Anglican evangelist David Watson observed that “For the first two centuries, the church met in small groups in the homes of its members, apart from special gatherings in public lecture halls or market places, where people could come together in much larger numbers. Significantly these two centuries mark the most powerful and vigorous advance of the church, which perhaps has never seen been equaled. The lack of church buildings was no hindrance to the rapid expansion of the church; instead, in comparison to the situation after A.D. 200, it seemed a positive help”1
It is obvious from the New Testament that the early churches generally gathered in homes (Ac 2:46, Ro 16:3, 5, 1Co 16:19, Col. 4:15, Phm 2). There was a massive expansion of the universal church when they gathered regularly and locally as small communities. The move of the Holy Spirit was awesome in and through these small communities of the early church. These small communities were like dynamite in their locale. Every member seemed to be active in the body of Christ as they met together in private homes and the Kingdom of God had spread mightily through the whole people of God. Should we gather in houses simply because the early church had gathered so? Is it wrong to gather in a building? The early church didn’t have vehicles to travel fast, seminars with P.A. system, guitars, phones, computers, etc., but does that mean we shouldn’t use them? There are many good reasons to understand why gathering in houses is a good choice, helping us especially to function biblically. The following are the ten reasons why gathering in houses is an effective strategy for a healthy church.
One Another Ministry
Sometime back I received an article on church growth entitled, “Turning Visitors into Attenders.” I wondered where in the Holy Bible it says about attending the church! According to the Holy Scriptures the church is comprised of functioning believers who actively participate for the edification of the body of Christ. Biblically thinking, there is a great need of messages that would address on, “Turning Attenders into Participators.” Church is not about attending formal services with a passivity; it is not a program but people. It is not going to service but doing service to one another. It is about intimate fellowship with one another. It is about actively encouraging one another. It is about interdependently functioning for the edification of all. Regretfully, in the structure and the order of the church today, we are often missing the very purpose of church gathering — the fellowship and encouragement of one another (Heb 10:25).
Robert Banks wrote, “The purpose of church is the growth and edification of its members into Christ and into a common life through their God-given ministry to one another (1 Cor. 14:12, 19, 26).”2 Regretfully in our day, in stark contrast to New Testament church gatherings, the significance of every member functioning in the body of Christ is virtually lost. The theology of the priesthood of all believers appears to exist only in theory. The church has retreated and reverted back to the old Judaic and Roman Catholic makeup, which breeds the prevalent passivity. It is sad that today’s church buildings functionally resemble temples, pastors dictate as priests and the New Testament church pattern has been discarded for the Old Testament temple system. David Watson rightly observed, “Ever since the Old Testament symbols were fulfilled in Christ and in His church, the church has faced constant temptations to bring back the institutions that Christ has fulfilled and removed; and she has, to a large extent, fallen to these temptations.”3
There is a great need for a reformation in our church today that will restore the significance and the priestly functioning of each member in the body of Christ. It is said that the early church was “one another” fellowship, not “one man over others” service. Because of the lack of every member ministry, the church is not only in a passive state but also many leaders are suffering from stress and burnout. The church is supposed to be a team, not an audience, wherein all work together for its growth. The leaders are called not to model “superstar ministry” but to motivate “every member ministry” (Ep 4:11-12). Do we find one man having the dominant function in the early church? Is there a balance between teaching and every member participation in today’s typical church gathering?
How are the leaders of the church motivating every member to function actively in the body of Christ and to effectively witness to the world? Is there the privilege and encouragement for every member to participate in the gathering of the church? William Barclay writes about the early church gathering, “The really notable thing about an early Church service must have been that almost everyone came feeling that he had both the privilege and obligation of contributing something to it.”4 It seems that we have lost the sacred recognition that every member in the body of Christ is a precious, potential and powerful instrument of the Holy Spirit. In the early church the ministry belonged to the whole people of God.
