The Home Church
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus . . . Likewise greet the church that is in their house. . . . (Romans 16:3, 5)
The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. (1 Corinthians 16:19)
Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house. (Colossians 4:15)
to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house. (Philemon 2)
The initial Christian local churches were home churches, which is to say that they were assemblies of believers in Christ who met in home residences for instruction and fellowship. And although the apostles taught and preached “Jesus as the Christ” daily in the temple, they also taught and preached Him in “every house” (Acts 2:46; 5:42). It was the apostle Paul who said the following:
“. . . You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you . . . how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house.” (Acts 20:18, 20)
The word for “house” in the above Scripture references and in many other references within the New Testament is the Greek word oikos, a term usually designating a local “dwelling” or “home.” And although the Greek word ekklesia (lit. assembly), translated “church” is used at various times within the New Testament to designate all believers (i.e., the “body of Christ” [Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 5:27, 29; Colossians 1:24]), often, and specifically in the above Scripture references, it refers to a local “assembly” of believers.
But over time, as the various home assemblies increased in number, many of them deemed it advantageous to unite and meet outside such homes in larger accommodations, much like what today are considered local churches. And over time due to individual interpretations over points of biblical doctrine, many of these now larger “local churches” split, a process that has led to the various “denominations” existing today.
Many Christian denominations believe the Divine Record, consisting of both the Old Testament and the New Testament (the Holy Bible), was given over a period of time through holy men who were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). They believe the Bible to be consistent, not contradictory; but then, generally only in accord with the established doctrine of their own unique denomination, and that only after their “approved” theological authorities have signed off on the doctrine. Regrettably, over time, this way of thinking has somewhat, if not greatly, encouraged the prevention of lay-Christians from personally arriving at the truth taught in Scripture.
One only needs to attend many of the various local churches throughout the land, evangelical and otherwise, to find that very little on-going and systematic doctrinal instruction is being taught from the pulpits. Rather, attending Christians are subject to messages most likely consisting of three points in support of an intended superficial theme and often followed by an invitation to come to Christ in faith. This is particularly true on the evangelical side of the Church (all Christians). And the shame of it is that the primary responsibility of pastors is to be a teacher of God’s Word, i.e., biblical doctrine.
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastor-teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting. (Ephesians 4:11-14)
(The words “pastors and teachers” in Ephesians 4:11 refer to one group of individuals, not two groups. They are pastor-teachers, not “pastors and teachers,” as translated in many English versions.
This is seen in the structure of the Greek text. There are two nouns in the same case form, connected by kai [and], with a definite article preceding the first noun but not repeated before the second noun. In a structure of this nature, the second noun [didaskalos, “teacher”] is seen as simply a further description of the first noun [poimen, “pastor,” “shepherd”].
The pastor [shepherd of the flock] is to be a teacher [teacher of the flock]. He is to lead the flock through the proclaimed Word.)
Christ declared that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4); and, indeed, the apostle Paul made certain to teach the “whole counsel of God,” instruction regarding “the gospel of the grace of God” and “the kingdom of God,” from “house to house” (Acts 20:20, 24, 25, 27). And to Timothy, the apostle Paul clearly stated,
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. (2 Timothy 3:16-4:1-4)
But then the deterioration and degradation of the Church, represented by the diverse number of Christian denominations and their local churches, over the past two thousand years should not be surprising to a dedicated student of God’s Word, particularly one who is a student of biblical prophecy. In addition to prophecies contained in the Old Testament and various warnings throughout the New Testament, the book of Revelation in chapters two and three also presents a history of the Church throughout the dispensation, beginning with the “church of Ephesus” that had left its “first love” and ending with the “church of the Laodiceans” that is described as “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (2:4, 3:17).
The absence of in-depth doctrinal instruction from the pulpits of Christianity today is one of the primary results of the growth of larger populated churches, some even designated “mega-churches,” throughout this dispensation. Now it is customary for these types of local churches to relegate “bible instruction” to what many call Sunday School, usually a limited-time (less than an hour) meeting of various classes of individuals that takes place prior to the main service on Sunday mornings. And the instruction is closely administered by individuals who closely adhere to the express doctrines of each church’s particular denomination.
