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Home/House churches in Christianity:

Historical precedents: What the
early Christian church looked like

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Historical precedents:

Home churches attempt to replicate the meeting style of the very early Christian movement. In the 1st century CE, there were no cathedrals. There are two main beliefs concerning the early Church:

  • According to most religious historians, there was very little church organization. There was no central religious government, no hierarchy of pope, bishops and priests. Most Christians met in each others homes, as informal fellowships that were frequently led by women.
  • According to the Roman Catholic Church there was a structure involving priests, and bishops. The church teaches that Peter became the bishop of Rome and was regarded as the head of the church almost from its origin. The current priesthood can trace its lineage back to the apostles via the apostolic succession. Protestant, Anglican, and other non-Catholic denominations "suffer from defects" and cannot be referred to as "churches" in part because their clergy are not part of the apostolic succession.

Most non-Catholic faith groups within the Protestant wing of Christianity accept the former beliefs. This includes the house/home churches who attempt to emulate the early Church organization.

In most modern-day home churches, all members are considered to be equal. There are no professionals in charge; they often have no leaders. Those which do have leaders select them democratically and often rotate the position. Instead of a minister or priest addressing a congregation, they have discussions, prayers, and sharing among equals. This lack of a hierarchy is seen as a common theme in the Christian Scriptures:

  • Mark 9:35: Jesus talked to his disciples, saying: "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all."
  • Matthew 18:1-4: Jesus again talked to his disciples, saying "...whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."
  • Matthew 20:25-28: "Jesus called them together and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve...'"
  • Matthew 23:4-13: Jesus, criticizing the Pharisees and religious teachers of his day, told his disciples that:

"...you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."

  • 1 Corinthians 14:26 describes an early church meeting, in which everyone present shared in providing hymns, instruction, revelation, tongues, or interpretation.

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Home church members feel that they are following the organization of the early Christian church which:

"included leaders who were servants, a body of believers who shared, exhorted, confessed to, and built up each other and practiced the love and care they professed. [They met]... in small groups to maintain an intimate environment. Here they broke bread and built each other up in love while they lived out their faith for all to see!" 1

Manu home church members believe that Jesus intended the church to be different from the various forms of Judaism in the 1st century. He did not intend Christians to form large monolithic organizations, in which the authority and power is concentrated in a few leaders. Home church members feel that once primitive Christianity accepted the inevitable standards, requirements, methods, structure, influence etc of a large worldly organization, they lost their focus on Jesus.

They feel that they are following the example of the early Christian church, as expressed in Acts 2:46-47:

"Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bred in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people." (See also Acts 5:42)

Other pertinent passages are:

  • Acts 12:12 mentions that group of Christians who met at Mary's house
  • Acts 16:40 describes how that Paul and Silas came out of prison, and went to Lydia's house where they met with a group of Christians.
  • Acts 20:20 mentions that Paul taught from house to house.
  • Romans 16:5 and 1 Corinthians 16:19 refer to a church that met in the homes of Priscilla and Aquila.
  • Colossians 4:15 refers to Nympha and a church which met in her home.
  • Philemon 1:2 mentions Archippus and the church in his house.

The very early Christian movement was not forced to meet in each other's homes because of religious persecution by the Roman Empire. Rather, they appear to have willingly chosen this organizational structure. Their home meetings were mentioned in the early verses of Acts, long before widespread persecution started.

Most home/house churches teach that the position in the early Church that is referred to as pastor, elder, bishop, and overseer were in reality leaders chosen to watch over and help the membership. They were unpaid amateur volunteers, who served part-time. They were not career clergy who were employed by the church. They were not educated at Bible schools or seminaries; they were trained on the job by other leaders.

Reference used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. Break Bread Ministries, Inc at: http://www.bbmin.org

Copyright 1998 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-NOV-27
Author: B.A. Robinson

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