A. As the Church awaits the good news of the coming Kingdom and resurrection, it is called to patient endurance in faith, perseverant war in holiness, and faithful proclamation of Jesus during its time of exile. These are the activitiesof this ageupon which God has given his stamp of approval in the Holy Spirit.
Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.19Go therefore andmake disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold,I am with you always, to the end of the age(cf. the Day of the Lord).” (ESVMatthew 28:18-20)
I write these things to you whobelieve in the name of the Son of Godso that you may know that you haveeternal life.14This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anythingaccording to his will, he hears us.15And if we know that he hears us– whatever we ask– we know that we have what we asked of him. (NIV1 John 5:13-15)
B. Since the Holy Spirit is the only means of faithfulness in this age, and since God only releases His Spirit when we ask, the Church seeks to order itself about the place of prayer, individually and corporately. Though this may take different forms in different contexts, this is theessential missiological functionof the Church in context to the imminent Day of the Lord.
He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke aboutthe kingdom of God…4he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, butwait for the giftmy Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.5For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized withthe Holy Spirit.”6So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going torestore the kingdom to Israel?”7He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.8Butyou will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnessesin Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (NIVActs 1:3-8)
C. In this light, God has graciously given his people many gifts by his Spirit to help them abide in Him and remain faithful in their calling in this age. Internal disciplines and external hardships keep us humble, while various ministries of the Holy Spirit, administered uprightly to the Body through the five-fold ministry, keep us on a narrow path of righteousness.
But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith;pray in the Holy Spirit;21keep yourselves in the love of God,waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christthat leads to eternal life.22And have mercy on those who doubt;23save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.24Now to himwho is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,25to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (ESVJude 1:20-25)
D. However, what is the broad context and form designed to facilitate these various elements and functions within the Body of Christ in this age? How ought the Body generally relate to one another and to society at large?
1. The modern church broadly relates these elements within a “corporate-based” or “institutional” form of assembly. The apostolic church, however, broadly related on a “home-based” or “private” form of assembly, meeting from “house to house” (cf. Acts 1:13; 2:46; 5:42; 8:3; 12:12; 20:7-9; Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Phlm. 2; etc.). The reason for this is simple: the home-based model of church is the most effective means of faithful sojourning.
2. Unfortunately, the recent explosion of house church networks have generally been understood and interpreted under two broad banners: 1)escapist mission-stations, the means by which souls are saved for immaterial heaven, or 2)dominionist strongholds, the grassroots means by which the church will take over the world. Yet even with this poor Platonic identity, the house church form has proven a more effective form.
3. Entire books, groups and even movements have been devoted to the subject of the form/structure of the church. However, the emphasis of the New Testament is far more focused on the function of the church and sustaining faithfulness to that function by prayer and the grace of God. In other words, the Scriptures emphasize personal piety and righteousness rather than corporate form, since the corporate form is only unto strengthening individual faithfulness. Likewise, this class will devote a relatively small amount of time to the subject of ecclesiological form.John references William Law’sA Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. You can download this at 9b’s audio.
“It is very observable, that there is not one command in all the Gospel for public worship; and perhaps it is a duty that is least insisted upon in Scripture of any other. The frequent attendance at it is never so much as mentioned in all the New Testament. Whereas that religion or devotion which is to govern the ordinary actions of our life is to be found in almost every verse of Scripture. Our blessed Saviour and His Apostles are wholly taken up in doctrines that relate to common life. They call us to renounce the world, and differ in every temper and way of life, from the spirit and the way of the world: to renounce all its goods, to fear none of its evils, to reject its joys, and have no value for its happiness: to be as new-born babes, that are born into a new state of things: to live as pilgrims in spiritual watching, in holy fear, and heavenly aspiring after another life: to take up our daily cross, to deny ourselves, to profess the blessedness of mourning, to seek the blessedness of poverty of spirit: to forsake the pride and vanity of riches, to take no thought for the morrow, to live in the profoundest state of humility, to rejoice in worldly sufferings: to reject the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life: to bear injuries, to forgive and bless our enemies, and to love mankind as God loveth them: to give up our whole hearts and affections to God, and strive to enter through the strait gate into a life of eternal glory. This is the common devotion which our blessed Saviour taught, in order to make it the common life of all Christians. Is it not therefore exceeding strange that people should place so much piety in the attendance upon public worship, concerning which there is not one precept of our Lord’s to be found, and yet neglect these common duties of our ordinary life, which are commanded in every page of the Gospel? I call these duties the devotion of our common life, because if they are to be practised, they must be made parts of our common life; they can have no place anywhere else.” [William A. Law,A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life(New York: Vintage Books, 2002; first pub. 1728), 6-7.]
