House church

House church

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House church, or "home church", is used to describe an independent assembly of Christians
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 who gather in a home. Sometimes this occurs because the group is small, and a home is the most appropriate place to gather, as in the beginning phase of the British New Church Movement. Sometimes it is because the group is a member of an underground
Subculture
In sociology, anthropology and cultural studies, a subculture is a group of people with a culture which differentiates them from the larger culture to which they belong.- Definition :...

 Christian movement, which is otherwise banned from meeting, as in China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

. Some recent Christian writers have supported the view that the Christian Church
Christian Church
The Christian Church is the assembly or association of followers of Jesus Christ. The Greek term ἐκκλησία that in its appearances in the New Testament is usually translated as "church" basically means "assembly"...

 should meet in houses, and have based the operation of their communities around multiple small home meetings. They claim that this approach is preferable to public meetings in dedicated buildings because it is a more effective way of building community and it helps the group to engage in outreach
Evangelism
Evangelism refers to the practice of relaying information about a particular set of beliefs to others who do not hold those beliefs. The term is often used in reference to Christianity....

 more naturally. Some believe small churches were a deliberate apostolic pattern in the first century
Christianity in the 1st century
The earliest followers of Jesus composed an apocalyptic, Jewish sect, which historians refer to as Jewish Christianity. The Apostles and others following the Great Commission's decree to spread the teachings of Jesus to "all nations," had great success spreading the religion to gentiles. Peter,...

 and intended by Christ
Christ
Christ is the English term for the Greek meaning "the anointed one". It is a translation of the Hebrew , usually transliterated into English as Messiah or Mashiach...

.
Cell church
Cell church
A cell church is a Christian church structure centering on the regular gathering of cell groups. Small group ministries are often called cell groups, but may also be called home groups, home friendship groups, home care groups, house fellowships, or life groups.A church with cell groups is not...

es are usually associated with larger churches: they also meet in homes and share some characteristics of house churches. They are not normally considered to be a house church, as they are not self-governing.

Some within the house church movement (associated with Wolfgang Simson, Frank Viola and others) consider the term "house church" to be a misnomer
Misnomer
A misnomer is a term which suggests an interpretation that is known to be untrue. Such incorrect terms sometimes derive their names because of the form, action, or origin of the subject becoming named popularly or widely referenced—long before their true natures were known.- Sources of misnomers...

, asserting that the main issue for Christians who practice their faith in this manner is not the house but the type of meeting that takes place. Other titles which may be used to describe this movement are "simple church" "relational church," "primitive church," "body life," "organic church," or "biblical church." However all of the practices implied by these terms are shared with many other churches outside the movement.

Early Christian house churches


The first house church is recorded in , where the disciples of Jesus
Disciple (Christianity)
In Christianity, the disciples were the students of Jesus during his ministry. While Jesus attracted a large following, the term disciple is commonly used to refer specifically to "the Twelve", an inner circle of men whose number perhaps represented the twelve tribes of Israel...

 met together in the "Upper Room" of a house, traditionally believed to be where the Cenacle
Cenacle
The Cenacle , also known as the "Upper Room", is the term used for the site of The Last Supper. The word is a derivative of the Latin word cena, which means dinner....

 is today. For the first three centuries of the church, known as Early Christianity
Early Christianity
Early Christianity is generally considered as Christianity before 325. The New Testament's Book of Acts and Epistle to the Galatians records that the first Christian community was centered in Jerusalem and its leaders included James, Peter and John....

, Christians typically met in homes, if only because intermittent persecution (before the Edict of Milan
Edict of Milan
The Edict of Milan was a letter signed by emperors Constantine I and Licinius that proclaimed religious toleration in the Roman Empire...

 in 313) did not allow the erection of public church buildings. Clement of Alexandria
Clement of Alexandria
Titus Flavius Clemens , known as Clement of Alexandria , was a Christian theologian and the head of the noted Catechetical School of Alexandria. Clement is best remembered as the teacher of Origen...

, an early church father, wrote of worshipping in a house. The Dura-Europos church
Dura-Europos church
The Dura-Europos church is the earliest identified Christian house church. It is located in Dura-Europos in Syria and dates from 235 AD...

