To most people church is a weekly gathering of people who meet in a building and worship God. They gather with families and loved ones, and as they do, they experience more as spectators a form of the following.
Someone up front will open in prayer. Someone up front will lead in congregational worship for about fifteen to twenty minutes. You may hear a solo, again up front, or you might hear the choir, from the front or rear sing one of their songs. You will then have announcements, an offering, carried out by selected people. If you are in a congregation that is family oriented there will be a nursery for your children and children’s church for your older children. This prepares you for the pastor. You will get a sermon, usually about thirty minutes in length. There will usually be three points and a carefully planned opportunity for you to respond to what was shared in the message. Then there will be a time of prayer and another song as the service concludes.
During this whole time, if you were not directly involved in any of the above activities, you were merely a spectator who mentally affirmed through body posture and speech what you were directed to do by the few. You followed an order of service, and you sang were you were supposed to, said “amen” in all the right places, took your kids where they were supposed to take them, you gave an offering, you consented to the sermon, and went home.
Only two questions here:
1. Did any of this have anything remotely resembling the body life of primitive Christianity that is recorded for us in the Book of Acts?
The answer is no. Read it for yourself. Read the Book of Acts in one sitting and you will see that these believers met in homes and met from house to house. They were an Apostolic people devoted to the apostles’ teaching, experienced signs and wonders, fellowship and the breaking of bread, from house to house (Acts 2:42-47; 20:20; I Cor 12:4-7, I Cor 12:27-30, I Cor 14:26-33, and Eph 4:3-16).
2. Is this the “kind” of church that Jesus died for and created on the Day of Pentecost?
Again the answer is no. His whole ministry was two fold. He reached out to the established religious order of the day and revealed that what they followed was a religion that was far from what God had intended. He confronted the religious order because they had perverted the people with their form of religion. His powerful ministry was out amongst the people, and he met them on the shores of rivers, lakes, on mountain sides, in fields, on estates, in the marketplace and in synagogues and the Temple. He even prepared the people for the day that the Temple would be removed and prophesied people would worship the Father in Spirit and truth (John 4; cf. Mount Olivet discourses in Matthew and Luke). Jesus Christ ministered to people while being amongst people, in homes and from house to house. Do we need another model?
The above description which describes basic church life as we have known it for 1700 years, flies against the history of the first century church. The early church was a house church movement. In its infancy, which is recorded in the Book of Acts, the church functioned as a house church. The missionary trips of Paul was the extension of the Kingdom of God in the earth through the house church movement. The church established by Paul and the other apostles and church planters were city churches. The entire Christian community was known as the “church in (name the city)”. There were no individual churches named after denominations or saints. They were simply the church in Ephesus, or the church in Colossae. In that same sense, we are the church in Kitchener Waterloo, a.k.a. the body of Christ.
The first 40 years of the early church was a time of transition (A.D. 30-70). This transition consisted of the birth of the Christian Church and the initiation of the age of grace and the demise and eventual termination of the Old Covenant age culminating with the destruction of the Temple mount and the age of the law.
The first church, the church at Jerusalem was birthed in a house (upper room in Acts 1 and 2). That particular church coexisted with the Old Covenantal system (built around the Temple and Levitical priesthood) until the prophecies of Daniel and Jesus were fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Old Covenant sacrificial system in A.D. 70.. Just prior to the encirclement of Jerusalem in A.D. 66, the early church began to scatter throughout the Roman Empire, just as Jesus prophesied.
The Jerusalem church, which according to Acts 1:8, was commissioned to go from Jerusalem, to Judea, Samaria and the outer most parts of the earth, fulfilled the commission given to her by Jesus Christ, under the yoke of Roman oppression and the rejection of the Messiah by the Old Covenantal system (Judaism). This whole missionary endeavor was to establish the Kingdom of God all over the known world through the house church movement, seeing the Kingdom of God established in the hearts of people one person at a time.
In this fashion the church grew into a dynamic life transforming agent that literally turned the Roman world “right side up”. The church became a force to be reckoned with simply by believers being knit together in house churches and being agents of grace, mercy, and compassion in the marketplace. The house church movement ran against the religious establishment of idolatry and paganism. The house church movement transformed the Roman world through changing the atmosphere. Paul spoke of spiritual warfare in the heavenlies (Ephesians) and believers being seated with Christ in the heavenlies, and that our warfare was not against the flesh, but against principalities and powers. The record in the Book of Acts reveals how the house church movement conquered cities for the Kingdom of God, through ordinary people doing extraordinary exploits through the grace and power of God in their lives.
