning to what the Lord of the Harvest may be doing in our day. The return to simpler forms of church holds both great promise and grave dangers for the future growth of the North American church.

Starting a church in New York City, for example, may require non-traditional thinking. And this model is an option to explore.

Indeed, if He is raising up dynamic new forms of church that are biblical in doctrine and practice while evidencing true community, then we need to welcome and affirm them. But if the “revolution” means people are leaving biblical churches or leaving in a biblically improper manner, then we should not celebrate.

(A research paper featuring a more detailed analysis of the house church phenomenon is also available from Ken. For a copy, contact Ken here or at )

Notes

1 George Barna, Revolution (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2005), 13,49,54,64-66.


Ken Davis, M.A., is Director of Church Planting at Baptist Bible Seminary and leads Project Jerusalem. Ken has been involved in church planting for over 25 years. He served as chair of Baptist Mid-Mission’s North American Church Planting Ministry Council, and he co-founded the School of Church Planting, which has provided training for over 300 church planters worldwide. Davis came to BBS after serving nineteen years as the missions professor at Crossroads Bible College in Indianapolis, a school specializing in training leaders to reach multiethnic urban America.

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Josh Gelatt's picture

I see the house church movement as a mixed bag. Assuming that the particular home fellowship is biblically sound, I do see it as reclaiming the overwhelming standard practice of the NT era. Furthermore, while the author of the above article rightly notes this model isn't officially "prescribed" in scripture, I would maintain is probably best fits with the very definition of the term ekklesia--a group of believers called out for service unto God. Still, undeniably some (note....SOME) large group gatherings did occur in the NT. The Jerusalem Christians appear to have done this quite a bit, assuming until tensions became too high to allow the to continue meeting in the Temple or elsewhere. Frankly, we don't know much about the what or where of NT assemblies.

Perhaps the greatest power of the house church movement is that it captures, beautifully, the full simplicity of a NT church. No clerical hierarchy, no huge operating expenses that strip money from true ministry, no formalism of 'religion'. The house church groups are usually a bunch of believers who love Jesus, can't wait to learn more about him, and are excited to get out and serve him. Instead of being program based, it is pure relational based. No matter how relational traditional churches wish to be, they are tragically rooted in program. Honestly, if every traditional church shut down tomorrow and we were only left with Gospel-centered home churches I would be excited. Traditional churches have ignored the NT norm (home meetings) and zero'd in on the NT exception (large group gatherings). They have also formalized the church "offices" of pastor and deacon (even the term 'office' suggests this). We "ordain" the one and have turned the other into a corporate board structure, instead of the "in-the-trenches-doing-ministry" servant role it was intended to be.

I think as a movement claiming to value the model of a NT church, we have much to thank the home church movement for----namely calling us back to biblical simplicity. I would imagine a healthy and biblical church would embrace the home-gathering concept, but find some sort of structure whereby good teaching, accountability, and true broader connection can take place.

Joel Shaffer's picture

Good article by Ken Davis. I think his comment, "The return to simpler forms of church holds both great promise and grave dangers for the future growth of the North American church" is pretty much spot on. There are some house churches in the Grand Rapids area that I am familiar with. From my experience, the churches that try to multiply their house churches too quickly for the sake of church growth end up creating a movement of shallow churches full of shallow Christians. However, those that take their time to disciple people into leaders and do not multiply themselves too quickly are the house churches that I've seen thrive. In fact there is a house church of 40 people (meeting at 2 locations) in the Grand Rapids area that is our 3rd largest contributor to Urban Transformation Ministries (the para-church organization that I lead). Because they are not spending their resources on buildings, staffing, and quirky Christmas programs, they can give a substantial amount of their resources to missionaries and organizations like ours. However, their situation is unique because one of the teaching elders just got hired full-time at Grand Rapid Theological Seminary and the other teaching elder is seminary trained, but works in a high level administration position at one of the local school districts....so their pastors are lay persons that don't need to be paid......

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

The few "house churches" I've had much first hand awareness of are really not churches at all, they are just gatherings of people who are believers, but the NT indicates that a church is a bit more than that. In one case I know of, nobody in the group has the knowledge of the Scriptures to fit the 2 Tim. 2:2 criterion. That is, none of them has a thorough grasp of the body of apostolic teaching and is capable of passing it on. There is no tracking of who is "in" and who is "out," so discipline is impossible. There are no elders or deacons.
What it is is a Bible and prayer club.
... which, come to think of it, is a good thing. But it's not a church and can't serve in place of a church.

But I'll share with the others who have posted here (and Ken Davis also), an appreciation for a return to simplicity. There is some value in that. On the other hand, that can certainly be taken too far also. If we suppose that many of the traditions of the church over the years have been developed by God-fearing leaders who knew their Bibles well and were seeking to apply Scripture to how they "do church," it's folly to dismiss all that with a wave of the hand. The situation calls for thoughtful sifting not reckless flushing.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

Josh,

Thanks for the post and willingness to reveal your thinking on the matter to a further extent than the average person. However, I am going to offer some challenges, possibly strong challenges in rebuttal.

Josh Gelatt wrote:
Assuming that the particular home fellowship is biblically sound, I do see it as reclaiming the overwhelming standard practice of the NT era.
As opposed to what? Take the local assembly of Friendship Baptist Church with a congregation of 250 that meets in a rented space. It has a Pastor/teacher (the teacher) and deacons. Tell me exactly what are they failing to reclaim? The statement that “assuming that the particular home fellowship is biblically sound” appears to have with it an assumption of itself, namely that the building in which they meet is part of the criteria for qualifying as biblically sound. Why isn’t Friendship Baptist Church just as biblically sound? Why is it to be assumed it is less so and if it isn’t then you have just conceded your proposition fails. But most importantly, what makes or qualifies an assembly as biblically sound? It truly appears that here you are introducing a building requirement in the least and implying an assembly size as well.
Josh Gelatt wrote:
Furthermore, while the author of the above article rightly notes this model isn't officially "prescribed" in scripture, I would maintain is probably best fits with the very definition of the term ekklesia--a group of believers called out for service unto God. Still, undeniably some (note....SOME) large group gatherings did occur in the NT. The Jerusalem Christians appear to have done this quite a bit, assuming until tensions became too high to allow the to continue meeting in the Temple or elsewhere. Frankly, we don't know much about the what or where of NT assemblies.
Well if we “don’t know much about the what or where of NT assemblies” then Josh, on what strength of argument are you insisting rather confidently that “this model…probably best fits with the very definition of the term ekklesia”? Admitting we don't know much undermines the very platform you are using to insist it should be a certain way or is more properly done a certain way. You assert it best fits yet then conclude “we don’t know much”.

And what specifically to you believe is the definition of “ekklesia” and how do you justify, within its definition, that it lays closer to a “house church” or a comparable number than a larger number? You do know that in the Greek the world ekklesia really does not refer to a group either large or small in its definition, rather only when it is accompanied by a modifier. So from what source do you derive this nuanced definition of ekklesia? To me it appears you have made this claim with no citation simply to make it reinforce your proposition.

Josh Gelatt wrote:
Perhaps the greatest power of the house church movement is that it captures, beautifully, the full simplicity of a NT church. No clerical hierarchy, no huge operating expenses that strip money from true ministry, no formalism of 'religion'.
Interestingly the very first church had a clerical hierarchy. Pastors themselves had to answer to Apostles. So when you claim simplicity due to no clerical hierarchy as a benchmark vis-à-vis the early NT church you have a problem because there indeed was actually more hierarchy than today.

