Why Have Church in a House?

    The average American usually balks at the thought of having church in a house if it is not linked to the idea of moving to a ‘church‘ building once it outgrows the living room. Having a Bible study at home? No problem. Prayer meeting? Fine. Christian friends over for a pizza and a time of worship and discussion? A natural. But when it comes to the idea of having church that intends to STAY in homes, our minds go TILT. Thoughts of cults, spiritual abuse and heavy handedness, personal prophecies gone astray, rebelliousness and other pictures of doubt and confusion cloud the mind. I believe this happens in part because there are few ‘healthy’ examples around us to make a comparison. We know of misuse that has happened in home groups, but few people can off the top of their heads name strong, balanced home based groups.

    That said, there are a great many of us who were discipled in home prayer meetings or by a small group of close Christian friends at small, home based Bible studies that seemed to serve their purpose in our early Christian lives until we moved on to ‘real’ churches. So for many of us, the idea of a home church is more truly like coming home to our roots. We long for the close friendships, open worship and intimacy in the Lord once again. But is the idea of a home church scriptural? Are there eternal, essential qualities in a home setting that remain untouched by the hands of time and can‘t be duplicated outside the home? Or are we trying to go back to a first century format to resurrect something from which time and culture have moved on?

    Actually it’s much worse than that! The precedent goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. You may recall that the Lord planted a garden for Adam and Eve which was their home, and he walked with them in the midst of it with them. As time went on Genesis 18:17-20 says in part (the Lord speaking):

    "Shall I hide from Abraham the thing which I will do...For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord..." Here we see a case of the Lord about to bring judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah but he did not withhold that information from Abraham because he knew his home was a place where the Lord and His ways lived.

    At this point you may wonder if I’ve gotten off track and started a study on the importance of training your children in the things of God. I assure you that is not the case, I’m still talking about the concept of the house church. But it is without dispute that the Lord made the home the central place of learning about God. When we look at the 10 Commandments (Ex 20: 1-17) it is widely observed that the first four commandments have to do with man’s worship of God. (You will have no other gods, shall not make a graven image, God’s name is sacred, honor the Sabbath) Commandment #1 heads up the other three, and they derive their strength from it.

   Similarly, commandment number 5 heads up the rest of the commandments which all have to do with how man treats man. What is that 5th commandment? "Honor your father and your mother". All the rest of the commandments - don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t covet - are all built around the father and mother imparting these truths into their children and household. It should come as no surprise then to learn that the whole of Jewish culture places high emphasis on learning from one’s elders, the family unit, and a style of learning that revolves around watching a person apply God’s Word into their lives.

    Besides Abraham, the instructions of Deuteronomy 6:4-7 and Proverbs (my son attend to my words...), the whole culture, built around the home, was dedicated to the teaching and doing of God’s Word. The book of Judges records that one of their first rulers, Deborah, was "a mother in Israel" (Ju 5:7) as she settled disputes and ruled the land. Elijah’s students in his school of the prophets were called ‘the sons of the prophets’ (II Kings 2:3 for example). One of the best examples is when Elijah was taken away by the fiery chariot and his assistant and successor, Elisha, called out: "My father! My father!" (II Kings 2:11-12)

    The Hebrew language uses the root word ‘lamad’ which means ‘to teach’ and ‘to learn’. There is no separation between the teaching (head knowledge) and the learning (practical application) of that knowledge. This is why Elisha stuck like glue to Elijah, and why Jesus not only taught his disciples for 3 1/2 years, but lived with them so they could see how he applied what he taught. Then after a time of hearing and seeing Jesus minister, he sent his disciples out to do those same things. There was no separation between the hearing and the doing.

    Today in America, our culture follows the Greek or western philosophy of making a separation between the idea and it’s application. That is why Paul left Mars’ Hill in Acts 17, they just wanted to hear his ideas but had no intention of applying them into their lives. This is also why people listen to sermon after sermon but are no better, because our culture separates the idea from the practical application. There is no one to show the pew sitter how to live what the sermon was about. People travel all over the country to this convention or that, wanting to hear various speakers, but come away no better, for this same reason. Consider that Jesus’ first miracle was in a house (Cana, John 1:11), Jesus taught and healed in homes, the Last Supper was in a home, Pentecost took place in a home, and so on.

    When we continue to the book of Acts we see Dorcas raised from the dead in a house, Paul teaching in a house, Cornelius’ household saved in a house...and the list goes on. Why? Because the home is where instruction and the application of that instruction took place! The home is the central place of learning and doing. Therefore, when the day of Pentecost came and the church began, the gospel spread from house to house. Even in Jerusalem where they had the temple, the central point is the home, not the temple. They broke bread ‘from house to house’ and were in the apostles fellowship and doctrine. (Acts 2:42-47) It is significant that the leadership made themselves available to serve the disciples ‘from house to house’.

    As the gospel spread into modern day Turkey and Europe it spread from house to house. In Acts 16: 15 and 40 we see the church in Philippi beginning in the house of a wealthy woman named Lydia. After founding the church in Philippi Paul moved on to Thessalonica preaching in the synagogue for 3 Saturdays (Acts 17: 1-5) until he had some converts (v4). At that point they moved into the house of a man named Jason (v5). When Paul moved on to Corinth, recorded in Acts 18: 1-7 the church was in the house of Justus, from which Paul taught for 18 months.

