IT’S IN LINE WITH THE NEW TESTAMENT MODEL BEING CHURCH
The concept of a congregation meeting as church in different locations and different ways goes right back to the New Testament itself. New Testament scholar Roger Gehring writes that
“In recent research scholars tend to agree that the early Christian movement was characterized by the existence of two church forms: the house church and the whole church in a given location.”
We see this in the book of Acts, where the very earliest Jewish Christians met both in the Temple all together and in their homes. (Acts 2:46) In 1 Cor 14:23 Paul talks about when the “whole church comes together” which of course implies that the church met at other times in smaller groups, which we know would have been homes. In Philemon 1:2 Paul talks about “the church that meets in your home.” A close look at the book of Romans reveals it was probably made up of several different house churches.
What we find in the New Testament itself is that it was perfectly normally for believers to experience being Church in two forms. They met in homes for church and the house churches on occasions met all together, probably in a hired hall like the one in Ephesus mentioned in the book of Acts. We know that just a little bit after the NT period the church sometimes met all together in the catacombs of cities.
Mike Breen comments that “The NT church didn’t just meet in one form of gathering and one size of gathering cannot be expected to fulfill the New Testament descriptions of deep, challenging, life-changing relationships that should exist between followers of Jesus.”
In view of this you could say that what we are doing in Westlake by meeting in our church building all together and in smaller groups in homes is traditional! In the sense that it belongs to the tradition of the church. We are not doing anything that Christians haven’t done before. The very fact we can find this format in the pages of the New Testament itself means that we are not doing something out of line with Scripture. It also has a long tradition in church history. The Pietists and Puritans had worship and teaching gatherings in homes. The Methodist classes and bands often met homes. The Charismatic movement in the 1960s and 1970s grew from house churches. Today in the UK and US there are many missional communities seeking to reach people far from church meeting in homes.
IT SOLVES SOME PRACTICAL PROBLEMS
At the moment as a church we are facing several practical problems. The COVID regulations are tightening again, the number of people who can meet for worship in a church building has been cut and it may well be cut again. Meeting in Home Churches means that should that happen we already have a structure and format in place so that we can carry on being church. Meeting in homes gives us a preprepared plan to solve the problem if we are prohibited from meeting in larger groups. It also allows those who are unable to be part of a larger group for worship because of their health or work to still have a way to gather with other believers to be church.
IT CAN DEEPEN OUR EXPERIENCE OF CHURCH
Many people who have experienced this way of being church and alternating between meeting all together in a church building and gathering in homes have said that it has greatly enriched and deepened their experience of church. This is because they have been able to continue to experience the inspiration of meeting in a larger group for worship and teaching. But they have added to that the intimacy of meeting with a smaller group where they have found the chance for discussion around God’s Word and the opportunity for people to share what God is doing in their lives really meaningful and helpful. Our prayer and hope is that this new format will do that for us too and deepen our experience of being the Body of Christ.
I would ask you to consider getting involved in this attempt to help us continue to be what we should be as church.