“The Church (ekklesia) in your house”
Can you imagine a “church in your house”? And yet anything else would actually have been unimaginable for the early believers.
Most religious people who ever “go to church” (not realizing we are the church, the ekklesia, rather than go to church), go to a very elaborate church building or cathedral. The richer denominations have big cathedrals with prominent steeples (a very pagan relic), stained glass windows, rich and expensive marble floors and more. I’ve been to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and there’s even gold on the ceiling and that basilica is so massive you could put several typical churches inside it. St Paul’s in London is patterned after it. You may think of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and the dozens of others that dot the land.
I’m not against worship of God being expensive, as nothing is too expensive if it is truly directed at worshiping the Great God who created all things. Remember he didn’t decry the expensive ointment that was poured on him and certainly the ancient Tabernacle and Temple were quite lavish. But I will say this, the same Peter who was concerned that Paul be sure to consider the poor in his travels (Gal. 2:10) would be appalled that his name has been put on to lavish and massive buildings with pagan symbols (like the obelisk in the center of the courtyard at St Peter’s). Can you see the fisherman Peter decked out like the modern-day popes? I’m not meaning to pick on the Catholic church, but just point to the principle. This applies to just about all the denominations. And Yeshua himself walked everywhere. He didn’t own expensive chariots. John the Baptist was dressed roughly, as Yeshua himself implied in Luke 7:24-28, that John was NOT dressed lavishly.
I’m making a point: the early believers rarely if ever met in expensive buildings like that unless they visited the still-standing temple in Jerusalem (until 70 CE). But remember that only priests could actually go inside the temple itself. Circumcised Jews visited from the square outside or in the courts if they were offering a sacrifice with the priest. Circumcised Gentiles were allowed only so far where they would come to a short wall with warnings that if they went beyond that point, they would be executed.
Yeshua never, ever meant it to be like that. Remember him saying, “My father’s house is supposed to be a place of worship for ALL NATIONS”? (Mark 11:15-17; Isaiah 56:6-7 the context was “foreigners”)
Early believers didn’t meet in huge basilicas and cathedrals, which were often built on false promises. They met in homes of the brethren. Yeshua himself preached outdoors, or on a hillside, or along the shores of the Sea of Galilee as he addressed them from a boat. Imagine that! And there was discourse, there was feeding of multitudes, there was a family atmosphere. My Kenyan brethren meet outdoors as well, rain or shine. Maybe our worship would be more meaningful if we could hear birds singing in the background (but don’t get distracted by bugs!).
Some of the more established mega-churches like to put down the “home church” idea. Well, those who do so are denigrating scripture itself.
“To Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer, 2 to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:”
The early church often met in the homes of brethren whose homes could accommodate 10-20-200 people. I’ve seen the excavations of ancient Ephesus, now called Kusadasi, and some of the houses are huge! Most are admittedly small, but some were huge.
Romans 16:3-5 (1 Cor. 16:19)
“Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house.”
I find it interesting that Priscilla, the wife, is mentioned first here. But why not? She may have been a very outgoing woman who made everyone welcome. She certainly knew her Bible, as she along with her husband taught Apollos more perfectly about the Holy Spirit (Acts 18:26). There were others… Nympha, another hostess to a church, this time in Laodicea.
Colossians 4:15 Holman translation
“ Give my greetings to the brothers in Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.”
Yes, women hosted church groups too. The KJV and a few other translations add an “s” to the name Nympha (Nymphas) to try to make it a male name as they couldn’t imagine women hosting church groups. There’s no need to change scripture to accommodate an erroneous idea! Most of the newer translations have this correctly as “her house” but KJV and NKJV and a couple others have it as Nymphas, a male name meaning “bridegroom”.