A. Clarification of the Relationship between the Temple and the Church
1. The form of the Post-Constantinian church has been generally based on the pattern of the Old Testament Temple, with a corporate holding, sacred articles/space, professional clergy, etc. Moreover, the liturgical patterns of the church were generally adopted from the liturgy of the Jewish synagogues, which likewise derived from the Temple rituals. This created what Wolfgang Simson calls the “Cathegogue System”:
Baptized with Greek pagan philosophy, separating the sacred from the secular, the cathegogue system developed into the Black Hole of Christianity, swallowing most of its society-transforming energies and inducing the church to become absorbed with itself for centuries to come. The Roman Catholic Church went on to canonize the system. Luther reformed the content of the gospel, but left the outer forms of‘church’remarkably untouched. The Free Churches freed the system from the State, the Baptists then baptized it, the Quakers dry-cleaned it, the Salvation Army put it in uniform, the Pentecostals anointed it and the Charismatics renewed it, but until today nobody has really changed the system. The time to do that has now arrived.
2. The Temple was instituted by God in the pattern of the heavenly Temple (cf. Ex. 25:40; Acts 7:44; Heb. 8:5; 9:24). It was designed to be a prophetic signpost of the Day of the Lord, when the glory of God will cover the entire earth (cf.Ps. 72:19; Is. 11:9; 35:2; 40:5; 60:1; Hab. 2:14; etc.). Thus, the glory filling the inner sanctuary (cf. Ex. 40:34; 1 Ki. 8:10ff; 2 Chr. 7:1ff) was seen as a deposit of the glory to come.
When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place,the cloud filled the temple of the LORD.11And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, forthe glory of the LORD filled his temple.12Then Solomon said, “The LORD has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud;13I have indeed built a magnificent temple for you,a place for you to dwell forever.” (NIV1 Kings 8:10-13)
“In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God…5Andthe glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”…9You who bring good tidingsto Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidingsto Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout…10See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. (NIVIsaiah 40:3-10)
3. As such the perpetuity of the Name and presence of God was interpreted in light of the age to come (cf. 1 Ki. 9:3; 1 Chr. 23:25; Ps. 68:16; Jer. 3:17; etc.), just as the perpetuity of the Davidic dynasty (cf. 2 Sam. 7:11-16; Ps. 89:29; Is. 9:7; etc.). As the Davidic dynasty came to a temporary end, so also the Temple was destroyed during the 70 year exile of Israel (c.586-516) and again under Roman rule in 70 AD. However, both the Temple and the Dynasty will be perpetually restored in the age to come.
I have heard your prayer and your supplication, which you have made before Me; I have consecrated this house which you have builtby putting My name there forever, and My eyes and My heartwill be there perpetually. (NASB1 Kings 9:3)
For the LORD has chosen Zion, he has desired it for his dwelling:14“This is my resting place for ever and ever; here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it. (NIVPsalm 132:13-14)
Then the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court, andthe glory of the LORD filled the temple.6While the man was standing beside me, I heard someone speaking to me from inside the temple.7He said: “Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place for the soles of my feet.This is where I will live among the Israelites forever. (NIVEzekiel 43:5-7)
4. In this way the Temple was never apattern for ministry, but rather a signpost for the age to come. The disciples never attempted to replicate the Temple ministry. To replicate it would not only be illogical but blasphemous (cf. 1 Ki. 12:28-33), presumption against God’s chosen seat of redemptive history.
5. Thus, the locus of sojourning ministry was from home to home (cf. Acts 2:46; 5:42; 8:3; 12:12; 20:20; etc.), though the disciples continued to meet in the temple courts (cf. Lk. 24:53; Acts 2:46; Acts 3:1f; 5:20f; etc.). The Temple was never discounted, replaced or superseded; it was simply related to rightly in light of the Day of the Lord. The locus of ministry and sojourning has always been home-based, Old Testament and New (cf. Deut. 4-6; 2 Chr. 6; Ezra 9-10; etc.).
While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.52Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.53And theystayed continually at the temple, praising God. (NIVLuke 24:51-53)
Every day they continued to meet togetherin the temple courts. They broke breadin their homesand ate together with glad and sincere hearts…3:1One day Peter and John were going upto the templeat the time of prayer…(NIVActs 2:46-3:1)
Day after day,in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ. (NIVActs 5:42)
6. Ultimately, the temple and home fellowships serve the samefunction—faithful sojourning—but the twoformsare different and mutually exclusive. To mix the two forms convolutes the function of both. Thus the NT can speak of the analogous function and identity of the Temple and the church (cf. 1 Cor. 3:16f; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21f; Heb. 3:6; 1 Pe. 2:5), while assuming a difference in form and ministry.
