Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Home Assemblies

The early church for the most part met in homes, rather than special church buildings. We do not know whether this was the universal practise of the New Testament church or the reasons why they met in homes.

We have no command to meet in homes, however, we ought not to be hasty to depart from their practise to ideas of our own. The idea of a church building is so common that many Christians never consider the alternative option of home assemblies.

My opinion is that there are advantages and disadvantages to both public buildings and home assemblies, however, I would tend to come down more in favour of home assemblies.

The advantage of a public building foremost is that it is public. People can see it and decide to attend the congregation that meets there. Secondly, if the building is big enougth, it can host large meetings of Christians. In principle, an assembly consists of all who are in Christ in a city. Therefore, an assembly of a larger group of Christians is a blessing. Thirdly, if a building has an office, smaller rooms and a kitchen, it can be used for all manner of mid-week activities.

However, there are disadvantages to public buildings. In the sacramental churches, Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican, buildings have become temples, idolatrous places that are objects of reverance in themselves. Thanks to the guidance of God's word, Fundamentalist and Evangelical churches have avoided this trap to a great extent. However, there is always a danger of identifying the church with the building, a tendency that often connects with denominationalism and narrowness.

Secondly, public buildings have a huge financial cost. The congregation I attend is in a highly modern all-purpose building which cost several million pounds. It is true that God gives generously to meet His people's needs, however we are accountable to God as stewards of His gifts. Many churches end up taking out huge mortgages to pay for their buildings. Is it right for God's people to be in debt to the world?

Another great danger of public buildings is the mentality they create. Buildings can be useful for hosting many evangelistic activities. However, in my experience, the better a congregation's building and facilities, the more their evangelistic activities become centred on their building and the less street or home outreach they do. Mother and toddler groups and men's take-away food meetings are no substitute for preaching the word of God in the open-air.

Meeting in homes removes these disadvantages. There are also advantages to meeting in homes.

The greatest advantage to the home assembly is in creating a greater sense of church community. The Church is a family. Having meetings in homes, the sphere of family life reflects this. One of the biggest problems in churches is the lack of community and family spirit and the heavy institutionalisation of congregations. Most churches seem to follow an academic model, with congregations divided up according to age. A buidling with several classrooms for different sunday school groups reflects this. Meeting in homes reduces the extent to which age groups can be segregated in meetings. The church thus has to behave like the meeting of a large extended family.

A home assembly will by its nature be far less institutional and hierarchical than an assembly meeting in a public building. This increased flexibility ought to give the Holy Spirit His due right to take the lead in meetings.

Home assemblies create a greater sense of intimacy. The brethren are there in peoples homes, in the midst of their concerns and troubles. The life of the church is brought into the real world, the world of everyday life. In assemblies which use public buildings, there is a strong tendency for people to put on a disguise on the Lord's Day. They put on their best clothes, ensure their children's best behaviour (by whatever means necessary), couples agree to a truce in their arguments and they pretend that they have been living a life of Evangelical bliss all week. Once the service is over and they have got back in their car, the domestic riots begin again. Meeting in homes leaves less room for such falseness.

A home assembly must be very outwardly focused if it is to grow. A church in a public building can rely on people to spot their church and swell their numbers without too much effort. A home assembly cannot grow without being active in evangelism outside the meetings.

There are disadvantages to home assemblies. Firstly, they can not be very large. There are limits to how many can meet in the average living room. Home meetings must work hard to maintain connections with other home assemblies.

Secondly, there are dangers inherent in the domestic setting. The decoration and contents of a room may be distracting. Also there is the danger of jelousy and envy over better and more beautiful homes. This must be handled with sensitivity and care.

Thirdly, home assemblies have a tendency to narrowness and introversion. This is often because of the way they start. A few individuals in a congregation will have some grievance and leave. They begin meeting in homes and become focused on their own concerns. Of course, this is simply a similar problem to that of sectarianism, just on a smaller scale.

In many countries, there is a sense of unease about the idea of religious meetings in homes. The idea seems alien to many in some cultures. Even in Britain and the USA, there are people who may be suspcicous of a church that has no building.

Overall, I think home assemblies are a better approach to meeting. However, I would not dismiss the arguments in favour of churches meeting in public buildings.

In the post on communal living I said that part of why I favoured the idea was because I thought I would not like it. I think that this is an issue. Being very introverted I like the anonynimity of large meetings in public buildings. I can just disappear. Meeting in a home would force me to be on a more intimate level with others in the congregation.


Carey said...

Good thoughts, Matthew. Personally, I like a little of both -- meeting in a church building and having home meeting during the week. I have experience with both. There are pros and cons to each, which is why I like a balance between the two. Bigger church settings provide more social interaction with people from different walks of life, and home meetings allow a more intimate setting with close friends to open up.

Kc said...

A good friend and I have discussed this as well and we concluded as Carey did that there's room for both and we don't have to view it as an either/or scienero. You've done an excellent job of providing an outline of the pros and cons of each. ;-)

Herobill said...

That was a good survey of many fair, helpful observations.

"House church" comes in so many varieties... any old group that meets once a week in a living room can just as easily be clergy-led, or shallow, or insincere, just like the Big Show.

I live with people who can't get away from each other. We all passed the point of polite facade a LONG time ago. Then there's the flesh. And often, thank you Lord, there's the spirit.