In the midst of persecution the church grew even more. The Roman Empire could not kill Christians fast enough. Tertullian the early church theologian and historian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” The history of the Christian church, and in particular, the church of the first three centuries, reveals the veracity of this. The more that Christians were publicly ridiculed, persecuted, imprisoned and martyred, the greater the number of conversions to Christ. One need only to study the rise of the church today in the former Soviet Union, China and the Moslem nations to see how true this still is.
As soon as Constantine, through the Edict of Milan (A.D. 313), gave protection and favor to Christianity and ceased the persecution of the Church, he began to reorganize the church under the former pagan structures of form and leadership and methodology. By 327 A.D. regular church buildings began to replace the house churches. Eventually a professional priesthood class was established, and the erosion was so complete that by the end of the century, the “Priesthood of Believers” was reduced to an impotent class of spectators! History records that the next century ushered in the “Dark Ages”! Little wonder! The light of the gospel was reduced to flicker from its former roaring inferno dynamism!
Every time that God began a renewal movement attempting to break from the controlling yoke of the established religious order, the head (Vatican) either crushed it through its influence over the secular power, or absorbed it into its order and squashed whatever life was blooming out of it! That is, until the Reformation!
If you visit the Reformation monument in Geneva, Switzerland, you will read the Latin motto, “After Darkness Light!” Yes, light did come. Yes, the darkness receded. But not enough. The Reformation (1517 and still continues today) ushered in a break from the non-biblical doctrine of the previously established church. Key doctrines included the supremacy of scripture (sola scriptura), salvation by faith alone (sola fide), salvation by grace alone (sola gratia), and a resurgence of the doctrine of the “Priesthood of Believers”.
Most unfortunate was that the doctrine of church government and structure remained unchanged. The structure and methodology of a professional priesthood, church services and ministries, and church buildings remained the same as the former Roman Catholic system. To a large measure the practical outworking of the cardinal truths of the Reformation were muted and ineffectual simply because the Reformation itself did not go far enough. There should have been a reform of not only the doctrine of the Priesthood of Believers, but an actual return to the house church movement and ministry methodology.
Since that time there have been movements of house churches in the world. The Anabaptists began as a house church movement, as did the Plymouth Brethren and the Quakers did likewise in England and America. The Moravians and Methodists were also part of the house church movement. Most of the denominations we know were birthed in living rooms! It is just that when they got big enough, the church for whatever reason moved out of the house and into a building and then away from intimacy and participatory worship into a program based system of religion.
God in His mercy and grace has moved within the four walls of what most consider to be “churches”. As a house church within the house church movement we see ourselves as part of the wider Body of Christ. The Body of Christ is composed of all brothers and sisters in Christ, with Jesus Christ as the head. As such we recognize no membership to a local congregation, but rather see all believers as members of the living and exalted Christ. We do no hold anyone to ourselves, and only encourage them to be grafted in Christ Jesus. We encourage belonging to the wider Body of Christ and to recognize that the church of Christ in any city is the church composed of every genuine church. Any and all ministries taking place in the city are theirs to enjoy and participate in. From the most smallest gathering (two or three) to the largest, Christ dwells in the midst.
We are not superior to any other church, for we are members one to another. We simply see the simplicity of New Testament Christianity best expressed within the house church movement. We see the greatest opportunity for genuine intimacy with God and one another in the house church. We see the greatest evangelical expansion of the church through the house church movement. History validates this truth. We desire to see the Kingdom of God expanded in all cities in the earth. We see this as an apostolic and prophetic people, and that through passion of God and compassion for others, the Kingdom will come in greater measure and fullness in our cities and will renew and transform our nation, and the nations of the earth.
