New Testament Church Proliferation Digest

Spreading the Gospel via House Churches

June 27, 2001 Vol 01 : 021


Re: [New Testament Church Proliferation] Web pages? Resources?

[New Testament Church Proliferation] Re: First-century meeting places

Re: [New Testament Church Proliferation] Re: First-century meeting places

Re: [New Testament Church Proliferation] Re: First-century meeting places


Date: Tue, 26 Jun 2001 13:25:43 +0100 From: Sas Conradie

Subject: Re: [New Testament Church Proliferation] Web pages? Resources?

Dear fellow believers and members of the forum

It is fascinating to read the different discussions in this forum. I wanted to introduce myself earlier, but am just extremely busy. Now might be the right time.

I am the Assistant International Director of a an England-based organization that enables Christians, and especially local churches, worldwide in their outreach to Muslims around them and in other parts of the world. We do that through aid, education and trade. You can have a look at our website at We have some material available, especially on church planting in the Muslims context. I have been involved in such a ministry in the old USSR until we were told to leave the country within a week because we were a threat to social order in the country. One of the reasons was that the government tapped our mail without us knowing about that. In that way they found sensitive information about our work. I therefore understand totally the importance of being extremely careful in the messages that are sent over the Internet.

I could send a more detailed list of resources and material that we have available to anybody who might be interested. You can e-mail me at sas* We are also looking for trading partners in different parts of the world. We established a company called Ten Forty Trading to facilitate this venture. The aim of the trading is to assist local believers in creating jobs for themselves and therefore to assist local groups of believers to generate funding for their different ministries. We have seen very positive results during the past few months. I could send some more detailed information about this initiative as well to any interested person. Just send a message to the mentioned number.

I trust that our Creator will bless everyone in the forum. Although we might differ on many theological points, I think all of us have the same aim in mind - to help sinners having a personal relationship with their Creator through their Saviour and Lord and to establish their faith through house groups that can facilitate as a point of spiritual and numerical growth. Let us not take our eyes from our focus!


(Dr.) Sas Conradie

Crowborough, United Kingdom

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Date: Tue, 26 Jun 2001 11:06:57 -0400 From: David Anderson

Subject: [New Testament Church Proliferation] Re: First-century meeting places

Now please hear what I _am_ saying. I'm saying that there were _instances_ when members of the early church _did_ meet in buildings built for worship. Hence we _cannot_ be rigid with one paradigm and insist that house churches are the only Scriptural model. Or even the _best_ one in all circumstances. This promotes needless division. I know most people on this list would not say that houses are the _only_ or _best_way. But some would. I keep reading various people's posts which refer to house churches as _the_ biblical model etc. Let's review the evidence then make allowance for some in the body of Christ who feel the need, desire, leading to build a building in which to meet together. To the glory of God. Okay?


Hi Mike,

I appreciate your research, brother. You must be near a big library.

Me, I am here beside the interstate highway and am unable to recall or access the name of the pagan leader, possibly historian, who referred to the early Christians as those who "had no temples." I'll get back with that info in just a day or two.

I do know that BB Warfield of Princeton has demonstrated that even in the localities where there was no persecution, the saints customarily met in their own homes.

Anyway, the NT saints themselves were called the ~temple~, God's dwelling place, which suggests a very new paradigm to me.

I wish that Christians occupied every building on the face of the earth and had them all dedicated to Jehovah, using them in every possible way to advance the Kingdom. But no.

Church house, house church, or tree house church are all OK. But here's the deal: There are presently more occupants on the earth than in all previous ages combined. Something needs to happen fast in this present generation. Many of these hundreds of millions are very poor and have little opportunity to buy or build much of anything.

For these, a building is not an option and I can see little reason to even suggest that one would possibly increase their peace, deepen their fellowship, or expedite their works of ministry.