    Acts 19 records the founding of the church at Ephesus, one of the main churches of the first century. Paul founded the church with 12 disciples of John the Baptist and from there spent about a dozen Saturdays (Sabbaths) in the synagogues (19:8). He then moved to a school of a man named Tyrannus, teaching daily for some 2 years (19:9). While he was in Ephesus Paul wrote back to the young church at Corinth (I Cor 16:8) and stated in I Cor 16:19 that ’Aquila and Priscilla greet you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.’ Evidently while Paul taught in the school the church was actually based in Aquila and Priscilla’s house.

    However it appears that Aquila and Priscilla were quite busy having churches based in their home(s), for in Romans 16: 3-5 he asks the Romans to greet them ’and the church that is in their house.’ (16:5) Later from prison, Paul writes his ’prison epistles’ (Eph, Phil, Col, Philemon) greeting both Philemon ’and the church in your house’ (Ph 1-2) and a woman named Nymphas ‘and the church in her house‘. (Col 4:15, "his" being incorrect in the KJV). The nurturing, informal, discussion oriented atmosphere of a home is a natural environment for believers to mature into disciples, and Jesus didn’t say to make believers, he said to make disciples (Mt 28: 18-20) The church evangelized the whole Roman Empire in this way in less than 300 years.

    When Constantine became a Christian (at least in name) about 310AD he began a building and remodeling program that transformed buildings into the auditorium style building we see today for ‘church’. As Christians came out of their homes to go into a central place leadership became concentrated with paid clergy and the ‘how to’ of applying the Word became a lost practice. The church declined in Europe as a result, eventually locking away God‘s Word and ways from the people, and plunging it into the dark ages.

    Today there is a return to the house church all over the world. Perhaps no country has been as successful as China in the house church movement. Like their first century brethren, the Chinese have suffered tremendous persecution and the home church has been the only place to receive instruction. As a result, the church has exploded in China. In America there are people who long for the deeper relationships that house churches offer. Tired of being hyped and manipulated, plagued by spiritual boredom, many are flocking to small, informal home groups.

    So why the house church? It’s scriptural, it’s successful, it meets a need. The Holy Spirit flows through that which the Lord designs. While he moves and meets needs to the extent he’s allowed in a traditional congregational setting, He is free to move at will in the openness of home meetings, and ultimately, that is our goal, to see the Lord move as He wills, in HIS agenda, transforming lives and touching hearts.

(A posting from a brother in Colorado)

    Headlines from the National Inquirer? Another report from some wild church planter in China or India?


    It's what we did last Sunday in our house church. I'm not sharing this to be spectacular. Rather, I want to point up a foundational shift in how we think about church. This shift can be summed up in the term "simple church". Consider these quotes:

    Neil Cole: "Simplicity is the key to the fulfillment of the Great Commission in this generation. If the process is complex, it will break down early in the transference to the next generation of disciples. The more complex the process, the greater the giftedness needed to keep it going. The simpler the process, the more available it is to the broader Christian population." Cultivating a Life for God, p. 35

    Roland Allen: "Thus, St. Paul seems to have left his newly-founded churches with a simple system of Gospel teaching, two sacraments, a tradition of the main facts of the death and resurrection, and the Old Testament. There was apparently no form of service, except of course the form of the sacraments, nor any form of prayer, unless indeed he taught the Lord's Prayer…This seems to us remarkably little. We can hardly believe that a church could be founded on so slight a basis.

    And yet it is possible that it was precisely the simplicity and brevity of the teaching which constituted its strength…By teaching the simplest elements in the simplest form to the many, and by giving them the means by which they could for themselves gain further knowledge, by leaving them to meditate upon these few fundamental truths, and to teach one another what they could discover, St. Paul ensured that his converts should really master the most important things. From Missionary Methods: Paul's Or Ours?

    This all came together for me a couple of months ago when I heard Steve Steele, President of DAWN Ministries, make these statements: "The continued growth of Christian churches in China - mostly underground house churches - has something to do with three convictions widespread among Chinese Christians. The Chinese love the progression "good, better, best" so the three mottoes are "It is good for a Christian to lead someone to Christ. It is better to plant a church. It is best to plant a church-planting movement."

    Indian Christians have three similar convictions. "Every Christian can plant a church; every house can become a church; every church can become a Bible school."

    Every Christian - a church planter.

    Every house or family - a church.

    Wow! What a concept!

    As I thought about it, it made sense. It's consistent with the most basic definition of church. "For where two or three come together in My name, there am I with them." Mt. 18:20

    I (a simple church planter) began to share this simple principle about simple church with my house church. I taught them three simple things that a church does. Last Sunday, eight families said, "We can do that. We see that we are, in fact, already a church and we are ready to begin functioning like a church this week." We planted eight new churches last Sunday!

    We agreed that our existing Sunday morning meeting would change. It now become a training time. "What did Jesus do in your church last week? What were you encouraged with? What problems did you have? How can we help each other?"


Main Navigation


About Len


Tribal Generation / Reality / Waves Church / Matthew's House / Praxis / Post Boomer / MethodX / TheOOZE / ginkworld / ::seven:: / emergent village / Highway Video / emerging church / Sojourners / Ship of Fools / Beyond / Next-Wave / Small Fire / ThePowerSurge / dtour

• © 1999-2002 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated on May 31, 2001