Then there is the problem of the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:15), a development that formed early in Church history and is prevalent in most local churches today. An accurate description of this particular aspect within local churches throughout the dispensation is given by Arlen L. Chitwood in his book, Judgment Seat of Christ, as follows:
Following the warning to the church in Ephesus, reference is made to the “Nicolaitans” (an Anglicized form of the compound Greek word, nikolaites [from nike, “a victor,” “a conqueror”; and laos, “people”]). Thus, the word “Nicolaitans” means, “to conquer [be victorious over] the people.”
Within Church history, there is no record of a group of individuals known by the name, “Nicolaitans” — in the church in Ephesus [2:6], or in any other first-century church (note that a reference to the “Nicolaitans” is also repeated in the epistle to the church in Pergamos [2:15]). And, when coming across a reference of this nature, there is only one thing that can be done in order to understand that which the Lord meant by using this word (whether by Christians during the first century, or by Christians today). The use of “Nicolaitans” would have to be understood as a reference to the actions of a group of individuals, described by the meaning of the word itself.
From the meaning of the word, a reference to the “Nicolaitans” could only be understood as a reference to individuals forming a hierarchy within the Church, ruling over the people. And these individuals were undoubtedly responsible, at least in part, for the existing conditions in Ephesus near the end of the first century, as well as the conditions subsequently seen existing in Pergamos (and possibly in one or more of the other five churches, though this is not mentioned).
Sadly, the “doctrine of the Nicolaitans” is seen in the clearly established and ornate hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, a hierarchy somewhat mirrored by certain liberal (in their theology) Protestant denominations; but, unfortunately, is also followed to some degree in many evangelical denominations and their local churches. It is not uncommon for certain bishops, pastors, elders, deacons, and others to establish a “chain-of-command,” which encourages, even requires a degree of inordinate “veneration” and “submission” from the “lay” congregation.
That is why, particularly in these last days, it is indeed advantageous for Christians who thirst after the solid food (meat) of God’s Word, which alone leads to righteousness (faithfully believing all of the Word and living for Christ), to endeavor to contact other like-minded Christians and set up a “home church” in one of their residences. To do this will often provide them the following benefits:
1. An environment free of hierarchical rule.
2. An environment promoting increased communication, fellowship, personal attention, and love among the participants.
3. An environment that promotes serious study of God’s Word at a pace conducive to efficacious assimilation of truth.
4. An environment that will promote spiritual growth, i.e., spiritual maturity.
Many pastors of evangelical local churches, with which this writer is best acquainted, attempt to deliver a pulpit message (motivational sermon) followed by an explanation of the plan of salvation in an effort to reach any lost person (anyone who has never been eternally saved) in the congregation. This is then most often followed by a call (an invitation) for any who will place their faith in Christ for their personal eternal salvation to so indicate their decision by coming forward (or by some other means). This procedure is followed due to the pastor’s sincere belief that this order of events is the principal aim or purpose of a local church service. And although this writer finds no fault with presenting the means of eternal salvation at the end of a church service (in fact it is recommended should there be any doubt as to the spiritual make-up of the congregation), for a pastor to believe this is the primary reason for the service can only mean he is misguided.
The primary purpose of a local church service, be it on Sundays (morning or evening) or any other day of the week, is to systematically teach those who have been saved the entire Word of God, with the ultimate goal of allowing immature Christians to become mature Christians and increasing the growth of mature Christians to ever higher levels of spiritual maturity.
As for “winning the lost” to Christ, this is the responsibility (ministry) of all Christians, not just pastors during their participation in local church services. And according to the whole of Scripture, this is to be accomplished by word and deed. In fact, without deeds (a righteous lifestyle — a life lived in accordance with the Word [Colossians 2:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 4:1; Philippians 1:27; Ephesians 4:1-3]), words are ineffective. And frankly, this is a ministry to be conducted outside and away from the local church, an ongoing activity that should be an essential part throughout every aspect of a believer’s life.
But to be effective in this ministry a Christian must grow spiritually, which is the only way the Christian will then be able (be empowered) to live a Spirit-filled life — the only way God is able to effectively use one of His children. Now every Christian has been sealed by the Spirit of God and has the Spirit permanently within (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13, 14; James 4:5), but to be filled with the Spirit is another matter. To be filled with the Spirit is to have the ability to be so spiritually yielded to God that He (Holy Spirit) then is able to divinely work through the Christian in order to accomplish that which is pleasing to Him. And this state of being is required of all Christians in accordance with what the apostle Paul states in the book of Ephesians.
