Most of us have an already well-established picture in our minds of “church”—what it is, who goes there, and where it takes place. But what if that building you visit once or twice a week not only isn’t “church,” but isn’t prescribed anywhere in the Bible? What if the biblical concept of “church”—or, more literally, “the Called-Forth”—is far more simple and natural than that? The idea of “the church that is in the cathedral or auditorium,” or “the building that holds a hundred, or a hundred-thousand souls,” is completely foreign to the Called-Forth-Gatherings of Scripture. And although the synagogue (the predecessor of the church building) remained part of the Jewish believers’ cultural practice for some time, where the Called-Forth originally and primarily came together was not in a specially-built, religious facility, but in each other’s homes.
In Acts 2:46, for example, it says that the Jewish believers in Jerusalem were “continuing daily with one mind in the Temple and breaking bread from house to house” (emphasis added). In Acts 8:3, we find the Called-Forth in homes during Paul’s massive persecution of the believers, saying that he was “ravaging the Called-Forth, entering into every house and dragging off both men and women—giving them up to prison.” In 1 Corinthians 16:19, Paul relayed the message that “Aquila and Prisca, along with the Called-Forth in their house, also greet you much in the Master.” And in Colossians 4:15, Paul asks them to “Greet those brothers in Laodicea, and also Nymphas, and the Called-Forth in her house.” Finally, in Philemon 1:1-2, Paul writes, “to Philemon, our beloved and fellow-worker, and Apphia our sister, and Archippus our fellow-soldier, and the Called-Forth in your house.”
Home gatherings, then—rather than houses of worship —were the biblical norm and pattern for the generation of the Called-Forth who spread the message of Yeshua throughout the world. They met in homes not because they were small in number, nor to avoid public scrutiny. On the contrary, by the time Paul was writing his letters, there were already tens of thousands of Jewish believers alone (Acts 21:20), in addition to the multitudes of disciples that had been made among the nations. Even Acts 20:20 tells us that Paul taught both “publicly and from house to house.”
No, the reason the first believers met in homes was because this was where they would be the Called-Forth. They met there not for worship services, but to build up one another, and so that unbelievers could come in, hear the message of Yeshua, and be saved (1 Co. 14:24f). Only gradually over time, after the recorded history of Scripture, did the believers move away from homes and begin to meet in converted houses and build larger buildings. But while the gatherings still centered on homes—in groups of manageable size, with a simple, organic structure—the Called-Forth was able to function effectively as a dynamic, uninstitutionalized Body. The believers could live out God’s intended face-to-face, interactive ministry to one another, and build up of the Body for the common good. Where the Called-Forth was designed to gather was house to house.
This is why, even in the largest of churches today, many still strive to maintain a small-group, home-based ministry. Because deep down—and from God’s word—they know that it is in homes where believers truly grow, and grow together. Today, congregational life revolves around the weekly worship service, while small home groups are considered optional and supplementary. But the problem is: that’s backwards. Most of us don’t realize that, Scripturally, it’s supposed to be the other way around.
Corporate praise and worship is awesome. Home bible studies are great. Life groups and prayer groups are wonderful. But what we really need is a radical redefinition of where the Called-Forth is meant to exist and gather. The idea that we should consider meeting in homes to be essential is revolutionary and transformative, but, more than that, biblical. Let’s rediscover where the biblical church is supposed to meet, so that we can become the Called-Forth we were always meant to be.
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below!