What agreement is there betweenthe temple of Godand idols? Forwe are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”(cf. Ex. 29:45)(NIV2 Corinthians 6:16)
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household,20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.21In him the whole building is joined together and risesto become a holy temple in the Lord.22And in him you too are being built togetherto become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (NIVEphesians 2:19-22)
As you come to him, the living Stone– rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him–5you also,like living stones, are being built intoa spiritual houseto bea holy priesthood, offeringspiritual sacrificesacceptable to God through Jesus Christ…9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (NIV1 Peter 2:4-9)
B. Brief History of the Church and Home-based Fellowships
1. Because of the early church’s sojourning theology in light of the kingdom and resurrection, early Christians lived in organic and easily multipliable house churches, equipped and guided by the five-fold ministry. As some have said, converts were “converted to marginality,” which had no place in the mainstream of wealth and power.
2. The early church thus had no corporate holdings. There were no “church buildings” mentioned in history until the final quarter of the third century. The question of house church versus corporate church was not even a consideration. As various missiologists have pointed out, if we want to return to the apostolic pattern of church planting, then we ought to aim at constructing our first building 300 years after we start!
When the church was very young, it had no buildings. Let us begin with that striking fact. That the church had no buildings is the most noticeable of the points of difference between the church of the early days and the church of today. In the minds of most people today,‘church’means first a building, probably something else second; but seldom does‘the church’stand for anything other than a building. Yet here is the fact with which we start: the early church possessed no buildings and carried on its work for a great many years without erecting any. This fact has something significant to teach us concerning the character of the church…There was practically nothing in the way of church building until the third century, and nothing with any pretension to architecture until after the conversion of Constantine early in the fourth century. During all this time the church carried on her mission without buildings of her own, without property, and without the burdens and responsibilities that the holding of property implies.
3. It was not until the conversion of Constantine that the church wholeheartedly adopted corporate holdings endorsed by the State. As the church systematically transitioned to an institutional corporate base, the war against gnosticism subsided, and the Romanized church assumed the identity of the Kingdom Now before an immaterial heaven, i.e. “Christendom”. The theology was thus adopted to validate the ministerial ambition for wealth and power.
4. In time the logical consequence of kingdom now theology and praxis led to the banning of everything outside of the corporate form. On 27 February 380, emperor Theodosius published the so called “Edict of Thessalonica”, which not only outlawed traditional Roman religions but also persecuted all unauthorized gatherings of believers, i.e. house churches.
5. Post-400 AD Christianity is a two-fold history of reformation of theologyandpraxis. Multitudes of books have been written on the reformation and restoration of apostolic doctrine, but few have even considered the restoration of apostolic ecclesiology. The reason for this: it contradicts the wealth and power of the church, so much so that the church persecuted anyone who even tried to live it out by themselves.
a) The first person to be executed as a heritic after Theodosius’ decree was Priscillian, bishop of Avila. Priscillian empowered a large lay movement in Spain and France of small fellowships called “brotherhoods” which met in private homes. Because they took communion and baptized new believers, the Roman episcopate put Priscillian and six of his leaders to death at Trier in 385.
b) Likewise, the Celtic movement of the 5thand 6thcenturies initially came under Roman persecution because of their practice ofperegrini(lit. “migrant ones”), who would travel in bands evangelizing and discipling new believers in unreached places.
c) The Arminian Paulicians and Tondrakians, the Bogomilians of Bulgaria, the French Henricians (a.k.a. Petrobusians) and Albigensians (a.k.a. Cathars) were all accused of heresy, but the real reason for their systematic persecution was their refusal to assemble in the corporate holdings of their respective Christendom churches. This threatened the wealth and power of the state churches.
d) The rise of the Inquisition in the 12thcentury led to the persecution and murder of millions of believers including the Waldensians (the “Poor Men of Lyons”), the English Lollards, the Bohemian Hussites, the Moriscos (Islamic converts) and Marranos (Jewish converts) of Spain and Portugal, and the Protestant Anabaptists, Labadians, Huguenots, etc.—all of which persisted though underground home-based gatherings.
6. Lest we think this a “Catholic problem,” the Protestant Reformers were no less brutal in their persecution of non-sanctioned Christian meetings.
a) After Luther gained the support of the German Elector, Frederick III, Luther ordered the massacre of over 100,000 peasants in 1524-25. From 1526-29, Luther began to organize his movement, which alarmed one of his disciples Kaspar Schwenckfeld. In 1530 Schwenckfeld parted ways with his mentor, and in 1535 he and his disciples were officially condemned as heretics (because of their views on Communion) and were subsequently “hunted like deer” throughout Europe.
b) The leaders of the Anabaptist movement, Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz and George Blaurock, were all sentenced in Zurich at the hands of reformer Ulrich Zwingli. Manz became the first Anabaptist martyr, drowned in Lake Zürich; Grebel died because of his time in prison; Blaurock was beaten, sent away and later burnt at the stake in near Klausen, Italy. Known as the “Radical Reformation,” the Anabaptist movement spread like wildfire throughout Europe as people sought not only a reformation of theology but also a reformation of praxis, the latter being the true source of their relentless persecution.
c) Dictatorial rule was likewise established in Geneva under John Calvin and his successors. Any meetings outside the city ordinances were strictly condemned, and Michael Servetus became the first “libertine” heretic burned in the city square.
d) If the inner motivations of the human heart were exposed, I suggest that the majority of the 30,000+ Protestant denominations were started because groups of people desired to meet outside the control of the corporate-based church, which would be a form of passive persecution.
