The Church Returns Home
A very real, dynamic change is taking place among Christians worldwide that will result in a completely new shape for the church in the near future. The growing tendency of the institutional church to conform to the materialistic practices of the world is driving many believers away from the traditional building-centered church toward the comfort of homes. Home churches are springing up in unprecedented numbers on every continent and in every major city of the world. Christians in the United States lead the way as massive numbers are breaking away from the impersonal, clergy-centered, program-oriented mega churches that have been springing up across the country.
This trend is far more than just a temporary fad that will soon run its course. On the contrary, I see this movement as a clear indication of a new shape the true church is taking in preparation for the last days. The religious institution is rapidly becoming the fulfillment of Paul’s prophetic words in 2 Timothy 3:3-5, that speak of the compromised, spiritually weak, morally bankrupt organized church of the end times. Seekers of God will not allow themselves to be perpetually bound up by religion’s bondage but will eventually break free into the freedom of genuine fellowship and worship. That freedom is being discovered apart from the traditional religious organizations in the homes of Christians throughout the world.
Conditions of life are lacking in the institutional church
This movement toward home churches is happening because certain conditions of spiritual life are lacking in the institutional church. Those conditions have been abandoned or seriously limited in the building-centered churches. Luke alludes to these conditions of life when he describes the early church in Jerusalem: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common” (Acts 2:42-44). This passage summarizes the conditions of corporate spiritual life. True seekers of spiritual growth will seek out these conditions much like a plant will seek out moisture, nourishment, warmth and sunlight. Believers, on a large scale, are not finding these conditions in the organized, structured church and are going elsewhere in their search.
In some cases believers are breaking away from their local church to be part of a home church that cultivates these conditions between believers. Others are remaining part of a local church while meeting at some other time during the week with a group of believers who are not necessarily connected with an institutional church. Some people will accuse these people of encouraging division in the body of Christ by failing to come under the auspices of the organized church. History shows, however, that almost all new spiritual movements result in a separation from the organized church of the time because it will reject the new move of God in which people are seeking a fresh flow of the life of God.
Even the original birth of the church was a separation from the religion of the day into the freedom of God’s outpoured life in the Spirit. Notice that Luke wrote that the believers “devoted themselves” to these things. They were giving themselves in daily devotion to these conditions of spiritual life, because they yearned for more of Christ. This devotion was not caused by religious pressure or legalistic standards but by a genuine attraction to the exuberance of life in Christ with others who loved Him.
The apostles' teaching: the word of God
First, Luke said that they were devoting themselves to “the apostles’ teaching.” Because we try to interpret scripture from our present experience many people today imagine the Christians in Jerusalem going regularly to a large “church service” where they were taught by the apostles. Since three thousand souls came to Christ on that first day and many thousands more were added to the church in the coming days, it is unlikely that this massive group was going regularly to hear the apostles preach (Acts 2:41; 4:4). What was happening was a free flow of the apostles’ teaching through the lives of others as the Holy Spirit raised up teachers among the believers. Of course, the apostles were sharing as they had opportunity but it was the “apostles’ teaching” that the Christians were devoting themselves to, not the apostles themselves.
Today we have the apostles' teaching in the form of the Bible. But, many teach from the Bible without the direction of the Holy Spirit. That teaching may be described as the teaching of men. Apostolic teaching requires submission to Christ in our individual lives and in the gatherings of the saints.
Apostolic teaching is the word of God coming directly from the Lord through human agents who are obedient to deliver it without adulteration. The first apostles had been with Jesus for His entire ministry and were sent directly from Him to others with His word. They were not influenced by denominational concerns, politics, or a compromising attitude. They came in the name of the Lord, with the word of the Lord to those who desired a pure word from the Lord. The apostles’ teaching is still with us today to the extent that there are men of God who are courageous enough to stand above religious politics and step forth in the name of the Jesus. The apostles’ teaching is presented by those who come from the presence of the Lord with His word as He imparts it. They do not water down His word to keep from offending others or hoping to gain numbers, or because they have an institutional agenda to tend to. They come in the name of the Lord and they answer only to Him for they have stood in His presence and beheld His glory. Like Moses, they come down from the mountain with radiant faces, clutching the word of God in their hands and having the fear of God in their hearts.
