III. THE PRECEDENT - CHURCH HISTORY
Archeologists have unearthed over 25,000 documents generated by the church or about the church during the first 325 years A.D. Not once was any large church structure or building ever mentioned. In fact, the only reference to a large gathering place was a house that could hold seventy-five worshipers at once.
1. New Testament House Churches
The New Testament contains many scriptures that support the finding that the early church was exclusively house churches:
Ro. 16:5. “Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ.”
1 Co. 16:19. “The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.”
Col. 4:15. “Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.”
Phm. 1:2. “And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in thy house.”
Ac. 2:46. “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.”
Ac. 8:3. “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.”
1 Co. 1:11. “For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.”
1 Co. 1:16. “And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.”
1 Co. 16:15. “I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints).”
2 Ti. 1:16. “The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain.”
2 Ti. 4:19. “Salute Priscilla and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus.”
The Greek meaning of “house” is “residence” and “family,” but the word “household“ is also defined as “temple.” (Strong’s Concordance) By implication, both “house” and “household” can mean the people who worship within the confines of a house as a church, depending on the context within which that word is used.
Ac. 2:46 says, “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.” It is obvious that the different house groups all knew one another and ate together freely during times of relative peace. There was a singleness of heart as they united in doctrine, faith, love and Spirit. Although they belonged to different house groups, they considered all house groups everywhere to be one large family. There was perfect familiarity among all saints within an immediate area. There were no denominations. At the very beginning, the saints met daily at the temple in an attempt to convince the Pharisees and Sadducees. However, when persecution started soon thereafter, they met only in houses. After Chapter 4, the Book of Acts never speaks of Christians meeting at temples.
With house churches, the mundane became sacred in the sense that it was a privilege to worship in your house and to serve others. Those who had houses where the saints worshiped were blessed in many ways. After all, Jesus said that, “. . . whosever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” Mt. 20:26-27; Mk. 10:43-44. However, there is no evidence that houses were transformed into “sacred places” and set aside purely for worship. These houses continued to be used as residences everyday and were not set aside exclusively for worship.
2. The Beginning of Institutionalized Churches
It was only after 325 A.D., when Emperor Constantine of Rome declared Christianity to be the official state religion that the church began to occupy large pagan-like temples and proceed to copy such temples by building many large church buildings themselves. The Roman Catholic Church quickly emerged as the dominant church and began to change the form and structure of the church into one that resembled both the Old Testament form of temple worship and pagan religions of the time. Not only did the Roman Catholic Church (hereinafter called “Catholic Church”) adopt pagan buildings, they incorporated many pagan doctrines and practices as well. Therefore, in order to give God back His church, we need to discard all doctrines and practices not taught by the early apostles.
When Martin Luther broke away from the Catholic Church in 1517 and formed the Protestant Church, he did not bring reform to all doctrines and practices, or to the physical structure of the church. Even today, most Protestant churches continue to follow the ritualistic and big-building form of church with its elite priesthood instigated by the Constantine era, and many Catholic observances not found in the Bible (such as Christmas and Easter). This has resulted in a weak, divided and confused Church.
IV. MODERN ATTEMPTS AT HOUSE CHURCHES
A number of house church modifications (actually cell groups) seemingly thrive today. One example is the South Korean church of David Yonggi Cho with about 800,000 members. Another example is the G-12 concept of cell or house churches successfully used in Brazil and elsewhere and now becoming the prototype of many American independent and some denominational churches. There are a number of smaller prototypes around the world.
Most of these, however, still do not come up to God’s standard for house churches, or any true church, for that matter. Some revolve around a mother church serving as headquarters and housed in a large structure, with permanent full-time staff and central organization that tightly control the affairs of each house cell group. This alone pre-empts the Holy Spirit’s right to lead His people. This is not to say that the house church format used today does not work in terms of growing the local church. It most certainly can. However, it will never produce or attain God’s eternal desires for mature sons and daughters and a perfect church.
1. The Missing Link with Modern House Groups
A problem with most modern house groups is the absence of proper doctrines and the leading of the Holy Spirit. There are house groups originating out of Evangelical denominations that do not believe in the ministry of the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, casting out of devils or divine healing. While such house groups can meet some of the needs of the people, they are not able to mature the saints spiritually. You cannot give what you do not have. Baptist house churches continue to be Baptist in beliefs, practices and doctrines, and so with Presbyterian, Episcopalian house groups or any other denomination or even independents. Modern house groups can serve the saints slightly, but are ill prepared to mature the saints during times of war (persecution) or to serve as a safety network for survival.