7. The Protestant home-fellowship movement was given breathing room because of the folly of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48) and the subsequent retaliation of the Enlightenment (c.1650-1800).
a) The modern home-based church movement began primarily within German pietism, the father of which being Jacob Spener (1635-1705) who recognized that though everyone had a bible in their homes no one actually read them. Thus, he establishedcollegia pietatis, “pious gatherings,” biweekly house meetings that discussed the Sunday morning sermon. Spener quickly encountered opposition from the local Lutheran churches, and the city council of Frankfurt subsequently banned the meetings.
b) In like manner, Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700-60), the godson of Spener, began a Moravian movement of “societies” and “bands” throughout Europe, which John Wesley multiplied after his Moravian conversion on Aldersgate St. Wesley’s “circuits” and “classes” spread throughout Europe and America, setting the standard of the Protestant evangelicalism by the end of the Second Great Awakening. Essentially house churches, these small groups received intense opposition and ridicule (cf. “Methodist”) by the corporate-based churches.
c) Camp Meetings and the Holiness Movement
d) YMCA and the Student Volunteer Movement
e) Plymouth Brethren and the Little Flock Movement
f) Church Growth Movement and House Church Networks
Prophetically foreseen by Erich Reber and described by writers such as Robert Banks and Met Castillo, it was in 1996 when probably the first intentional house-church planting movement outside rather closed nations like China, Vietnam or Cuba, was initiated by Dr. Victor Choudhrie in North India. In later years, other initiatives followed, initiated by IBRA Radio, a Swedish Pentecostal Radio ministry, which started a new house church planting ministry in the Arab World, or apostolic persons like Bruce Carlton, inside, but clearly on the fringes of existing mission agencies like the Southern Baptists’IMB (International Mission Board). First greatly ridiculed by traditional churches in almost all nations, the house church movement has grown to many hundreds of thousands of churches in an amazingly short period of time, and is, at this point, not only the main harvesting tool God seems to use in Muslim nations like Bangladesh, Pakistan, or Indonesia, but making its presence felt in many Western nations as well. Apostolic church planters like Neil Cole or Tony Dale, Bernard Sanders and Guy Muse, Victor John and David Watson, Peter Wenz or Jonathan Pattiasina are leading the way, and many in traditional churches who were watching are not laughing anymore. By now (2009) we know of at least 500,000 newly planted house churches (outside China), and, if George Barna is right in his predictions, published in his book Revolution, it will take but a few more years for house churches to become not only an extremely vital harvesting instrument of God, but quite simply the new mainline church, replacing CAWKI [church-as-we-know-it] with something introduced to the mindset of most Christians only a few years ago.
8. The areas of the earth where the greatest growth of the Church is happening today is primarily facilitated through home-based meetings. George Barna, perhaps the most influential pollster and church growth consultant in Evangelical Christianity, predicts that “revolutionary” expressions (i.e. home-based churches) will soon account for one third of American spirituality.
“When the Temple was destroyed, the synagogue became its surrogate. Much of the liturgy of rabbinic Judaism—even the times of statutory prayer and the number of services held on Sabbaths and festivals—was framed to correspond to the rituals and rhythms of the defunct Temple cult.” [“Synagogue,”Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2009(1997-2009 Microsoft Corporation); available from http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761557548/synagogue.html.]
“Where perfected into a system, the services of the synagogue, which were at the same hours as those of the temple, consisted, (1) of prayer, which formed a kind of liturgy, there were in all eighteen prayers; (2) the reading of the Scriptures in certain definite portions; and (3) the exposition of the portions read. (See Luke 4:15, 22; Acts 13:14.)” [M.G. Easton, “Synagogue,”Easton’s Bible Dictionary(Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996, c1897).]
Wolfgang Simson,Houses that Change the World(Waynesboro: Authentic, 2001), xvi.
See Eduardo Hoornaert,The Memory of the Christian People, trans. R. R. Barr (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1988), 81.
“We have no temples or alters.” This statement, referring to Christians, comes from the pen of the apologist (defender) Minicus Felix, c 200, and all evidence supports its accuracy. Throughout at least the first two centuries there were no church buildings as such, and this was so remarkable that to the pagan population, it was considered grounds for accusing the Christians of ‘atheism.’ In a world notable for the number of its holy shrines and the rivers of blood that flowed daily from the sacrificial victims, Christians were conspicuous in that they possessed neither the first nor engaged in the second.” [J.G. Davies,Secular Use of Church Buildings(New York: Seabury, 1968), 1.]