As to “operating expenses that strip money from true ministry” are you unaware that when believers meet together to receive teaching and worship corporately and do so with a Pastor/teacher (one or more depending on size) they are engaged in “true ministry”. Is it your suggestion that “true ministry” does not include a Pastor/teacher being paid because if so you have some rather glaring challenges to the Scripture that state we are to sow the physical needs to those who feed us spiritually, that is enable them to do this by way of recompense so they make their living doing this.
1 Corinthians 9:7-12

Josh Gelatt wrote:
The house church groups are usually a bunch of believers who love Jesus, can't wait to learn more about him, and are excited to get out and serve him. Instead of being program based, it is pure relational based.
Your statement imports an implication that those not participating in house groups somehow love Jesus less and are less eager to learn more about him and serve him. What is the purpose of this as point to make your case? All it does is attempt to elevate one group over another and surely you aren’t suggesting that house church groups really love Jesus more than non-house church groups are you or that they are more eager to learn or desire more greatly to serve Jesus? And if you aren’t suggesting this then what is the point as it relates to making an argument that house churches are more biblical?
Josh Gelatt wrote:
No matter how relational traditional churches wish to be, they are tragically rooted in program. Honestly, if every traditional church shut down tomorrow and we were only left with Gospel-centered home churches I would be excited.
Your gross generalizations only damage your arguments. Instead of examining the models themselves are you not aware of your very broad, distant and sweeping indictment against non-house churches?

As to programs, do you believe because somehow house churches meet in a house they have a “good program” and those that don’t have an undesirable one? Is this really what you are proposing, that somehow the building in which groups meet makes their program superior? And if you are suggesting you don’t have a program, that is house churches, you should understand you are fooling yourself because the very argument for house churches and against other forms is a program based in location and numbers not to mention often other requirements or boundaries placed upon house groups. Yes, they too have a program. You use this word as if it is bad. Programs are simply useful structures and no where does the bible forbid, condemn or treat with an unfavorable measure useful programs. But again, remember, even house churches have their programs though maybe not as developed as non-house churches. So surely you aren’t arbitrarily now picking and choosing to what degree a program is acceptable and what degree of sophistication is “worldly”.

Josh Gelatt wrote:
Traditional churches have ignored the NT norm (home meetings) and zero'd in on the NT exception (large group gatherings). They have also formalized the church "offices" of pastor and deacon (even the term 'office' suggests this). We "ordain" the one and have turned the other into a corporate board structure, instead of the "in-the-trenches-doing-ministry" servant role it was intended to be.
Actually Josh, many churches start out in homes or even have concurrent home meetings while having whole body meetings in larger facilities. I am interested in your documentation regarding the number of homes mentioned in the NT as opposed to larger assembly meetings. What is that number? Can you give me that ratio so that when you claim the larger meetings to be an exception we can at least have a fair ratio for that limited survey?

Further, is it your assertion that those meeting in homes did so without the view that if the group got larger it would agree to meet at a larger facility? Are you aware that often homes did provide a place of shelter from public view to avoid unnecessary harassment and persecution and was not with the view that a home was essential or the number that could fit in a home favorable? Are you aware of this and if so to what degree is this a variable in your consideration? How do you factor that in with such insistent assertions?

As to offices, you are aware of Ephesians 4, correct?

Quote:
11And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

And so while the miraculous/foundational offices of Apostle and Prophet are gone we are left with Evangelists to lead in evangelizing and Pastor/teachers for overseeing the church and teaching the congregation. How is this some misstep by the “traditional” church? Or is it a misstep by the house church that ignores this reality and the companion passages that further the role of the Pastor and its essential and divine role in the church found in Timothy (and Titus):
Quote:
1 Timothy 3:1
This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.

Josh, I understand your zeal but your arguments and case for support of many of your claims are vastly lacking in anything substantial and seem to be propped up merely by stating something to be so without citation.

As to the article itself by Ken Davis, it was excellent. Thanks. It effectively and simply addresses the issue and provides a great structure for further exploration.

Bob T.'s picture

Josh, thank you for your comments.

Quote:
Perhaps the greatest power of the house church movement is that it captures, beautifully, the full simplicity of a NT church. No clerical hierarchy, no huge operating expenses that strip money from true ministry, no formalism of 'religion'. The house church groups are usually a bunch of believers who love Jesus, can't wait to learn more about him, and are excited to get out and serve him. Instead of being program based, it is pure relational based. No matter how relational traditional churches wish to be, they are tragically rooted in program. Honestly, if every traditional church shut down tomorrow and we were only left with Gospel-centered home churches I would be excited. Traditional churches have ignored the NT norm (home meetings) and zero'd in on the NT exception (large group gatherings). They have also formalized the church "offices" of pastor and deacon (even the term 'office' suggests this). We "ordain" the one and have turned the other into a corporate board structure, instead of the "in-the-trenches-doing-ministry" servant role it was intended to be.

Back in the late seventies when the seminaries started offering the D. Min. degree several articles were written about it creating an increased level of professionalism in ministry. They were right. While the rebellious sixties saw society become less formal, established institutions of Christian ministry were creating a more professional persona for pastoral ministry. The Fundamental Baptists were then, and are now, still creating this clergy professionalism with their dictatorial pastoral view and awarding each other honorary doctorates from each others degree mills. They are all DDs - "Doctor Dictator." Other Fundamentalists and Evangelicals increased the professional persona with their D. Min. (Doctor of Minimalism) and increasing paid church staff to lead ministries once led by volunteers. In many churches with a multiple paid staff the staff runs the church with so the called plurality of elders being the nice guys who give little contrary feedback lest they be viewed as trouble makers. The end result overall is that the twenty first century churches are less personal and not really a "congregation" in the NT sense. The word "ekklesia" was translated "congregation" in the Geneva Bible which gave more of a proper sense of the people of God assembled for mutual edification and worship. Teachers were not professionals but congregants who earned their esteem and authority by being known by the congregation and having their gifts and qualifications recognized by them. Today resumes, degrees, and the so called "being called" by a pastoral search process (really no different than the employer seeking employees) substitutes for a Biblical process. Congregations are biblical where there is recognition that it is a gathering based upon the individual priesthood authority of the believer that is to be the basis for ministry and authority.

There is a need for training for ministry. I believe Seminary is most desirable. However, we need to awaken to some realism. The realism should not decrease training academics. Knowledge of the languages and mentoring in theology and other disciplines are valuable. Seminaries should recognize their limitations. D.Mins in a contrived practical field such as biblical counseling is a farce. Fundamentalist schools need to look at what Dallas Seminary is doing in properly exposing students to valid psychological truth and viewpoint. There is no need for church administration D. Min. majors. A couple courses in management and organizational behavior at a local community college will suffice for the pastor who feels a need for such training. Christian seminaries need to get back to basics. Deemphasize anything that may involve professionalism, and give a new emphasis on all that should be involved in congregations. The term church was retained by the KJV translators from the Bishops Bible. It is not a true translation but the attempt to maintain ecclesiastical authority and keep spiritual truth out of the hands of the people.

1 Timothy 5:17-22 appears to indicate a supported eldership with those with recognized gifts being set apart for study and teaching. There needs to be a balanced view that will recognize trained Pastoral ministry within the true sense of congregation. One may be called from outside the congregation but there should be no use of contrived titles or of degree titles. Titles such as "Doctor" have their place in the academic arena. They have no place in congregational ministry. The presiding teaching elder is also fellow priest believer to be given esteem but not set apart to a separate class.

