By Bill Tenny-Brittian
One of my biggest concerns about my House Church colleagues in other networks is that they tend to write articles, columns, and books on how the more established building-based churches are out of touch with God’s vision for the church and how the House Church is really the only church God had in mind. I, for one, don’t hold to that opinion. I believe God has blessed the building-based churches in the past, and will continue to bless those that are faithful.
But the building-based church is not the only church-and in most of its manifestations, it’s an extra-biblical church (extra-biblical: outside of the Bible). Here are some of the issues that today are seen as “normal” for the church, but are actually extra-biblical:
1. Churches meet in centralized buildings. Up until the year 323, there were no church buildings in the world. Churches met in homes or in secret places such as the catacombs. When Paul wrote to all those churches in Corinth, Thessalonica, Galatia, etc., he was writing to small House Churches, probably with less than 40 people in each church.
2. Pastors are trained then ordained. In most mainline denominations, including ours, an ordained pastor must have a Master’s Degree in Divinity in order to receive their credentials. Of course, in Bible times there were no seminaries. Indeed, when Paul started the church in Thessalonica, he was only in town for a total of two Sabbath days (about two weeks) before he was run out of town, never to return. Nonetheless, he left a church that thrived (see 1 Thessalonians 1:7) under the leadership of untrained laity. Training in the early church was always on-the-job training.
3. Churches need an ordained pastor to preach to them. Of course, this is somewhat related to the question above, except that most mainline churches are more concerned with their fine leadership than they are their followership. The backbone of the church is the followers, not the leaders. Indeed, it is clear that the early home churches shared leadership tasks. Any quick look through Paul’s writings makes it clear that everyone in the church is supposed to be busy doing ministry within the church (see 1 Corinthians 14:26). In the House Church there’s no need for preaching-we do Bible study depending on the Holy Spirit to do the teaching (1 John 2:27) through all the believers.
4. Churches meet on Sundays. The only indication that we have that Sundays were special to the early church is the note by Paul to take up an offering for the poor on the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:2). Other than that, Paul wrote that the church wasn’t bound to any particular day. In fact, according to the first picture we have of the church is Acts 2:42-47, the church got together virtually every day.
Then there are the many “rules” about eating in the sanctuary, standing for hymns, the desire for pipe organs, and so on and so forth. The reality is, all of this is tradition that the building-based church has foisted on Christianity as if it were biblically based.
The House Church tries to eliminate almost all the extra-biblical traditions of the building-based church. Lay people are the pastors. Real pastors who have real concern for their flocks that God has given them. The only overhead in the House Church is what we spend on training and on people development (at The Rock House Church Network, that’s about 45% of our offerings. These monies are used for ongoing training and support of each House Church in the network). In fact, this year The Rock’s spending on missions was up over 900% from when we were a building-based church, and that’s not counting what each individual church did in ministry.
So, is the House Church a real church? The question really needs to be, “What is a real church?” According to almost every church scholar today, a real church achieves each of these five purposes with balance:
- Outreach Evangelism
- Relationship Building
- Service to those inside and outside of the church
Most churches take a stab at all five purposes, but tend to be weighted in Relationship Building and Education (which is passed off as Discipleship). Most U.S. American House Churches do better in all of the categories except evangelism. The Rock House Church Network is trying to make sure we achieve full balance across all five. Time will tell, but so far we’re doing pretty well as we plant more and more House Churches across the Puget Sound Corridor, across our state, and even across state lines.
The fact is, House Church is real church. It provides real ministry opportunity. And it’s really a biblical model. As we continue to grow and connect people to God through Jesus Christ, we pray that we will gain credibility amongst those who really aren’t sure about us. And even if we don’t, “As for me and my house….”