In his challenging book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Ronald J. Sider made a good point. He said, “The early church was able to defy the decadent values of Roman civilization precisely because it experienced the reality of Christian fellowship in a mighty way . . . Christian fellowship meant unconditional availability to and unlimited liability for the other sisters and brothers-emotionally, financially and spiritually. When one member suffered, they all suffered. When one rejoiced, they all rejoiced (1 Cor. 12:26). When a person or church experienced economic trouble, the others shared without reservation. And when a brother or sister fell into sin, the others gently restored the straying person (Mt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5; 2 Cor. 2:5-11; Gal. 6:1-3). The sisters and brothers were available to each other, liable for each other and accountable to each other. The early church, of course, did not always fully live out the New Testament vision of the body of Christ. There were tragic lapses. But the network of tiny house churches scattered throughout the Roman Empire did experience their oneness in Christ so vividly that they were able to defy and eventually conquer a powerful, pagan civilization. The overwhelming majority of churches today, however, do not provide the context in which brothers and sisters can encourage, admonish and disciple each other. We desperately need new settings and structures for watching over one another in love.”5
We need to understand that structure and systems exist for a purpose; they are not end in themselves. There is a great necessity for us to have structures and systems in a way that will benefit the effective functioning of the church. Gathering in houses facilitates much participation, interaction, discussion and one-another ministry. Also, it is in such a setting that teaching can be done more like a dialogue rather than like a monologue; it is more pervasive and most effective.
To function as effectively as the early church functioned, the structure, size and system matter a lot. The structure should be informal, the size of the community ought to be small and the system or order must be flexible. Since every member’s participation and ministry was highly valued and encouraged in the early church, a home is a good setting wherein every person can comfortably contribute and function for the edification of the whole body of Christ.
Intimacy and Accountability
God’s Word reveals that a church is a family of God and we are the members of God’s household (Ep 2:19, 1Ti 3:15, Ga 6:10). Since the church is a family, everyone has the responsibility toward the welfare of all the members. Paul wrote, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1Co 12:26). How do we suppose this could happen in the church if we are not closely knit together as a family? How many believers are starving spiritually due to lack of good fellowship? Though we come together physically, isn’t there a sense of lack of intimacy and accountability between one another? Are we really walking in love with intimate relationship? Early believers were so closely knit together as a family that they were falsely accused as being immoral and incestuous (because they called one another brother and sister, had love feasts, and greeted one another with a holy kiss).
There is a necessity to cultivate a family atmosphere in church gathering, rather than a sober and formal environment. The church is not a religious service but a family unit. Do the believers view the church as a family, having a sense that they belong to that family? Is there a familial atmosphere when we come together as a church? Don’t we realize the necessity to emphasize relationship and fellowship between and among one another? We only seem to be having good services without genuine fellowship. How can we practically foster such an intimate fellowship when the church comes together? In a chapter entitled Small Is Beautiful, prolific author Robert Banks wrote, “Home churching enables us to come to know, love, and serve a manageable group of people who will come to know, love, and serve us as well. In such a group we can gradually let down the masks we wear in public and begin to share our weaknesses, doubts, and fears as well as our strengths, certainties, and abilities. Thus we start to overcome the ironic situation of being less open and less honest in church than we are elsewhere. In small home-church groups we learn to give and receive, to teach and understand, to carry others’ burdens and receive help with our own, to love and be loved. In such a group we can become more like Christ and assist others to become more like Christ too. In doing so we develop a common Christ-like attitude, character, and way of operating. We become integrated into Christ more closely and more firmly.”6
In a small community, intimacy and accountability become quite feasible and viable. The level of one’s spirituality becomes obvious in small communities, thereby lending more room to encourage one another so that no one would be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb 3:13). We can relate to one another intimately, know one another, share with one another, exhort one another and stimulate one another to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24, 25). Gerald Oliver urged the church, “It is time that all become involved in small groups that are bound together by love which pray, study the Bible, fellowship, and hold each member accountable for the 168 hours of each week.”7 The privilege of stirring up intimacy and staying accountable to one another can be well practiced in this kind of small communities. We believe an informal place like a house is an effective place to practice all the above essentials.
The Lord’s Supper
Michael Green pointed out that “communion (i.e. the Lord’s Supper) in those days would be much more of a meal than it is today, and an opportunity for much informal worship and fellowship. The meal time was called an agape, a love-feast, and in later times it fell into disuse because it was much abused.”9 However, Paul did not put an end to the meal because of the abuse in the Corinthian church. Instead, he taught them about the right participation in the Lord’s Supper.10 The Lord’s Supper is a significant practice for the gathered church for it directs our focus both on the vertical relationship (remembrance of the Lord’s death and His coming) and the horizontal relationship (fellowship with the believers as a family).
