Nana Yaw Aidoo
One mistake a great many of us make when it comes to taking a position on anything, especially on Biblical teaching, is that we determine right or wrong and thus align with or agree with a certain position based on who said what and not on what was actually said. I distinctly remember that when the government suspended public gatherings in Ghana due to the COVID-19 outbreak, some preachers and elderships came out advising all the churches to meet in small groups in homes. Their argument was that, by so doing, we would be doing “what the New Testament church did.” Some of the brethren even contended that the churches in apostolic times met only in private homes to worship.
It is not my aim in this article to discuss what I think about churches canceling their worship services due to the virus. I only want to challenge the assertion that the churches in apostolic times met only in private homes to worship and I urge all who are lovers of truth to verify whether this is so (Acts 17:11). We ought to love truth enough (2 Cor. 13:8), to speak as the oracles of God on all issues. Around the time when the issue was hot and pressing, some were contending that since this is the “Biblical pattern,” we ought to dispense with our buildings and give the money to the poor in the church. (Yes! I saw that on Facebook). I also know that some have been teaching that since the churches met only in private homes, then all the house churches in a particular city, formed the church in that city and far from there being a plurality of elders in a particular local church (like we’ve always taught), there were actually metropolitan elders over all house churches in a city. I believe with all my certainty that the idea of metropolitan elders over many house churches is one of the worst forms of heresy. However, I’ll leave that for another day. In this brief note, I want to examine the idea that the apostolic churches met only in private homes to worship.
Indeed, some congregations met in private homes and to deny this fact is to deny plain passages of Scripture (see Romans 16:5). However, I really wonder where the idea that the churches in apostolic times met only in private homes came from. I spent some “lock down time” doing a little reading on this issue and honestly, I still do not see what many seem to see when they read the New Testament. I believe that if I can prove that some churches met in places other than in private homes, I would have proven that the idea that the apostolic churches met only in private homes to worship God is pure conjecture.
Some do not hesitate to point to Acts 2:46 which reads, “…continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,” as “proof” that the apostolic churches met only in private homes. Folks, I deny that Acts 2:46 describes a worship assembly for the simple reason that we do not eat meat as an act of worship, when we assemble to worship. Is this not true? Besides, if Acts 2:46 speaks of a worship assembly, then one thing is certain; the apostolic church assembled to worship in Herod’s temple too: “…continuing daily with one accord in the temple…” Like so many good brethren, I believe that Acts 2:42 describes the Jerusalem church’s worship. Is it not significant that the place of worship is not mentioned in the text?
Moreover, we are told that 3,000 people were added to the apostles on that fateful Pentecost day, when the church of Christ began (Acts 2:41). In a short while, this congregation grew so much that the men alone were 5,000 in number (Acts 4:4). In fact, the number multiplied to the extent that the inspired historian called them a “multitude” (Acts 6:2). We wonder whose private house had a room big enough to host such a great “multitude of disciples.” We call attention to the facts that one day Peter and John went up to the temple to pray (Acts 3:1) and also that all the disciples who “…were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet…” (Acts 4:34-35). Now brethren, I am not saying at this point that this proves that the Jerusalem church didn’t meet in a private home to worship. I’m just thinking out aloud.
Furthermore, Luke in Acts 19 also wrote that when the apostle Paul went to Ephesus,
…he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God. But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus. And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks (Acts 19:8-10).
From where did the apostle separate or withdraw the disciples when he began to receive opposition? Was it not from the synagogue? Why not from the private homes? Notice if you would that Paul himself when he persecuted the church, sought them in synagogues (Acts 9:2). Does this not impress anything on your mind? And more, when he withdrew the disciples from the synagogue, where did he go to? To a private home? No! He rented a school building, and there continued for two solid years. Is it outside the realm of possibility to say that the disciples in Ephesus met in that school building in those early years?
In addition, James in writing against partiality in the assembly of saints wrote:
My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? (Jas. 2:1-4).
Please notice the word that is translated assembly. Friends, it is literally synagogue (sunagoge in the Greek), and is translated synagogue rather than assembly in the American Standard Version 1901, Bible in Basic English, Darby’s Translation, and in the Young’s Literal Translation. My point is that, James wrote to brethren who assembled in synagogues. Therefore, the idea that the apostolic churches met only in private homes is untenable.
So many times in the book of Acts, the place of assembly is not specified at all. Please study carefully, texts like Acts 4:23-31 where Luke simply wrote, “…the place…where they were assembled together…” In Acts 6:1-2, the place of assembly is not specified. In Acts 9:26-28, the disciples are in Jerusalem but nothing is said about them assembling in a private home. Acts 11:26 and Acts 13:1-3 say the church was at Antioch in Syria but say nothing about the brethren assembling in a private home. Acts 14:21-23 says there were churches in Lystra, Iconium and Antioch in Pisidia but says nothing about them assembling in private homes. And many more. With the place of assembly not specified in these instances, how then do we know that they met in private homes?
When denominationalists say there were “three wise men,” we contend that they are doing guess work because the Bible doesn’t specify how many wise men visited Christ as an infant. Rightly so. Likewise, we ought to be careful with speculations about where the early disciples met, and ensure that we “speak as the oracles of God” on this issue.
Once again, that is not to say some churches did not meet in houses. Clearly, some did. However, to teach that the apostolic churches met only in private homes is to teach that which cannot be proven without reasonable doubt by the one who is willing to speak where the Bible has spoken and be silent where it is silent. Some might point to uninspired history to “prove their case.” There is some merit in doing that. But when uninspired history speaks where God or the Bible has not spoken, we ought to reject it like Paul rejected those “scholars” in Athens.
I do not believe this issue is a fellowship issue. My humble plea and prayer however is that, we love truth enough, to verify what our favorite preachers tell us and also to speak as the oracles of God on all issues.