Ernest Loosley,When The Church Was Young(Christian Books Pub House, 1989; orig. pub. 1935), 3-5.
See Alan Kreider, ed.,The Origins of Christendom in the West(Edinburgh and New York: T & T Clark, 2001); Judith Herrin,The Formation of Christendom(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987); and Robert Lewis Wilkin,Seeking the Face of God(New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003).
The tension between the Celtic and Roman Church continued until the Celtic Church came under the authority of Rome at the Synod of Whidby in 664. Differences in the appearance of monks and the dating of Easter (lunar vs. solar calendars) ultimately represented the differing authority structures of bishop versus abbot.
“Only as late as 22 January 1998 did the Vatican, under the leadership of German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, open its extensive archives on the Inquisition in the Palazzo del Sant’Uffizio in Rome, where the bloody business of systematically persecuting and killing heretics is documented in no fewer than 4500 large volumes. ‘We are concerned about the truth, and this is an act of self-cleansing,’ said Cardinal Achille Silvestrini. It is believed, however, that those 4500 volumes represent much less than a third of the original material, the rest of which was lost.” [Simson,Houses that Change the World, 62.]
See Peter C. Erb,The Life and Thought of Kaspar Schwenckfeld von Ossig(Pennsburg: Schwenckfelder Library, 1997). During this time, Luther’s disposition toward his disciple changed dramatically from “Dear Kaspar” to “The stupid fool, possessed by the devil, understands nothing. He does not know what he is babbling. But if he won’t stop his drivel, let him at least not bother me with the booklets which the devil spues out of him.” [see Chester D. Hartranft,Corpus Schwenckfeldianorum, Letters and Treatises of Caspar Schwenckfeld von Ossig(Pennsburg: Board of Publication, 1997).]
See George H. Williams,The Radical Reformation, 3rded. (Truman State Univ. Press, 2000); and Michael G. Baylor,The Radical Reformation(Cambridge Univ. Press, 1991).
Roland Bainton,Hunted Heretic: The Life and Death of Michael Servetus(Beacon Press, 1953); and Dave Hunt,What Love Is This? Calvinism’s Misrepresentation of God(Berean Call, 2004).
See Howard A. Snyder,The Radical Wesley and Patterns for Church Renewal(Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1980).
Wolfgang Simson,TheStarfish Manifesto: A Prophetic Roadmap for an Apostolic Journey(Starfish Publishing, 2009), 286-287; available at http://en.starfishportal.net/downloads. Some project this number as high as 700,000 depending on estimates of the Indian house movement. Estimates of house churches in China range from one to three million.
In China over 100 million believers gather in house churches under the communist regime; in India over 100,000 house churches were started in only five years (2001-2006); and in Africa there are an estimated 1,200 new churches started every month [see Rad Zdero,The Global House Church Movement(William Carey Library Publishers, 2004); and David Garrison,Church Planting Movements: How God Is Redeeming a Lost World(Wigtake Resources, 2003).]
George Barna,Revolution(Tyndale House, 2005), 49.
1. House churches were the “base of operations” in the early church. All of the life of the Body related back to the home-based meetings of believers. This form allowed them to grow rapidly without forfeiting quality of discipleship.
Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, andbreaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. Andthe Lord was adding to their numberday by day those who were being saved. (NASB Acts 2:46-47)
Day after day, in the temple courts andfrom house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.6:1In those days whenthe number of disciples was increasing…(NIVActs 5:42-6:1)
You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly andfrom house to house.21I have declared to both Jews and Greeks thatthey must turn to Godin repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. (NIVActs 20:20-21)
2. All of the essential functions of the early church happened in the context of house churches: worship, prayer, teaching, communion, baptism, etc.
What then shall we say, brothers?When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be donefor the strengthening of the church. (NIV1 Corinthians 14:26)
When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat,21for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. (NIV1 Corinthians 11:20-21)
The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas…32Then they spoke the word of the Lordto him and to all the others in his house.33At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; thenimmediately he and all his family were baptized. (NIVActs 16:29-33)
3. Pentecost happened in a private home. The movement of the Spirit is not dependent upon a house church form, but generally a house church form grows out of those who are humble and seek God.
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet…13And when they had entered,they went up to the upper room, where they were staying…14All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer…(ESVActs 1:12-14)
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.2Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven andfilled the whole housewhere they were sitting. (NIVActs 2:1-2)
4. Leadership is decentralized and thus empowered in context to a house church form. Ownership of ministry and responsibility for others raises the bar which inherently calls out and trains new leaders.
