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Question

Is a home church a true biblical church?

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Answer


Churches in the New Testament era were indeed small assemblies that met in homes (Acts 2:46; 20:20). So, the practice of attending a home church, or house church, is biblically allowable. There also seem to be some good reasons to have house churches as opposed to large gatherings: greater intimacy, stronger relationships, single-mindedness, etc. The fact that large churches usually have their own small groups that meet in homes speaks to the value of the house church model. Several considerations should be made, however, concerning the reasons for creating a house church or choosing to attend one.

First, the fact that first-century Christians did something does not establish it as a pattern for all generations to follow, unless there is also a clear command to do so. Simply because Scripture records an event or practice does not, of itself, establish a mandate (or, in some cases, even approval). So, for example, the fact that early Christians in Jerusalem sold what they owned and shared the profits with other believers (see Acts 2:44–45) does not mean that we must do so today—although such selflessness and generosity would certainly be acceptable. Home churches are “biblical” in the sense that there is precedent in Scripture, but there is no biblical obligation to attend a home church.

Many believers who attend house churches interpret Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 14 as establishing a principle of participation, which implies the need for a smaller church gathering: “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. . . . Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged” (1 Corinthians 14:26, 29–31). Some read this passage as not only descriptive of what was happening in Corinth but also prescriptive for all churches at all times, based on Paul’s words later in the context: “as in all the churches of the saints” and “was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized” (verses 33, 36–38). Nowhere else in Scripture do we find more consecutive verses addressing what to do when the local church gathers.

Second, home churches motivated solely by an effort to counter the “institutional church” have a questionable foundation. The given reason for starting a home church is usually to more closely align with the biblical model, but the unstated reason often seems to be displeasure with large church movements. While the complaints against large churches may be valid, they can lead to a divisive, “us-vs.-them” mentality that should be avoided (see Ephesians 4:3).

One final consideration is the issue of accountability. Any church, large or small, should follow the instructions of 1 Timothy 3:1–13 regarding elders and deacons. Members of a house church should make sure that (a) there are recognized elders and (b) the elders are biblically qualified. These men should be held accountable even as they hold the group accountable to follow sound doctrine (Titus 1:9).

In conclusion, there is nothing unbiblical about Christians gathering regularly in houses or large buildings or any other venue. Some benefits of a house church could be reproducibility, thorough discipleship through participation, a family atmosphere, and better financial stewardship. The Bible does not give any guidelines as to the proper size or location of a church meeting. What it does do is explain what is to take place at those meetings (Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 16:2; 1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 4:2). So long as biblical teaching (orthodoxy) and practice (orthopraxy) are foremost in the assembly, the format and location really do not matter.

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This page last updated: December 2, 2022