The house church may be a needed corrective to the clergy professional and audience attendee model that is so prevailing today. A recent poll by the Barna research group sought to classify genuine evangelical believers from larger groups of professing Christians. While 77% of Americans call themselves Christians only 5% meet the criteria of being bible believing born again Christians. This is down from 12% just 10 years ago. Of the rest, Barna identifies 35 % as "born again non evangelicals." This 35% profess to be "born again" but reject key evangelical teaching. The remainder of the 77% he calls "notional Christians." They know nothing of being born again. With all our ruffles and flourishes coming from a wide variety of Evangelical churches, schools, and agencies, we are losing ground in America. That 5% is a narrow slice of the population. We could possibly get them all in house congregations for real edification and ministry and give the buildings and programs over to the others to keep them busy religiously and out of the way.

There are certainly good and wonderful men in what we observe and call traditional American church ministries. There are many good men in our schools. I spent 27 years in traditional Pastoral ministry. I have spent some time teaching at traditional schools. Some may say our church was effective. However, I gained an increasing uneasiness about the abnormality of much of the traditional pattern we followed. There are many effective ministries. But often we are recognizing and praising the existing traditional good and failing to envision the needed better. We need to recognize our many weaknesses. That 5% slice of American Evangelicals would be inclusive of those who are Fundamentalists. From 12% to 5% in 10 years while supporting all sorts of building programs, calls to sign declarations of war against culture, seeking to minister via various radio and TV ministries, and sending our protected young ones to our gaurded special schools, does not speak well of the many traditional churches and ministries of north America. We should not throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. But perhaps we could look at the water again and see if it needs changing.

No to house churches. Yes to house congregations (or assemblies). BACK TO BASICS

Josh Gelatt's picture

Alex,

I'm falltered. A lengthy point-by-point rebuttal to my rather uninvolved comment. Not only lengthy, but strong, and sharp. You seem to have inferred a whole bunch of stuff from my comment that simply wasn't there. Judging by the list of things you've accused me of, I deny the office of pastor, deny the duty of church's to pay their pastor, think anyone going to a traditional church doesn't love Jesus as much as those in a house church, think all church programs are anti-biblical, believe large-group gatherings are wrong. Wow....and considering believe the exact opposite of everything you accused my of I find this quite entertaining.

1. I never said traditional churches have "failed to reclaim" anything, nor did I say the local Frienship Baptist Church wasn't biblically sound. In answer to your question, "Why isn't FBC just as biblically sound?" my answer would be, "if it sticks to the Gospel then it is. You further ask, "Why is it to be assumed it is less so?" Well, er, I didn't assume this. I just said the house church does indeed model NT simplicity, and I think quite well. In many ways our traditional churches do as well, which is why I am part of one (and pastor one). In many ways these very same churches do not. Part of this is certainly biblical permissible, some element of this elaboration are perhaps problematic. Certainly the house church movement would have its own biblically problematic issues. As far as "implying" an assembly size, I certainly am not---at least no more than they article that you praised did. Both the articles' author and myself agree that house churches were the more common gathering in the NT. I was describing a biblical occurance, and did indeed note this is not in and of itself a prescription.

As far as the word ekklesia, the NT use is clearly and overwhelmingly in reference to local, small group gatherings. I don't think that can be legitimately denied, a simply word study would demonstrate this. Now, whether small should be considered 25 or 150 is most likely a matter of feasibility most likely. But are you really suggesting that house gatherings were not the dominate practice of the NT period? To claim so would put you outside of all NT scholarship. Is this an absolute necessity? Certainly not. But it was a standard practice. What will you do with that data? Ignore it? Explain it away? Claim that was ok for the 1st century but not for the 21st?

You wrote: "Pastors themselves had to answer to Apostles. So when you claim simplicity due to no clerical hierarchy as a benchmark vis-à-vis the early NT church you have a problem because there indeed was actually more hierarchy than today." This is a serious misunderstanding of the NT data. We are still under this same hierarchy. It's called the New Testament (but do note how Paul himself submitted to his own sending Church, while standing above them he also stood below them----so whatever they practiced it wasn't nearly as hierarchal as you might suppose).

You wrote: "Is it your suggestion that “true ministry” does not include a Pastor/teacher being paid because if so you have some rather glaring challenges to the Scripture that state we are to sow the physical needs to those who feed us spiritually, that is enable them to do this by way of recompense so they make their living doing this." Wow, you took my statement in directions I never intended. When did I suggest there was anything wrong with paying a pastor? Can you find a single comment of mine about this issue? Frankly, the way you make inferences, and accusations, is alarming. I am for paying pastors. It is a biblical command, and a right for full time Christian workers. I was simply making the statement that the operating expenses involved in an institutional church---utility bills, insurance policies, facility upkeep,etc---while perhaps unavoidable were something unheard of in the NT era. Every church I have ever been part of, and the church I currently lead as Senior Pastor, are accutely aware of this issue, and consistently keep this in mind to make sure that our facility, a blessing from God where ministry occurs, does not become an albatross that drags us down. Facilities do promote ministry as well as impeded it. That is a wonderful and ugly reality. I've never met a pastor (except for some of the most extreme "big church mindset" types) who doesn't think this way.

You wrote: "Your statement imports an implication that those not participating in house groups somehow love Jesus less and are less eager to learn more about him and serve him. What is the purpose of this as point to make your case?" Are you serious? Can someone simply give one group praise without someone else misreading evil comments in it about groups not even mentioned? This type of accusation should be below you.

As for the discussing of church offices, again, since I am a Senior Pastor I would think that evidence in itself that I have no problem with the role, and warmly embrace this beautiful and necessarily divinly prescribed biblical model for the church. Yet I also firmly believe in the priesthood of all believers, deny the Catholic idea of "clergy", and these "offices" are in reality simply the exercising, in the context of relationship, the spiritual gift of caring for (pastoring, teaching) a group of Christ's people. Sadly, much of the traditional model of church acts as if the pastors are dictators or priests, even as they reject the term. It's not about office, its about using the Spirit-given relational gifts within the body.

You've put much effort into a defense of the traditional church. It's obvious you love this model of church. Good. So do I, even as I see its weaknesses and am constantly seeking to live out a model of church that is truer to the first century than the twenty-first. Glad to see you love the traditional church. If your striving to live out a more authentic NT church "experience" and truly believe what we consider a traditional church is that model, then you are entitled to that opinion, though I think you lack the same documentation and citation that you accuse me of lacking. So be it. I see much value in the house gathering model (not a "small group model", but a true house assembly). I think it has much to teach us, calls us back to NT simplicity--even as it lacks some of what the traditional church is stronger at.

Blessings (and I encourage you to continue to dialogue, but also encourage you to avoid further accusations).

Josh Gelatt's picture

Bob,

As I read your post I was giving an excited "Amen" over and over. Your thoughts are almost exactly where I am at, though I would maintain that traditional churches can adapt themselves to the concepts and structures of the house assembly model, yet still exist in an (significantly adapted) traditional format. In my opinion, this would involve decentralizing the office of pastor, embracing a plurality of elders/teachers (probably most of which are "lay-elders"--in and of itself a nonbiblical label) who truly shepherd people under their spiritual care, becoming radically mission centered, and stamp out that horribly and anti-biblical notion that church is something we can "attend".

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Josh- don't be surprised by Alex's assessment of your comment- I inferred many of the same things from what you wrote. You may not have intended to communicate some of the ideas that Alex felt needed correction, but that happens all the time in forums. Just clarify what needs clarification, and don't receive responses as 'accusations', but an opportunity to more thoroughly connect with the folks about your beliefs.

