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A New Testament Church?

June 3, 2009

There seems to be a recent trend making it’s way through the evangelical community in regards to “house churches.” Maybe it’s not recent, but I’ve run across this subject a number of times in recent weeks, whether through blogs, books, or discussions. While I’m sure there is a variation as to why a house church is preferable to a, uh, church church (?), one of the basic reasons is that the New Testament church met in houses, so we should try to get back to that model. Even among large churches there seems to be an emphasis on small groups or community groups as the more meaningful worship experience.

I recently heard an interview with a guy who is a full-on regulative principle proponent. Basically, the regulative principle states that the church’s worship must be based ONLY on what is commanded/recorded in the Bible (specifically the New Testament). So, for instance, the NT doesn’t record musical instruments, so they’re not to be used nowadays. This guy was pretty strict, but I noticed he didn’t say anything about meeting in a church, even though the church only met in houses in the NT. On the flip side, many who subscribe to the house church model seem to be pretty free with their worship style. I found that to be a pretty amusing observation that probably has nothing to do with each other…. anyways…..

The main point I want to make here is that just because the NT church met in houses does not mean that we should be doing that today (this goes for the regulative principle as well). One of the characteristics of the church is maturity. When we read the Old Testament, we notice that worship began in a garden. From there it matured into altars, then to a tabernacle, and then to a glorious temple. The same can be said of the worshippers as well. There is a pointed maturing from Adam to David (and beyond). This maturing not only brings more wisdom (as the term “maturing” implies), but it also refers to glory and to size. Just as the worship place became bigger and more glorious, so the worshippers became wiser, more numerous, and more glorious.

This brings us to the New Testament. Here we see the church meeting in houses. First, we should not forget that meeting in houses just made sense back then. Christians were being persecuted and they had smaller numbers (Sure, there were 3000 saved at Pentecost – which, incidently, would have been a big honkin’ house – but they certainly went back to where they came from after Pentecost). As Christianity continued to grow, though, the numbers got bigger (obviously), the church became wiser (look at the early church fathers and the heresies they fought to overcome through various councils and creeds), and the church – and churches – became more glorious. This is what the church does – it matures. Part of that maturing entails building bigger and more beautiful churches that hold more people. Part of that maturing also entails developing more beautiful and helpful liturgies that assist in making the church wiser. These are things that would most surely be lost if the church reverted back to meeting in houses. Of course, sometimes a house church is necessary, but it should never be the end goal. The end goal is to see the whole community worship Christ… and you’re gonna need a bigger church for that!

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