If we focus on God’s eternal purposes, the true church must depend primarily on the leading of the Holy Spirit and not man. Even the five-fold ministry is secondary to the daily leading of the Holy Spirit. Without this feature, even house churches fall short of God’s expectations.
Modern prototypes have the following deficiencies: (A) most have wrong doctrines and practices that do not allow spiritual growth; (B) almost all are tightly controlled by a mother church or organization and are not autonomous (since we believe that revival and persecution will lead to almost autonomous conditions, house groups need to learn how to operate on their own with minimum control); (C) most do not teach spiritual warfare, deliverance and inner healing and do not have a vision regarding the maturing of the saints and perfection of the Church; and (D) some are mostly social clubs that are actually the result of anti-leadership or “anti-organized religion.” The lack of knowledge of deliverance, inner healing, divine healing and raising the dead marks the modern cell groups as spiritually immature and what you do not have or know, you cannot pass on.
As in the days of Jeremiah, war is imminent, but the leaders, whether of house groups or large churches, refuse to believe or prepare for it. Instead, they feed the people a prosperity doctrine. “For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.” Jer. 8:11; Jer. 6:14. One of the features of a true house church is a structure designed to resist war against the saints, both in peacetime and times of persecution and a mindset that believes that war against the saints is imminent.
2. Varieties of Focus in Modern Types
There are as many focuses among existing models as there are models themselves. Some concentrate on family closeness, others on evangelism and still others around common interests. This in and of itself is not fatal since even in a true house church system each group will tend to have a slightly different complexion. The problem is one of limited vision.
As mentioned earlier, the central churches in South Korea strictly control and regulate each cell group. Most Korean cell leaders are homemakers. The increase in numbers in Korea has been tremendous over a long stretch of time and although it has its good points, lack of proper doctrines and dependence of the Holy Spirit makes the Korean system of house groups unable to fully mature the saints or give the Holy Spirit the proper forum needed to do so.
Some house groups are anti-leadership inasmuch as all members are equal and all activities follow a “democratic” form of structure. Even children have an equal vote as to what activities the group undertakes. Such groups point out that thousands of historical church documents collected from the first three hundred years hardly mention “pastors,“ and therefore, these groups had no leaders. They use the title “coordinator” instead of “pastor,” and usually change the coordinator every month or so.
As mentioned above, we find that most autonomous and “democratic” or “everyone is equal, no one is the leader” groups come out of evangelical denominations such as the Anglican Church, the Baptist Church or the Presbyterian Church and appear to be a reaction to leadership abuses, misuses and past disappointments. In some cases, a group of disenchanted saints who no longer trust church leadership band together to worship because they no longer find membership in an organized church system palatable. These groups are just a few, however.
The underground house churches in mainland China are probably closer in form and substance to the format we are attempting to establish. However, at the outset, we must mention that we are not bound by any of the above prototypes and in all probability; the final product will differ from all of the existing models in one way or other.
V. BASIC REQUIREMENTS
In view of our belief in coming revival and either parallel persecution or persecution soon to follow, we need to put together a form of house church able to:
(1) Embrace and maintain proper vision, doctrines and practices;
(2) Be self-perpetuating;
(3) Duplicate itself easily;
(4) Mature the saints quickly and resist heresy at the same time;
(5) Foster accountability in connection with other house groups in the area or to a consortium of house group leaders closely linked by geography who meet informally from time to time (some current house group leaders meet at least once a week; others meet at the mother church for instruction);
(6) Allow unswerving loyalty to the teachings of the Bible despite forced autonomy during times of persecution and perhaps isolation;
(7) Be accountable to collective leadership in each area, preferably a “five-fold ministry” team, or a team of similarly constructed mature Christian leaders responsible for the area in which they minister, all the while being otherwise mostly autonomous or self-governing;
(8) Provide an atmosphere that allows close relationships among the saints and a means to help one another;
(9) Make available a mobile system or underground network that will allow the saints to escape persecution and attempts to shut them down when the time comes.
In addition, a house church must meet the following tests: (A) if the mother church were eliminated, could it continue to exist and flourish? (B) Does it meet the standard set in the Book of Acts for house churches? (D) Can it reproduce it self exactly? (E) Can it survive persecution?
In Third World countries, including the Philippines, money for church activities is hard to come by for the most part. Most bigger churches are funded by outside sources. Therefore, house groups should not be centered on money and there should be no attempt to beautify or make sacred a meeting place. The meeting place should be someone’s house. It does not necessarily have to be the house of the leader, although this is preferable in most cases. Sometimes a qualified leader does not own his house or circumstances make it difficult if not impossible to meet in the leader’s house, such as during times of persecution. Therefore, it may be advisable to meet at the houses of other members or with other house churches outside the area occasionally, regardless of circumstances, to prepare for persecution or other conditions that require it. Occasionally, the meeting place could be an office, garage or similar site.