I agree that 'traditional' church can become sterile and top-heavy, and there are aspects of the mega-church movement that make me queasy, but I'm not convinced that house churches are the answer. I know of too many house churches that are merely gatherings of the disgruntled and disdainful. Ick.

The principles that guide the church's functions and structure are valid regardless of the venue, and methods are going to be different based on needs, culture, resources, etc. The NT church met in houses because of widespread and brutal persecution, not because it was a more 'correct' means of gathering. This is taking place in other countries as we speak- people meet in each other's homes secretly, and if they were to meet in any sort of public building, the police or an enemy tribe would be quick to take advantage of the opportunity to kill 100 Christians with one stone.

Bro. Bob has it right when he speaks of too much 'professionalism', so to speak, in church leadership. Being organized and having a program for this and that should be normal for any regularly gathering group- but there is some kind of obsession with gimmick-laden programs that promise a 'more spiritual congregation in 30 days', or 'victory over sin in 5 minutes a day'- they sound like dieting commercials. But really, that's just one extreme. The other is what has been discussed in the [URL=http://sharperiron.org/article/future-of-bible-college ]The Future of Bible College[/URL ] thread. There is a segment of IFBism that worships what they call 'simplicity', but what they really mean by simplicity is pooled ignorance. It's like their favorite verse is Acts 26:24..."much learning doth make thee mad."

The way I see it is that the correct balance is somewhere in between, and the house church movement is an overreaction to the state of the modern church, but it will snap back when people see that no matter where you go, you are still dealing with sinful people, and the same heart issues are going to come up, whether you are in sitting on your couch or sitting in a pew.

There's a quote by Greg Millman in one of his blog posts... or maybe it was his book about homeschooling, but what he said (when comparing school-at-home to home education) was that he didn't want to 'do the same things better, but to do better things'. That came to mind as I was reading this thread- are we too focused on being 'new and improved', or are we truly examining the roots and underlying philosophies behind our methods and practice? I think there is much liberty in Scripture for different means and methods- it's too big of a world, IMO, to say "This is the best way."

Alex Guggenheim's picture

Josh Gelatt wrote:
I never said traditional churches have "failed to reclaim" anything, nor did I say the local Frienship Baptist Church wasn't biblically sound. In answer to your question, "Why isn't FBC just as biblically sound?" my answer would be, "if it sticks to the Gospel then it is. You further ask, "Why is it to be assumed it is less so?" Well, er, I didn't assume this. I just said the house church does indeed model NT simplicity, and I think quite well.
Again here is what you did say:
Josh Gelatt wrote:
Assuming that the particular home fellowship is biblically sound, I do see it as reclaiming the overwhelming standard practice of the NT era.
To state that means that the currently predominant form of assembling (i.e. what you call the traditional church) has failed to claim the standard practice. I understand that any group can depart from being biblical but your statement belies the claim that the imaginative FBC is biblically sound if it sticks to the gospel. That is not what is contained in your initial statement. You said that if the house church is biblically sound just as FBC, then it, the house church, qualifies as "reclaiming the overwhelming standard of practice in the NT era". So again, if FBC is sticking to the gospel and the house church is sticking to the gospel, how exactly is the house church closer to "reclaiming the overwhelming standard of practice in the NT era"?

Josh Gelatt wrote:
As far as the word ekklesia, the NT use is clearly and overwhelmingly in reference to local, small group gatherings. I don't think that can be legitimately denied, a simply word study would demonstrate this. Now, whether small should be considered 25 or 150 is most likely a matter of feasibility most likely. But are you really suggesting that house gatherings were not the dominate practice of the NT period? To claim so would put you outside of all NT scholarship.

In its most basic form Greek word translated church in the New Testament is ekklesia, a compound word composed of ek, meaning "from." or "out of," and kaleo. "to call." Together the two words mean, called from, or out of, denoting a company of people chosen and called. There is no assignment of group size in the word's meaning. One can use the word to refer to a small or large assembly of called out ones but the word itself does not contain any boundary of size. I know of no NT scholar who asserts that contained within the definition there is a size implied. I have looked at Robertson, Thayer, Barclay, Mounce and a few others and cannot find any of them inserting a size in the definition.

Now it might be that on many or some occasions the assemblies were small but on some occasions they were not. You do need to provide a ratio to support your claim they were predominant. Maybe they were but that still only exists as an anecdotal reality, not a defining reality for either the word ekklesia or any prescription either explicit or implicit that requires small groups for an assembly to qualify as closer to "reclaiming the overwhelming standard practice of the NT era".

Josh Gelatt wrote:
You wrote: "Pastors themselves had to answer to Apostles. So when you claim simplicity due to no clerical hierarchy as a benchmark vis-à-vis the early NT church you have a problem because there indeed was actually more hierarchy than today." This is a serious misunderstanding of the NT data. We are still under this same hierarchy. It's called the New Testament (but do note how Paul himself submitted to his own sending Church, while standing above them he also stood below them----so whatever they practiced it wasn't nearly as hierarchal as you might suppose).
As they say, "looking around the corner doesn't take away what is standing in front of you". Your earlier claim was this:

Josh Gelatt wrote:
Perhaps the greatest power of the house church movement is that it captures, beautifully, the full simplicity of a NT church. No clerical hierarchy

There is no misunderstanding that not only did the assemblies have Pastor/teachers and/or elders to but they, unlike today, had Apostles to answer to so no matter Paul's submitting to his own sending church as you say (please provide the citation for this) there still existed a greater or more complex hierarchy then that today seeing we do not have the office of Apostle to whom churches and Pastors must answer.

Josh Gelatt wrote:
You wrote: "Is it your suggestion that “true ministry” does not include a Pastor/teacher being paid because if so you have some rather glaring challenges to the Scripture that state we are to sow the physical needs to those who feed us spiritually, that is enable them to do this by way of recompense so they make their living doing this." Wow, you took my statement in directions I never intended. When did I suggest there was anything wrong with paying a pastor? Can you find a single comment of mine about this issue? Frankly, the way you make inferences, and accusations, is alarming.
Hopefully I can provide something here that will help you in the future. If you look again I accused you of nothing, rather I submitting a question for clarity. The two are not synonymous and in this case it was a question and questions are not declarative as an accusation would be. This distinction is critical in helping a person avoid unnecessary personal alarms and concerns.

Josh Gelatt wrote:
I was simply making the statement that the operating expenses involved in an institutional church---utility bills, insurance policies, facility upkeep,etc---while perhaps unavoidable were something unheard of in the NT era.
So who paid for the houses or buildings that the NT church met in? Who kept up the house? Who paid for the water or beverages that were inevitably consumed? I am sure when those owning property had to pay on their property they didn't consider such an expense "unheard of" nor when the facilities, either houses or buildings, had to be maintained. Yes they were quite heard of. And even today in the house church, who pays that person's mortgage, insurance, utilities, and upkeep for their home? Someone does so it costs someone something which ultimately costs that assembly. So because it is on a larger scale it is to be viewed as less biblical?

Josh Gelatt wrote:
You wrote: "Your statement imports an implication that those not participating in house groups somehow love Jesus less and are less eager to learn more about him and serve him. What is the purpose of this as point to make your case?" Are you serious? Can someone simply give one group praise without someone else misreading evil comments in it about groups not even mentioned? This type of accusation should be below you.
It is below me since I did not make an accusation and unfortunately you left off the remainder of the statement that makes it rather clear that I didn't assume you meant what I believed seemed to be implied when I included:

Alex Guggenheim wrote:
surely you aren’t suggesting that house church groups really love Jesus more than non-house church groups are you or that they are more eager to learn or desire more greatly to serve Jesus?
Meaning I was more persuaded you didn't mean to communicate this.

