The Classic Church Building: A Non-Biblical Wineskin (Part 2)

         “No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” [Mark 2:22]   

         Throughout all of man’s history, the one constant form of physical structure which has accounted for 99% of all buildings on the planet is the simple family dwelling. Be it a hut, a tent, or something more extravagant, it is home. Houses, therefore, have forever been ubiquitous. Even in modern society houses greatly outnumber all other buildings. The farther one goes back in history, the more the percentage rises. Hence, the private home was then and remains now the best ministry tool of all time, and the early believers proved it.

         All throughout the Book of Acts is the record of private homes being used in ministry. They began by going “house to house.” The house of the upper room was most likely the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark. After his Damascus road experience, Paul was taken to the house of Judas where he met Ananias. Peter was staying at Simon the tanner’s house by the sea. Paul stayed at and ministered from Lydia’s house in Philippi. The home of Jason in Thessalonica was obviously used for ministry. Paul also lived at and ministered from the house of Titius Justus in Corinth.

         Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles; also greet the church that is in their house. [Romans 16:3-5]   

         Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house. [Colossians 4:15]

         Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker, and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. [Philemon 1:1-3] [1]

         Church buildings are not New Testament archetypical. They can be good. They can be useful. They are possibly great on a temporary basis. But they are very costly and high maintenance. They sometimes cause more problems than they solve. And the number one reason is because they are slow.

         I played softball with a guy once who had to be one of the slowest guys in the whole world. He was not overweight. He was physically healthy. But I could make it to second base before he ever got to first. Once, a dim coach actually put this gentleman in front of me in the batting order. In that game, he had somehow made it safely to first base. Then I came up. I got a hit that would normally easily get me to second base and maybe third. But when I rounded first base my buddy was only halfway to second. Doh! He barely made it there. I’m standing on first when I might have made it to third. And I was not the fastest guy on the team.

         American Christianity has slowed considerably. Despite all the latest technology it has grown sluggish, materialistic, and weighted down. It is no wonder it is failing so badly. The Community of the Lord Jesus was built to be fleet of foot, in shape, slim and trim, on the move, and filled with energy, but also strong in its own right. American Christianity has grown in size as has the population and as a result has long since given up sprints. The problem is doubly bad in that we don’t have the strength for weight-lifting competitions either. In general spiritual terms, though traditional American Christianity has church buildings everywhere, we’re simply not getting the job done, are routinely outclassed, and often overrun. People “go to church” forever and never get to know most of the people in the congregation.  

         On the other hand, there is a relatively new wineskin in this country on the rise. It has remained true to the gospel but has sloughed off old forms that slow and restrict. It is having a tremendous impact.

          House churches and small groups have exploded in the country over the last two decades. Its proponents are quick and mobile, and do whatever possible to reach the lost and disciple the up and coming. There is no way to stop their progress. They need little or no funding. They reach places traditional Christianity rarely reaches. They touch hearts. The organic nature of a small group allows the Lord to be in charge. One cannot hide in a small group. Everybody is somebody. Through much learning and many spiritual trials, home church practitioners have developed the same ministry forms of the early centuries of Christianity. They are motivated by love. They stand on unity. They live to serve.

         The Lord’s original model is presently being applied in more places in the world than ever before, and is impacting the lives of millions that would otherwise never be reached. Mobility is the key. Instead of one large physical building, there are scads of many smaller buildings. Some have no buildings. By this they much more easily follow the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, and cover a lot of ground. And they are having miraculous Lord Jesus-caliber results.

        Also, they understand that each real believer is a house—the real building—a mobile tent wherein lives the Spirit of the Lord. Collectively these comprise the worldwide Community of Called-Out Ones independent of the traditions of men. On those occasions when church buildings supplement the work of God and exist according to His will, it is good. Otherwise, we must follow the Lord’s example, trim down, get quick, and make the necessary transistion to the future. His work demands it. [Part 2 of 2] 

         © 2011 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.