Meeting in houses automatically requires that the members of that household serve other saints. Therefore, the leader and his wife must be people of love and service. That is why Paul required that a bishop be hospitable. 1 Ti. 3:2. Food and other items should be brought by all the members, thereby sharing the burdens of running a house church. Other members can come earlier to help clean up and prepare for a meeting of the saints. The experience of being a servant is available to all.
1. The Need for Proper Vision, Doctrines and Practices
Proper vision, doctrines and church practices are mandatory. This relates to the purity of the Church. A house church system with wrong doctrines will not mature the saints and bring them into truth, as many such doctrines are conducive to passivity and false expectations. Modern doctrines not taught by the early apostles are very suspect and we reject most of them, if not all. The Bible warns us not to accept any doctrine or practice not taught by the early apostles who laid the foundations of the Church. 2 Co. 11:3,4; Gal. 1:8; 2 Ti. 4:1; Titus 1:9,10,11,13; Jude 3. See Attachment E.
We reject the following doctrines and practices, to-wit:
Pre-tribulation Rapture Doctrine
The Name of Satan is Lucifer and Satan is a fallen archangel
The Holy Spirit is No Longer on Earth and there are no miracles
Once Saved, Always Saved
Christmas, Easter and Halloween
Christians Cannot Have Demons
Many Other Practices Adopted From Other Religions
“Modern Doctrines” such as Dispensationalism, Third Wave, Manifest Sons of God, Prosperity Doctrine, Latter Rain, Dominion, etc.
(a) The End Time Army of God
Most churches are preaching, “Peace, peace” as in the days of Jeremiah. Jer. 8:11; Jer. 6:14. But, there is war! The modern version is the Pre-Tribulation Rapture Doctrine that teaches that there will be no tribulation for Christians. This is a false doctrine. See Attachment A. An all-out war against the church is near and there will be no rapture before the Great Tribulation. Instead, God is raising up an army for the end times. Joel 2:1-11; Is. 13. Everything in the Bible regarding the clash between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the Devil will take place.
God desires mature sons and daughters and in the end times, they will manifest as the “overcomers, the remnant, the martyrs and the army of God.” These mature sons and daughters will likely be the only ones left at the end. All the immature ones will fall away from the faith. 2 Th. 2:3; Rev. 12. Doing good works, etc. are not necessarily signs of spiritual maturity. Even fasting and much prayer do not necessarily mean spiritual maturity. God looks to the hearts and reins (intestines, insides) of men and not to external accomplishments. Jer. 17:9,10; Rev. 2:23. Love, submission, humility, obedience, faith and other fruit of the Spirit can be planted in one’s heart in a short time. On the other hand, one may be a Christian for a long time, know the Bible well, fast and pray all the time, do many good works and still have a heart controlled by self-ambition and interest. Proper vision and Christian living is vital.
Persecution will push new converts into a purer form of Christianity quicker than peace would. Perhaps that is why the prophet Amos said, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed….” Am. 9:13. The latter shall come before the former. Those who come into the kingdom at the end of the age are more likely to quickly mature spiritually compared to those who entered into the kingdom earlier during times of peace. Persecution pressures one to depend on the Holy Spirit and to mature spiritually. The pleasures of the flesh will be the least thing of interest for those who want to make it through. That is why tribulation is necessary for purification.
Of course, house churches can be just as “religious” as institutional churches with big buildings and a CEO in charge. We can be spectators by choice and refuse to carry our cross, or be like tailgaters at a football game who come to enjoy the fellowship, the food and the emotions, but are never in the game. True, the house church format does make it more difficult to tailgate, but one can still pretend. Commitment is required in any case.
There could be abuses with too much freedom, tolerance and lack of accountability that can lead to cults or groups that are doing much good works, but not enough to allow spiritual growth in the members. At the other end of the spectrum, we can have too much charismatic spiritualism and not enough evangelizing and works. Still another danger is the commune or Christian community syndrome where members form a group and isolate themselves from the world as a means of “sanctification” or as a form of elitism - a kind of fortress mentality.
In mainland China, the house church movement has been accused by some as being no more than cults. Upon closer inspection, however, the Chinese house churches are closer to the first century churches. Regardless of fifty years of isolation from the rest of the world, they have proliferated and there were over 60 million born-again Christians in China when the “bamboo curtain” fell and Westerners entered China again. Now, estimates are that there are over 100 million born-again Christians in underground house churches.