Apostolic teaching produces an atmosphere of truth. Paul tells us that truth is a prerequisite of spiritual growth: “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15). The words “speaking the truth in love” are a translation of one word that is a verb form of the Greek word for truth. It doesn’t mean merely “speaking” the truth but is referring to the action of being truthful or living in a context of truth. The Christian faith is a living thing planted in the soil of truth. It cannot grow apart from truth. Without the context of truth, life will wither and die and no growth will be produced. Christians are to be people who seek truth, walk in truth, and settle for nothing less than the truth. In this context of truth, Christians are able to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”
This is in contrast to the previous verse which speaks of being “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14). This verse clearly describes the condition of much of Christianity today. Because we lack apostolic teaching we are not grounded in truth and therefore are mercilessly tossed around by the clever manipulation of men who use the gospel as a means to personal gain. Believers are not encouraged to seek truth but are merely told to accept the truth of the institution they are part of. In fact, those who question the teachings or practices of their institution are often considered rebellious and insubordinate.
Many groups are slowly adopting the practices of cult groups who do not allow believers to question authority or put doctrines to the test of God’s word. Truth cannot flourish in such an environment. Apostolic teaching encourages the believer to put teachings to the test, judge the validity of what is spoken, applying the anointing of the Holy Spirit present in all believers (1 Thess. 5:21; 1 Cor. 14:29; 1 John 2:27). Such teaching trusts that the presence of the Holy Spirit in every believer is enough to protect them from the dangers of false doctrine, religious excesses and outright heresy.
Today, just as on that first day of the church, we need the apostles’ teaching. To a large extent the organized churches have rejected the ministry of the apostle. With that rejection has come a rejection of God’s word in its purest form. Apostles are most likely present wherever Christians are gathered, but their ministry is not recognized in the context of the one-man pastor form of leadership. What pastor, who has total control over the affairs of the church, is going to let apostles and prophets step into their places? That will only happen when pastors repent of their attempts to control the people of God through fleshly means. When they do repent of these selfish motives the Holy Spirit will begin to teach them that they are not the whole ministry, but only one small part of what God desires to do in His body.
Unfortunately, a large segment of organized Christianity teaches that we can no longer hear from God and that supernatural inspiration along with apostles has been set aside by God. Since organized churches will not allow apostolic teaching, believers are beginning to gather in homes where there are no restrictions on the gifts Christ has provided His church. They desire the truth of God without man’s agenda and the corruption that follows those who teach with selfish motives.
Fellowship: participatory sharing
The next condition of spiritual life revealed to us by Luke is fellowship. The original word for fellowship is koinonia, which means to share in and participate in something. Thayer’s lexicon defines koinonia as “the share which one has in anything; participating.” Fellowship is sharing our common possession of Christ with others who possess Him. The believers in Jerusalem were coming together because they possessed Christ in their lives and His presence was transforming them. They were excited and filled with anticipation as they came together. In the gatherings they were able to share with their fellow believers and receive sharing from them. They couldn’t wait to share what was in their hearts. They might share in the form of a testimony, teaching, prophecy, prayer, hymn or spiritual song or some other means. They shared what they possessed through the gifts God had provided for the common benefit of the church.
Ministry: the saints serving one another
Paul shared this truth with the Ephesians but there he called it “ministry.” He said, “And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11,12). The five equipping ministries equip the saints for the purpose of ministry, or more literally, service. And what do the saints have to minister but Christ Himself, who indwells them and fills them with His glorious presence. The saints are called to participate in what God is doing in the gatherings of the saints. Each of us possesses Christ and God has called us to share what we have. This is fellowship, otherwise known as ministry. It is what believers do. They share what Christ is doing in their lives and this results in the building up of the body of Christ.
