What is a church? | Frequently asked questions

7. Why do you keep insisting that churches ought to meet in people's houses? Won't anywhere else do? For instance, in America a lot of churches that practice in the way you advocate meet in Christian bookshops and coffee shops that have a lounge area just like in someone's private house? What's wrong with that?


Well, I suppose that in some parts of the world Eskimos will meet in igloos and Red Indians in teepees; and of course on a nice day (and we even get them occasionally here in England too) what possible objection could there be to meeting in the garden (that’s the yard to my American readers) or in a field somewhere? And to the above I have no objections whatsoever, but merely wish to keep bringing us back to the essential point that the format for church gatherings in the New Testament was such that it kept each individual church small in numbers, and was therefore perfectly suited to everything of individual church life occurring in people’s homes, be those homes houses, flats, apartments, condos on the beach (my own personal preference, though I sadly don’t have one) teepees, igloos or mud huts. After all, what more could a biblically based church possibly need for its gatherings other than the homes (whatever those homes may be) of those who comprise it? And when it comes to biblical churches meeting in the lounge areas of bookshops and coffee shops, or in any other public building, there is actually a bit of a problem that will (hopefully) have to eventually be faced, but of which it is easy to be unaware whilst there is only one church concerned.

Now it is certainly true that a church can meet in a public building of some kind and still remain small enough in number to function as scripture teaches; and if such a building can be arranged with a nice cozy lounge area and made to feel like home, then all the better. Indeed, assuming there are kitchen facilities then there isn’t even a problem regarding eating the love-feast together. But there is still a massive problem to be faced, and it is simply this: A first-generation biblical church may well be able to come together and meet in such a way without any problem - but what of such a situation once numerical growth occurs and other churches need to come into being from the original church? (I am assuming that, being biblically based, this imagined church does indeed want to grow numerically, as the Lord enables, and not just remain with the same personnel its whole life.) So, do you see the problem? That church can’t just keep getting numerically bigger, even though larger numbers can easily be accommodated by virtue of the fact of it meeting in a public building, because it could then no longer function in the way the New Testament teaches that it should. Another church therefore needs to come into existence from it. But here is the point: Where will the new church meet then? Do you see the problem?

Now there may, of course, be an abundant supply of Christian coffee houses and bookshops around with nice lounge and kitchen areas, and so I guess new churches could just go and hire them out; but I nevertheless think an important question remains, and it is this: Why not just meet in each others houses? I mean, what is the problem with simply doing that? It is, after all, what every church in scripture did. (Every time individual churches are located in the New Testament it is always, and without fail, in someone’s home.) So why, oh why, would we want to be different? Why be a church that is biblically based in every other respect, having bought into the notion that we should do things just like they did back then, and then break ranks with them over this?

Could it possibly be (though I surely hope it is not the case) that behind this lies the unspoken concern that opening our homes to each other is a bit too inconvenient? Too close for comfort, even? The apostles of Jesus taught believers to open their homes to each other and to actually have their church gatherings there. After all, can I be truly known by others as I should be if my home-life isn’t wide open to those who I am in regular ongoing fellowship with? Can people know me properly, truly and deeply if they don’t regularly see my home and family life and have a share in it? Are we really to believe that meeting in homes was a purely incidental aspect of the blueprint for church life we find in scripture? Or is it as significant and important as the other aspects such as open, participatory gatherings, having the Lord’s Supper as a full meal and practicing biblical leadership and consensual church government? I put it to you that the burden of proof very much lies with those who seem to think it unimportant!

However, let me say too that where homes are literally too small to have more than three or four people visiting at any one time (Tokyo, perhaps?), then by all means make other appropriate arrangements. But of course the irony is that in the very place this trend is most prevalent, that is, in America, homes are very definitely on the large size, and when we get together as a church here in England we pack each other into our homes, come what may, even though it means that in some of them, my own included, you wouldn’t even be able to see what color the carpet was.

So if you are a biblical church meeting in a coffee house somewhere then fine, that sure is better than being an otherwise unbiblical church meeting in someone’s home; but do take on board the simple fact that, should you grow and become too large numerically to remain one church any longer (and as I have already indicated, you should most certainly desire that such eventually becomes the case), then how ridiculous to be out and about trying to find more and more Christian coffee houses and the like rather than just locating each church’s gatherings in the homes of those who comprise them. And how ridiculous to end up, say, with one church gathering in people’s homes, whilst the original one continues to meet in the coffee house or bookshop or public hall or whatever.

Whichever way you look at it, it seems to me perfectly illogical to not just do things the way the New Testament churches, under the direction of the apostles, did them. A church can indeed meet in a public building and yet remain truly biblical in every other way as far as practice is concerned, but the question remains: When it is quite feasible, all things being equal, to meet in each others homes, and given that this was the universal practice of the New Testament churches as taught and directed by the apostles of Jesus, then why on earth would any otherwise biblical church want to decide to not do likewise?

 

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