I am a great advocate for a simpler church model and have no objection to house churches as such. My congregation's biggest burden is a building. It drains our resources, financial and man-power, and adds little if anything to the effectiveness of our ministry. House churches have clearly been effective in spreading the gospel in South Korea and other parts of the world.What do you think about Lance's observations? I think several of his points deserve our attention.
I do, however, question whether the model you speak of is actually the New Testament model. My understanding of New Testament practice—I prefer 'practice' to 'model'—is that the believers met in small groups rather regularly, perhaps daily, and then the smaller groups came together less frequently. However, the New Testament gives only sketchy information about how the church was organized and claiming anything to be a New Testament model is claiming more than the Scripture itself teaches.
Furthermore, because details of organization are not mandated in the Scripture, I have to ask if we are required to duplicate their church organization and practice. What worked in first-century Greco-Roman and Jewish cultures may not work in twenty-first century Anglo-American or Ecuadorian or British or any other culture.
In other words, we are too stuck on the concept of a New Testament model when the New Testament model is not really relevant. That said, I find nothing unbiblical about the practice you describe. Neither do I find anything unbiblical about the more traditional Anglo-American practice most of us grew up in. It may not be very effective. It may be outdated. It is not, however, unbiblical, nor should it be casually replaced.
I also share the concerns about sound doctrine and teaching expressed by several. Many advocates of house churches dismiss this issue, but it is extremely important. By God's grace it has not, apparently, been an issue in your work in Ecuador. However, here in the States it is a major issue. All of the house churches or 'cell group' churches I have any experience with very quickly degenerated into heresy in some degree. That is not necessarily because they were house churches—many traditionally organized churches in the U.S. have also degenerated in heresy—but, it is a 'pinch point' in the practice that must be anticipated and actively monitored.
Leadership selection and training must be a primary concern to those involved in house church ministry. Leaders must be well trained in Biblical truth and what those truths mean in terms of practice. I have long said that we as Baptists have very good doctrine, but our doctrine and our practice rarely come together. Furthermore, that training will be more effective if done through the local churches rather than separate seminaries or schools.
All that said, I believe we must do church more simply in the near future. That means fewer and smaller buildings, less money in general, more worship and teaching and less activity, and more involvement of the entire congregation. I am a great advocate of bi-vocational ministry. After all, no one is more free to be obedient to God than he who has nothing to lose.
Also, if we want to talk about a New Testament model, we cannot escape the fact that in practice even Paul was bi-vocational. One of the most effective times of evangelism in the United States was during the frontier days when the farmer who plowed a field during the week stood on a stump in that field on Sunday and proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ and him crucified. This was not a house church model, but it was generally a small and intimate community of believers. This is one of the reasons Baptists, Methodists, and the Churches of Christ are so strong in the South and Midwest. They allowed, even encouraged, bi-vocational pastors. During that time, one of the primary purposes of local Baptist associations was pastor training. In spite of the informality of the system, this was a time of good, solid doctrinal teaching and practice. Sadly, the deterioration of the evangelical church in America has be presided over by seminary-trained, vocational pastors.
Most importantly, as a general observation without judging any one person, group, or congregation, we must regain our high view of God's holiness and sovereignty if we wish to see effective evangelism. That can be done in a house church model or a more traditional church model, with a vocational pastor or a bi-vocational leader. It is imperative, however, that we regain a biblical view of God if we are to be his people doing his work.
Is a NT model of church irrelevant for us today?
Is sound doctrine and teaching amiss in the house churches you are familiar with?
Are simple/house churches on shaky Biblical ground when they claim to be New Testament models of church?
Since we are not part of the Roman-Greco world, are the apostolic prescriptions for church something intended only for the first century ekklesia?
Is our Anglo-American tradition equally valid with church practice as found in the New Testament?
Are bi-vocational workers more the ideal than trained, professional seminary graduates?
Good questions. Thoughtful material for consideration. What do you think? Pick one (or two!) and dive in!
--Lance Johnson blogs at Except by Prayer and Fasting.