The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so doesthe church that meets at their house. (NIV1 Corinthians 16:19)
Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha andthe church in her house. (NIVColossians 4:15)
To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker,2to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier and tothe church that meets in your home…(NIVPhilemon 1:1-2)
1. Originally articulated by British evangelist T. Austin Sparks (1888–1971), New Testament Christianity was essentially “organic”:
God’s way and law of fullness is that of organic life. In the Divine order, life produces its own organism, whether it be a vegetable, animal, human or spiritual. This means that everything comes from the inside. Function, order and fruit issue from this law of life within. It was solely on this principle that what we have in the New Testament came into being. Organized Christianity has entirely reversed this order.
2. The church is a living organism, not a static institution. The church is the living “body” of Christ (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:12-27; Eph. 4:17; 5:23; Col. 1:24). As all other creatures were commanded to be fruitful and multiply in Genesis 1, so also is the Body of Christ commanded to be fruitful and multiply in Acts 1. All healthy organisms are designed by God to easily reproduce.
What would it look like if churches emerged organically, like small spiritual families born out of the soil of lostness, because the seed of God’s kingdom was planted there? These churches could reproduce just as all living things do. We have seen such churches meeting in restaurants, offices, homes, university campuses, high school facilities, and beaches. We’ve had churches meeting in bars, coffeehouses, parks, and locker room. One of our church networks has as its purpose statement“To have a church within walking distance of every person living in Las Vegas.”Another claims,“Every Christian is a church planter, every home is a church, and every church building is a training center. This is a whole new way of seeing Christ’s church, and it is happening today all across the Western world.
3. The New Testament church grew organically wherever the word of God was preached. Though private homes were the locus of ministry and life, the word of God took root in the Book of Acts in the marketplace and various public arenas.
I never set out to start“house churches”and am always a little surprised when I am considered an authority on such. We do not call them house churches. Instead, we call them“organic churches,”to emphasis the healthy life and the natural means of reproducing that we long for…We do not mandate that churches remain small and meet in homes; that would miss the point. We seek that churches be healthy and reproduce. The reason our churches tend to stay small is the dynamic life-changing property of a“band of brothers and sisters”who are actively on mission together. There is an innate quality to our expression of church that causes them to want to remain small, intimate, and involved on mission.
1. The modern church is overly complex. Without a simple message (gospel of the kingdom) and a simple ministry (sojourning house church), the church engages so many models and ministries that it becomes confused and complacent. The multiplication of corporate programs and ministries actually disempowers and disenfranchises the common believer.
The termsimple churchbegan to gain popularity, because we valued a simple life of following our Lord and avoided many of the complexities of the conventional church…We started articulating this profound goal for CMA:“We want to lower the bar of how church is done and raise the bar of what it means to be a disciple.”If church is simple enough that everyone can do it and is made up of people who take up their cross and follow Jesus at any cost, the result will be churches that empower the common Christian to do the uncommon works of God…When church is so complicated, its function is taken out of the hands of the common Christian and placed in the hands of a few talented professionals. This results in a passive church whose members come and act more like spectators than empowered agents of God’s Kingdom.
2. We build large, complicated ministries to amplify the voice of a few, rather than focusing on relationships with a few unto multiplying the voices of many. Conversely, the early church modeled a simple, relationally-based discipleship method that empowered and equipped believers to walk out their calling.
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:2preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching…5Always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist,fulfill your ministry. (ESV2 Timothy 4:1-5)
3. Corporate-based churches are so heavily burdened and overly entangled by paid clergy and corporate holdings that it is generally unable to effectively engage in its mission and purpose as a witness.
Vincent Donovan quote…
4. The driving desire of Jesus and the apostles was to produce disciples that would persevere unto the Day of the Lord. They did this effectively by keeping discipleship small, simple and decentralized. Simple corporate infrastructure also allows for ease of obeying the voice of the Holy Spirit. As Jackie Pullinger once said, “In one week we are able to completely dissolve the entire ministry if the Lord tells us to.”
Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia,having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the wordin the province of Asia.7When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, butthe Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.8So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.9During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”10After Paul had seen the vision,we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (NIVActs 16:6-10)
5. “Simple” does not mean “easy”. Keeping relationships right involves much work and sacrifice. Simplifying the corporate infrastructure, however, allows us to focus on maintaining relationships, vertically and horizontally. If the corporate holding becomes more valuable than the lives of the individuals within the Body, it must be crucified.
T. Austin-Sparks, Words of Wisdom and Revelation (Corina: Three Brothers, 2000), 49; quoted in Frank Viola,Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity(Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2008), 18.
Even when the church is compared to a building (cf. 1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21); it is assumed to be made of “living stones” (1 Pe. 2:5).
Neil Cole,Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens(Jossey-Bass, 2005), xxvi-xxvii.
“The congregational church can be defined as ‘plot plus building plus priest plus salary plus programmes’. The house church is ‘people plus ordinary houses plus faith plus shared life’, which is undeniably cheaper. As congregational churches cost enormous sums of money to establish, and more money to maintain and to propagate, the cells and house churches literally make money, because they produce more than they consume. In an age when there seems to be an endless cry for more money for ‘the work of church’, we should not overlook alternatives but be good stewards of the financial talents that God gives us.” (Simson,Houses that Change the World, 36-37.)
