Questions About the Home Church Movement
Updated May 26, 2009 (first published December 19, 2005)
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
Recently I received the following question from a reader:


How would one refute the home church movement that I see around me? I understand local church doctrine but some of their defense I have no answer for, such as the following:

-- Wherever 2 or 3 are gathered together I am in the midst.

-- You are the Temple of the Holy Ghost if saved.

-- No building is required.

-- Compromise and weakness in the churches.

-- Come out from them and be separate.

-- Didn’t the true church survive underground and in homes while under persecution?

I’m local church but when I come across a few of these people I have a hard time refuting some of these questions especially when they point out the mess the ‘church’ is in. In some ways it would be nice to not attend a local church. Church membership can be hard work especially when so many don’t help or when one must stand alone on convictions, even in the church. But I’m not at liberty to abandon my local church. I know families that have given up on the local church because of the poor influence of the people in the church, especially the youth. I am reminded that Hannah left Samuel at the temple even in the mess the temple was in with Eli’s son's wicked behavior. I’m sure she was aware of what was going on yet she trusted God to work it out and He certainly did. Samuel maintained a good testimony through all the sin that was around him. He was used of God to preserve Israel. My part as a parent is to keep my family in church and when things come up that we don’t agree with we simply use that as an opportunity to train the children. No doubt the world is in the church so I use it to show my family that this is not the way and don’t walk in it. Walk in truth even if others don’t. I don't believe God wants us to just blindly go along with all things in the church. We must prove all things. As David said, ‘Is there not a cause,’ so must the cause move us to stand.



Hello. It is good to hear from you. There is a great attack upon the New Testament church today, and it is coming from many different directions. One of those is the “house church” movement.

IN ADDRESSING THIS ISSUE WE MUST FIRST UNDERSTAND HOW IMPORTANT THE CHURCH IS FROM A BIBLICAL STANDPOINT. Even the most cursory study of the New Testament reveals that the church is God’s chosen means of accomplishing His purposes in this age. There are more than 100 references to the church in the New Testament. This shows the emphasis that the Holy Spirit has put upon the church, and the vast majority of those references are unquestionably to the local assembly, not to a general or prospective aspect of the church.

Men have corrupted churches, but the church is God’s plan. The Lord Jesus said, “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mat. 16:18). The church is Christ’s program.

The church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:16), and that is a church with elders and elders (1 Tim. 3:1, 8).

Most of the New Testament was written directly to churches. And even those portions not written directly to a particular church refer to the church. The theme of Acts is the planting and multiplication of the first churches. The Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) were written to instruct church planters in their work.

Even the General Epistles, which are not written to particular churches, always have the churches in mind. Hebrews refers to the church in chapters 10 and 13. Hebrews 10:25 exhorts God’s people not to forsake the assembling of themselves together. In Hebrews 13:7 and 17 Christians are exhorted to obey church rulers. The last chapter of James refers to the church. Those who are sick are to call for the “elders of the church.” The final chapter of 1 Peter also refers to the church, in exhorting elders in their duties. John refers to the church in his third epistle, when he mentions the proud Diotrephes. The book of Revelation, of course, is addressed to the seven churches that existed in that day.

Consider, too, that there is no Bible instruction about the discipline and watch care of Christians apart from the church. There is no instruction about leadership among Christians apart from the church. The entire life and work of God’s people for this age appears in the context of the assembly.

SECOND, WE MUST ALSO UNDERSTAND WHAT A CHURCH IS. A proper New Testament church has certain biblical ingredients. It is not merely a group of Christians meeting for prayer and Bible study. Paul wrote to Titus about church work in Crete. The gospel had been preached and there were believers who were meeting together, but that was not sufficient. Paul instructed Titus that certain things were lacking (Titus 1:5). What were those things? The thing that was lacking was proper qualified leadership and biblical organization, and these are the thing that Paul addresses in the book of Titus. The very first thing that Paul instructs Titus about is the ordination of elders. “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee” (Titus 1:5).

We see the same thing in the book of Acts. When Paul and Barnabas raised up groups of believers in various towns, they were careful to “ordain elders in every church” (Acts 14:23).

A proper New Testament church, therefore, is a body of baptized believers who are congregated together under the oversight of qualified and ordained pastor-elders and who are following the pattern of government and accomplishing the work described in the apostolic epistles, which is Christ’s Great Commission.

It is clear from Scripture that it is God’s will that every believer be a faithful and fruitful member of a sound New Testament church. That is what we see in Acts 2. Those who were saved on the day of Pentecost “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42)

If there is not such a church in the area, the establishment of such a church must be the highest priority. A believer should never be content merely to listen to preaching sermons on a cassette player or CD, or to read sermons from a book, or to listen to preaching on the radio or television, or to meet together with a loose-knit group of believers without proper biblical leadership and organization.