Josh Gelatt wrote:
You've put much effort into a defense of the traditional church. It's obvious you love this model of church.
Using your own words in an earlier concern, "where have I said this"? Right, I have never stated I loved the traditional church and for a person concerned with accusations you might want to take inventory here. My rebuttal was not a defense of a method I prefer rather it was a challenge to your claim about the house church:

Josh Gelatt wrote:
Assuming that the particular home fellowship is biblically sound, I do see it as reclaiming the overwhelming standard practice of the NT era.

Josh Gelatt wrote:
Blessings (and I encourage you to continue to dialogue, but also encourage you to avoid further accusations).
Hopefully the dialogue can be beneficial but as I pointed out, no accusations where made rather at each point either a direct question was made or an observation submitted qualified with a request for clarity in some fashion. I encourage you to take the time to make these distinctions to avoid getting alarmed or upset based on things not present.

I do note your concession and acknowledgment to Bob T regarding the validity of the larger congregations with the view they adapt to the model you consider more biblical. Though I am interested in learning what you mean by significantly adapted it is good to see you accept their validity.

Alex

Arthur Sido's picture

Alex,

Wow. You have taken Josh’s rather mild statements and turned what he said into some sort of indictment of the institutional, traditional church. That is a) completely unwarranted from what Josh said and from what he believes and b) pretty funny because often in our conversations Josh is the one who is defending many aspects of the traditional church. As he mentioned, he is the Senior Pastor of a pretty traditional church. My family and I spent quite a bit of time in the church he pastors and I have spent a lot of time with Josh. We disagree on a number of issues. The big difference is that he is willing to at least consider the contrary arguments. You seem less interested in a serious discussion and more interested in running to the rescue of an indefensible institution by caricaturing both house churches and Josh, who let me say it again is a Senior Pastor in a Baptist church!

Allow me to serve as the target of your wrath because unlike Josh I have no use whatsoever for the traditional church. Let me state unequivocally that there is no Biblical support whatsoever for:

- a permanent, paid full time clergy (1 Timothy 5:17-22 does not equate to a regular salary and the whole point Paul is making in 1 Cor 9 is that he did not make use of this right because for Paul his reward was to preach the Gospel free of charge. Plus Paul was not a local church pastor, he was an apostle and more akin to a travelling evangelist or missionary)

- a hierarchical church structure

- a passive laity watching a man perform onstage

- a “church” that spends most of its offering on buildings, programs and staff

- A “church” that meets a couple of hours a week so that people can say they fulfilled their religious obligation for the week and then live among the world, as the world, for the rest of the week

Is the “house church” the right answer? Maybe, maybe not. It certainly is a better, more Biblically sound mode of gathering both from the example were are given in Scripture and the purpose of the gathering that we see as well. My issue with house churches is that they do not go far enough!

It amazes me that we can spend so much time studying and pondering issues like justification and soteriology and yet accept (and defend like a junkyard dog!) a model of “church” that we not only don’t see anywhere in Scripture but one that is more akin to the Roman Catholic church than it is to the church in the New Testament. I thought that we were supposed to be Reforming the church, not modifying the church and yet we adopted Rome’s way of “church” as our own.

Showing up on Sunday morning and sitting in a pew for an hour is not a sign of spiritual maturity and being dissatisfied with that empty expression of Christianity is certainly not a sign of spiritual immaturity.

"But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?" (Romans 9:20)

http://thesidos.blogspot.com/

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Alex: Josh has explained what he meant. There's not much to be gained from re-quoting him and insisting he meant something different. If you believe his earlier statements don't match his current explanations, just chalk it up to the normal imprecision of language we all suffer and work with his explanations.
Whenever there is a disparity between what we think someone means and what they say they mean, we pretty much have to figure they know their own mind better than we do and accept that.

Having said that, it's pretty clear that he is not rejecting the old non-house-church ("traditional") model, just appreciating some of the strong points of the house-church approach.

I'll react to this a bit though...

Josh G wrote:
Yet I also firmly believe in the priesthood of all believers, deny the Catholic idea of "clergy", and these "offices" are in reality simply the exercising, in the context of relationship, the spiritual gift of caring for (pastoring, teaching) a group of Christ's people. Sadly, much of the traditional model of church acts as if the pastors are dictators or priests, even as they reject the term. It's not about office, its about using the Spirit-given relational gifts within the body.
I don't disagree with this 180 degrees... more like 33 degrees difference... that is, I think many have overreacted to abusive use of power by pastors and taken a view of the role is overly stripped of its biblical authority. I may be inferring too much here but thought I saw a bit of that. The role is a true leading role and at least in some situations requires obedience (Heb.13.17). This is also implied in the title of presbuteros which are described as "ruling" (1 Tim 5.17, for example). Episcopos has less of the use of authority connotation I think, but it's clearly an additional side to the role beyond the shepherding aspect (Acts 20:28).

The connection to house churches is that I've consistently seen a strong aversion to the idea of authoritative leadership in these groups (though, as I said earlier, I've only seen a few first hand--still, 100% of them are authority-averse).
I actually wish there was less of an authority dimension to pastoring in the NT... I don't want the responsibility and don't like to tell people what to do. But there it is.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Alex: Josh has explained what he meant. There's not much to be gained from re-quoting him and insisting he meant something different.
My rebuttal is not one of taking issue with clarity regarding what he did say, rather it was both his lack of citation for support (still lacking) and claims to the contrary with other statements. I am confident you recognize the distinction. And I am not without company regarding what his initial post appeared to infer.

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Having said that, it's pretty clear that he is not rejecting the old non-house-church ("traditional") model, just appreciating some of the strong points of the house-church approach.
I am sure you noted my acknowledgment of his concession of their validity. However I do not agree that he is merely "appreciating some of the strong points of the house-church approach" but clearly favors this model as a more pure one when compared to what he calls the traditional one (which he really did not define but presented with certain assumptions, assumptions I personally would rather remove and have a clearly working understanding of what he believes constitutes a traditional church which in his view is not "reclaiming the overwhelming standard practice of the NT era").

SDHaynie's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
The connection to house churches is that I've consistently seen a strong aversion to the idea of authoritative leadership in these groups (though, as I said earlier, I've only seen a few first hand--still, 100% of them are authority-averse).

Aaron,
I have seen the nearly the same thing. I would put it this way, however. In the several house church situations with which I am familiar, it was not an aversion to authority as much as an aversion to the person that was in authority. (That is to say, some man/group of men wanted the authority for themselves and didn't like the pastor having it.) So they split off from the congregation, formed a house church...and then sought for biblical justifications for what they did, many of which ended up being the main arguments used by the house church proponents (coincidence?) .
Let me hasten to say that I am all for investigating what the Bible has to say about church (I think each generation needs to take a fresh look at its convictions) and am willing to consider the arguments used by house church proponents. I am also admitting that my experience is anecdotal...backed up by what I have seen in a handfull of situations. But what I have seen does make me pause and look really hard (and admittedly, a little jadedly) at what is claimed by/happening in the house church movement.

Shawn Haynie

Alex Guggenheim's picture

Arthur Sido wrote:
Alex,

Wow. You have taken Josh’s rather mild statements and turned what he said into some sort of indictment of the institutional, traditional church. That is a) completely unwarranted from what Josh said and from what he believes and b) pretty funny because often in our conversations Josh is the one who is defending many aspects of the traditional church. As he mentioned, he is the Senior Pastor of a pretty traditional church. My family and I spent quite a bit of time in the church he pastors and I have spent a lot of time with Josh.