We recognize that as a relational, redemptive, revolutionary house church community we need to be vigilant to grow and have a “Holy Spirit split” when we reach a certain number (our sense is 20) and begin another similar community somewhere else in the city. As each house church community grows, it too will split off and birth another one. We covenant to remain in interdependent fellowships and meet regularly for times of celebration and edification (renting a large hall). The extra-large gatherings will be for city outreaches, large scale teaching conferences, and simply the body of Christ coming together to celebrate God and His goodness through large scale worship gatherings and for missional service.
We believe in this methodology of replication and multiplication, so that our whole city will be filled with house churches that will stand as gates into and out of the city that will build a hedge of protection in the spirit realm around the city. In this way we will see our city taken for God and see His Kingdom established in fulness and power.
It is to this end that we confess that the house of God, is not a temple made of wood and stone, but a gathering of people who have come together as a body of believers declaring that the Kingdom of God is within our hearts! The community is a community of brothers and sisters that asks God to continue to build His church in this world one person at a time, one family at a time, and from house to house.
If you have any questions or comments, please write to us at We will respond as quickly as possible.
Here are some Frequently Asked Questions about house church.
Question: Why does the church meet? How is the NT church instructed by Scripture to meet? What is done in these meetings?
Answer: The basic answers can be found in 1 Corinthians 14:26:
“How is it then brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.”
If we were to ellipse the components of the meetings, singing, teaching, etc., the passage would read like this: “Whenever you come together…let all things be done for edification.” The purpose of the NT meeting is for edification. This is why we (should) come together as a church.
Question: Does a believer have to meet with people on a regular basis and be church?
Answer: Believers do not have the option of remain apart from other believers. Believers are to gather together (“Whenever you come together…”).
Gathering together is not an option. The writer of Hebrews exhorted the church to not forsake the assembling of themselves (Heb. 10:25). The Greek word “ekklesia”, which we translate “church”, literally means “an assembly” or “the called out ones.” The idea is of one calling together a group of people for a specific purpose. When and where the church gathers together is never commanded in Scripture. But we are definitely commanded to gather together. However, we do have apostolic precedents that we should consider (1 Cor. 11:2; 2 Thess. 3:6,7).
Question: How often did the early church gather together?
Answer: At first, the early church gathered together every day (Acts 2:46). Later, we are told that the church came together on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2). This was referred to as “the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10). As New Covenant believers we recognize that we are not bound by any day of the week (Rom. 14:5, cf. Col. 2:16-20). However, it seems from the Scriptures that the apostles established the precedent of the church gathering together on the first day of the week. The issue is not what day you decide to gather together, but coming together and meeting together for the purpose of being edified and strengthened in the faith.
As I previously mentioned until the Lord instructs us differently, we will continue to gather on Friday evenings (7:30 – 10:30 PM). Incidentally if you are concerned about Sabbath keeping, our gathering on Friday evenings is actually the beginning of the Sabbath! I just find this rather humourous. Remember that it is important to meet, no matter what day of the week you choose.
Question: Where did the early church gather?
Answer: The early church gathered in the homes of believers (Acts 2:46b, 8:3, 20:20; Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Philm. 2). While it is true that in its earliest stages the church at Jerusalem gathered alternately between the Temple and homes (Acts 2:46), remember that this was a time of transition between the passing of the Old Covenantal system and the establishment of the New Covenant of grace.
It appears that within a short time they gathered exclusively in private homes. If you examine the establishment of churches by the apostles in the the Book of Acts, in every instance that a certain local church is mentioned the people gathered in what is described as being in someone’s home. The early Christians did not erect costly temples or religious shrines because they understood that the church was not a building made of wood and stone, but a spiritual building built by God (1 Pet. 2:5).
Question: How did the early church encourage participation of the “Priesthood of Believers”?
Answer: The scripture (1 Cor 14:26) says, that believer should participate in the meetings (“… each of you …”).
In today’s church there is little or no mutual participation in the church gathering. The designated choir sings the songs led by their designated leader. The designated preacher gives a monologue sermon. Prayers are spoken by the designated “deacon” or “elder”. Perhaps there is allowed drama or “special music” by designated performers. The rest of the congregation might be able to sing a couple of hymns or choruses and maybe give an offering (but even its taken up by designated ushers!). In reality, many sit there in the pews and watch the “professionals” do all the ministry.