Earlier in this book, it was pointed out that the early church gathered as a family, celebrating the Lord’s Supper in the context of a fellowship and communal meal, remembering the Lord’s death, reminding the Lord of His coming and rejoicing for bringing them together as one body and family. Concerning the Lord’s Supper, J.I. Packer and Merrill C. Tenney wrote in Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible that “early Christians ate the symbolic meal of the Lord’s Supper to commemorate the Last Supper, in which Jesus and His disciples observed the traditional Jewish Passover feast. The themes of the two events were the same. In the Passover, Jews rejoiced that God had delivered them from their enemies and they looked expectantly to their future as God’s children. In the Lord’s Supper, Christians celebrated how Jesus had delivered them from sin and they expressed their hope for the day when Christ would return (1 Cor. 11:26). At first, the Lord’s Supper was an entire meal that Christians shared in their homes. Each guest brought a dish of food to the common table. The meal began with common prayer and the eating of small pieces from a single loaf of bread that represented Christ’s broken body. The meal closed with another prayer and the sharing of a cup of wine, which represented Christ’s shed blood.”11 It is difficult to have the Lord’s Supper as a family meal in a large, impersonal gathering and formal structure. A home is the ideal location to celebrate the Lord’s Supper in a meaningful way.
To gather as a church in a house is about as simple as it gets. Not much money is required to do this kind of church planting work. Like the early church, a simple house is enough for the fellowship of the church. Money has become a primary factor in many a ministry today. It has become a major concern, topic of conversation and source of conflict. Without a lot of money, it seemly has become almost impossible to do the Lord’s work. However, when we examine the early church, money was not a primary issue at all. The early disciples planted churches in homes, had simple gatherings in homes and multiplied into other houses as the fellowship grew.
In nations like India (where I live), buying a piece of land and constructing a building is not an easy thing. Most of church buildings here are constructed with the help of foreign funds. An accusation Christian workers often face from unbelievers is that Christian ministry and conversion is done by and for the money that comes in from abroad. Those ministries are really at risk that rely on foreign funds. The early churches were generally indigenous fellowships, yet when there was a need they stood with one another and helped each other. Blessed is the nation wherein most of its churches and ministries have grown on the concept of self-support, self-propagation and self-governing.
In doing a church-planting ministry, if we follow the current expensive model, wherein we require a lot of money for building (which we use once in a while), its maintenance and salaries, it is highly difficult to plant numerous churches. Many suppose there is no church without a sacred building. It is regretful to see how the New Testament view of the church and the temple is distorted by idolizing a building as a sacred place of God and stitching up the curtain of the Old Testament temple that was torn by the finished work of Christ on the cross (Mt 27:51). Arthur Wallis said, “In the Old Testament, God had a sanctuary for His people; in the New, God has His people as a sanctuary.”12 Through Christ Jesus, we ourselves are God’s temple and God’s church (1Co 3:16, Ac 20:28). Let us give heed to the penetrating words of John Havlik: “The church is never a place, but always a people; never a fold but always a flock; never a sacred building but always a believing assembly. The church is you who pray, not where you pray. A structure of brick or marble can no more be the church than your clothes of serge or satin can be you. There is in this world nothing sacred but man, no sanctuary of man but the soul.”13
Therefore, although there is nothing wrong to have a special building, it is not a requirement for the gathering of the church since we can gather simply at homes like the early church. I have seen how Christian workers run here and there to beg money for the construction of church building. Some even ask unbelievers for such a task. Much disgrace has been brought to the name of the Lord because of the preachers’ emphasis on money to give to their ministry. In this way, we are not going to accomplish much for the Lord.
Donald McGavran, who is considered to be an expert on church growth, remarkably stated, “Obtaining a place to assemble should not lay a financial burden on the little congregation. The house church meets all these requirements effectively. House churches should always be considered, both for initial planting and for later extension.”14 To do saturation church planting, by which the cities and villages will be filled with churches, we need a simple strategy. Gathering as a church in houses is a simple and effective method.
We learn from the early church pattern that the shepherds or overseers of the church arose from the church’s own community (Ac 14:23, 2Ti 2:2, Titus 1:5). They were homegrown, having and operated under a plurality of leadership in each church.15 The leadership of the early church was of two kinds — local and itinerant.16 These days,ministry is confined to full-time work without a secular job. However, when we explore the New Testament church, the local leaders were generally bi-vocational workers and the itinerant leaders were financially supported.