, a private house in Dura-Europos
Dura-Europos
Dura-Europos , also spelled Dura-Europus, was a Hellenistic, Parthian and Roman border city built on an escarpment 90 m above the right bank of the Euphrates river. It is located near the village of Salhiyé, in today's Syria....

 in Syria
Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

, was excavated in the 1930s and was found to be used as a Christian meeting place in AD 232, with one small room serving as a baptistry. At many points in subsequent history, various Christian groups worshipped in homes, often due to persecution by the state church or the civil government.

Scriptural basis


Christians who meet together in homes usually do so because of a desire to return to basic Church meetings as found in the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

. The New Testament shows that the early Christian church exhibited a simplicity of fellowship and interactive practice that is typically not the case in conventional denominations. They believe that Christians walked closely with each other, in close fellowship, sharing their lives in Christ together. This is expressed by 50 examples of the phrase "one another" found in the New Testament. Some Bible passages that indicate the atmosphere of early church life include:
Lifestyle: "They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." (Acts 2:42 New American Standard Bible
New American Standard Bible
The New American Standard Bible , also informally called New American Standard Version , is an English translation of the Bible....

 (NASB))
Participatory meetings: "What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification." (1 Cor. 14:26 [NASB]; see also Colossians 3:16, Hebrews 10:24–25)
Meeting in homes: "Aquila and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house." (1 Cor. 16:19 NASB; see also Acts 20:20, Romans 16:5, Colossians 4:15, Philemon
Epistle to Philemon
Paul's Epistle to Philemon, usually referred to simply as Philemon, is a prison letter to Philemon from Paul of Tarsus. Philemon was a leader in the Colossian church. This letter, which is one of the books of the New Testament, deals with forgiveness.Philemon was a wealthy Christian of the house...

 1:2).
Networking through 'Extra-local, Itinerant Ministries': "After some days Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are." (Acts 15:36 NASB)
Occasional Large Group Meetings: "I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house" (Acts 20:20 NASB)
Jesus model:" For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." (Matthew 18:20 [NIV])

Structure and organization


Leadership
Some assemblies have a conventional leadership structure; others have none. A commonly held belief in the modern-day house church "movement" is that the Protestant Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

 did not go far enough to demonstrate a New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

 belief in the "priesthood of all believers" and that Jesus Christ alone is the Head of the Church, and the believers the body. The absence of hierarchical leadership structures in many house churches, while often viewed by the Protestant church at large as a sign of anarchy or rebelliousness to authority, is viewed by many in the house church movement to be the most viable way to come under true spiritual authority of love, relationships, and the visible dominion of Jesus Christ as Head of his own bride (i.e. the church). This does not mean that they reject all leadership, however. Many house churches develop elders and deacons who serve the members. Some house churches also accept ministry from church planters and itinerant workers whom they consider to be apostles.

Meeting format
Many house church gatherings are free, informal, and sometimes include a shared meal. Participants hope that everyone present will feel free to contribute to the gathering as and when they sense the leading of the Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit is a term introduced in English translations of the Hebrew Bible, but understood differently in the main Abrahamic religions.While the general concept of a "Spirit" that permeates the cosmos has been used in various religions Holy Spirit is a term introduced in English translations of...

 to do so. Leadership structures range from no official leaders, to a plurality of appointed elders. There is a deliberate attempt within most house churches to minimize the leadership of any one person. Having a lone pastor is generally considered unscriptural and such meetings prefer an openly plural responsibility of leadership.

Networking
The house church movement today also owes much of its networking and exchange of information to the use of the Internet
Internet
The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite to serve billions of users worldwide...

; HC is generally used as an abbreviation for "House Church" and IC is used to designate "Institutional Church", which is the generalized term for more traditional church structures, including a church building and/or sermon
Sermon
A sermon is an oration by a prophet or member of the clergy. Sermons address a Biblical, theological, religious, or moral topic, usually expounding on a type of belief, law or behavior within both past and present contexts...

-centered church services directed by a pastor
Pastor
The word pastor usually refers to an ordained leader of a Christian congregation. When used as an ecclesiastical styling or title, this role may be abbreviated to "Pr." or often "Ps"....

 or minister. More recently local networks of house churches have begun to form, with gatherings of house churches in an area getting together periodically for celebrations.

