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Unchurching the Churched

In Michael Horton’s book, Christless Christianity, he notes that George Barna and others are advocating the house church movement.  In Horton’s view, this is asking the churched to leave the church  for the house churches which he sees as being out of the church.  Horton’s view is that the local church should meet to hear teaching from the Word of God and enjoy the sacraments together such as the Lord’s Supper and baptism.  This best takes place in the local assembly where a pastor leads the church in teaching the Word of God and in leading the people in celebrating the sacraments.  He feels that while much of the American church has bought into the seeker sensitive error of making church for the “unchurched,” the house church movement is guilty of making church all about the unchurched.

Obviously, I take exception with his view.

First, the local church, in the New Testament, met in homes.  This is clear from Pentecost (Acts 2:46) onward.  Church historians agree that the early Church met in homes for nearly 300 years after Pentecost.  Why?  Because the home best fit the model of family that the New Testament so clearly presents (Galatians 3:26-29; Ephesians 2:19-21).  Paul often wrote to the churches in the New Testament and addressed them as “brothers” (see 1 Corinthians 1:10 for example) which was a Greek term of endearment or family.

Secondly, I find nothing in the New Testament to suggest that the early Church met to hear a sermon.  Sermons seem to be rare in the book of Acts and in fact every sermon in Acts is aimed toward unbelievers and not believers.  Striking if in fact the priority was on preaching to the saints.  In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 we find Paul instructing the Corinthian church and he never mentions sermons.  He says that the reason for coming together for the saints should be to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.  This would be a full meal and not merely a tiny cup of juice and a tiny wafer.  The purpose of the meeting was to celebrate the new covenant that Jesus had established though His own blood (Matthew 26:28).  Bible study can be part of the meeting but should not be the only emphasis and one person should not do all the teaching (1 Corinthians 14:26).

Third, we in the house church movement are not asking people to become unchurched.  We are not forsaking the church.  We are forsaking institutional churches with their buildings, their clergy, their tithes and offerings, their sit and watch attitude, and their salaried staff  but we are not forsaking the Church as a whole.  We believe in the Church because Jesus established His Church (Matthew 16:18).  Jesus’ Church will never cease to exist.  We believe that Hebrews 10:24-25 is clear that we should not stop meeting together but we don’t believe that just because people show up to a building that that means they have been to church.  They may be at a show but this is not church if all they are doing is sitting and watching the paid staff do the “service” unto the Lord.

Mr. Horton would do well to read books from the house church movement that show that we have no desire to see people sitting at home, doing absolutely nothing.  We want people to serve Christ and love Him with their whole hearts just as He commanded (Mark 12:29-31).  I want to see people being true disciples who seek to evangelize those in our community and bring them into the household of faith.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

03/24/2012 at 7:19 PM

Posted in House Church Movement

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18 Responses

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  1. They were CONTINUALLY DEVOTING themselves to the APOSTLES TEACHING. Four very important words. What were the teachings of the Apostles? We find them in Matthew through Revelations. And these teachings require an understanding of the Old Testament. So, to follow their example we need to be continually expounding the Bible. We need to be devoted to doing this, not just randomly or occasionaly. Act 2;42


    03/24/2012 at 10:50 PM

    • I don’t deny the value of studying God’s Word but I disagree that the MAIN reason we meet is to hear a lecture from the Scriptures. This is not found in Acts or the Letters. The main reason to meet is more than Bible studies or prayer or singing. It is to encourage each other in our discipleship (Hebrews 3:14-14; 10:24-25). The idea of a one man show is contrary to Scripture.

      Sent from my iPhone

      • Perhaps I failed to unpack the contents of this verse sufficiently to make my point. 🙂
        An understanding of the context of Acts 2:42 would necessitate the understanding that these activities were taking place in their meetings.
        the Apostles teaching -individual believer’s didn’t have their own Bibles to study with at home.
        fellowship – requires a meeting of believers
        breaking bread -you don’t break bread by yourself at home

        Everything about this verse leads one to conclude that these things were what was taking place in their gatherings.
        I disagree that the “main reason” is “encouraging”, that is just one of the reasons, I find nothing in Scripture that elevates that over another.


        03/26/2012 at 10:17 PM

      • Also many Churches are group run, by elders, so it is not a one man show. Some elders (not all) are gifted at teaching and preaching. 1Tim. 5:17. And should be given an honorarium (IE. wages) for doing so. 1 Cor 9:9 and 1Ti 5:17,18


        03/26/2012 at 10:22 PM

      • Rose, I’m not sure why none of this you state from Acts 2:42 would not best fit in a house church setting. 1 Corinthians 11:20 seems to teach that the reason for meeting first and foremost would be the Lord’s Supper which would be a meal focused on Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away our sins. I see nothing to suggest that the main reason we meet is worship (Romans 12:1-2) which is redefined as singing today in many churches nor to study the Bible or hear a sermon.