Being local leaders, the pastors were generally bi-vocational workers. Paul, though an itinerant worker, set himself as an example to others by working with his own hands (Ac 20:17, 33-35; 1Th 4:11-12, 2Th 3:6-12). Of course, there are exceptions where some are worthy to receive hospitality and voluntary offerings because of their labor in preaching and teaching (1Ti 5:17). Addressing today’s situation, Is giving sermons for an hour (or more) once a week on Sunday and on other special occasions what we call laboring in preaching and teaching? Robert Baker, in A Summary of Christian History, noted, “These leaders usually worked to earn a living and were not supported by the church. No artificial distinction was made between clergy and laity.”17 TheInternational Standard Bible Encyclopedia states that “The ministry of the early church received no stipends. The ministry were office-bearers, to whom ecclesiastical obedience was due in virtue of their call and election and their being set apart by prayer, and perhaps by laying on of hands, for sacred office; but they were at the same time merchants, artisans, or engaged in other secular callings, and supported themselves . . . If office-bearers received a share, it was only on account of their poverty and because they were on the roll of widows, orphans and helpless poor. The introduction of ministerial stipends and the implication that a paid ministrywas expected to give its whole time to the service of the church made the distinction between clergy and laity more emphatic. When we investigate the matter, it is evident that the fact that the clergy are paid complicates the question; for the earliest lists are evidently those who are entitled to share in the funds of the church, and widows and orphans figure as members of the ordo or clerus.”18
Hence, it is not a requirement that local elders resign their secular jobs and give themselves exclusively to the affairs of the church. However, they are free to devote themselves exclusively for the ministryof the church if they have a genuine personal guidance from God for extensive ministry beyond the local church. It is sorrowful to witness many Christian workers unnecessarily suffering financially due to unbiblical perspective about the church ministry. A “call to ministry” is by default automatically understood as abstinence from secular work. Do we have any biblical basis for this ingrained belief? Alex Rattray Hay observed that Paul “definitely counseled the Ephesian elders to support themselves (Ac 20:32-35), and that, eventually, was the general practice.”19 Certainly some elders will be fully supported by the church, but these are the exception, not the rule.
Moreover, church planting and church multiplication becomes difficult if all local pastors expect to completely rely on the church for their survival. Rather, they are generally to work in the secular field and lead the small community of believers. Finance is not a major problem in a simple, small community in a house, since pastors can easily support themselves and simultaneously lead the church. It would be a wonderful opportunity for both the pastors and believers to support itinerant missionaries and evangelists on the field, including the poor and needy. Therefore, we believe house church is a wise approach wherein pastors can be bi-vocational workers, leading small communities in an effective way.
Ease of Access for Unbelievers
I was once asked, “People see the mosque as a holy place for Muslims and the temple as a sacred place for Hindus. Don’t you think it is important to have a special building for Christians which is considered to be sacred?” Christianity is unique because the church itself, the whole people of Christ, is God’s temple and every member a priest of God (1Co 3:16, 1Pe 2:5, 9). In our attempt to identify ourselves with other pagan religions we must be careful not to lose our uniqueness. In contextualizing the message we should not compromise with unbiblical perspectives. Frank Senn pointed out well that “Christians of the first several centuries lacked the publicity of the pagan cults. They had no shrines, temples, statues, or sacrifices. They staged no public festivals, dances, musical performances, or pilgrimage . . . Indeed, Christians of the first three centuries usually met in private residences that had been converted into suitable gathering spaces for the Christian community . . . This indicates that the ritual bareness of early Christian worship should not be taken as a sign of primitiveness, but rather as a way of emphasizing the spiritual character of Christian worship.”20
Every religious structure is seen as a sacred place of a respective religious group and the unbelievers who belong to a different religious group feel very much uncomfortable in such a place. A pastor friend of mine once shared, “I’ve made friendship with lot of unbelievers and they feel quite comfortable to come to my house. But if I tell them to come to a special building, which people suppose it to be a sanctuary, they find it extremely uncomfortable to come. The house is a good place for them to be invited to come and join in a fellowship.” A house is such an informal place that even unbelievers feel comfortable to come, witnessing how we live as a community and love one another. Is it not this love that identifies Christ’s disciples to the world, even giving us an opportunity to witness unto them (Jn 13:35)?
