We’ve all heard the expression, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”. Perhaps you’ve even heard someone say, “You don’t mess with perfection!” How about, “Do not go beyond what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6). Unfortunately this admonition has been ignored by many throughout the history of the church. Today’s “traditional” churches are something quite different from the Church of Jesus Christ seen in the pages of the New Testament. Trained professionals are hired to “pastor” churches. Real estate is purchased and church buildings are constructed at huge expense for limited use. “Programs” have become a major function of the church. Constitutions and by-laws are used to govern congregations. Budgets dictate the use of finances. “Worship services” have become an avenue of entertainment. Incorporation with the state is enacted to protect the church. Insurance is purchased to protect property…and on and on it goes. All this as a result of man trying to “fix” what he must have thought was broke or to “improve” on perfection. The twenty-first century “church,” as most people see it, is not what the Lord intended it to be. However, since the first century, God’s remnant of the true Church of Jesus Christ has continued…for it consists of all who are born of God, seeking to worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:24).
In the book of Acts and in the Letters of the New Testament we learn of the basic and vital principles on which the Church of Jesus Christ was established from its very beginning. These principles had a dynamic and profound effect on people and “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). For many churches today, these principles have not only lost their place of importance among the members, but they have lost their impact on the lives around them. One of these principles is that the church of the 1st century was a home based church.
It’s significant that most of Jesus’ ministry took place in homes, not formal buildings. When the church began, the people of God moved from house to house in small groups. These home groups functioned from their inception as the nucleus of the Christian community. There were many organizations that assembled members into halls or specially constructed auditoriums. Guilds and pagan religions had their own edifices. Synagogues had dotted the countryside for generations, gathering members in impersonal large groups. Nevertheless, Jesus shaped the church to meet in homes.
Jesus’ followers clearly understood this principle. They met and fellowshipped with families in homes wherever they went. By moving among these residences, they became intimately acquainted with each person’s surroundings. This was a prime strategy for bringing people to faith in Christ and into a saving relationship with the Lord. The lifestyle of the first Christians meeting in home groups was so powerful that daily conversions took place. In Luke 10, Jesus assigned the seventy disciples to go to homes and offer peace to all who lived within. When they found a “man of peace” (one desiring to find peace), they remained in that home, eating and drinking whatever was set before them. In this way, a household would be converted to Christ and another house church would be formed.
There’s a very important reason why the early church was to be shaped in homes. It is in this environment that values are shared! It may be possible to transmit information in a neutral building, but few values are implanted there. Value systems are ingrained. Something stirs deep within when life is shared between the young and old, the strong and the weak, the wise and the foolish. In these home fellowships all participated and all were impacted by the values of the others as Christ lived within them. It’s virtually impossible for total participation by every member when gatherings are made up of large, impersonal groups.
Consider some of the inefficiency of today’s churches. Church buildings stand empty except for a handful of hours a week. Church donations are mostly used to support these buildings and the church staff. Professional clergy are hired to be the ministers and only a small fraction of the members are actually involved in “the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12), resulting in a massive group of inactives. And last but not least, the entire church has virtually no meaningful contact with the unreached community!
How can this be reconciled with the intention of Christ to “seek and to save that which was lost”? (Luke 19:10). Apart from a few contacts with the synagogues and the Temple, Jesus’ life was spent among sinners. The One who reminded us that “the sick have need of a physician” (Luke 5:31) simply cannot be pleased with the institutional churches of today that seldom venture out of their buildings to know or minister to the lost.
We have a duty to God to keep our priorities where He wants them. We can ill afford to become distracted from God’s plan. The eternal souls of people are at stake! The Lord has shown us in His Word what the church is supposed to be, and we need to do all we can to keep our focus on what He wants.