Today I read this in support of persecuted Christian believers:
Every church building in Egypt, Kazekstan and China and in many other places requires a permit, but these are notoriously difficult to obtain, and the Christian community has a great lack of places to meet for worship.
Here are some indisputable facts:
1. The first Jesus believers did not meet in “church buildings”–that was unheard of and the Holy Spirit did not lead them to do so, neither did the Lord Jesus in his instructions to them. Church buildings are unnecessary. Obedience based discipleship of Jesus is critical.
2. To meet for worship? clearly the first believers did not meet for worship unless we understand that “worship” for them meant making a sacrifice to the Lord of their bodies, their lives, and “worship” means “encouraging one another and stirring one another up to love and good works”. This was the pattern given to the disciples of Jesus.
3. Meeting together–on the street, in a park, in a pub, as we walk together in the country–is a great blessing, if it is truly in Jesus’ name, for even when only 2 or 3 do so, he is among them, to listen to them, to meet their needs of courage, boldness, power and authority.
just came across your blog – very nice! Anyway I wanted to ask you about church buildings – I know I’ve heard you say before that the early believers met in homes. I’m not convinced that this is the only place they met: In Acts 19:9 it says that Paul used the lecture hall of Tyrannus for daily discussions with the disciples. Also in Acts 20: 7-12 they were meeting in an upper room of a 3 story building. That doesn’t sound like a house. That, and Paul commenced his teaching in each new town at the synagogues, and the apostles and followers met at the temple in early Acts. If meeting in buildings other than houses is wrong, why did these instances occur in Acts? While I don’t disagree at all that buildings used exclusively by churches are not strictly necessary for worship or any other church function, I do think we take the argument too far when we say that it is wrong to attend a worship service in a church building or for a church group to seek to own a property on which they can host various ministries to strengthen and support believers or to be used for evangelistic activities. Does it really matter where we meet at all?
Re: point 2 above – the early believers must have met for worship or Paul’s instructions in 1: Cor 14:26-40 make no sense whatsoever. the group must have been big enough that someone had to “stand” to speak when everyone else was sitting (vs 30) which certainly implies more than 20ish people – in a group that small no one would have had need to stand in order to be seen and heard. In verse 33 Paul also refers to “all the congregations of the saints” and in 34 “…. in the churches.” vs 35: “… they should ask their own husbands at home (i.e. they were not already in their homes) for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” Here it seems to me that “in the church” must refer to a building, as taking its meaning as ‘the body of Christ’ would not only make it a grammatically awkward expression, but would also imply that women were never to speak within groups of Christians which is clearly not what he meant.
I am not saying this to be argumentative, I really do want to hear your opinion on these matters as I investigate the truth.
Thanks Nicole for commenting and asking such important questions.
Yes, Paul taught about the Kingdom of God in a lecture hall after being excluded from proclaiming the Lord Jesus in the local synagogue and in an upper room of a 3 story building. In your examples, Paul is the preacher, the teacher, the evangelist. He also preached while in prisons, on the streets, while travelling, before rulers and in many other places. These were not meetings for equipping the saints. When the believers gathered together as the Body of Christ, they mostly used homes because their gatherings were like family and not like an institution at all. They were not a monologue or a sermon! Of course, the first Christians, being all Jews, met frequently in the Jerusalem Temple, a vast public area where there were numerous meeting places. Many went to the temple in Jerusalem for various reasons, rather like people meeting in city squares. The believers were no doubt there to soak up the apostles’ teaching. But notice in Acts 2 they also met from house to house sharing meals and experiencing the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
Does it really matter where we meet at all? I think it does. The believers in the New Testament times were God’s family and referred to one another as brothers and sisters. Jesus started a family not an organisation! They met together to share with one another their joys and sorrows and to encourage and support one another, to stir up one another to love and good works. So often the place of meeting reflects who we are. We have many examples of Jesus in people’s homes in the gospel narratives. A home generously made available reflected an extended family scenario, an oikos, the Greek word for household which went far beyond father, mother and the kids. The architectural character of a building influences the occupants and the activities—and vice-versa.
I don’t think that what Paul wrote (1 Cor 14:26-40) implies “worship” as we often think of worship, or large numbers. This is not a liturgical the scene at all—he wants them to “all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted, encouraged”. He gives the reason for meeting (Greek-ekklesia): “Let all things be done for edification.” Of course, these actions are acts of acknowledging the worth (worth-ship) of the Father and of Christ. Also a speaker can stand to speak to just a few—I have done that myself.
“They should ask their own husbands at home”: This does not indicate a meeting in a religious building. I can tell you that we have had home meetings together with many couples present who have been “called out” of their own homes to be together in a home or other venue where the wives might engage in a chatter-fest! In the Ancient World opportunities for women to be heard were rare but in the Christian meetings they could prophesy and contribute through spiritual gifts. Also the Lord’s dinner was a meal with real food, not merely a symbolic bit of bread and a sip of wine. Just try having a meal in the average suburban “holy place”.
It is of the utmost importance to understand that the word “church” found over 200 times in English Bibles is a gross mistranslation. The Greek word is ekklesia (=called-out), which means “gathering” or “congregation” or “meeting” and is not a religious term at all. It certainly never meant a building. It always meant simply “meeting”.