In 1 Corinthians chapter twelve Paul is sharing a similar truth. He wrote, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Paul clearly shows that each person’s exercise of a gift is for the common good of the entire body of Christ. Two chapters later the apostle wrote, “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue or and interpretation. Let all things be done for building up” (14:26). The wonderful truth is that each believer is to have a part in what the Holy Spirit is doing to build up the church in Jesus Christ. God never intended for the gatherings of the saints to be showcases for a few elite, gifted believers. He intended that fellowship should take place. Fellowship is sharing what we possess in Christ, through whatever means He provides, for the purpose of enriching one another and building one another up individually and as a corporate testimony of the glory of God.
The early believers were excited to take part but believers today are breaking away from organizations that attempt to stifle what God has put within them. Fellowship is being quenched and restricted by a few who wish to monopolize the ministry and use it for their own benefit. God is calling those who do so into account in these days. He is declaring that they must release the stranglehold they have on the people of God and set them free to fellowship with one another, ministering or serving as the Holy Spirit directs. Those institutions that refuse to do so will continue to harden into large, popular religious establishments, having an outward form of godliness but rejecting the power of God resident within His people (2 Tim. 3:5; Eph. 3:20). Many will turn from these groups to find true fellowship whenever and wherever true seekers of God gather in the name of Jesus.
A meal with Christ as the Guest of honor
The third condition of spiritual life mentioned by Luke in the book of Acts is “the breaking of bread.” Some people believe that this is speaking about only the Lord’s supper in this verse, but the statement in verse 46 that follows seems to indicate that there was much more involved. These believers were coming together to eat meals together and probably partake of the Lord’s supper in conjunction with the meals. In that verse Luke tells us, “And day by day, attending temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts.” These words indicate that they indeed were enjoying time together around meals sharing their gladness in Christ and recognizing Him as the Guest of honor. The word “generous” hints at the possibility that they were sharing with one another the abundance of their food so that everyone’s meal needs would be met.
In today’s society it is hard for us to see the significance of a simple meal in the context of spiritual things. In those days, however, the meal was an important time to express thanksgiving to God for His provisions and enjoy the fruit of the ground. To these believers it became an opportunity for them to share with one another as they came together in Jesus’ name to celebrate His provision for their lives. The bread they ate symbolized God’s provision of His Son as the bread of life and they partook with this in mind. The wine they drank with the meal symbolized the blood of Jesus and the redemption it purchased. Apparently the communion meal was celebrated, not as a separate activity but in conjunction with the meal at which the saints gathered. These came to be known as love feasts.
Paul alludes to this practice of the early church when he reprimands the Corinthians for their disorder at the meals where they came together for the Lord’s supper. He wrote, “For in eating each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?” (1 Cor.11:21,22). Here was a church that had forgotten the true purpose of gathering for meals – to serve one another and to minister to those who have less. It is clear that the Lord’s supper was also a part of these meals. Paul refers to this meal also in 1 Corinthians 5:8: “Let us therefore celebrate the festival not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with he unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” The festival, or feast spoken of here must be the gathering of the saints for a meal in which they celebrated the Lord’s supper together. The mention of the unleavened bread and its spiritual meaning is evidence that this was so.
Meals have a special significance in the word. The Emmaus disciples walked and talked with the resurrected Jesus as they made their way home, but they did not recognize Him. Jesus even interpreted scriptures referring to Himself but still they did not know Him. Only when they sat down to eat, and He took the bread, broke it and passed it were their eyes opened so they could recognize their Lord (Luke 24:13-30). When He revealed Himself to the disciples by the sea of Tiberias, they made a fire and sat down to have a breakfast of fish and bread with the Lord (John 21:9-12). And of course there is the last supper in which Jesus and the disciples celebrated the Passover together. This was an ominous time for all of them but what a glorious truth was presented there.