Modern revival


The origins of the so-called house church movement are varied. In North America and the UK particularly, it is often viewed as a development and logical extension of the 'Brethren' or Plymouth Brethren
Plymouth Brethren
The Plymouth Brethren is a conservative, Evangelical Christian movement, whose history can be traced to Dublin, Ireland, in the late 1820s. Although the group is notable for not taking any official "church name" to itself, and not having an official clergy or liturgy, the title "The Brethren," is...

 movement both in doctrine and practice where many individuals and assemblies have adopted new approaches to worship and governance, while others recognise a relationship to the Anabaptists, Quakers
Religious Society of Friends
The Religious Society of Friends, or Friends Church, is a Christian movement which stresses the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. Members are known as Friends, or popularly as Quakers. It is made of independent organisations, which have split from one another due to doctrinal differences...

, Amish
Amish
The Amish , sometimes referred to as Amish Mennonites, are a group of Christian church fellowships that form a subgroup of the Mennonite churches...

, Hutterites, Mennonites, Moravians, Methodists, and the much earlier Waldenses and Priscillianists. Another perspective sees the house church movement as a re-emergence of the move of the Holy Spirit during the Jesus Movement
Jesus movement
The Jesus movement was a movement in Christianity beginning on the West Coast of the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s and spreading primarily through North America and Europe, before dying out by the early 1980s. It was the major Christian element within the hippie counterculture,...

 of the 1970s in the USA or the worldwide Charismatic Renewal
Charismatic movement
The term charismatic movement is used in varying senses to describe 20th century developments in various Christian denominations. It describes an ongoing international, cross-denominational/non-denominational Christian movement in which individual, historically mainstream congregations adopt...

 of the late 1960s and 1970s. Others see it as a return to a New Testament church restorationist paradigm and a restoration of God's eternal purpose and the natural expression of Christ on the earth, urging Christians to return from hierarchy and rank to practices described and encouraged in Scripture.

Relationship to Established Churches, Missions Groups and society


Historically, there have been tensions between house church movements (along with other restoration and revival movements) and traditional churches. Therefore, many house churches do not have formal links to larger Christian organizations as a matter of principle. (A home group / bible study which is connected with a denomination is usually referred to as a cell church
Cell church
A cell church is a Christian church structure centering on the regular gathering of cell groups. Small group ministries are often called cell groups, but may also be called home groups, home friendship groups, home care groups, house fellowships, or life groups.A church with cell groups is not...

.)

Recently, however, a number of established Christian denominations and mission organizations have officially supported efforts to develop house church networks. These include the following: The Free Methodist Church in Canada, The Foursquare Gospel Church of Canada, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, The Presbyterian Church in Canada, Partners in Harvest, The Southern Baptist Convention
Southern Baptist Convention
The Southern Baptist Convention is a United States-based Christian denomination. It is the world's largest Baptist denomination and the largest Protestant body in the United States, with over 16 million members...

 (USA), Dove Christian Fellowship International, DAWN Ministries (Discipling a Whole Nation), The Progressive Christian Alliance, and Youth With A Mission
Youth With A Mission
Youth With A Mission is an international, inter-denominational, non-profit Christian missionary organization...

 (YWAM), Eternal Grace, and the recently launched Underground Churches among others.

In a social sense, the movement towards house churches may be linked to other social movements as well, such as the "emerging church movement", missional living
Missional living
"Missional living" is a Christian term that describes a missionary lifestyle; adopting the posture, thinking, behaviors, and practices of a missionary in order to engage others with the gospel message. The missional church movement is a church renewal movement predicated on the necessity of...

, the parachurch movement, and perhaps even larger social phenomena such as panocracy and intentional living
Intentional living
Intentional living is a term used in a variety of contexts including religious, ethical and values-oriented contexts as well as coaching, personal transformation, and leadership training practices and programs...

 movements.

House Church Movement


Today, the spread of house churches is largely found in countries such as China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

, Vietnam
Vietnam
Vietnam – sometimes spelled Viet Nam , officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam – is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea –...

, India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, Cuba
Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

, Brazil
Brazil
Brazil , officially the Federative Republic of Brazil , is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 192 million people...

 and Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

n nations, but they are also seen in small, but growing, numbers in the Philippines
Philippines
The Philippines , officially known as the Republic of the Philippines , is a country in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific Ocean. To its north across the Luzon Strait lies Taiwan. West across the South China Sea sits Vietnam...

, Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

, and North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

.

Press


Statistics



(Statistical Sources: Rad Zdero (2004), The Global House Church Movement; Rad Zdero (2007), Nexus: The World House Church Movement Reader; Dawn Friday Fax; Wolfgang Simson (2007), The Starfish Manifesto; Wolfgang Simson, EaSi Newsletter, July 2007; Wikipedia)
  • Bangladesh
    Bangladesh
    Bangladesh , officially the People's Republic of Bangladesh is a sovereign state located in South Asia. It is bordered by India on all sides except for a small border with Burma to the far southeast and by the Bay of Bengal to the south...