Donald McGavran once said, “The congregation should meet in the most natural surroundings, to which non-Christians can come with the greatest ease and where the converts themselves carry on the services.”21 We cannot expect unbelievers to come to a religious building, though at times they may come occasionally. The early church gathered at homes and there were occasions wherein unbelievers used to attend (1Co 14:23-24). The houses were used for hospitality and also for church gathering. Michael Green has mentioned, “One of the most important methods of spreading the gospel . . . was by use of homes.”22 House church provides an informal and friendly atmosphere for the unbelievers to stay at ease in the gathering of the church and experience the love and fellowship of Christ Jesus through His children.
One day I read in the newspaper that a church had been burned down. I was not shaken because the church, the people of God, was not harmed. It is the building wherein the church usually gathered, that was burned. Many Christians and unbelievers alike think that a building is the church while actually it is the Christ’s redeemed people that are the church and the sanctuary of God. During times of persecution, church buildings, which are regarded as a religious place for Christians, often become primary targets for assault. It is not safe for the people of God to gather in such a place when situations are hostile.
The church gathering in a house is much better in times of persecution. This doesn’t guarantee that persecution will not come at all. The early church faced persecution despite gathering in houses, yet gathering in houses is much safer during times of persecution than gathering in a supposedly religious building. In many parts of the world, especially in the third-world countries, believers gather for fellowship in a network of underground house churches — small communities that secretly gather in the living rooms of believers.23
Furthermore, it is interesting to notice that during persecution, both in the early church and in the modern-day, the house churches spread rapidly. God often uses persecution to bend our knees and to make our feet active. The church often becomes active, both in prayer and network, at difficult times. House churches usually play a vital role in hostile conditions. The churches in China, as well as in some parts of India, are growing vastly through the network of house churches. One reporter wrote about the house church movement in China that “It is difficult to estimate exactly how many Christians worship and serve in these house churches. In 2000, an unconfirmed report stated that there are approximately 80 million believers in the house-church movement. Clearly the house-church movement has been the mainstream of Protestant Christianity in China.24
It seems persecution is rapidly spreading in many countries. The opponents are seeking to stop the Christian work wherever it is actively functioning. There is a great need to do the Lord’s work wisely in such situations. Much prayer, much encouragement and much diligence are required. The fellowship of the church is very much necessary to encourage one another to stay strong in the Lord. Therefore, we believe, gathering as a church in houses is an effective model even during times of persecution.
Nourishment and Multiplication of Churches
I was talking with a man who is a member of an old church that gathered in that place for more than hundred years. I asked him courteously, “How many churches have you people planted?” He said, I think, about two. This is because of a greater financial budget required to plant and build churches. This is not how God’s Kingdom can spread rapidly. The church ought to penetrate into the society. The church should be “Go-centered”, not “Come-centered.” For the church to spread into every part of the world, careful nurturing and multiplication is essential.
As it was said to the first man and woman, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Ge 1:28), likewise it is commanded to the church to multiply by going and making disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19-20). Which is the better and efficient way that has a greater scope for the multiplication of the church? How many church members are living unfruitful life due to improper nourishment and motivation? Gathering in houses has a great potential for spiritual nourishment and multiplication. As the fellowship grows strongly more than the required size in a house, the church will inevitably multiply and spread to different places. In this way, churches can easily and rapidly multiply throughout the city or village.
Howard A. Synder observed the effectiveness of multiplying churches and described, “Not mere numerical growth but the multiplication of local churches is the test of a healthy, growing church. The biblical ideal is neither to produce a host of new Christians who live unattached, separated lives, nor to expand existing local churches until their membership bulges into the thousands. The biblical pattern is to form new converts into local congregations and to multiply the number of congregations as new converts are added. The ministry of Paul and other New Testament evangelists was a church-multiplying ministry. Converts in many cities quickly ran into the thousands; yet for nearly two hundred years no church buildings were erected. Such growth under such conditions can be explained only as the multiplication of small congregations.”25
Saturation church planting can be done in an effective way in a model like this, if we work with diligence and with the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit. The church that grows only in one place may be good for boasting about the numbers but it usually lacks qualitative fellowship, spiritual nourishment and the motivation to spread. I know many members who belong to a large “number gathering” church but do not have any motivating relationship with the overseers and with one another. Does attending Sunday service for two hours make someone a part of the body of Christ? Are we the members of the church only in name? Is this the kind of church Jesus died for? What does it mean to be a part of the body of Christ? Are we passionate to spread God’s Kingdom or see His Kingdom grow in one place?
