House Churches

Text: Philemon 1-2

What Exactly is a House Church?

  • Generally smaller (approximately 15-25 members)
  • Typically meet in someone’s house
  • But there is more to the house church movement than the size & location of a congregation’s assembly
  • Two different kinds of house churches — one is connected to a larger church, the other is independent (this is probably the more common one today)

What Drives People to House Churches?

  • House churches are becoming more popular — Barna Group study estimated 6-12 million Americans attended house churches; Pew Forum survey found that 9% of American Protestants only attend home services [source]
  • Many believe this is a return to the type of churches that existed in the first century
  • Some see problems that exist in larger churches and believe this is a better alternative
  • Without judging motives, we should still recognize reality — house churches provide more freedom for people to do what they please in worship, explore/promote strange doctrines, and they have an environment where one’s ambitions will not be hindered by one in authority — these things appeal to many people (the religious world as a whole is proof)

How House Churches are Different than Local Churches

  • Not on the basis of size or location
  • House churches will not be organized like local churches
  • Their regular practices are different — some things are added, some are missing
  • The assemblies are intentionally small (this is significant)

Arguments in Favor of House Churches

  • This is what existed in the first century (1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1-2) — they assume that a church meeting in a home was a “house church”; not all churches met in houses (Acts 2:46; 19:8-9; 20:7-8)
  • Large churches are corrupt, treated like businesses, focus too much on physical things instead of spiritual things — these things might be true of various congregations, but they are not universally true; even so, it doesn’t prove the legitimacy of the house church arrangement
  • This arrangement facilitates greater focus on Jesus & our brethren (1 Corinthians 2:2; Hebrews 10:25) — it is possible that we can be guilty of neglecting these things, but again, this doesn’t prove the legitimacy of the house church

House Churches Have the Wrong Organization

  • Leadership in the local church — God’s design is a plurality of qualified men serving as elders (Philippians 1:1; Acts 14:23; 1 Timothy 3:1-7); at a given time a congregation may be without elders, but they must not be content in this but  recognize that they are lacking in this area (Titus 1:5); house churches are not going to have elders because they aren’t designed to — everyone is to have equal roles
  • Authority of elders — in the case of house churches that are connected to a larger church, the “metropolitan” church elders oversee the various house churches; NT talks about the universal church (Ephesians 1:22-23) and local churches (Romans 16:16), but never “metropolitan” or “house” churches; elders were to be in every church (Acts 14:23) and were to oversee just that one congregation (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2)
  • Located preachers — house churches do not have what they call “professional preachers” (located preachers); yet we have NT examples of preachers staying in a location for extended periods of time (Acts 20:31; 8:40 — 21:8), they have the right to be paid for this work (1 Corinthians 9:14)
  • A congregation can get by without a located preacher, but without a preacher & elders, they’ll have a hard time doing what God requires them to do (1 Timothy 3:15) — not an ideal situation; certainly not preferrable

Common Practices in House Churches

  • One thing about house churches — they are all different, but we’ll notice a couple of common practices that differ from the NT pattern
  • Our worship assemblies should look a certain way (John 4:24; Hebrews 8:5) — the pattern is important, yet the house churches change the pattern in various ways
  • Common meals — a smaller group allows them to share common meals in their assemblies; sometimes this is combined with the Lord’s Supper, sometimes not; either way, Paul condemns it (1 Corinthians 11:22,33-34) — home is distinct from the place of assembly
  • No weekly collections — they argue that the collection is for specific needs, not to be an ongoing practice; weekly collections are commanded & a treasury is authorized (1 Corinthians 16:1-2)
  • Other things as well (testimonials, instrumental music, etc.) — but these are some of the more common differences

The Root of the Movement

  • People want to worship how they want & with whom they want
  • How they want to worship — God will not accept just any worship we offer (Colossians 2:23; Matthew 15:9)
  • With whom they want to worship — often have a “grace-unity” view of fellowship, looser than the Scriptures (2 John 9-11; 2 Thessalonians 3:6); also limited to those they want to worship with — we are not to divide the body into smaller groups based on personal preference or convenience (1 Corinthians 1:10-12; Philippians 4:2-3)

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