David Anderson

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Date: Wed, 27 Jun 2001 08:17:09 +0200 From: "Deborah"

Subject: Re: [New Testament Church Proliferation] Re: First-century meeting places

THREAD: [New Testament Church Proliferation] First-century meeting places

Link wrote:

I'd like to ad a comment about James 2:2. If in Rome, Christians were gathering in the synagogues amongst unbelieving Jews, and then gathering in homes for Christian worship, perhaps the disaspora that James was writing to did the same thing. He might not have had in mind these people discriminating against a poor man in a 'Christian synagogue' but rather in the regular synagogue, where Jews, believing and unbelieving, may have gathered to hear the reading of the Law.

I think you're probably right. It's a good point which I hadn't thought of until you brought it up in an earlier post. And now this last one. But it seems to match the evidence (biblical and historical) best.

I have a question about the cultural background. You mentioned the book that argues that Christians were still connected with the synagogue in the first century. I would like to know the legal situation for God-fearing Gentiles. If a Gentile had not been circumcised, but visited the synagogue to hear the Law read, would he be obligated to offer sacrifice to the emporer, etc? Would being circumcised (becoming a Jewish prostelyte) protect a Gentile from Roman persecution to some extent, by allowing him to take advantage of the legal exemptions given to Jews?

Yes, the book is THE MYSTERY OF ROMANS (Mark D. Nanos, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996.), though Nanos is not the first to suggest that the Christians of Rome during Paul's day were under the authority of the local synagogues. His book is just the most up-to-date.

"God fearers" technically were not just those who just "visited the synagogue," but were considered by the Jews as in a sort of apprenticeship toward conversion with a minimum amount of laws they had to follow (including the shunning of idolatry, ie., offerings for the Emperor, etc.) in order to be allowed regular, albeit limited, fellowship with Jews (see Feldman, Louis H. "The Omnipresence of the God-Fearers". BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY REVIEW, 12/5:58-63, 1986). The prevailing attitude toward Judaism found in Roman literature of the period is negative; particular revulsion is expressed against circumcision, and kashrut (Jewish food laws). Sabbath observance is also mentioned in a negative light, although there were some circles in Roman society which were starting to adopt the practice just because it gave them some time off from work. Conversion to Judaism, though considered "un-Roman," was not illegal and God-fearers were legally members of the collegia (the legal category for clubs under which synagogues were assigned), being subject to the expectations of the Roman synagogue system, liable to punishment for gross infractions, and eligible for burial in Jewish cemeteries, though not considered actually Jewish by the Roman Jews (Rutgers, Leonard V. "Roman Policy Towards the Jews: Expulsions from the City of Rome during the First Century C.E." CLASSICAL ANTIQUITY, 13/1:56-74; George La Piana. "Foreign Groups in Rome During the Centuries of the Empire". HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW. 20/4:183-403, 1927.).

Btw, if a source in 390 recounts a record of someone talking about a 'church' in 130, could that be anachronistic wording on the part of the writer from the 300's? When does the word 'ekklesia' begin to refer to a building?

I had the same thought. I don't know exactly when the first extant instance was of "ekklesia" being used to refer to a building. (Anybody out there know?) Nevertheless the context of Epiphanius' account leaves no doubt Hadrian was viewing buildings, not people.

But it looks like the church organized feeding widows and other large group efforts on a city-church level as well. A bunch of independent, non-interacting house churches doesn't seem to fit the scriptural model, imo.

Good observations, bro! Things were a little more centralized then many of us want to admit.

Jay Ferris tried to make a case for the superiority of house churches based on analogical use of the Scriptures bordering on the allegorical. I would reiterate, the central issue is not what we want, what we think is best, etc. The central issue is: does the New Testament allow for the construction of buildings for the purpose of worship? And I would have to say "yes". It is modeled in the early Church. Whether this has been taken to excess in today's ecclesiastical structure is another thing. I think it has. But we must allow for what the Scripture allows for if we are truly Bible-believing Christians. A radical polarizing on this issue will only cause needless division and further grieve the Lord and the people we are supposed to love.