Perhaps it is time for believers to return to the simplicity of eating together while offering thanksgiving to God for His provision. Every mother knows the importance of having her family together for a meal. There is something about that time when the family members gather around the table and look each other in the eye before partaking of God’s bountiful provision for their lives. Christ is our bread of life, our new wine, our spiritual manna from heaven. Perhaps the meal is a good time for believers to gather and be reminded of His presence in their lives while celebrating the kingdom meal together in anticipation of its coming fulfillment in the age to come. In so doing we will grow in our love for one another and be built together as His glorious church.
Prayers: fellowshipping with Christ, the Guest of honor
Prayer is the final condition mentioned by Luke (Acts 2:42). The early church thought of prayer as conversing with Christ who was still with them and in them. They consulted Him for everything and relied on what He told them. The walked by the Spirit not by religious notions and traditions. They had abandoned religion for a real relationship with Someone they could talk to. They submitted problems, concerns, issues and everything else to their Guest of honor.
Another condition of spiritual life is seen in these words: “And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles” (Acts 2:43). The word translated “awe” in this verse is usually translated “fear.” There was an awesome since of the mighty presence of the Almighty God in the midst of the people. This fear that accompanies God’s presence is sadly lacking in today’s Christian experience. Somehow in the context of learning about God’s love, mercy and grace we have forgotten that He is a consuming fire. The writer of Hebrews wrote, “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 13:28,29). This holy fear or divine awe was the result of God’s awesome presence in the midst of a receptive people. Every soul was stunned with holy fear at the awesome manifestation of the presence of God in His people.
When was the last time you sensed this holy fear in the presence of God? When was the last time you gathered with people who opened their hearts to hearing from God and gathered together in the name of Jesus in a state of spiritual oneness? When was the last time you were basking in truth itself as the consuming fire of the Almighty God passed through your midst? Because we make light of His word and flaunt our compromised condition, the Lord remains apart from our gatherings. He is aloof from us because we will not draw near to Him with open and sincere hearts of simple faith. We have our musical entertainment and persuasive words of human wisdom and clever programs, but we shun the face of God.
Holy fear is a condition of spiritual life
Holy fear is a condition of spiritual life. We cannot approach God without humbling ourselves before Him (1 Peter 5:6). We must be willing to lose all that we are and become all that He wants us to be. We must bow in holy fear that does not chase us away but lovingly nudges us into His embrace and quiets us under His mighty hand. We must fear God in repentance before we can know the joy of exaltation in His loving presence (2 Chron. 7:14). This awesome sense of the presence of God will come to all who truly seek to know Him as He is. As long as we create a god in our own image we will not know this fear, but when we encounter the true God as He is revealed in His church, His people, we will know the meaning of this holy awe. Even the beloved disciple John fell at the feet of Jesus like a dead man when he saw the Lord (Rev. 1:17). We have become much too flippant and careless in our gatherings. If God is truly among us there will be a growing sense of holy fear in His presence.
These conditions of spiritual life must be present if God’s people are to grow and prosper. Those who call themselves shepherds but avoid leading God’s people into these pastures of blessing are seriously hurting the sheep of God. Those who devise programs for the sake of an institution while ignoring the conditions of life are chasing the hungry sheep to other pastures. Those other pastures are forming in the homes of believers across this nation and beyond. Some will merely make another fad of this powerful movement, but many others will find God there in the midst of His people.
This message is not about where to meet or where not to meet as believers, but about the conditions we must experience before we can prosper and grow in the grace of God. Wherever God’s people will be obedient to encourage these conditions of life, spiritual growth will take place and the church will be built up. Let us pray that many will hear what the Spirit is saying to this generation and respond in obedience. God bless you all as you seek Him in the coming days.