        In regard to the passages you cite about receiving money as professional elders, see my comments earlier. 1 Corinthians 9 is speaking about the rights of the Apostles (vv. 1-3) and not elders. 1 Timothy 5:17-18 can be viewed in the context of the honor given to widows (v. 3) which would be charity. If you hold that verse 17 and honor means pay then what does the same word mean in 1 Timothy 6:1?

      • I didn’t suggest that these things couldn’t take place in a home church setting. 🙂 Whatever the building; when the Church meets believer’s should be continually devoting themselves to the Apostles teaching. That is; to an exposition of the Scriptures.
        As for chapter 9 of 1 Cor. Verse 14 sums it up, the Lord directed those who proclaim the Gospel to get their living from the Gospel. And 1 Ti 5:17,18 The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, and to clarify Paul adds, “the laborer is worthy of his WAGES”.
        1 Ti 6:1 is a different topic and context. Surely you understand that a word is not merely the sum of it’s parts, but the context in which it finds itself. That is: the same word will have a different meaning in a different context.

        The context of the “oxen muzzling” and the “laborer’s wages” tell us that Paul was speaking of showing honor by way of meeting his financial needs.

        Gal 6:6 The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him. If most of the taught can afford the good things in life like a boat, a two car garage and private schooling for our children then this is the standard by which we are to remunerate our Elders who teach us.


        03/28/2012 at 12:14 AM

      • Thanks Rose for the comments. I do appreciate them.

        In regard to your comments, I answered them a bit earlier. 1 Corinthians 9 is speaking about Apostles and not elders. I have no problem paying church planters or missionaries to go and preach the gospel to the lost and plant house churches. Once those house churches are established and elders are appointed (Titus 1:5), the apostle should move on. I see nothing to suggest that elders were to be full time, professional Christians who do all the work of the ministry like the Levites in the Old Testament. All the Church is now priests (1 Peter 2:5) and all are expected to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16).

        A good article to read regarding this is found here:

        I concur with the author on what he wrote here. I know that we are attacking a tradition that is hard to get rid of and probably will not in my lifetime. Full time elders (or pastors in our culture) is not found in the NT but somehow we think they are. I once was a pastor and today I am a truck driver who is happier than ever.

  2. I believe there is a lot more to consider and be said on this subject. I fully affirm house churches. But I do see the value of a local assembly in a visible building. It is my belief that the example that is given to us in the book of Acts was more out of necessity rather then it was instructional. I believe that any local assembly has the freedom to decide where they want to meet.

    I am in very full agreement that the main focus should be on the Eucharist (by Eucharist I simply mean “thanksgiving”).

    I believe that there are advantages and disadvantages with a house church.

    In regards to Horton’s Book and comments though, I thoroughly disagree; they are quite legalistic. It amazes me how Protestant Pastors can consider to hold this position.

    I believe we (the Church) find ourselves again in a first century situation and out of necessity, once again; are moving toward the house church. Due to rampant apostasy; I believe that house churches are the logical solution.


    David Sumner

    03/25/2012 at 2:00 AM

    • Just to clarify, “In regards to Horton’s Book and comment’s though, I thoroughly disagree” ( with Horton ); Horton’s viewpoints are legalistic.

      David Sumner

      03/25/2012 at 8:23 AM

  3. It is not a one man show but exhorting and encouraging, training in righteousness and doctrine by the “public reading of scripture!” I feel that many times, men such as yourself had a bad experience and now throw out the baby with the bath water. Many churches (organized) are doing a tremendous job in reaching, teaching and sending.


    03/25/2012 at 4:05 PM

    • James, but are they doing it the “biblical” way? Or should we just look past that if we think such churches are being effective? Perhaps you are right that some churches do a decent job of reaching, teaching, and sending, but by our endorsement of them, are we simply to overlook the many areas in which they fail to adhere to Scripture?


      03/25/2012 at 11:46 PM

      • I agree with Brian. I think we need to be cautious and not embrace methodology simply because it “works” or because it is all we have known. We need to embrace the final authority of Scripture. Does Scripture endorse the clergy-laity system? Does Scripture teach that we are to come together in a “service” unto the Lord wherein a few people, who are often paid professionals, do the “ministry” while we sit back and watch? I believe the Scriptures do not. I don’t doubt that God is sovereign in salvation and He saves people using even our modern churches but this should not mean that He endorses them simply because a few here and there are doing a good job or seeing growth. We should always seek to abide in the Word of God as the final solution to all things (John 8:31-32).

  4. I wonder if Barna has shunned organized churches and has stopped speaking at them? One must wonder. Have you ever considered how “organized” God was in the way HE structured the Tabernacle and Priesthood. Bye the way we do not have much in the Scripture saying “ok boys here is the structure”. We simply see a church just starting out with elders put in place after churches are established. The cannon of scripture was not completed and I would dare to say most brethren at that time never saw all of Pauls letters. We now look at those letters and from them “exhort, encourage and train in righteousness.” Again without trying to insult you, but it seems to me you may have had some bad experience.


