Christian M. McShaffrey
As the modern "home church" movement continues to gain momentum and threaten the peace and unity of congregations in every denomination, it behooves all who love Christ's church to speak the truth in love to home church advocates.
Therefore, I offer this pastoral advice:
If by "home churching" a person simply means that his congregation meets in someone's house, then we must regard this as a perfectly acceptable practice and perhaps even preferable if the congregation is small and struggling financially.
However, if by "home churching" that person means that he has abandoned the "institutional church" and has begun to assume the prerogatives or exercise the functions of the special officers of the church (pastor, elder, or deacon), then he is in serious error.
While the home church movement is misguided, we should at least appreciate that the average home church advocate desires an "authentic New Testament experience" of Christian fellowship and worship. He has probably become disillusioned with melodramatic high-church liturgy or mediocre evangelical praise and worship, and is simply looking for the church that he reads about in Acts 2:40-47.
Before you judge a home church advocate, you need to examine yourself and your own local congregation to make sure that you are not guilty of the same shortcomings and sins that have led so many to leave the institutional church in recent years (see Matt. 7:1-5).
Does your local congregation at all resemble the church described in Acts 2:40-47? Do you at all resemble those early Christians who loved each other, shared their possessions, and enjoyed daily fellowship with gladness and simplicity of heart? If not, then you can probably learn as much from the home church advocate as he can learn from you.
In all your discussions, be careful not to pronounce on the matter before you understand the home church advocate's reasons for leaving the institutional church (see Prov. 18:13; John 7:24).
It is only by careful listening that you will know whether you should (1) warn him about the dangers of his ecclesiastical rebellion, (2) comfort him as one who has lost heart, or (3) uphold him as one who is simply weak in the faith. In any case, be patient with all (1 Thess. 5:14).
Most home church advocates honestly love the Bible and earnestly desire to do what it says. All you need to do is help them realize what it actually does say.
Again, your average home church advocate loves the picture of the infant church that is found in Acts 2, and this is both natural and good.
What you need to do is to show him how that newborn church eventually grew up into the presbyterian-looking institution that is pictured later in Acts 15 and in the Pastoral Epistles.
If you are unable to convince your home-churching friend to come back into Christ's earthly and institutional kingdom, then just be patient, for one of two things will inevitably happen:
The author is pastor of Grace Reformed Church in Reedsburg, Wis. New Horizons, March 2011.