    : 500,000 new believers in HC's
  • Cambodia
    Cambodia
    Cambodia , officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia, is a country located in the southern portion of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia...

    : 1,000 new HC's in 10 years (1990 to 2000) http://www.jesus.org.uk/dawn/1998/dawn9847.html#Cambodia
  • Canada
    Canada
    Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

    : as many as 2,000 HC's in Canada in the last few years
  • China
    China
    Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

    : 80–100 million believers in HC's
  • Cuba
    Cuba
    The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

    : 6,000–10,000 HC's since 1992
  • Egypt
    Egypt
    Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

    : 4,000 HC's
  • Ethiopia
    Ethiopia
    Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

    : growth from 5,000 to 50,000 believers in HC's during the 1980s
  • India
    India
    India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

    : approx. 100,000 HC's started in 5 years (from 2001–2006)
  • Latin America
    Latin America
    Latin America is a region of the Americas where Romance languages  – particularly Spanish and Portuguese, and variably French – are primarily spoken. Latin America has an area of approximately 21,069,500 km² , almost 3.9% of the Earth's surface or 14.1% of its land surface area...

    : 1 million HC-type groups known as 'Basic Ecclesial Communities'
  • Sri Lanka
    Sri Lanka
    Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

    : Kithu Sevena church movement started 131 new HC's in 7 months (in 2004)
  • Vietnam
    Vietnam
    Vietnam – sometimes spelled Viet Nam , officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam – is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea –...

    : one church planting team start 550 new HC's in 2 years (1997 to 1999) http://www.jesus.org.uk/dawn/1998/dawn9822.html
  • U.S.A.
    United States
    The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

    : 1,600 HC's on internet alone (as of 2003) with possibly as many as 30,000 HC's (according to the American pollster George Barna); as of 2009, about 30,700,650 adults

See also

  • Simple church
    Simple church
    The Simple Church movement is an Evangelical Christian movement that seeks to redefine the nature and practice of church.The movement claims to be "a Christ-centered community established primarily on relationship both to God and to the other members of the group." In doing so it discards many...

  • Cell church
    Cell church
    A cell church is a Christian church structure centering on the regular gathering of cell groups. Small group ministries are often called cell groups, but may also be called home groups, home friendship groups, home care groups, house fellowships, or life groups.A church with cell groups is not...

  • Schuilkerk
    Schuilkerk
    A clandestine church , defined by historian Benjamin J. Kaplan as a "semi-clandestine church", is a house of worship used by religious minorities whose communal worship is tolerated by those of the majority faith on condition that it is discreet and not conducted in public spaces...

     – A type of house church in 17th and 18th century Holland
  • Church planting
    Church planting
    Church planting is a process that results in a new Christian church being established. It should be distinguished from church development, where a new service, new worship centre or fresh expression is created that is integrated into an already established congregation...

  • Church in a pub
  • Chinese house church
    Chinese house church
    Chinese house churches are a religious movement of unregistered assemblies of Christians in the People's Republic of China, which operate independently of the government-run Three-Self Patriotic Movement and China Christian Council for Protestant groups and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic...

     – note that Chinese house churches typically have a leadership structure (including a pastor) that resembles "underground traditionally structured churches" (or "cell churches") in contrast to what is generally considered to be a "house church" in other areas.
  • Two by Twos – also known as Cooneyites, Christian Conventions, Meetings, Workers and Friends, The Way or The Truth
  • Cafe church
    Cafe church
    The Cafe Church, a Christian church model that can be associated with alternative worship and the emerging church movements, seeks to find new forms and approaches to existing as a church in the 21st century...

  • Radical Christianity
  • Restorationism (Christian primitivism)

Further reading

A scholarly work based on the Bible and church history that dismantles institutional sermons, Pastors, pulpits, church buildings, Sunday clothes, tithing, seminaries, etc. Reveals that many of these practices are based on a mixture of the New Testament with Old Testament and Roman pagan practices. A constructive follow up to Pagan Christianity; explains the purpose of Christian fellowship, spontaneous church meetings (1 Cor. 14:26), and the priesthood of all believers (1 Pet. 2:9). Extensive bibliography of house church literature.

External links