    03/26/2012 at 8:49 AM

  5. Bye the way to look at the church today and see her demise I can understand why you brethren are campaining for something new and different. However to go into churches that are not preaching heresy (word of faith, Copeland, prosperity and so on) and cause division by trying to draw them out I think is something you should beware of. Do you remember when the disciples came back saying Jesus others are baptizing in your name? What was the response of Jesus? Brethren please proceed with caution!


    03/26/2012 at 8:55 AM

    • Thanks James for your concerns. Frankly, I don’t encourage people to leave the Church but simply question the form they often see. I love the Church because Jesus died for His Church. But He didn’t die for an institution. He died for people and people make up His Church. Not clergy-laity, committees, or million dollar budgets.

      There is a place for structure and order in the church meetings. No doubt about that. 1 Cor 14:33, 40 speak of this. Yet I don’t see this as proof texts for the clergy-laity system we see today.

      Thanks brother for your comments. Helps us think biblically and that’s good.

      Sent from my iPhone

  6. The first gathering of the church was 120 in an upper room–not someone’s living room or den, but a space, likely rentable, for larger gatherings. As much as I support going house to house, to say that is the preferred or mandated structure for church gatherings is to go beyond the scope of what is said in scripture. From the outset, their house to house meetings were mentioned in conjunction with meeting publicly at the Temple too. I don’t think one has a leg to stand on if that one is insisting that the early church set the proper pattern for meetings by meeting in houses.

    As for the clergy laity system, it seems to me that there was definite leadership from the outset and that some leaders were more influential and deferred to more than others. Paul had no problem with preachers making a living on the gospel and being remunerated for their services.

    I suppose, though I have a lot of sympathy for greater “lay” involvement and participation in all gifts, I don’t see that house churches or that unrecognized leadership (i.e. non-clergy) are biblical mandates.


    03/26/2012 at 2:27 PM

    • Thanks brother for the comments. In the book, HOUSE CHURCH edited by Steve Atkerson, the first chapter deals with the issue of apostolic traditions. We read in the Epistles how we Paul would instruct the disciples to follow his example such as in 1 Corinthians 4:14-17; 11:1-2; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6. The Apostles had an authority that was unique to them alone that was given to them by Jesus Himself (Acts 1:21-22; cf. John 14:26). The early Church had no Bibles so they were expected to obey the Apostles and their teachings that came from Christ Himself (Acts 2:42). The Apostles wrote the New Testament and expected the Christians to obey all that they wrote and follow their traditions.

      Part of that tradition would then be their meetings and we see glimpses of their meetings in 1 Corinthians 11. What we don’t find is a one man show, a concert, a lecture, a professional Christian using their gifts while others idly watch, etc. What we do find is open meetings with the Lord’s Supper is the center (1 Corinthians 14 gives further insight into the open format of the meetings). Much different than today’s modern churches where the preacher does the teaching, one person (usually paid as well) does the music, and a few might be able to participate with a song or a prayer but the model of 1 Corinthians 14:26 is not found in most traditional churches.

      We must do something with the apostolic traditions that they laid down for us to follow which included meeting in homes. In regard to the temple, after the persecution of Acts 8, we find the Christians no longer meeting in the temple but they continue to meet in homes (see Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:5; Philemon 2). Even the John MacArthur Study Bible notes that the early church was a network of homes. No one doubts this. The question is, “Why did they meet in homes?” Was it optional? Was it because they couldn’t buy buildings? I believe, based on the nature of the family of the local church, the open meetings of 1 Corinthians 11-14, the disciples met in homes because it best resembled who they were.

      I have no problem with leadership. I have never denied that the early Church had leaders. The Apostles were leaders.
      What we don’t find is one man leadership in the early church. We don’t find boards. We don’t find committees. We don’t find professional Christians who are “set apart” to the do the ministry while others pay them to do the “ministry.” Elders I do find (Acts 20:17 for instance) but always in plurality. Titus 1:5 says to appoint elders (plural) in the churches. The elders served “among” the people and not over them (1 Peter 5:1-4).

      In regard to 1 Corinthians 9. 1 Corinthians 9 clearly is about the apostles receiving the living from the gospel. This is clear in the context. To read that this applies to elders would be poor exegesis. Ironically, Paul says in verse 15 that he had denied this right so that none could accuse him.

      Regarding 1 Timothy 5:17. Does honor mean money? The Greek word means “respect” whereas the Greek word for pay (misthos) is used about employees in 1 Timothy 5:18. The same word for “respect” in verse 15 is found in 1 Timothy 6:1. Should we then say that slaves pay their masters? Of course not. The Greek means “honor” as the ESV translates it. In 1 Timothy 5:3 the same Greek word is used for widows as the ESV translates it, “Honor widows who are truly widows” and then goes on to talk about giving them charity. I believe that the elders mentioned then in verse 15 can receive charity like the widows in vv. 3-16. Did the widows receive pay? No but rather charity. The widows did not earn the charity neither would the elders of verse 17. So can elders receive charity? Yes. But salary? No.

  7. Good post SLW.


    03/26/2012 at 2:48 PM

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