Is the simple church movement biblical? What is a simple church?
"Simple church" is another name for the concept of house churches. A house church is a small congregation (usually around 20) who meet in a home. Meetings vary in type and character, but they generally resemble small group Bible studies more than traditional church services. They may include singing, teaching, and eating together, and children stay with the adults. Accountability and relationships are emphasized while church leadership roles are not.
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The idea behind the simple church movement is to emulate the gatherings of Christ-followers in the book of Acts. In the early church age, believers met wherever they could—usually homes (Acts 16:40; Romans 16:3-5; Colossians 4:15)—and learned from whomever had insight about Jesus and His sacrifice.
There is nothing inherently wrong with a simple church. Small churches are scattered all over the world simply because of a lack of believers who can meet in any given area. Many traditional church plants start by meeting in a home. What is wrong is the belief that the Bible only endorses simple churches. In reality, the church in Acts grew daily, as it was supposed to. And because of that growth, the Bible explains how local bodies of believers should be organized and led.
Therein lie the two major problems with simple churches. Maintaining a small congregation naturally infers that the members do not value evangelism or growth in numbers. The purpose of the local church is to support and train its members, and encourage them to reach others and bring them into the church. The church was never meant to be a closed group.
The second issue is that by rejecting the leadership model of the Bible, to include a pastor, elders, etc., simple churches run the risk of either falling into disorder or becoming a cult. Without the accountability of several godly leaders, a strong personality can take over and quickly lead the group into unbiblical theology. In fact, some home churches have been found guilty of abuse of their parishioners. On the other hand, while some simple churches interpret 1 Corinthians 14:26 as permission to be disorganized, that wasn't Paul's point. His intent was to show the church in Corinth that "God is not a God of confusion but of peace" (verse 33), and their chaos was detrimental to their worship.
Not every simple church falls into these traps. Ideally, a home church will welcome newcomers and split as the group becomes too large for the facilities. If all the members are like Bereans and study the Bible diligently (Acts 17:11), the chance of erroneous teaching decreases. Members can agree to some basic guidelines to ensure gatherings are flexible but not chaotic.
There may even be advantages to joining a simple church. With no building to maintain, members have more time for outside ministry. With no pastor to pay, there is more money to dedicate to missions. At the same time, there are advantages to having a space dedicated for worship and service.
As long as the group includes members who take responsibility for seeking out the truth of the Scriptures and are as devoted to the Great Commission as they are to each other, the simple church concept can work. It is not the "correct" way to have church, but it is an acceptable way.
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