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Date: Wed, 27 Jun 2001 08:45:11 -0400 From: "Samuel Buick"

Subject: Re: [New Testament Church Proliferation] Re: First-century meeting places

Re: [New Testament Church Proliferation] Re: First-century meeting places Date: Wed, 27 Jun 2001 08:17:09 +0200

THREAD: [New Testament Church Proliferation] First-century meeting places

Michael said:

The central issue is: does the New Testament allow for the construction of buildings for the purpose of worship? And I would have to say "yes". I believe to be biblical objective and historically accurate we need to make very serious distinctions here. I dare say the NT acknowledges existent places of worship, but that does not mean that was why the ekklesia was founded or created or that it ought to followed the existent use of buildings. You are being presumptuous. Let me explain.

1. Jesus modeled the chief activities of community and what we would describe the activities of the "church" with the twelve, and the other disciples who followed Him for three years. It was intimate relational activity that is best described by the interactive dialogues portrayed in the gospels in the homes of Peter, the Zacheus, the home of Lazarus. These were intimate relational interactive settings where everyone could dialogue and participate in the goings on. I believe this model is what the then disciples ended up modeling for the New Testament church as its _chief_ means or _type_ of ministry activity. This ministry activity could not take place in a synagogue. The synagogue though indeed a place of worship is totally at odds with the ministry activities described in the Gospels, Acts, and the epistles. It is the ministry activities, the main reason for gathering that defines the use of the building. Jesus said to the Samaritan woman that there was a day approaching when no one would worship on that mountain in Samaria or at the Temple in Jerusalem, but that they would worship in spirit and in truth. Paul amongst others referred to believers being the dwelling place, the temple of God (Ephesians, Corinthians, among others). The issue here is the people and what they did when the got together. Based on I Cor. 14:26, and that this typified the activities that went on, there is no way that took place in a synagogue!

2. The church birthed on the Day of Pentecost, was just the birth. Yes it took place in a house with a large gathering, but look at what they were doing there. Their activities were distinctively different from the regular activities of the twelve, or the ekklesia later on. They gathered at the bidding of Jesus, to wait, to pray and seek God, until the baptism of the Holy Spirit occured. This was _not_ normative body life, or ministry activity of the early church. It is a distinct event, non related to the reason believers come together on a regular basis, what most people would define church to be.

3. I think a lot of this discussion has centered around the wrong thing. The issue is the reason why and what the activities of the believers were when they gathered (ekklesia) together. This is totally at odds with and distinct from the synagogue or the Temple. Believers gathered for mutual edification and interactive ministry/worship. On the other hand the ministry in the synagogue by _Messianic Jews_ such as Paul, was to proclaim the coming of the Messiah and that the New Covenant had been ushered in. This is where one's eschatological understanding has a bearing on how we are to understand the church and the ensuing history. I believe the Bible in Hebrews shows clearly the superseding of the Law by the New Covenant. I believe the Bible teaches that there was a period of time when a missiological outreach to all the Jews in the Mediterranean world was the goal of the church. That is why Paul went to the Jew first and then the Gentile. This is why he went to the synagogues in Asia, and Greece. This is why the efforts were made to reach out to the children of Israel, no matter what territory they lived in. This was the mission of the early church even after the destruction of the Temple/Old Covenant system in A.D. 70. But the destruction of the Temple brought in a new phase in the church in the earth. I believe that the "forty years" between the ascension of Jesus and the destruction of Jerusalem, were years where God wanted to reach His chosen people and give them an opportunity to come to the Messiah. He held back His judgment of the nation, until then, and great missionary activity took place throughout the Roman world. The New Testament continually speaks of the _time being short_, and this was the time of the Jewish nation was short, and all out efforts were made to reach as many Jews as possible. This is why Paul and others went to the Jews in the synagogues. This was their purpose, to take the Gospel to the Jews before God's judgment came upon them.