2. Self Perpetuation - evangelism and multiplication
By “self-perpetuation”, we mean the ability to pass on to each house group the same doctrines, practices, visions and goals. Duplication in terms of dividing and multiplying does not necessarily perpetuate these ideals.
Because of the size of the living room, the maximum number of members will usually be around 20 to 40. (We actually stuffed over 60 saints in a living room when we ministered in mainland China.) When the maximum number is reached, it should be mandatory that the group divide into two groups of 10 to 20 each. The group must not attempt to obtain larger quarters outside of homes. This would defeat the purpose of having house groups in the first place. As each house group divides, both the original and the new group are encouraged to bring others into the group. This assures that new converts will constantly be added to the house church and this will provide new experiences and foster new relationships among the saints. During revival, new members will come in almost automatically.
Keep in mind that the conventional, institutionalize church is inward in focus. Evangelism is designed to enhance the mother or central church and new converts are directed inward towards the central denomination or organization. In a house church system, evangelism is like concentric circles emanating outward from the originating church. The circles fan out into the world and produce concentric circles of their own. World evangelism is the vision.
It is obvious that some training of potential house leaders must take place. However, the greatest asset should be love and willingness to serve. We will discuss training later.
In order to allow self-perpetuation to occur, each house church leader must have the same vision regarding dividing and multiplying. Self-serving leaders will tend to hold on to the sheep they have in order to have the biggest house group in the area. This can cause much harm to the saints and the church at large. It must not go back to the institutionalized church. Each house church pastor must know the reasons why and be willing to divide and multiply.
Evangelism must be of prime intention and concern for each house church. If a house church does not evangelize, it is almost useless to the kingdom of God. Each house church should reach capacity and divide into two house groups every six months or so. If a house church fails to do so, disband it and assign its members to other house churches in the area. During revival, there will be little difficulty in evangelizing since the Holy Spirit will draw many people into the kingdom with or without human assistance. Before revival, however, the central group must monitor and encourage evangelism. At some point in time, revival or otherwise, the central group may not be able to monitor each house church because of the sheer numbers of house churches. At this point, a second “central group” is formed to handle the additional churches. Other central groups designed to handle house churches within a certain region are formed as new house churches emerge
A vibrant church must divide and multiply. Otherwise, it will become introverted and stagnant. When a house church becomes stagnant, it is better to disband it and assign members to more vibrant groups than to allow them to become satisfied with their lack of zeal and maturity. Maturity, be definition, includes the deep desire to share the gospel.
Members should ideally come from the immediate neighborhood. In America, the automobile makes it possible to attend church many miles away. However, this would make things difficult during times of persecution. A church with members spread out all over the area would have difficulty in communicating, traveling, hiding from enemies, moving as group, networking and other things needed to resist and survive persecution. The members would have a more difficult time helping each other. Therefore, we recommend that all members come from the surrounding neighborhood.
Duplication is not the same as perpetuation. The physical format may be identical, but the character of the group can differ in a negative way. Some leaders may have a personal agenda and a need to control others. One must guard against leaders who may become cult leaders and renegades who teach strange doctrines and follow a different path. This was a problem in the early church too as antichrist spirits already existed. Guard against cults and renegade groups. The “trueness” or purity of the former group must be carefully duplicated and temptations to divert denied.
Checks and balances, accountability and reporting procedures should be required in order to keep and maintain a healthy spiritual atmosphere in line with Bible scriptures and the format of the early church. Therefore, the process of choosing new house group leaders must be as foolproof as possible. Any person with self-ambition is disqualified. A person who thinks that he is special and chosen by God to be an apostle, etc., is also disqualified. Such persons are too ambitious and are often tempted to manipulate the sheep for his own glory. During peaceful times, such renegades are not as dangerous as during times of persecution, but a person with selfish motives is more likely to abandon the sheep in times of danger than one who truly loves the sheep. One is a hireling, while the other is in the mold of the Good Shepherd. Then again, in times of persecution, the self-promoters will automatically disappear. It would be too dangerous for hirelings to stick around.
While house groups are autonomous in terms of internal affairs, there is a need to guard against straying groups - not because of any desire to control or manipulate, but for fear that anti-Christ spirits will enter and cause irreparable damage. Choosing the right leaders is vital.
Keep in mind that Christ is the head of the Church. There should be absolutely no attempt to duplicate for any other purpose other than giving God back His church