I only deal with what is posted. I am not privy to anything additional anyone who posts here has to say in private, particularly face to face with others when I am not present so expecting me to have a frame of reference that includes private conversations and ideas Josh hasn't revealed in his post isn't possible.

Arthur Sido wrote:
Allow me to serve as the target of your wrath
Your characterization of robust and earnest debate as "wrath" points to a road of unhealthy engagement since none of my responses or disposition as I, myself, can tell you from my own mind, have anything to do with wrath, rather simply robust and earnest pursuit. However, I will assume the better and that you simply meant it as color and not fact but if it does demonstrate itself again I will have to bow out of further exchanges.

Arthur Sido wrote:
I have no use whatsoever for the traditional church. Let me state unequivocally that there is no Biblical support whatsoever...

- a permanent, paid full time clergy (1 Timothy 5:17-22 does not equate to a regular salary and the whole point Paul is making in 1 Cor 9 is that he did not make use of this right because for Paul his reward was to preach the Gospel free of charge.

The point of Paul not taking money was so those who were eager to find fault with him, personally and with his Apostleship which brought with it extensive authority, used such occasions for false accusations. He wasn't, nor is there present, any prescription by God through Paul that this personal issue of Paul's in this context is suddenly to be the practice of all any persons in ministry.

Arthur Sido wrote:
Plus Paul was not a local church pastor, he was an apostle and more akin to a travelling evangelist or missionary)
It might serve your need to re-define Apostle but it certainly does not lead you to proper biblical discovery.

First, the office of Apostle is a distinct and separate office from Pastor/teacher and Evangelist (along with Prophet but this is not at issue right now) as we see in Ephesians 4:11-12:

Quote:
11And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

Secondly or subsequently that office has distinct gifts, calling and authority. The Apostles not only had rule over the church corporately but each congregation and its Elder(s) were required to submit to their authority, their rule.

To re-define Apostle and reduce it to another office and deny its true calling, gifts and authority, again might serve an end you wish to get to but it does not service the truth of discovery in this matter.

Arthur Sido wrote:

- a hierarchical church structure

- a passive laity watching a man perform onstage

- a “church” that spends most of its offering on buildings, programs and staff

- A “church” that meets a couple of hours a week so that people can say they fulfilled their religious obligation for the week and then live among the world, as the world, for the rest of the week

As noted, the early church had a greater hierarchy than even today, with not just Pastors who exercise their divine authority but above them were Apostles. If having a Pastor/teacher who has with his office the divine authority prescribed is consider to you "hierarchy" then we certainly are in disagreement. However if you are referring to denominational hierarchy, I might find some agreement.

I am somewhat astonished that you interpret the Pastor/teacher "performing". My Pastor regularly teaches sound doctrine. In no way, shape or form do I consider him performing nor do I consider many so-called traditional Pastors performing. Now some might but because some might do we suddenly decide this is how we are to view all others? So sweeping indictments like this simply are unjust for those who are faithful but because they are in so-called traditional churches they get categorized too without distinction?

I do agree that there are some churches that fold into themselves but in most cases the problem is not with their structure (though I do agree there are in some cases but am far from willing to use such broad language that indicts any and every non-house church with sweeping words like "traditional church), it is usually a misuse of an effective model. A hammer is great for certain functions but when it is misused are we to blame to design of the hammer or its misuse?

Arthur Sido wrote:
Is the “house church” the right answer? Maybe, maybe not. It certainly is a better, more Biblically sound mode of gathering both from the example were are given in Scripture and the purpose of the gathering that we see as well.
When one answers their own question with, "maybe, maybe not" that is an admission that they could be wrong. Are you willing to be so assertive about the superiority of the house church model while admitting you could be in error? I keep seeing the claims that the house church is more biblically sound or is in possession of some virtue that elevates it above the so-called traditional church but simply proclaiming it to be so doesn't make it so.

Arthur Sido wrote:
It amazes me that we can spend so much time studying and pondering issues like justification and soteriology
These are not issues to many, they are the sacred doctrines of God given to us with the duty, privilege and empowerment to study and from which we will gain greater fellowship with God, obedience and proclamation of the truth through our greater enlightenment.

Arthur Sido wrote:
Showing up on Sunday morning and sitting in a pew for an hour is not a sign of spiritual maturity and being dissatisfied with that empty expression of Christianity is certainly not a sign of spiritual immaturity.
I have read anywhere here where anyone has expressed such a sentiment.

Arthur Sido's picture

Alex, it would help matters if you would include the whole quote. My point was not that we shouldn't study justification and soteriology. It is that while we do spend a lot of time studying these things, which we do and we should, we don't spend a commensurate amount of time studying the church. It exhibits either sloppy reading or dishonesty to intentionally leave part of a quote out to make the case that I am arguing something that I clearly never argued. Evidence of this is your insistence that Ephesians 4:11-12 indicates a church hierarchy when if you read just a little further you read (Eph: 4: 13-16)

Quote:
until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
(Eph 4:13-16)

Notice the words used: all of us, the whole body, every joint, each part. The purpose of the apostles etc. is not to be a perpetual teacher but that those who are more mature should help others become more mature with the goal being all of the Body coming to maturity, not one man becoming mature and sprinkling nuggets of wisdom to the laity through monologue preaching (something else we never see in Scripture). Not only does Ephesians 4:11-16 not support a hierarchical church, it is an admonition for just the opposite. You would recognize that if you let Paul speak in his complete thought instead of cutting him off in mid-stream to support your argument. Case in point two:

Quote:
When one answers their own question with, "maybe, maybe not" that is an admission that they could be wrong. Are you willing to be so assertive about the superiority of the house church model while admitting you could be in error? I keep seeing the claims that the house church is more biblically sound or is in possession of some virtue that elevates it above the so-called traditional church but simply proclaiming it to be so doesn't make it so.

Nor does blindly assuming that the traditional mode of church is correct because it is, well, traditional. I think there is much to be commended about the house church model as long as it doesn't stray into becoming a traditional church held in a house instead of a building. I also say that there is little to be commended about the traditional, institutional church model. The focus should be on the purpose of the gathering of the church and then the form. What does Scripture actually say, what does it commend, what examples do we see? When we look into Acts and 1 & 2 Corinthians and other places where the gathering of the church is spoken of, what becomes apparent is that the traditional model of the church not only does not help us fulfill the purpose for which we gather, it actually in many ways impedes it.

"But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?" (Romans 9:20)

http://thesidos.blogspot.com/

Arthur Sido's picture

Aaron,

You said:

Quote:
I actually wish there was less of an authority dimension to pastoring in the NT... I don't want the responsibility and don't like to tell people what to do. But there it is.

Is what we are seeing a call for authority or a call to serve? Did Christ call the apostles to be rulers and leaders or to be servants? What was the point of washing the feet of the apostles? So that they had clean feet when they ruled over the church? No, to show them how they should relate to one another, as servants, not worrying as much about who was "in charge" as they were in how they could serve one another. Even Hebrews 13:17, often quoted as a support for pastoral authority, is not as clear cut as we might like to think. Hebrews 13:7 tells us who the leaders are being spoken of and why they are leaders: because of their lives and their faithfulness. If you want to lead the congregation, do so by exhibiting your service and the faithfulness of your own life, not by telling them what to do.

Quote:
And he said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. (Luk 22:25-27)

"But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?" (Romans 9:20)

http://thesidos.blogspot.com/

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Arthur Sido wrote:
Is what we are seeing a call for authority or a call to serve? Did Christ call the apostles to be rulers and leaders or to be servants?