[1] Unless otherwise noted all Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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Posted on July 10, 2011, in Real Christianity and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. It is interesting that you should write about this. My husband and I have recently left a mainline denomination to attend a fellowship with home churches as their foundation. The home groups meet together on Sunday morning for corporate worship and teaching, but the main work of the church in done in these home groups. Each home group has a lay pastor that is responsible for overseeing it. What we find so refreshing about this fellowship is that the people we have met are not playing games with church. They are committed to seeing the Gospel make an impact on our culture and in the lives of the people they know. While certainly there are some traditional churches who are impacting our culture for the Gospel, there are a great many more who don’t. We are greatly encouraged by the home church movement. Thanks for this post.

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  2. I don’t think it is the building per se or the size of the group, but the heart that matters. I’ve been in some really bad small groups. Different size groups lend themselves to different purposes of ministry because of the ministry and interpersonal dynamics of each type of group.

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  3. RJ, you pose very thought-provoking ideas and concepts. And this article doesn’t disappoint.

    Having said that, some poeple have run from the “dreaded church building” to simply embrace something “new and different” (house churches). I contend that just like their counterparts (churches that meet in “church buildings”) that as long as there are imperfect people, there will be imperfect churches.

    While I truly can see your valid point about a church building possibly slowing the work it might do because of maintenance and expenses, house churches can have other impedements: lack of growth, size, unity, goals, functions, etc.

    Paul, the original “church-planter” did not operate out of one (or more) “church buildings,” yet he had the first “church split” (when Barnabas and he went their separate ways for a time over a disagreement regarding another man). Sometimes we can take examples from how things were done in Scripture and make them mandates. (EX: Jesus didn’t have a house, so does this mean none of us should own homes?)

    And. . . there were synagogues (God didn’t tell them to do away with them) and God was very specific about how to build (measurements, what materials to use, etc.) the Temple. So I conclude that God isn’t particularly against buildings per say, but also knows people can be taught, discipled, etc. in the home our out in the open.

    My opinion (not Gospel, just an educated opinion based upon my own knowledge of Scripture) is that there is no one “right” or “wrong” way to view church buildings vs. no church buildings. As long as God’s Word is being preached accurately (Paul’s BIGGEST concern among ALL the churches he started!) and the true Gospel (the same one Paul and his disciples offered) then all is good. WHERE is not the essential.

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  4. Thanks for your comment. I agree. Where we meet is not necessarily the issue, but wherever it is, the Spirit of the Lord must be present and He must be in charge.

    “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” [2 Corinthians 3:17]

    What happens all too often in churches and denominations is that someone else takes over. Policy and teaching is not dictated by the Lord Jesus but by whoever is at the top of a particular pyramid.

    For example, there is a good reason ship captains have traditionally maintained strict control and possessed overall authority, since their boat is out on the sea, bobbing like a cork, away from law and society. In the case of Christianity, there is also only supposed to be one boss.

    Why is it then, that the Lord Jesus is not welcome in many churches and ministries? Why is “Christianity” broken up in a million pieces with little interrelated fellowship? In their zeal to protect their definition of truth, growth slows. Walls are often built for protection but end up blocking God as well. It is no different than in the world. The real competition is between humanity and God. Unrepentant humanity hates God and hates His authority, and there is much unrepentant humanity within overall Christianity. We are all imperfect, of course, but the repentant honor and obey God, regardless of anything He may want to do, conventional or not (often not).

    Now, there are probably many lousy home groups, and many groups, regardless of structure, under control of someone other than the Lord. What I am arguing is that we must have the Lord in control, and the odds of this have proven to be much greater when someone’s religious reputation is not an issue, when money is not an issue, when specific favored doctrines are not an issue, and when there is generally nothing to be lost. Real repentance (making a u-turn) means a person has already submitted everything to God anyway and possesses nothing outside of the Lord’s authority.

    There are without doubt Christians meeting in traditional church buildings where the Lord has full authority, since every member has submitted wholeheartedly to Him and His Word. Yet, this is relatively rare. It is not, therefore, necessarily about buildings and format, but about who is in charge. We must get rid of anything that restricts His authority and His freedom to do whatever He may want, and none of us should ever presuppose what He may want at any given time.

    The early Church was mobile and spritually powerful as a result of their very close relationship with Him, which sometimes required next to nothing materially.

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