What makes a house church a church?

Guide by:
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Dear Mike,
What makes a home church a church?

This question came based on our previous episode. In other words, what is it about a house church that makes it a legitimate church? I think that's a pretty good question.

Another question similar to that one was, what difference is there between just a home Bible study group, and a house church? Are they exactly the same thing? And the answer to that is no, they're not exactly the same thing.

Paul makes the distinction in I Corinthians, chapter 14. That's where we really find the answer to this. In this passage, he's really talking about the use of gifts when the church gathers together, but there are a few lines that I'd like to focus on to explain this issue here that we're doing talking about.

23Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? 24But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; 25the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you. 26What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.
- I Corinthians 14:23-26

Again, he's talking about various spiritual gifts that they had in the first century, and how to properly use them. But I want you to note that he makes a distinction. He says, "When you assemble." In other words, when you gather together as a church. And so, this is the focus of our particular study today. He makes a distinction about meetings, and there was a specific agenda for the meeting when the brethren gathered as the church.

And the difference difference between, we're having a Bible study over here, and this meeting here is the church. The difference is intention. What is your intention for the meeting?

When the believers gather as the church, it is to do certain things given to the church to do when it gathers. That's when becomes the church.

Acts 2 gives us a description of this intention and these activities. In these verses Peter is preaching on Pentecost Sunday, the very first Gospel sermon. People then responded to his sermon and we see what happens afterwards.

37Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" 38Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." 40And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!" 41So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. 42They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.
- Acts 2:37-43

There's the first step. He's preaching the Gospel. People respond to the Gospel by believing in Jesus and being baptized. So they became Christians, and what did they do at that point? They did specific things. They were taught by the apostles, obviously the teachings of Jesus. They enjoyed fellowship together as fellow believers. They broke bread, meaning they took the communion, the Lord's Supper, and they prayed and worshiped.

44And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.
- Acts 2:44-45

So there's the other activity of this newly-founded church, and that was taking care of the needs of individuals.

So let's say 15 believers gather at your house for your birthday, and they eat cake, and obviously, they say a prayer of thanks and they celebrate, and they're happy. What is that? Well, that's the birthday party. That's not church, even though you've got 15 believers gathering in the same place. However, the same 15 people gathering on the Lord's Day, on Sunday, with the specific intention to take the communion, to have fellowship, to study God's Word, to enjoy fellowship, and to see to various needs. This, then, is a church meeting. This is the church meeting with intention. Same 15 people, same house, same group kind of coming together at the same place. The difference is the intention. The intention of these 15 believers on the Lord's Day is that they're coming together as the church in order to do the things that the church is supposed to be doing, given to them by Christ.

One last thing I want to mention today. These Christians that I'm talking about, they can meet as the church to only study the Bible, if that's what they want to do, or only have fellowship on a Tuesday night or on a Monday afternoon, but they do so intentionally as the church. What makes you a church or a congregation, which is part of the worldwide body of Christ, is twofold.

  1. People who have become Christians, according to Jesus' command.
  2. These individuals decide to gather intentionally as the church for the purpose of worship and service in the name of Christ.

These are the two basic things necessary to form and function as a church. Now, of course, there are more details to this, and we'll try to cover the details and the questions that you send in in the next session. So that's it for now. Thank you very much.

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