The churches that are well nourished and scatter are the ones that easily prosper, both numerically and spiritually. One of the major reasons the early church greatly prospered is because of the spiritually nourished scattered believers (Ac 8:1, 4, 11:19ff). Church multiplication is more effective than church planting. There is a great need to emphasize more on church multiplication than church planting. Church multiplication is contagious. It is like a fire in the forest. But how can this all happen? Wolfgang Simpson wisely wrote, “In house churches, the people are the resources, Jesus is the program, fellowship is the reason, multiplication is the outcome, and discipling the neighborhood the goal.”26 He wrote elsewhere that “The church is changing back from being a Come-structure to being again a Go-structure. As one result, the Church needs to stop trying to bring people ‘into the church,’ and start bringing the Church to the people. The mission of the Church will never be accomplished just by adding to the existing structure; it will take nothing less than a mushrooming of the church through spontaneous multiplication of itself into areas of the population of the world, where Christ is not yet known.”27 Therefore, we believe, gathering in a house as a small community creates much room for the church to have quality spiritual nourishment and compels the church to multiply.
Discipleship and Multiplication of Leaders
There is a great need for the multiplication of biblical leaders in the churches today. Multiplication of leaders leads to an explosive growth of the Kingdom of God through the church. This happens when the church is properly discipled. Jesus did not say, “Go and have good services and meetings.” He said, “Go and make disciples” (Mt 28:19-20). Discipleship is an intimate kind of equipping. The gathering of the church is an opportunity for discipleship. One of the effective ways to witness the multiplication of leaders is in making disciples.
The growth of the believers and the multiplication of leaders, through the process of discipleship, are the healthy signs of a biblical church. As the leaders disciple the church, the church will disciple one another and penetrates the world with a vision for discipleship. Sadly, in our modern-day system, discipleship is not a significant and a necessary task of the church. It is supposed to be the work of the discipleship training centers or bible colleges. Dietrich Bonhoeffer aptly stated, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”28
When there is no discipleship, the potentiality of the church is buried and the prospective leaders are unidentified, unmotivated and thus ignored. Will it not be shocking news if a survey is taken about how the churches are discipled, and the way churches are raising and sending leaders in a year or in at least in five years? Did not our Lord Jesus tell us, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Mt 9:37-38)? Are we praying, equipping, mobilizing and sending the leaders into the harvest field? How are the churches setting goals and strategies for leadership multiplication?
The growth of the small communities through discipleship often results in the growth of more leaders. Leaders are born and developed, not often out of public preaching but out of personal discipleship. Quality mentoring and overseeing is manifested more in such small gatherings, thereby identifying and motivating more potential leaders. Grace Wiebe rightly pointed out, “House churches can be a vital part of raising up, training and multiplying many servant leaders (resulting in much less burnout of leaders).”29 In this kind of informal setting, there is a great possibility for the multiplication of disciples, consequently leading to the multiplication of leaders and churches. Therefore, we believe, gathering in house is an effective way for the church to get discipled and to raise, equip and send many leaders.
The Poor, The Needy and Missions
A careful reading of the Holy Scriptures reveals that money in the early church was used in large part to assist the poor and needy.30 Each church was autonomous and an independent social organization. Even during the middle part of the second century, the collection was primarily taken to help the poor and needy people. According to the information found in First Apology by Justin Martyr and in the Didache, church historian Earle E. Cairns mentions that at the end of the fellowship of the church, “they finally took up a collection for aid to widows and orphans, the sick, the prisoners, and strangers. The meeting was then dismissed, and all the people made their way to their homes.”31
The early church also gave towards missions. However, many of the exhortations given to the churches about giving are toward helping the needy people. This is almost neglected these days. Why there is a great emphasis on helping the poor and needy as well as missions? Let us think – What is it worth to preach the gospel to the people while neglecting to share the love and compassion of Christ in deed? John wrote, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1Jn 3:17-18).
