House Churches: The Way Forward

House Churches: The Way Forward

One could write a 300 page book on House Churches (HC) and still not cover every aspect, so here I will just give a very brief summary.

Firstly, the HC movement is about examining the early Church model and asking why this model was so successful at evangelism, discipleship and impacting the pagan Roman world. Secondly, this movement recognizes that under what I generally call the single pastor model, the vast percentage of members never actualize their gifts, and as a result, thousands of evangelists, pastors, teachers, etc sit in pews dormant. Thirdly, every disciple of Christ, through biblical fellowship, must develop to maturity in disciplined training in righteousness, accountability, mutual submission, practical acts of love, responsible service, encouragement, and leadership, for we are all leaders to siblings, colleagues, children, and each other. I believe the early Church model is the best for achieving these goals because its structure not only safe-guards against heresies, but ministers to the fundamental human need for love, fellowship, acceptance and belonging. Let's look briefly at some of these areas.

1. Structure of Authority. Scripture gives clear guidelines for authority (Titus 1:5-11). Mutual submission is the key (1 Corinthians 12:12-31) and recognition that each of us is just one part of a body. The idea of 'the pastor' is totally unbiblical. Many Churches use a type of business model. The pastor is the CEO and elders are board members, whilst attendants are shareholders with nothing to say. The pastor is seen to have authority because 'he's the one getting paid to do the job'. Some churches try to counter this with a weekly bible study, but these are not compulsory, and usually, again, there is just one person teaching (the pastor) and the others soaking it up. There is a great deal of difference between a weekly bible study and a biblically functioning House Church. Here in Ukraine, we have a group of House Churches called 'Koinonia: Church of House Churches' with four elders serving these churches and training leaders.

2. Unity of the Spirit. The early Church had basically no NT Scriptures. The Lord put a message on various hearts and others interpreted. Every person had opportunity to speak (yes even women) and people recognized that each had an anointing of the Spirit (1st John 2:26-27) and knew instinctively what was true or false. The emergence of Gnosticism and it's writings, led mostly by women who claimed to have a higher secret spiritual authority, only proved that mutual submission was being lost, and false forms of hierarchal structure had formed. When every member (including those with biblical authority) is submitting to every other member, there is unity of the Spirit. Christ washing His disciple's feet is the biblical portrayal of authority in true service. More on this in point 6.

3. Nowhere to Hide. There is an incredibly different dynamic between sitting in a pew facing forward, or in a circle of 15-20 people. You cannot hide in the circle. When you worship together, facing each other, or share communion, there is nowhere to hide. If you are full of joy, others see it, if depressed or suffering, others see it. In a House Church (HC) we are forced to recognize and share each other's joy or pain, we learn to love in reality, to encourage, you experience the witness of the Spirit between each of us. As Paul said, we learn to have 'equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it' (1st Corinthians 12:25-26). It's almost impossible to be a goat amongst the sheep in a HC. Also, if you have no real relationship with Christ, that very soon becomes apparent.

4. Accountability and Responsibility. In a HC people get to know each other as a real family. In a traditional church of say 100 or more, you can sneak in the back, sit depressed and silent, listen to a sermon you may agree or disagree on, but cannot comment on, and go home as depressed and sad as you were when you arrived. I have seen this: the first few rows of pews are full of people who are in-love with Christ and on fire, people who are using their gifts in some ministry or other, and as you move back through the rows towards the back, the fire is cooler, and often, in the back, almost no warmth at all. If you are a member of a HC, and stay at home due to unconfessed sin, depression, or whatever, you will be missed, you will be called or visited, because your little family know you as a brother or sister. Practical love thrives in a HC.

5. Expression/confession. As a young adult's pastor for many years, I attended and often preached, at a weekly service and held a home bible study midweek. My constant challenge for every person who looked to me for leadership was Hebrews 5: 11-14 about spiritual immaturity, and1st Peter 3:15-16, which states that every Christian must be ready to give a reason, to anyone who asks, for the hope they have in Christ. But of course, not everyone attended a bible study, and many of those that did were very quiet, just soaking in what I had studied. Nowadays, all members know what we will be studying, and need to prepare, because they know I will ask, 'and what did you learn from studying the texts'. Many were nervous and under-confident to share at first, after all, they didn't have a theology degree so were they qualified to teach anything?

