Are Modern “Church Buildings” Digressive?
There is a minority element within the Christian community that contends the early church met exclusively in private homes, not in the type of public facilities one sees today. They allege that the use of modern “church buildings” is in violation of the biblical pattern.
Church groups, they argue, are “families.” Therefore, in order to preserve the atmosphere of intimacy, the group must remain small. And since families live in “homes,” they suppose that the “house church” arrangement constitutes “a binding pattern” for New Testament service.
The advocates of this theory—however sincere they may be—are terribly misguided. This notion of a mandated congregational “birth control” program has no semblance of support in the Scriptures.
Authority by Inference: Expediency Allowed
The requirement by command and example for Christians to assemble for the purpose of worship (Acts 20:7; Hebrews 10:25), implies (and thus authorizes) a place of some sort at which to meet.
But unless there is an exclusive pattern of conduct, associated with some type of underlying spiritual principle, no one can require a particular style of meeting-place, e.g., in a private home. Expediency will suggest what is prudent under different circumstances, and expediency is a matter of judgment and preference.
No Exclusive Pattern
There was no exclusive pattern relative to worship facilities in the days of the apostles, and this is demonstrated by the following facts.
Christians met in the temple complex
The early Jerusalem church initially met somewhere within the confines of the temple complex, which encompassed a very large area — approximately 20 acres. It has been observed that the “court of the Gentiles” was very commodious, capable of accommodating some 200,000 people (Harrison, p. 64).
These meetings may have involved several different groups as the church expanded. Nonetheless, initially at least — before Jewish hostility was aroused, the outer court area was their meeting place (cf. Acts 2:46). These “first fruits” of the faith quite obviously were not required to segregate into scores of small “house churches” for the purpose of engaging in worship on the Lord’s day.
In spite of this clear precedent in the book of Acts, one writer, in defense of the “house church” position, declares that “the New Testament Church began as a small group house church (Col. 4:15), and it remained so until the middle or end of the third century.”
This claim, quite frankly, is ludicrous.
First of all, the church did not begin as a small unit in someone’s house. There was a minimum of 3,000 disciples in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41). There could have been many more than 3,000 if those baptized under John’s ministry (Matthew 3:5-6), as well as those prepared by the Lord and his men (John 4:1-2), were not included in this figure (cf. Alexander, p. 89).
Moreover, they all “were together,” at least for a while, as reflected by the imperfect tense verb, esan (“were”), in Acts 2:44. Obviously they had not been taught that such a large group nullified the “family environment.”
Disciples met in homes, too
The early disciples did meet in homes at times. Of this there is no doubt (1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15). But there is not the slightest evidence that this arrangement constituted a “binding pattern.”
Christians may have rented or borrowed public facilities
In some instances, Christians may have employed a borrowed or rented facility. Such a circumstance likely was the case relative to their daily meetings in the school of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9), which appears to have included Sundays as well as weekdays.
To argue, as some “house church” advocates have done, that this was merely a temporary arrangement (two years) is hardly convincing. Scripture does not sanction “digression” as a preparation for practicing truth.
Aside from that, those in that region who were converted to Christ surely had houses that, on occasion, accommodated worship assemblies, and yet a public facility was also used. The point is this: house-worship was not a binding, exclusive pattern.
Reference: Wayne Jackson