Both. The passages that emphasize the service quality of the leadership do not negate the the passages that clearly indicate authority. Peter warns that the elder is not to "lord it over" the flock, but does not reject the term "elder" which is--there's no escaping it--a term of authority. So Peter (along with others) bring the ideas together. The role is one of care and protection (Acts 20:28... most clear in the term "shepherding") and also one of leading and ruling (1Tim.5:17, 1 Tim3:4-5) as a service to those under them ("for they watch for your souls" ...Hebrews somewhere)
It's not that hard to see how it can be both. I've met more than enough believers who "just want somebody to tell them what to do." That in itself can be a problem on their part, but my point is that all groups of people need (and want) someone to help them make decisions. (In a way, it's a bit of God's sense of humor that He has put me in that sort of role in my church--I'm extremely indecisive... analysis paralysis big time--but ultimately it's lots of opportunity for His sufficiency to overcome my insufficiency).

Anyway, the "servant leader" cliche is actually a really solid idea.

Edit:
About Heb. 13.17, yes it does reveal the things you mentioned. It also says "rule" and "obey." (Like I said before, I actually wish it didn't say that, because "live and let live" is certainly easier!)

Josh Gelatt's picture

Alex,

I understand your sensitive nature on the house church issue. It is currently en vogue to attack the institutional church. It is clear you took my comments that way, though--as stated--I have a deep appreciation for and love for what we all think of as typical church. Aaron has seemed to correctly grasp my meaning (perhaps only after my second comment), for which I am thankful. I still am baffled by your continued misreading, as noted in your latest assessment of my supposed position in your comment to Aaron.

A couple of points:

1. You seem bent to want a precise size determination from me. This is a logical straw man, which you well realize. All New Testament scholarship agrees that the standard NT practice was that of the house church. This would have varied in size. Perhaps some congregations were 6-8 people. Perhaps others were 50, and perhaps others still were larger. But, all agree that they (1) did normally meet in houses, and (2) would have generally been smaller than most of today's congregations (in America at least). You can define "little" and "big" anyway you want, I suppose. As for the word ekklesia, your definition is correct. But, and this is what you seem to not wish to acknowledge, the NT overwhelming uses the word church in connection with the house church (small gathering), since that is what the local church typically was. Now, obviously the NT has no problem with regular large gatherings (in fact, the initial church gathering at Pentecost seemed to be very large....or more accurately a small group gathering, turned Spirit-driven evangelism crusade, turned large group gathering). For that reason no one should feel guilt for having large gatherings---this is well within the biblical pattern and should encouraged and embraced, and thus a congregation of 5,000 is legitimately a church in the fullest sense of the term. Yet we do ourselves no service to completely deny the reality of the small group gatherings, which many traditional church have typical done (though by no means all).

2. The chief issue for me is what weight NT practice should hold for the believer? In the Baptist tradition we generally refer to ourselves as a "New Testament Church". This, historically, has meant that we pattern and govern ourselves according to the prescriptions AND descriptions of a New Testament congregation (note, I also realize that phrase has had other, also important, meanings). Thus, we are to obey the clear commands of what we are supposed to do, as well as model the clear practices of what the 1st century believers did do. For example, this is why many Baptist churches are beginning to practice communion weekly (no command to do so, but a clear practice). If I were to say of such a church, "they have faithfully reclaimed a biblical practice", would this imply that once a month churches are being anti-biblical? No, but it does imply they are not follow a particular practice as closely as the weekly church does. Now, to repeat my initial statement: "The house church has faithfully reclaiming the overwhelming standard practice of the NT era". By following the clear model of meeting in each others homes, the house church has faithfully reclaimed a New Testament practice. This is simple logic. My home church (where I served as associate pastor before being commissioned to my current pastorate) has insituted a model that attempts to be faithful to the large group/small group model---though without subsuming the house gatherings to a status that is good though "less official" than the larger gathering of saints. Elders lead these groups, each of which is considered to be an ekklesia of Christ's people. They receive teaching, worship, prayer, do ministry, take communion--they have even had baptisms and taken offerings at times (though for the benefit of the larger gathering we have them tithe to it). They also choose to gather with the larger ekklesia on Sundays for worship and teaching from the Word. That Church sees the house churches as the primary "level", while seeing the larger gathering as an important and essential aspect of true church.

3. In many traditional models of the church the house churhes are merely explained away ("well, that is what they did in the first century". Or, "well, they weren't allowed to buy buildings and were being hunted, that's the only reason they met in homes"). I would disagree with that assessment, forcefully.

4. As for Paul submitting to his church, have you forgetten that he was sent on his missionary journey by the Alexandrian church? Thus, we have an Apostle who needed to be commissioned and authorized by a local assembly for ministry. Frankly, this is a beautiful expression of Jesus' teaching on servant leadership. As Jesus has authority over the church, still he submitted himself to it by dying for it. Likewise, the apostles held an authority (in Christ) over the church while simultaneously being submissive to it. Do we not as pastors do the same thing? Are we not (in some sense) in authority over our congregations while at the same time subject to our congregations decisions? Indeed, we are.

Josh Gelatt's picture

Aaron,

You said: "The connection to house churches is that I've consistently seen a strong aversion to the idea of authoritative leadership in these groups (though, as I said earlier, I've only seen a few first hand--still, 100% of them are authority-averse)."

You are absolutely right. I guess I've seen the best and worst of what the modern house church movement offers. Far too many are motivated more by an aversion to spiritual authority than a submission to NT practice (but frankly many of our churches do the same thing with an extreme form of Congregational polity). With that said, when done well, I still stand by my praises of the movment.

As far as your disagreeing with my views on clergy (if only by 33 degrees), actually I would agree with everything you said. I fully embrace the concept of "pastoral authority" (obviously only when practiced according to the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians). That is, of course, taken way to far by many (but also completely denied by others). I wasn't reacting to the concept of authority, but rather the two-tiered system of spiritual brought about by Catholicism.

Josh Gelatt's picture

Alex,

In a reply to Arthur you wrote: "I keep seeing the claims that the house church is more biblically sound or is in possession of some virtue that elevates it above the so-called traditional church but simply proclaiming it to be so doesn't make it so"

Ok, so what is your position. Do you believe the house church model is less biblical? More biblical? Or equally biblical to the traditional church?

Paul J. Scharf's picture

If by "house church" someone means a different model of church from anything which has been tried before (such as church in the home for the family) -- in the way that a home school compares to public or private school -- then I am suspect for the same reasons that many others also are (i.e., the family is responsible for educating its own children, but a family is not a church).
If, however, by "house church" someone means a small church which meets in a house, then as long as it is Biblical I am all for it. As many have pointed out, this is largely similar to how the NT church operated in its infancy. And let's face it, many conventional churches which have buildings also started as "house churches," even if it was before that term was in vogue.
Thus, I think you have to view all different types of "house churches" on a spectrum and evaluate each one in its context.
As far as the real world goes, I personally see great benefit in the "house church" model. I cannot remember where I heard it, but someone once said that the church age will likely end as it began, with the true believers meeting in small groups in homes. Obviously we are all aware of places in the world where this is a necessity, such as China.
If you are in a location where you are able to be part of a full-service, multi-staff church which is doctrinally sound and practically proficient, God bless you and may you greatly enjoy it.
There are many places in the country, especially in rural areas, where even the "fundamental" churches are beset with false teaching, legalism, conflict, traditionalism, ineffectiveness and even corruption. In such situations, starting a house church may be the only other alternative.

Church Ministries Representative for the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry

Josh Gelatt's picture

Correction: I accidently mentioned Alexandria when I intended to say Antioch, as Paul's sending church (cf Acts 13:1-3).

