|A modern day atrium|
Recently, a variety of people have approached me to ask my opinion on the rising interest in multiplying home church models. While Francis Chan is not alone in advocating such a model, he is one of the most prominent voices pressing the agenda today. As an aside, Chan is a remarkable man whose vision and passion for the Lord challenges me to live more vibrantly for King Jesus. I’m deeply indebted to him on many levels, including the student lives I have the privilege of interacting with on a weekly basis. His transparent and passionate teachings coupled with the free resources he provides to the Christian community makes a tremendous difference. Nevertheless, I believe the absolute and idealistic nature in which his and other home church models are presented misrepresents the nature of what is happening in the New Testament.
Advocates of multiplying home church models consistently reference Acts and the Pauline Epistles. The argument is that in Acts the church was meeting in homes and Paul is speaking to churches gathered in homes. Thus, these texts are presented as the ideal for creating disciples in the modern context. Furthermore, it is often noted that Paul did not take years establishing bureaucratic structures and leadership. Rather, in quick fashion, he entrusted the church to others, and he commissioned them to pastor. The question that must be asked is whether these texts are given as prescriptive for us to follow today or descriptive of special circumstances in the establishment of the Christian Church. I believe it is the latter. Read More
In Jerusalem the early Christians in all likelihood gathered in the central courtyards of the larger houses or on their roofs. The central courtyard or roof were the usual places for activities which required light (see "Houses in Bible times.") Rooms opened off the central courtyard and were small and dark. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that Paul preached and taught in a variety of buildings and even outdoors. What we can glean from the early Church fathers and archaeological sites is that in better times the early Christians met in the homes of the wealthier members of the congregations - in all likelihood in the atrium, or central courtyard. The main difference between the Roman atrium and the Mid-Eastern central courtyard was that the atrium usually contained a rectangular pond. In times of intense persecution the early Christians also gathered in the catacombs which are underground cemeteries. When Christianity was legalized, they began to meet in basilicas, large public buildings. If anything can be said about the gathering places of the early Christians, it is that these places were determined by their circumstances.