“The organic or simple church, more than any other, is best prepared to saturate a region because it is informal, relational, and mobile. Because it is not financially encumbered with overhead costs and is easily planted in a variety of settings, it also reproduces faster and spreads further. Organic church can be a decentralized approach to a region, nation or people group and is not heavily dependent upon trained clergy.” (Cole,Organic Church, 27.)
Vincent J. Donovan,Christianity Rediscovered, 25th Anv. Ed. (Orbis Books, 2003), 12-13.
1. Worship is the most basic element of faithful sojourning, and a safe and intimate environment is the most effective context for wholehearted worship.
And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity…16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richlyas you teach and admonish one anotherwith all wisdom, andas you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songswith gratitude in your hearts to God. (NIVColossians 3:12-16)
2. Home-based fellowships provide a superior environment for encouragement of faith. In our mutual life struggles, we encourage and spur one another on toward the Day of the Lord.
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful…25Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let usencourage one another– and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (NIVHebrews 10:23-25)
3. Worship in the context of ordinary life encourages genuineness and spurs on zeal for God to consume the totality of our lives. When the life of the church is delineated between private and public, pride and the worship of man instead of God more easily takes over. House churches foster humility and meekness, since they tend not to make much of themselves.
Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long;6they love theplace of honorat banquets and the mostimportant seatsin the synagogues;7they love to begreetedin the marketplaces and to have mencall them ‘Rabbi.’8But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have onlyone Masterand you are all brothers.9And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you haveone Father, and he is in heaven.10Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you haveone Teacher, the Christ.11The greatest among you will be your servant. (NIVMatthew 23:5-11)
1. Discipleship and mentoring is most effectively achieved in the context of house church. An intimate environment inherently calls for high accountability. There is less room to hide from others. Mentoring can only happen when people can actually see your life.
We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of Godbut our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us…10You are witnesses, and so is God, ofhow holy, righteous and blameless we were among youwho believed.11For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children,12encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. (NIV1 Thessalonians 2:8-12)
You, however, know all about my teaching,my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance,11persecutions, sufferings…(NIV2 Timothy 3:10-11)
You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia…20You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. (NIVActs 20:18-20)
2. House church is also far more conducive to relational priority. Loving relationships are the only way effective discipleship and mentoring can take place. Discipleship is inherently the enforcing of discipline, which destroys people and creates legalistic zealots when done outside the context of love. Discipline is absolutely necessary, but when motivated outside of love, it is less than nothing.
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees…4tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.5Everything they do is done for men to see…15Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one,you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. (NIVMatthew 23:2-15)
I have become all things to all menso that by all possible means I might save some…24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.25Everyone who competes in the games goes intostrict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.26Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.27No,I beat my body and make it my slaveso that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (NIV1 Corinthians 9:22-27)
3. Home-based movements are much more resilient to persecution. They harness the power of persecution’s decentralizing forces unto training new believers in the proclamation gospel—a baptism by fire, so to say.
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles werescattered throughout Judea and Samaria…3But Saul began to destroy the church.Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.4Those who had been scatteredpreached the word wherever they went. (NIVActs 8:1-4)
But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know,we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of Godin the midst of much conflict. (NIV1 Thessalonians 2:2)
1. Home-based fellowships are far more effective at communicating the gospel to unbelievers, since communication is generally more effective in smaller numbers. Moreover, there is a context for emulation and authentication of the truth.
On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day,kept on talking until midnight.8There were many lampsin the upstairs room where we were meeting. (NIVActs 20:7-8)
2. The house church model was assumed to the mechanism for evangelism in the early church. This is why there is almost no emphasis on “evangelism” as we know it today, a specialized method in the hands of a specialized few.
Arthur Darby Nock says that in the history of the early church‘there was little, if any, direct preaching to the public masses; it was simply too dangerous.’The church not only had a message, it was the message. Because the church in itself was‘good news’, there was no need for proclamation-style evangelism or going door to door. Only when the church as a structure became‘bad news’, an ill-matching structure for an explosive message, did the need for special‘good news’enterprises emerge.
3. Home-based fellowships empower the “priesthood of all believers.” Every believer is able to actively engage in ministry. Evangelism can happen in the places where unbelievers are, rather than being forced into an unfamiliar centralized hub.
4. The history of missions and evangelism is a history of house church movements. As a general rule, all effective missions movements into unreached areas begin as home-based movements. Only later do they incorporate and create public holdings.
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saulfor the work to which I have called them.”3So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them andsent them off. (NIVActs 13:2-3)
5. In persecuted areas, house churches are the only option. The primary reason Western missionaries cannot enter persecuted areas in the 10/40 Window is because of their unwillingness to change their corporate form.