4. As the church expanded more and more in the Roman world, it had less and less of its "Jewish" cultural expressions. Paul even aludes to the expression of the church being unique to whatever culture in which it would be contextualized. Jewish cultural and linguistic idioms add to our understanding of the Bible and of Jesus and the early church, but its message and how it is expressed in our own culture will be radically different. The activities are the same, but how they are expressed are unique to its own culture. What is common to all cultures is the family unit, and all the activities that take place within the family unity are common to all people. The interaction, the participation of all, the enjoyment and childlike playfulness, are all common, to not only every culture, but every generation. The expressions of these things vary and change, but the activities themselves do not. Instead of playing with wooden dolls, kids play with video games. The issue is not the toy, it is the playing. The issues in the early church, where not how people praised God, but the fact they did, not the fact they studied the word, but that they interacted and dialogued openly around the word. It is not that they had the Lord's table, but that they had it as part of a great family meal together, each one contributing and enjoying the feast together. It was not that they tithed to support and upkeep the Temple system, but that when there was a need amongst the brethren in another house church in the city, or the poor in town, they all chipped in together to help them. All these activities could not take place in a synagogue or temple. It happened in homes. The chief activities that define how the church functioned points to being done in a home, not a religious building.

The evidence of the regular activities of believers, based on why the church/ekklesia even existed, point to their meeting in homes. The whole Christian message was one of renewing and transforming individuals and families. It was in making people aware that God was desiring of being _in them_, and desiring to have people themselves be _His dwelling place_. The synagogue and temples by their very nature as religious buildings would reinforce the opposite.

The fact that there is mention of synagogues and the Temple is only to signify that they existed and had a religious purpose in the culture. The message of the Jesus and the early church was that the Kingdom of God had come to inhabit men and women, not temples made of wood and stone! The church meeting in homes signified the change and signified the importance of being part of the _family of God_.

It is modeled in the early Church. Whether this has been taken to excess in today's ecclesiastical structure is another thing. I think it has. >But we must allow for what the Scripture allows for if we are truly Bible-believing Christians.

Simply because something is _allowed_ or acknowledged to exist, does not out of necessity mean it is sanctioned or blessed. It is a recognition of their existence and purpose. The purpose of the synagogue, especially after A.D. 70 really served little to the church as a whole. For those called to reach out to the Jews it provided a place and means of communicating on Jewish terms the Gospel. But the synagogue system or worship runs counter to all expressions of body life expressed in the New Testament. The synagogue, religious building runs aground in the fact that it is not an environment that is conducive to body life (interactive dialogue, bible discussion, fervent prayer, interrupting speakers, loud singing, verbal exchanges, complete family interaction, a feast that includes the Lord's supper). You cannot do those things in those buildings. The buildings suppress and deny that type ministry and intimacy.

A radical polarizing on this issue will only cause needless division and further grieve the Lord and the people we are supposed to love. --MICHAEL Jerusalem

Issues of why Christians gather and how they gather will create debate and discussion. There is a radical polarizing going on with this issue. The ones doing it are not those who advocate house church. House church advocates want to return to as biblical a form of Christianity as possible. While the patterns we see relate to what the body actually does when it is together, and while it is usually in a home, it is the _other camp_, those who hold on to a _system_ that is grounded and built upon buildings, property, all the trappings of professional ministry, programs, etc., that are being militant against the church in the house. Their militancy is based on fear. The fear of losing the cash cow they have over the people. The fear of losing their grip on the spiritual life of other believers through the professional clergy. The fear that if the church in the house really takes off, they won't be needed. Fear has no place in this debate. None whatsoever.

I myself work very hard to build bridges with the _institutional_ church, but I do not back down from what I know to be true, and I will not back and support ministry initiatives in my city that reinforces the _institution's hold_ on the people. I support all those ministries and activities that equips and releases the people in the work of the ministry, and that is the New Testament church pattern.

One thing I have noticed. This has indeed polarized people, but it has opened up the debate of what church is supposed to be about. It is about people, not buildings. But building either enhance the biblical patterns of the activities of the body (body life) or diminishes it. The traditional church building does by its very design hinder body life. And this IS the issue.

Sam Buick

Waterloo, Ontario. 

End of New Testament Church Proliferation Digest V1 #21


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