Paul, good thoughts--and I quite agree. The simplicity of the house church model is a great strength. Frankly, it took the first-century world by storm and I, for one, believe it can do so in the 21st century. Even in pastoral ministry I've brought more people to Christ in my living room (or theirs) on a weeknight than in the Church's building on Sunday morning. In my church the small group ministry is exploding, and people are regularly coming and digging into God's word. I've observed people who will attend a weekly small group for several years before ever setting foot in a larger church service (for a variety of reasons, mostly because they had a bad experience, didn't trust the 'traditional' church, or something else. Not saying this is good, but it is a reality). In my last church the small group ministry was where most of our new converts first got saved.

Still, perhaps the great danger of the house church movement is its potential for a lack of solid leadership/teaching. On the other hand, some churches want to exercise too much control. I think it is probably most in line with NT practice to see this as semi-autonomous ekklesia's, under the authority of an elder/pastor that works in cooperation with the larger Body. This is not the only method, of course. The rise of the "video-venue movement" (telecasting in a sermon) is one way to overcome the teaching problem (though I'm not sure how much legitimate "connection" this would actually provide between the larger church and the house churches).

It is also significant to witness that in opressive regimes where the "above ground" church was completely wiped out--when freedom came to the country churches immediately popped into existence because they existed all along in secretive house churches. Sounds vaguely familiar to the NT, eh? Perhaps there was a reason, after all, to this NT pattern.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

Ken Davis wrote:

The move from conventional congregations to house churches has been termed a revolution. Researcher George Barna estimates at least 1 million Americans have shifted to small-groups worshiping primarily in homes or businesses.

But the revolution comes in this statistic: by 2025, Barna predicts 70 percent of Christians will be worshiping in such "alternative faith communities."1

An excellent extended review of "Revolution" by Barna can be found at Grace Chapel Church
[URL=http://put_url_here ]http://www.gracechapelchurch.info/Downloads/135%20-%20Revolution%20-%20R... ]

And the reviewer highlights Barna's fatal flaws that he also applies to those advocating house churches in the form Barna promotes, as described in Ken's article and as some have expressed direct support for or are accepting to some degree. He does acknowledge what Barna might have observed that is true about whatever system is present regarding its imperfections but unlike many which includes Barna, the reviewer does not use such observations to justify Barna's errors and the errors of many of those participating in the house church movement. He cites and elaborates on the following fatal flaws:

1. DEEMPHASIZES BIBLICAL THEOLOGY
2. DILUTES ECCLESIASTICAL AUTHORITY
3. OVEREMPHASIZES PERSONAL INDIVIDUALITY
4. UNDERESTIMATES PROVIDENTIAL CERTAINTY
5. WELCOMES SATANIC BRUTALITY
"But his fragmented model leaves far too many unsuspecting Christians vulnerable to the snares that Satan lays for those who are detached from the local church; snares for which his book leaves no warning. To urge Christians to move away from the local assembly of believers is to put them in a dangerous position, because it is when they learn to live apart from the local church, Satan does his most deadly work."

Very good review.

BryanBice's picture

In their work attempting to defend the modern house church movement, Frank Viola & George Barna express a telling attitude toward the office of pastor in Pagan Christianity : “…not a strand of Scripture supports the existence of this office,” they insist.

I've no problem with churches meeting in houses. I do have a problem with arrogant "pastor" wannabes rebelling against the local church & the office of pastor by having "church" at home, then justifying it as more true to the NT since, after all, the first churches met in homes.

Josh Gelatt's picture

Shouldn't we take a good, hard look at these criticisms of the house church movement, and then apply that same standard to the traditional churches. The argument against it goes something like this:

1. Many house churches have the following dangers: (1) bad theology, (2) weak teaching, (3) been started by bad motives, (4) etc.
2. Therefore, the house church model is suspect.

How about this applied to the other:

1. Many traditional churches have (1) bad theology, (2) weak teaching, (3) been started by wrong motives, (4) etc.
2. Therefore, the traditional church model is suspect.

Also, Alex, you posted the following quote (aprovingly): "To urge Christians to move away from the local assembly of believers is to put them in a dangerous position, because it is when they learn to live apart from the local church, Satan does his most deadly work."

Umm...if somone is in a house church, how are they "living apart from a local church"? In what sense have they moved away from a local assembly? Of course, if they have went to a house church that strayed from biblical orthodoxy or orthopraxy then sure, that's a problem (but its no different than if they went to another traditional church that likewise strayed).

To repeat my earlier question, am I to assume that you think the house church model is less biblical than the traditional church model? Equally biblical? (you've already stated your distain for the idea that it might be more biblical).

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Josh Gelatt wrote:
Shouldn't we take a good, hard look at these criticisms of the house church movement, and then apply that same standard to the traditional churches. The argument against it goes something like this:

1. Many house churches have the following dangers: (1) bad theology, (2) weak teaching, (3) been started by bad motives, (4) etc.
2. Therefore, the house church model is suspect.

How about this applied to the other:

1. Many traditional churches have (1) bad theology, (2) weak teaching, (3) been started by wrong motives, (4) etc.
2. Therefore, the traditional church model is suspect.


I don't want to sound overly pro-house church, because I'm actually pretty skeptical, but I noticed this, too. But do note that the "some have weak doctrine" argument is only one of several in the article. And there is certainly plenty of anecdotal evidence (for what that is worth) that the house churches have a bigger problem here on average than 'traditional' churches (unless you include the mainline denominations!).
Maybe a better way to put that argument is to say that since there is a strong spirit of innovation in these groups, there tends also to be a doctrinal unfetteredness. I'm sure there are exceptions a-plenty, but we're talking about general patterns here and reasons for caution here not reasons for outright rejection.

rogercarlson's picture

I think the criticism is pretty spot on. I guess I am colored by Viola's book. While there some things he said that were fine, much of what he said was really bad. If memory serves me correctly, his chapter on preaching was downright silly it was so bad. I thought he would fit in well with some of the Emergents - Doug Pagitt comes to mind.

My thinking on this issue is also shaped by the house churches that I have been in contact with. They were rebellous (didn't want anyone in authority over them - the one I am thinking of splintered down to one family). They were theologically weak and bragged about it.

Roger Carlson, Pastor
Berean Baptist Church

Josh Gelatt's picture

Doesn't this ultimately come down to which version of the house church model we are dealing with? If someone is basically putting into practice everything in Viola & Barna's book (as well as Barna'a Revolution), then I would be the first to lift the megaphone to my lips to cry foul. That is really little more than an Emergent version of the house church movement.

Don't misunderstand, there are SOME things in "Pagan Christianity" (and even "Revolution") that I would agree with. Much of what we see in the institutional church probably comes more from Roman Catholic (and even corporate) practices than from the NT. But, when they make a statement like "there is no shred of support in the NT for the office of pastor" I have to wince at the sheer lunacy of that statement. While that may be true of the concept of Senior Pastor, are they really denying the role of pastor/elder within a congregation? Seems nonsense to me.

The house church movement is no different than the traditional church movement in that it comes in many forms---much of which is simply wrong-headed. But I am speaking of the model itself, not the good or bad executions of that model (by comparison, I assume those of you defending the traditional model of the church are not also defending Unitarian or even seeker-sensitive forms of the traditional model).

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Josh- in your view, what's the essence of the model? What would be the sine qua non?
I think we'd agree on one item...

  • It's not a house church if it meets in a building that exists only for the purpose of housing a church... for short "no 'church building'"

But beyond the facilities issue (which I personally think is trivial), what constitutes "the model" in all its variants?

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