"THE CHURCH IN YOUR HOUSE"
by Wayne S. Walker
Most of our members know that a couple of weeks ago the building we rent on Thursday nights for our midweek services was not available for our use because of heating problems. Karen and I decided to invite everyone to meet in our home. Bro. Larry DeVore reminded me of a statement found in the short, much-neglected book of Philemon. "Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon, our beloved friend and fellow laborer, to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house" (Philemon vs. 1-2).
This and several other passages of scripture indicate to us that it was a common practice for New Testament churches in the first century to meet in members’ homes. This was by no means a universal custom. The church in Jerusalem, probably because of its large size, met in a rented room in the temple, at least for a while. And in Acts 19:9 the disciples at Ephesus were apparently meeting in "the school of Tyrannus." Nor is there anything in the scriptures which demands that we as Christians must meet in homes. The historical record simply informs us that such was done in particular places and at certain times.
There are certainly disadvantages to assembling for worship and Bible study in a home, especially for a group of our size (although only 28 were present on that occasion). It takes a lot of preparation by the lady of the house in cleaning and others in rearranging the furniture. And there is always the likelihood, with more people around including lots of small children, that some sort of mishap might occur. Furthermore, the quarters may be more cramped and inconvenient. Those who sat on our couch were probably comfortable but those who sat on our dining room chairs probably were not!
However, there are also some advantages to meeting in a house. We can be much closer, both spiritually and physically. There is nothing like being in one another’s homes to bring people nearer to each other in heart and soul. We need more of it. And instead of a handful of people scattered throughout a large building, we had to sit in greater proximity to one another. As a result, the singing sounded great! It makes us feel like a part of the group rather than isolated individuals. After all, that’s one reason why God ordained the local congregation in the first place, isn’t it?
Moreover, it helps us to understand better what the church really is. Too often we think of a church in terms of its physical building. We speak of "the church which meets at so-and-so." It is not uncommon for brethren to pray for "the church that meets in this place from time to time." I recognize the accommodative nature of this language, but let’s be careful to remember that the church is people. We are the church in this locality whether we have our own building or not and whether we are assembled in a specific place at a specific time or not. Why? Because we are God’s people here.
We surely hope that this situation doesn’t arise again. And we would like to erect our own meeting place as soon as possible. Not having a building of our own has proven somewhat of a hindrance to our work in this community, especially as we have grown. A building can be a very useful tool in accomplishing the mission the Lord has given us, and we feel we can do even more with one. But let’s not fall into the trap of thinking that we can’t be a "real" New Testament church and serve God to the best of our ability because we don’t have a "church building." And even when we do worship in a more "formal setting," let’s seek to develop that attitude of oneness in a spiritual family, as if we were "the church in your house."
[—originally written for the bulletin of the church of Christ in Medina, OH, Jan. 12, 1985; and reprinted in Today; Feb., 1986; Vol. III, No. 2; p. 16]