The reason I have remained a faithful member of a church for 33 years is not that I have found perfect pastors and perfect churches, but because I know that this is God’s will and anything less would displease Him. It is my understanding of the doctrine of the church that keeps me going in spite of grave imperfections I have found in churches.

Now, as to the specific questions you raised, the following is my answer:

1. “Wherever 2 or 3 are gathered together I am in the midst.” This is a reference to Christ’s statement in Matthew 18 -- “Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Mat. 18:19-20). In this passage, Christ was discussing church discipline. See Mat. 18:15-18. The passage does not support the idea that a loose-knit gathering of believers is a proper church when no effort is made to organize the gathering along biblical lines under the oversight of qualified pastor-elders. It is common for churches to start small, of course. There is usually an intermediate stage during which a new fellowship is growing towards become an established, properly organized New Testament assembly. That is the stage that we see in Crete before Titus was instructed as to how to organize the churches. During this intermediate stage, a fellowship might be composed of two or three people and Christ encourages that small, struggling body of believers that He is with them. But when we compare Scripture with Scripture, when we compare this passage in Matthew 18 with passages in Acts and Titus and elsewhere, we find that a proper New Testament will have duly ordained pastor-elders and will be organized along biblical lines and will not be a loose-knit group of believers who do not want anyone to rule over them.

2. “You are the Temple of the Holy Ghost if saved.” -- Truly, every born again child of God has the indwelling Holy Spirit, but this does not mean that such a believer is sufficient in himself to serve the Lord apart from the New Testament church that Christ has established. The Holy Spirit exhorted the readers of Hebrews as follows: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:25), and, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17). Those exhortations are for every believer of every period in the church age.

3. “No building is required.” -- This statement is true. It doesn’t matter where a church meets. A New Testament church can meet in a home or in a rented facility or in its own facility. That is irrelevant. The important point is not where the church meets but whether it is organized along biblical lines.

4. “Compromise and weakness in the churches.” -- It is true that there is widespread compromise and weakness in churches today. In fact, it has always been true! It was true for many of the churches even in the first century. The church at Corinth was a mess! The members were carnal and divided. They refused to discipline one of their own although he was living in open fornication with his father’s wife! They were taking each other to court. They were getting drunk during the Lord’s Supper. They were misusing the spiritual gifts. They allowed false teachers to discredit the Apostle Paul. What a church! Yet Paul was thankful for the grace God had given them (1 Cor. 1:4). The seven churches mentioned in Revelation also had many serious problems, including spiritual coldness, false teachers, and immorality. There never has been a church that did not have problems, and the simple reason for this is that church members are sinners. As it has been said, “If you ever find a perfect church, don’t join it or you will mess it up!” It is crucial to find the best church possible and to seek to make it a better church by my presence. A question that I challenge God’s people to ask themselves is this: “If the entire church were like me, what would my church be?” If the church reflected my level of spirituality, faithfulness, service, prayer, zeal for the things of Christ, separation from the world, giving, etc., what would the church be?

5. “Come out from them and be separate.” -- Biblical separation is a command, and I preach much on this issue. I have never counseled a believer to remain in a church that has a false gospel or a false christ or a false spirit or that is given over to the world or that is yoked together with the ecumenical movement or such. There is definitely a time to leave a church, but we must be careful and learn how to weigh issues in the church. “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you” is from 2 Corinthians 6:17, and the context of this statement is separation from unbelievers and infidels and idolaters (2 Cor. 6:14-16). 2 Corinthians 6 is not describing separation from all churches just because they are imperfect.

6. “Didn’t the true church survive underground and in homes while under persecution?” -- Of course, true churches survived underground and in homes during persecution, and they still do so today in some parts of the world. But that has nothing to do with the fact that God’s Word instructs us to have churches and to organize them along biblical lines under the oversight of pastor-elders.

I commend you for staying with the church and for not giving in to temptations to abandon it. On the authority of God’s Word, I can say that you will not regret this at the judgment seat of Christ. There are always things that come up even in the best of churches that one will not necessarily agree with. If we reject the church on the basis of every imperfection, it will not be possible to be a fruitful church member.

At the same time, it is important to be in a godly church. When a church goes after the world, it becomes a spiritually dangerous place, and this is especially true when it comes to children. I don’t believe that the example of Hannah is a good one to follow today. In that day there was only one temple. There was only one place in the world where God was worshipped properly. That is no longer true. We live in a different age. If necessary, it would be better to move to a place that has a godly church than to stay in a place where one is forced to attend a worldly one. If I were a in such a position, I would rather relocate even if it meant taking a cut in pay in order to have my family in a spiritually-healthy church.

The solution to the problem of carnal and compromised churches is not to abandon the institution of the church but to support and to establish good ones.

May the Lord give you much wisdom and strength to deal with his important issue.

I also suggest that you read “Seven Keys to Fruitful Church Membership” and “I Am Not Your Pastor” at the Way of Life web site. There is a search engine.

In Christ,
David Cloud

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