This type of uninvolved spectator meeting is foreign to the church of the New Testament. Paul specifically said that when the church comes together everyone has something to share. From the least to the greatest, the church meeting was open to all who were led to participate. Each could pray, prophesy, teach, or sing as God had gifted them. This is called the “Priesthood of Believers”. Each believer is a priest unto God (1 Pet. 2:5,9; Rev. 5:10). Unfortunately in our day the priesthood of the believer, though verbally affirmed by most churches, is never really practiced. Countless believers grow cold and apathetic because they are not allowed, or are too fearful, to participate in the gatherings. They are supressed by the idea that unless they have a “calling,” a degree, or ordination papers, then they are unworthy to contribute meaningfully in the corporate assembly.
Question: What does participation in body life “look” like?
Answer: New Testament gatherings encourage each believer is to be involved in body life ministry through their use their gifts for the edification of one another. Here each believer is important and needful for the Body to be a healthy organism (1 Cor. 12:20-27). Each believer is gifted and should use his/her gifts (“… a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation…”).
Everyone who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ has the Holy Spirit living in them (Rom. 8:11). The Spirit gifts (lit. graces) each and every believer for service (Rom. 12:4-6a; 1 Cor. 12:4-11). The Scriptures mention several different gifts of the Holy Spirit. Some examples are:
- Prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, leading, mercy (Rom. 12:6-8).
- Preaching the gospel (apostles/missionaries/church-planters), prophecy, teaching, miracles, healing, helps, service, tongues (1 Cor. 12:28).
- Apostleship, prophecy, evangelism, overseeing/teaching (Eph. 4:12)
- Speaking (prophecy and preaching), ministry (1 Pet. 4:11).
And there are undoubtedly many other gifts that the Spirit graces believers with (1 Cor. 12:4). The above citations should not be viewed as exhaustive. The thing to remember is that all believers have either a gift or several gifts (“each of you,” v. 26).
NOTE: As a Charismatic house church that is Reformed in doctrine, we hold that NONE of the gifts have ceased and all the gifts, including apostles and prophets are for the establishment and maturation of the church and are needed in the church today.
Question: What is the purpose of the gathering of the body of Christ?
Answer: The purpose of the gathering of the believers together in the New Testament is edification (“Let all things be done for edification”).
The reason that the gathering comes together is for the edification of each believer. I know this statement flies in the face of almost all we have been taught. We are told that the church comes together to worship God. While the idea of meeting primarily to worship sounds scriptural, the essence of gathering is not primarily to worship. This is not to say that worship doesn’t happen when Christians gather together. It does and it should happen because worship is a lifestyle rather than simply an activity. Worship should occur at all times, in all places, and in all things. So, yes, when Christians gather on Sunday mornings or at any other time/place, they are in a sense worshiping God. But it is in no way different from the worship we should be living and giving the rest of the week. We must conclude that the primary reason in coming together as believers is not to have a “worship service” since worship is in its truest sense a way of life.
The primary reason believers gather is to edify one another. The reason that God gave us the gifts of the Spirit is so we might edify one another (Eph. 4:12; 1 Pet. 4:10-11). The term edify is from the Greek “oikodome”. This word is an architectural term. It means “to build, confirm, or strengthen.” It is used in reference to the church’s position as God’s building (1 Cor. 3:9; Eph. 2:21). Elsewhere it is used to describe the ministry of believers to one another (Rom. 14:9,15:2; 1 Thess. 5:11). The purpose of this edification, this building up and strengthening, is to spur each other onto maturity in Christ (Heb. 24-25) that we might worship Him in every area of our lives.
As believers we stand in the need of constant and regular strengthening. Living a life of worship among those who revile and reject us will take its toll and begin to “crack the foundation” of the strongest building. Therefore we need to come together and repair the breaches that we might stand firm. This is done by the mutual ministry of the Body of Christ to one another.
Question: Was anything included in the gathering of the body of believers when they met together?
Answer: We observe that the early church gathered in homes, apparently on the first day of the week, and for the purpose of mutual edification, and that each believer contributed as each had been gifted and each believer understood his/her position as a priest unto God. Included in the meetings was
- he exercise of spiritual gifts, such as teaching, singing, prophecy, and encouragement
- and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17)
Beyond these facts we must allow the Spirit to guide us and convince us of the approved, scriptural way we should gather together as the New Testament church.