But something incredible happened. People who previously had never said a word, would say a few sentences. They saw others nodding, saw how others were blessed, saw the witness of the Spirit. Of course I also prepared, but rather than teaching as before, I would make a list of my own points and show them that, such and such shared my point number 4, and another my point number 2 and so forth. I still teach, but I also am fed by others, and they have learned to enjoy feeding each other. As they did personal study alone with the Lord, their love for Christ deepened, and as a result, their love for each other deepened. As we confess the Scriptures to each other, faith grows, love grows, maturity grows, confidence to share grows, and the whole group experiences what Paul meant when he said that 'we belong to each other'. I have witnessed tightly bound rose buds blossom into joyful, mature and beautiful flowers.

6. Sharing a Meal. Each week, our HC shares a full meal together. This was an essential part of the early Church and theologians call it 'table fellowship'. How often in Scripture do we see Jesus eating with His disciples, even preparing the meal Himself, or feeding crowds of people? In our HC we do this after worship, bible study, testimonies, communion and prayer. It is like a tiny foreshadow of the wedding feast of the Lamb, a beautiful experience of what we will share for eternity. The love and fellowship of sharing a meal is not the same as a cup of tea at the end of a service, it is practicing what families do, people who belong to each other and the Lord.

7. Planting Churches. Not everyone is called to lead a HC, but specifically those called to be pastors, evangelists and teachers. However, as people grow in maturity in love for Christ and each other, they also are finally prepared to give a reason for their faith to unsaved family members and colleagues, so the Church grows. As our love for Christ grows, we begin to be as a lighthouse, shining with Christ's love in a dark world, at home, at work, etc. And although all are called to maturity, some are specifically called to plant new House Churches, and their leadership gifts (pastor, teacher, evangelist) become obvious to other members. We provide leadership training for those who feel called to plant a HC. Students study Systematic Theology, Church History, Apologetics, Biblical Studies and Greek. These courses require disciplined private study. Of course these same people are already a member of one of our House Churches, and recognized as leaders. When the Lord calls, a group of 5-6 who have known each other for years, join together to plant a new HC under the authority of the elders.

8. Finances. At Koinonia we have no paid pastors, every HC pastor has a job in the real world. Once a month we hire a large hall and all of our House Churches gather as one, and in summer, we do this as a service and picnic day. All of our offerings are used to help members (and others) in need, and (in general) members decide how we use these offerings. We may one day supplement a leader with donations, but, when every member of the Body of Christ is using their gifts of service, then the work of ministry is shared by all, not the one 'paid pastor'. The early church had no building maintenance, or 'professional christians'. There were 'no needy people among them' (Acts 4:34) indeed, they had to appoint seven men to take charge of distributions to widows and others, and all of this meant that 'the word of God spread and the number of disciples increased rapidly' (Acts 6:7).

9. Christ-centered. The singular goal of any and every HC is to glorify Christ. Every song, every message, every testimony, every prayer, every meal and every meeting, has but one goal, for every individual to grow in love for Christ, in obedience to Christ, and fellowship with Christ. If Christ is not in the very centre of all that we do, then what we do is all in vain. Koinonia means 'fellowship', and there is no true fellowship with one another outside of fellowship with Christ. Every point listed above has this one singular goal, for when we meet in His name, He is there with us and within us.

In Conclusion

Many believe that we are rapidly heading towards the Great Tribulation, and that serious persecution will break out as it has in China, Pakistan, Africa and the Middle East. The early Church not only survived, but thrived, going through periods of terrible persecution in which many were martyred. Their House Churches were places where they matured from babes to mature leaders, their love for Christ and each other obvious, even as they sang in the Circus Maximus as wild beasts ripped them from this world. Satan tried to infiltrate them through Gnosticism, and they faced the huge challenges of heresies, yet with their structure of authority they fought against hierarchies, at least for about 200 years. To me, the false conversion of Constantine in the 4th century was a masterstroke of Satan. The Church moved out of homes and into re-classified Roman temples, autocratic hierarchies were established, and we had a 1000 years of the 'Dark Ages'. After the Reformation, small denominations such as the Pietists and Methodists met in small groups, but these too moved into what we have today, 'paid, one-man-ministries', or large Churches with celebrity pastors. This virus crisis has uncovered how incredibly unprepared many Christians and Churches are, how immature many professing Christians are, and also, perhaps that Churches have large percentages of 'goats', of unregenerate people.

At Koinonia we are re-learning what 'Church' really means, and witnessing the Lord preparing His Bride for what is ahead of us.

Author: Steve Copland