The cities of the New Testament were mostly about one square mile or smaller. Possibly only Antioch and Rome had more than 100,000 residents. If most of the believers were poor (which is likely) then they all probably lived on the downhill side of their city. (Natural plumbing - think about it.)

All of which is to say that THEY couldn't get away from each other either.

"Community" was easy to come by everywhere, before the Automobile and Urbanism... and Electricity... and the miracle modern Economy... and Sprawl...

But the thing that really kills "church life" IMHO...

The reason there was little Life in most "churches" even before modern times...

Is clergy.

The only way I believe it can be avoided is to have an outside worker. Like an "apostle" (but without any scary authoritarian airs). Someone who IS the leader, but non-local. Someone who has no personal stake whatsoever in what's going on locally. Someone who genuinely cares about the LORD getting to express HIMSELF through an entire body.

But left alone, a little group either develops leaders, or self-destructs trying not to have any.

But in a healthy group there CAN be a growing process to get to where everyone contributes to leading, and the goal is only Him.

A capable outside worker can facilitate that growth, helping the group learn as they go, and leading when they need him to lead. He teaches them. Then he leaves. (Hmmm. Did I ever see that pattern displayed anywhere? Let me think...)

I guess this is a long comment.

Yet all of it is to make this point.

I don't think "house" means much.


Kitty Cheng said...

Wow this is such a great post Matthew. I have been thinking about this, and discussing with my mum and friends about this too.

I have experiences in both. I am involved in both home assemblies (Living Room) and meeting at a church building (CCBC). I agree with your observations and opinions. Very well said!

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Carey and Kc, thanks. There are many churches which combine home meetings and meetings in a public building. However, when there is a puiblic building, it does tend to dominate the show and become the centre of gravity for the congregation.

Therefore, I think at the end of the day I think there is an either/ or question to be answered.

Hero Bill, thanks for your thoughts.

The clergy issue is an important subject, though not directly related to this one.

The Plymouth Brethren, particularly the Exclusive Brethren tend to have a heavy emphasis on outside teachers. Though, in the Raven/ Taylor Exclusives this has gone to extreme lengths, with thir leaders becoming regarded as almost infallible.

Thanks a lot, Kitty.

Carey said...

Matthew, you are right. The "Big Show" (as Bill calls it) does seem to dominate, but this is purely due to the nature of man. We all want what's easy and comfortable. Those of us who strive not to live complacent lives make the effort to meet in smaller groups and be accountable to other Christians, who also wish to pursue the Lord.

Larger church settings provide greater ministry and service opportunities - which is why I attend a 'regular' church - and the smaller group settings provide area for personal growth. Both of these settings are vital for the Christian walk. It's not a question of either/or.

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Thanks, Carey.

As it happens, I am not part of any kind of small fellowship group these days. There are such groups in my congregation, but I think they are too 'coffee and dohnuts' for my taste.

I do think it is an either/ or.

The question is do we have our main meetings in homes or in a public building. This question has huge impications for how we approach church life.

Once the assembly takes the step of meeting in a large public building the whole dynamic shifts to that arena and any smaller meetings in homes beocme subordinate to that.

I think the wider opportunities for ministry can be created through networks of small home meetings without the need for a large weekly assembly in a public building.

Every Blessing in Christ


Carey said...

I think it really just depends on the individual.

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

On the contray, Carey, I think individual preference is an approach that needs to be avoided.

The church is a body not an association of individuals and there decisions that have to be made on a corporate level.

Every Blessing in Christ


Herobill said...

Hey, Matthew.

I guess I was sparking off the "either/or" flavor of your post to say that house vs. building isn't my main decision.

Maybe it would've seemed more on-topic if I'd just said, "For me, the presence of clergy cancels out all the other benefits you mention, even in a home setting."

Btw, I don't know much about the Brethren, but what you said about them was interesting.

Thanks again for the post.

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Bill, I really appreciate your commenting.

God Bless


Carey said...

Matthew, I disagree with you - surprise, surprise - but do not currently have the time to refute your last statement. I shall ruffle your feathers later. *chuckle*

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

You fiery feather-ruffler.

Carey said...

*laughs* That's me, but you're a feather-ruffler too... maybe just not as fiery. ;-)

Now I've completely forgotten what I was going to say. You derailed me.

Will get back to you.

Carey said...


Carey said...

Still can't remember what I was going to say, but you will be happy to know that I am visiting a home church next week. I met a nice young Christian man at school this Friday and he invited me to visit his home church group.

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

I hope you have a great time.

If I invited you to my church, I hope you would enjoy it more than I do. The preaching is quite good.

Every Blessing in Christ


Carey said...

Enjoy it more than you do? I'm sure I'd enjoy myself... as long as you don't make me wear a head-covering. *winks*

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

I do not enjoy my church all that much.

You might feel lonely if you did wear a headcovering; none of the ladies there do, somethign I find distressing.

God Bless


Carey said...

I'd wear a head-covering if it was required. My friend Kate goes to an ultra-conservative church that requires its women to wear headcoverings and dresses. The girls there were appalled at the thought of me wearing slacks and a bare head to church. They thought it was most unlady-like.

Todd said...

I think it could be very helpful to the community of a church if homes were incorporated into the weekly activities. Although in the affluent societies we live in buildings do help us feel safer and give us more comfortable distant from our brethren, at a certain cost though, it seems like to me.


Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Todd.

Like I said, a lot of churches do have home meetings as well as services in a public building.

However, when a church has a building it does become the centre of gravity for the congregation.

Every Blessing in Christ


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