“House church: Skip the sermon and worship at home.”
Pastor William M. Rench
That was the headline of a recent AP article in The Californian, our local newspaper.
The story went on to tell of a group movement that is afoot to reject the church as it is defined by an organized entity with pastors, deacons, a doctrinal position, gathering for worship, instruction, preaching and carrying out the Great Commission. In its place is a get-together in someone’s home with no more than 12 to 15 people for “sharing what’s going on in their lives,” according to the article.
One such gathering was described as follows: “It was a lively, sometimes chaotic event, with noisy and mostly happy young children flitting about.” There was a fellowship time, then “to the kitchen table to observe the Eucharist with prayer, pinched-off pieces of sourdough bread and red wine in plastic cups.” Celebration continues with a potluck meal. Then they gave a Power Point presentation about “corporate giving.” Said the reporter, “The majority seem averse to a regular offering.” The article went on to suggest that these anti-church gatherings are a backlash against all the “spectator sport” mega churches. Most mega churches do have that character of being for the non-committed “spectator Christian” and are “doctrine-lite,” seeming to have a motto such as “come as you are, do as you please, stay like you were.” These new era, house gatherings retain many of the flaws of the average mega church and add a few more of their own.
1. They remain doctrine-lite. The emphasis is sharing rather than surrender to the will of the Word of God.
2. The format is experience-based not truth-based.
3. The formula lends itself to error of many kinds. For example, the article talked about how everyone in these groups was expected to teach. So, 15 people throw out 15 perspectives on any given subject. Lively discussion no doubt ensues and whoever is the dominant voice carries the day. Little by little some form of doctrine surfaces but is arrived at by consensus of opinion and by the influence of the most persuasive individuals in the group.
4. They cultivate a disdain for any sense of biblical authority and leadership. It is of little wonder that over the process of time many of those who have chosen to reject the structure of a local church find their own children dismissing authority.
Some of the leaders in the “home church” movement have written articles attempting to respond to the significant number of homeschool parents who are shocked and hurt by their children rebelling. Homeschooling can only be truly successful if the family is involved in and serving the Lord under the leadership at a biblical local church.
Our founding fathers found it necessary to throw off the bonds of an abusive and unjust secular authority represented by the King of England, but scarcely any of them ever dismissed the essential nature a connection with a local church.
5. They cultivate a disdain for preaching. Often central to the philosophy of these “home churches” is what is reflected in the title of the news clipping I began with, “Skip the sermon.” Christians can gather for fellowship at any time and most any place, but when we gather for church there is to be preaching. The Bible leaves no doubt as to God’s choice for communicating His Word to the world. John the Baptist came preaching. Our Lord Jesus came preaching. The Apostles went out preaching. God chose “the foolishness of preaching.” These “home churches” join with the world when they decry the preaching of the Word as “foolishness.” They wish to dispense with what God has chosen as His means to get His Word out to the world.
From Old Testament times, God has always chosen to call a man to stand forth and declare God’s Word and to “give the sense of it” to a congregation of people. “Home churches” will search in vain to find Scripture to justify the dismissal of preaching. Not once in Scripture does God command us to gather in small groups limited to 15 and share opinions and fellowship.
On the contrary we find local churches established as we read the New Testament. These churches had structure, pastors, deacons, congregations, ministries, and missionaries. They gathered together on Sunday and at other times. They had preaching, teaching, worship, singing, prayers, giving, and going. They had leadership. The simplest biblical illustration of the New Testament church is one used over and over in the Bible. It is that of a fold of sheep and a shepherd. The “home fellowships” would like to dismiss the role of the Pastor. When Jesus sought to describe a people headed for scattering and confusion, He described them as “sheep without a shepherd.”
Though it is true that some have abused the role of Pastor, it does not justify the desire of “home fellowships” to dispose of that biblical office. God has ordained it, let not men put it asunder. Though there are examples to be given of churches and ministers carrying on in ways which cannot be supported biblically, yet there are many churches large and small who are laboring to follow the example set forth in the Word of God.
A “home study fellowship” does not comprise a church, even if they decide to meet on a Sunday, sing some choruses, pray some prayers, read some Scriptures, and do some sharing. Were there some churches that met in houses in the early days of the New Testament church? Indeed there were, but they had Pastors, Deacons, preaching, praying, Missionaries, and a purpose to carry out the Great Commission given to them by the Lord Jesus Christ. They did not limit their numbers. They did not dismiss the offices of Pastor and Deacon. They always wanted to reach more. They did not disdain preaching. They always wanted to hear more. Their goal was not to have happy family life, but to reach the lost world with the gospel.
The people in those early churches reached the world of their generation with the gospel of Jesus Christ by following God’s plan carried out through His institution of the local New Testament church, “The house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” Amen and Amen! May our God help us to follow their example and not whatever the latest pop religious fad happens to be.