And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-20)
The question then is “How does one achieve this state of being?” The answer is seen in a companion passage of Scripture, also given through the apostle Paul, as follows:
Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:16, 17)
The parallel is clear. To be filled with the Spirit is to have the Word of Christ dwell in you richly. And this may only be achieved if a Christian continually avails himself to the teaching of the Word.
Another key word used in Scripture to convey the process of growing from spiritual immaturity to spiritual maturity (i.e., being filled with the Spirit) is the word “sanctify.” The Greek word translated sanctify is hagiazo, and it literally means “to set apart” or “to make holy.” Essentially it is used to represent a process (sanctification) required of Christians, which is the will of God (1 Thessalonians 4:3a). It is the process that represents a growth from babyhood to adulthood, from spiritual immaturity (the state of a Christian upon his “birth from above”) to ever increasing levels of spiritual maturity.
And the only way for a Christian to experience sanctification is to immerse himself in the Word of God, as is clearly seen in the following passages of Scripture. The first passage is part of Christ’s prayer for His disciples.
I have given them Your Word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. . . . Sanctify them by Your truth. Your Word is truth. (John 17:14, 17)
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors-teachers, for the equipping [lit. perfecting] of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying [lit. building] of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge [lit. full or mature knowledge] of the Son of God, to a perfect [lit. full grown or mature] man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting. (Ephesians 4:11-14)
For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge [lit. full or mature knowledge] of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge [lit. full or mature knowledge] of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy. (Colossians 1:9-11)
Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. . . . Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:12, 13, 15, 16)
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)
But you must continue in the things that you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God [lit. God-breathed], and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete [lit. mature], thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless . . . but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:14, 18a)
Every Christian should realize that Scripture (the Holy Bible [Old Testament and the New Testament]) is primarily a book for the believer in Christ, given to be studied and absorbed so that the Christian may please God through continual spiritual growth, which only then will result in the bringing of the “lost” to Christ.
Again, it the pastor of the local church who has the primary responsibility of bringing the Christian to a mature position in Christ. To this end, Arlen L. Chitwood in his book, Salvation of the Soul, provided the following cogent remarks:
Thus, a minister with a congregation placed under his care has been charged with a tremendous responsibility. His central ministry is among the saved, among those capable of grasping spiritual truth; and he is to disseminate spiritual truth to these individuals as it relates to things surrounding present and future aspects of salvation, not to things surrounding the past aspect of salvation. He, in this manner, is to “feed the flock of God,” looking ahead to Christ’s appearance in all His glory (1 Peter 5:2-4).
This individual is responsible, under the leadership of the Spirit of God, to provide proper spiritual nourishment to and for those Christians placed under his care. And the only thing that God has provided for him to use as he feeds the flock of God is the Word of God.
As a minister in charge of a flock, he is to expound this Word under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. And Christians placed under his care are to receive this proclaimed Word into their saved human spirits. Then the Spirit of God can take this “implanted Word” and effect spiritual growth to maturity, with the end result being the salvation of their souls (James 1:21).
The tragedy in Christian circles today is the light regard that pastors of churches have for fulfilling the very purpose of their ministry. And, the end result of pastors failing to properly “feed the flock” entrusted to their care will be the entrance of innumerable carnal, immature Christians into the Lord’s presence at the end of the present dispensation with redeemed spirits, changed bodies, but wasted and thus unredeemed souls — forfeited lives. Their eternal salvation will remain unaffected; but, with the forfeiture or loss of their souls, they will be unable to realize the inheritance presently “reserved in heaven” for the faithful (1 Peter 1:4). Consequently, they will occupy no position among the “many sons” who will be brought to glory (Hebrews 2:10).
Finally, the early established assemblies (local home-churches) of Christians were close-knit groups who not only profited in spiritual (doctrinal) progression but also profited from warm personal friendships that provided extra spiritual support. Unfortunately, the established local churches of today (a term normally indicating a “building” of/for “worship” [a term that should pervade a Christian’s entire life and not just within a man-made structure] embody large groups of individuals (many of which are Christians) who often are not very well acquainted with one another.
Since most pastors of local churches fail in their primary responsibility of systematically teaching God’s Word to (feeding) their congregation (flock), it is strongly recommended that Christians who recognize this dearth establish and attend a home church in order to properly study the Word of God, which will nurture their spiritual maturity and ultimately result in the salvation of those who do not know Christ in addition to a rewarding personal experience before Christ at His Judgment Seat (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.