There is a lot of talk in the Southern Baptist Convention about the nature of the church. Words like organic, institution, movement, centralization, etc.. are thrown around quite often. I have read a few books on the issue and I have to be honest: I take a stand on the ‘not as popular’ side. What is the nature of the church in Acts? Most agree that the nature of the church in Acts is more of an organic, house to house church setting. In Acts we see the phrase ‘house to house’ numerous times. Paul addressed and spoke of house churches. Paul went house to house in order to disciple and preach. It is a reoccurring theme in the book of Acts.
What about today?
The church setting today is very different. We are very centralized. When someone says the word church the first thing people think of is where their ‘church’ meets. Many people do not like the house church concept, always saying, ‘Any successful house church stops becoming a house church because they grow and get a building.’ Good logic, if only that was true. Was the New Testament church not ‘successful’? Of course they were and yet they stayed in homes. They continued to grow by reproducing. The reproduced from house to house, community to community, village to village, and nation to nation.
The question usually becomes a question of cultural setting. Was the early church only an ‘organic’ house church type because of its culture or is that the way God designed it to be? I think that is the way God designed it to be. There is still a cultural aspect, but this aspect is a matter of variations within the organic nature of the church. It should not be a question of organic vs. institutional: it should be a question of what way the organic nature of the church will express itself in that particular culture. If you look at all of the great movements of the church throughout the world it has a very decentralized look, except America. South Korea and China are obvious examples.
I do no think one can make the argument that the house church setting wouldn’t work in our culture. I think the New Testament left us an example to follow. We should look to Acts not only to learn the principle of the church, but to also follow the direction of the church!
Is it wrong to meet outside of homes? No. I will use a church called Apex Community Church of Dayton, Ohio to be my example. They are a church from anywhere to 2500-3000 people. They are made up of over 60 house churches and meet together with four services on the weekends. You are not a member of Apex if you do not attend a house church. Just showing up on the weekends is not enough. I use Apex as an example because I think that they give the best example of practicing the organic nature of the church in our culture. They are a community of house churches that all meet together on the weekends in order to worship together, be united in mission together, and to celebrate that God saved them.
Jesus gave us the great commission. What is the best way to fulfill this commission? Looking at the book of Acts the answer seems to be by the church functioning in a decentralized, organic way. I do not care what you call it. You can call it house churches, cell groups, community groups, discipleship groups, or small groups. What matters is that groups are meeting outside of the big building with the church sign to disciple believers and reach their communities. In my opinion, Scripture lays out this example for one reason: it is the best way to fulfill the great commission. Most churches have four services that are almost identical. Sunday morning worship, Sunday School, Sunday evening worship, and prayer meeting on Wednesday nights: all have one person preach, some prayer, and some singing. Where is the time for confession? Exhortation? Repentance? Where in this centralized system can we fulfill all of the ‘one anothers’ that Scripture commands?
When people meet in homes or in small groups somewhere besides the big building with the sign it creates an atmosphere that is needed. It creates an atmosphere that opens the door to believers opening their lives to confess sin, pray personally with one another, grow closer together, and really be able to exhort and encourage each other. It also creates an evangelistic atmosphere that is welcoming to lost people who are intimidated by the ‘big church setting’ but are comfortable going to a small group with a good friend of their from work. A ‘House Church’ setting is the best missional, incarnational approach to ministry: not because of preference, personality, culture, but because it is the biblical model left for us.
The book of Acts gives more than principles about the church, it gives an example for the church.