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”32 The gospel of Christ meets both the spiritual and physical needs. In His parable on “The Good Samaritan,” Jesus taught that ‘loving our neighbor’ means ‘helping the needy’ (Lk 10:25-37). Even the pastors were exhorted by Paul to help the needy people. It is actually to them that Paul said, “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Ac 20:17, 28, 34-35).
When the believers brought the money from the sales of the property and put it at the apostles’ feet, they distributed it to needy people (Ac 4:32-35). It is interesting to notice that the early church even sold their properties to help those who were in dire need. The famous words, “God loves a cheerful giver” are written to the church of Corinth in the context of helping the needy saints of the church (2Co 9:1, 7).
John MacArthur pointed out well, “The primary purpose of giving, as taught in the New Testament, is for the support of the saints, the church. A Christian’s first obligation is to support fellow believers, individually and collectively. The church’s first financial responsibility is to invest in its own life and its own people (cf. 2 Cor. 8:1-5; 9:12-15; Phil. 4:14-16). Obviously that is not the only economic obligation we have. The parable of the Good Samaritan makes it clear that we should minister personally and financially to anyone in need, regardless of religion, culture, or circumstances (Luke 10:25-37). Paul also teaches that we should ‘do good to all men’ (Gal. 6:10). But in the same verse he goes on to say, ‘And especially to those who are of the household of faith’ (cf. 1 John 3:17). In 2 Corinthians 9:13 the apostles calls for a generous distribution ‘to all.’ Support of the poor and needy in the world in the name of the Lord is a high-priority Christian activity by Scriptural standards.”33 What percentage of the money raised from the church is actually going to the poor and needy people? Even in the Old Testament, a special tithe was raised once in three years to assist the orphans, widows and other poor people (De 14:28-29). How are the tithes of the churches used today?
It is said that most of the money today is generally going toward maintenance and administration, with less money going toward missions. In many churches, there is no special consideration to help the poor and needy. Are both the poor and missions a priority in the financial budget of traditional churches? What percentage of the money, collected from a traditional church is going to help the needy and missions? The authors of the Life Application Bible Commentary on the Gospel of Mark, warned, “If our churches spend large amounts on their physical buildings and ignore missions, evangelism, and care for the poor, they will likewise come under God’s judgment.”34 Since gathering in a house is a simple model (i.e. money is not required for building and its maintenance), money can be used to help the poor and needy, including support to missions.
To justify their practices, many ignorantly and unreasonably oppose this teaching (as I once did) without a careful study and examination about how the early church functioned. There is so much good to speak about the modern day church. Yet a reformation is needed to help God’s people function more effectively and biblically. Gathering in houses is not a perfect solution wherein we don’t have any problems at all. It is only a better and more effective approach. In saying this, I mean it has more advantages and less disadvantages. Of course the problems that occur, based on different situations, places and culture, must be dealt prayerfully and wisely according to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and with the counsel of experienced godly people. Also, let the reader not mistake that the church is confined to gather in a house. It can gather in an office, hall, class room, hut, tent, etc. as long as the size of the community is small wherein every-member participation is possible and mobilized. The structure is not as important as is the functioning of the church. This chapter could actually be titled, “Ten Reasons For Small Communities.” Since the house is an informal place wherein people can generally gather as small communities, I have used it often in this chapter. Christ’s people are free to gather wherever they feel convenient and yet still function according to the New Testament church pattern.
Finally, may we never forget that any church paradigm is weak and lacks life without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God is the life of the church; without Him any church is dead. Let us seek to be clothed with the power from on high as we constantly seek to establish His Kingdom on earth. May the Lord abundantly pour out His Spirit upon His body, the church!
I close this chapter with a comment worth contemplating by an Anglican commentator David Prior. He wrote, “It is better to be bothered about quality rather than quantity: a tiny diamond is far more valuable than a lorryload of stones. It is for that reason that we are going to work with groups and small communities rather than with large crowds . . . we are only concerned with small communities made up of people who know they are the Church. It is with these that we are going to set about the work of spreading the Gospel, of proclaiming in word and deed that Christ came to free us from wretchedness and oppression, whether that be spiritual or material. Work in small groups is far more worthwhile. A spoonful of sugar dissolved in a small cup sweetens the coffee, and that is the way with the Gospel in a small community. But put the same spoonful of sugar into a huge pot of coffee and its taste simple gets lost.”35
1 David Watson, I Believe in the Church (Great Britain: Hodder & Stoughton, 1978), 121.
2 Robert Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community (Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers), 90.