I’m OK with Nympha hosting the group, as Paul apparently was too! For that matter, another woman - Lydia -- met with a number of women beside a river and may have been the main organizing person in that group. If there wasn’t a man available, they were not allowed to have a synagogue, so the women moved to the riverside and enjoyed God’s creation as they discussed His Word – and Paul met with them there. On the 7th day sabbath, by the way. And there’s no record of Paul telling them they really should be meeting on the first day of the week. Why would he? GOD said to keep the 7th day holy.
“And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. 14 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. 15 And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay." So she persuaded us.”
Thank God for faithful women especially when we men slack off. Remember, that other than John – and apparently Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus at a distance – that at the crucifixion only the women stood by Yeshua on the cross. Back to the house church.
Even after Christ ascended to heaven in Acts 1, the early brethren – men and women – met in an upper room. Of a house! The 11 remaining disciples, “with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus and his brothers” – including the ones who eventually wrote the books of James and Jude – all met there. Not in the temple square. Not in a massive basilica. Just an upper room. The women were disciples too. They weren’t one of the 12 apostles, but hey - - God our Father wants sons and daughters, remember! (2 Cor. 6:18).
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey. 13 And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James. 14 These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.”
Later we find the group of loyal believers was 120 – including the apostles, the women disciples and the other male disciples.
Then on Pentecost, all 120 met in a house. Yes, all 120 – not just the 12 apostles, met on the holyday. By the way, Peter used the prophecy of Joel 2 about the holy spirit being poured out on men and women and how even women would have visions and speak … so obviously women were there too in the house where they were meeting. The women also received the Holy Spirit and so obviously also spook in other languages as the spirit gave them utterance – all 120 of them. Not just the 12 apostles. They “ALL spoke in other tongues as the spirit gave them utterance.” That has to include the women, and Peter acknowledges that in verses 16-18.
“When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all [the context was the 120] with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
Later Peter acknowledges the women meeting in the house who were also given the Spirit when he says this, quoting from Joel 2:
But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 'And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,
That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your young men shall see visions,
Your old men shall dream dreams.
18 And on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days;
And they shall prophesy.”
I love meeting in our living room with fellow believers. Sometimes we meet in others’ homes. The home church is more authentic, actually, as that is the way it was! The group is smaller, more intimate, more participatory, and people all know each other. This is a growing movement in America as well as in China and Taiwan and especially in places where it is dangerous to meet in big churches. Sure, it’s impressive to see 18,000 people meeting in a mega-church coliseum! But how do they all participate and contribute?
The House Church concept is less structured. It appears to be led more by God’s spirit rather than by one person calling all the shots. In Paul’s day, though they had overseers and teachers, and I am also a teacher myself – Paul also encouraged everyone to contribute to the meeting. He wanted everyone to feel welcome to contribute something. He just wanted to be sure everything was done decently and in order. Let’s read it:
1 Corinthians 14:26-33
“How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. 30 But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.”
Notice how he says it should be some give and take in the service. If one is speaking and something is revealed to someone else, the first one should acknowledge it and let the one in whom was the revelation, speak! Imagine that in your church service! I’ve found where we’ve done this and where God’s Spirit is flowing, that we all learn from each other. Concepts and ideas are brought out that the main speaker may have missed. And everyone feels involved. Hallelujah. Amen.
But that’s exactly what happened in 2 Chronicles 20:1-4. The people were fasting and praying for God to deliver them from the Moabite invaders – and while the KING was speaking and praying (verses 5-12), a Levite interrupts the king and says he has a revelation (verses 12-18). And the king shut up, listened, and did what was revealed. Imagine that happening in your mega church!
So the House Church is great if people really remain humble and esteem one another highly – and not just the pastor. The pastor is the overseer and should be respected and lead the meeting but should not stifle the Holy Spirit’s leading and moving, however. We like to have special times where we gear sections of the sermon for the children, and be sure they feel included too.
Anyway, there could be much more said about House Churches. When done properly, they’re wonderful. When not led by God’s spirit, they can descend to chaotic confusion and chit-chat. But let God’s spirit lead – and see what Abba, our awesome heavenly Daddy Almighty God, has in store for you.