It will not be an army of elephants that marches into nations like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Iran with the gospel, trampling down the strongholds. Sometimes it seems as if a lot of mission effort consists of “elephant” plans—huge and grandiose strategies for overwhelming the devil’s strongholds and making him surrender his captives. But it is easy for border guards to detect an elephant entering the country!…Instead of an army of elephants, we believe God wants to send an army of insects and crawling creatures to cause the collapse of the house of Buddha, the house of Hinduism, and the house of Mohammed…This is how the Chinese Christians will operate during the Back to Jerusalem mission. We will not make much noise, but will secretively and quietly do the Lord’s work underground. We will be quite difficult to detect. You may not hear many victorious reports of church growth coming back from the Middle East or Southeast Asia, but be assured that our ants, worms, and termites are already there, quietly working away, slowly loosening the foundations of Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. You will not see any great or small church buildings resulting from our efforts because we are determined to do what the Lord has led us to do in China these past fifty years and establish spiritual fellowships of believers who meet in their homes. We won’t build a single church building anywhere, but the Lord will be building up his church of living stones, with Jesus as the cornerstone.
D. Prayer – House churches foster holistic engagement in prayer. Rather than a few trained clergy at the front of the building leading prayer and worship, the whole room more easily connects and engages in prayer at the heart level. In this way the grace of God is released on the whole body, and all are empowered to walk in love.
On their release,Peter and John went back to their own peopleand reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.24When they heard this, they raised their voicestogether in prayerto God. (NIVActs 4:23-24)
So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church…12When he realized this,he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, wheremany were gathered together and were praying. (NIVActs 12:12)
E. Fasted Lifestyle – When we live our lives together in an intimate environment, we are spurred on by one another to walk according to the Holy Spirit and zealously deny the flesh. This was the key of the early monastic movements.
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.24And let us consider how we mayspur one another ontoward love and good deeds. (NIVHebrews 10:23-24)
There is no need for me to write to you aboutthis service to the saints.2For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; andyour enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. (NIV2 Corinthians 9:1-2)
F. Trials and Tribulations – Shepherding the flock in the midst of trials and tribulations is much more effective in the context of home-based fellowship. Helping one another through difficulty happens organically. When crisis hits, we are actually around, and there is no need for an artificial “pastoral care” ministry.
Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch,22strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. (NIVActs 14:21-22)
Resist him, standing firm in the faith,because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.10And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (NIV1 Peter 5:9-10)
We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God’s fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ,to strengthen and encourage you in your faith,3so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them.4In fact, when we were with you,we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. (NIV1 Thessalonians 3:2-4)
G. Powers of the Age to Come – When signs and wonders are performed in the context of our ordinary lives, our faith in the power of God to sustain our sojourning is multiplied. Though signs and wonders are powerful in large venues among those we do not know, they are much more effective and deeply impacting in more intimate contexts.
After they prayed,the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.32All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.33With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, andmuch grace was upon them all. (NIVActs 4:31-33)
H. Five-fold Ministry – Leadership within the Body is much more effective raised up and released in the context of home-based fellowships. Various leadership functions are easy to develop without the restrictions of expensive and time-consuming schools for religious specialists.
You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.2And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnessesentrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. (NIV2 Timothy 2:1-2)
He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,12for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ…14As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;15but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ,16from whom the whole body,being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part,causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. (NASBEphesians 4:11-16)
A. In the coming days, a house church form will be the only form available to believers. When the Antichrist establishes his global dominance, the church will loose its corporate holdings and be forced to meet underground. There is no way around this blunt truth.
B. Those countries that have been privileged to endure persecution (cf. Jam. 1:2; Mt. 5:10; Acts 5:41; 2 Cor. 12:9; Col. 1:24; Heb. 10:34; 1 Pe. 4:13; etc.) will be prepared for the end of the this age. Believers in countries where the church has befriended wicked rulers will find it a difficult transition.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything…12Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (NIVJames 1:2-12)
C. Just as in all historical persecutions, corporate holdings will be the primary cause of apostasy. As Hitler lured the Lutheran Church into apostasy, so will the Antichrist lure in the earthly minded modern church with his great wealth and power (cf. Rev. 17; 13:16f). Then he will turn and destroy the church (cf. Dan. 7:21; Rev. 13:7), which God will use to purify and cleanse the church of its temporal aspirations (cf. Dan. 11:35; Rev. 19:7).
D. In preparation for the end of the age, the reformation of the church demands a complete change of heart (orthokardia), theology (orthodoxy), and praxis (orthopraxis). However, if there is only a change of heart and theology without a change in form, our hearts will eventually follow where our feet lead. The church must return to its original design in order to function healthily.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.21Forwhere your treasure is, there your heart will be also…24No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.You cannot serve both God and Money. (NIVMatthew 6:19-24)
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”…21Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”22At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad,because he had great wealth.23Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (NIVMark 10:17-23)