3 Watson, 117.
4 William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians, Revised Edition (Westminster Press, 1977), 135.
5 Ronald Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1977), 190-191.
6 Robert & Julia Banks, The Church Comes Home (Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1998), 84.
7 Taken from an unpublished article, “Services Versus Service.”
8 Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (India: OM-Authentic Books), 828.
9 Michael Green, Evangelism Now & Then (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1979), 103-104.
10 Paul mentions the problem in 1Co 11:20-21 and finally gives the solution in verse 33-34.
11 J. I. Packer and Merrill C. Tenney, Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1980), 540-541.
12 Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity (Present Testimony Ministry, 2002), 99.
13 John Havlik, People Centered Evangelism (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), 47.
14 Robert Fitts, The Church in the House (Salem, OR: Preparing the Way Publishers, 2001), 18.
15 Ac 11:30; 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 14:23; 20:17-28; Php 1:1; 1Th 5:12-13; 1Ti 4:14; 1Ti 5:17; Tit 1:5; Jam 5:14; 1Pe 5:1-3; Heb 13:7, 17, 24.
16 Gordon Fee, Gospel and Spirit (Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1991), 139.
17 Robert Baker, A Summary of Christian History (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 11.
18 Power Bible CD [CD-Rom] V4.5. Bronson: Online Publishing, 1999-2005.
19 Alex Rattray Hay, The New Testament Order for Church and Missionary(1947), 299.
20 Christian Liturgy, 53.
21 Fitts, 18.
22 Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church (1970), 207.
24 Eternal Perspective Ministries, www.epm.org/articles/Chinesetorture.htm.
25 Howard Synder, The Community of the King (Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1978), 122.
26 Wolfgang Simpson, Houses that Change the World (Chennai, India: Mission Educational Books, 1998), 142.
27 Ibid, 21-22.
29 The Network for Strategic Missions, www.strategicnetwork.org
30 Ac 2:45; 4:32-37; 6:1-4; 9:36; 20:34-35; Ro 12:13; 1Co 16:1-3, 15; 2Co 8:1-5; 9:1-2, 7; Ga 2:6-10; 6:9-10; Phm 7; Tit 3:8; Heb 6:10-11; Heb 13:2-3, 15-16; Jam 1:27; 2:15-17; 1Pe 4:9; 1Jn 3:16-18.
31 Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through The Centuries (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), 84.
32 Wheel Words, www.texaschapbookpress.com/wheelwords.htm.
33 John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary 1 Corinthians (Printed in India: 1984 by The Moody Bible
Institute of Chicago), 451.
34 Bruce B. Baton, et al., Life Application Bible Commentary on Mark(Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1994), 319.
35 David Prior, The Church in the Home (Great Britain: Marshall Morgan and Scott Marshall Pickering, 1983), 163-164.
1. What evidence is there that the lack of church buildings is not a hindrance to the rapid expansion of the church? 2. How does the structure, size and system of a church impact the one another aspect ofministry?
3. How does the size of a congregation influence whether its members see the church as a corporation or as a family? How would this effect intimacy and accountability?
4. What was the primary purpose of the early church gathering? And how is it different from the way we are gathering today?
5. What does it mean to be a part of the body of Christ? What is your function in your church?
6. Why is it difficult to have the Lord’s Supper as a family meal in a large, impersonal gathering and formal structure?
7. In what context did the early church have the Lord’s Supper and for what purpose? What difference will it make if we practice alike in our day?
8. How does the church gathering in houses make the church planting simple?
9. What are the advantages of house churches having bi-vocational pastors?
10. Why do you think the local leaders were generally bi-vocational whereas the itinerant leaders were generally supported by the church?
11. What are the advantages of house church having some full time elders?
12. In what way does the church put unbelievers at ease by gathering in houses?
13. List five points on the advantages of house churches during times of persecution.
14. How is the nourishment and multiplication of the church more likely to occur in a smaller community rather than a larger one?
15. Do you believe discipleship should be the core responsibility of the church? If so, in what kind of setting and in what ways discipleship can be done effectively?
16. Why are micro churches the best environment for the multiplication and training of new leaders?
17. Contrast New Testament giving objectives with modern church spending? What changes do you suppose we need to bring in order to use our finance biblically?
18. Why is it better to be bothered about quality rather than quantity?