Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house. (Colossians 4:15)
New Testament House Church
When the New Testament church began on Pentecost, three thousand devout Jews believed Jesus was the Christ and were baptized for the remission of their sins. Luke writes how God added the saved to the church and that later that great fear came upon the church following the sudden death of Ananias and Sapphira. When Saul of Tarsus began his persecution of the followers of Christ, he sought to harass the church which was at Jerusalem making havoc of the church. There are few references to how the church organized itself with three thousand initial members of the saved and whether the multitudes baptized on Pentecost remained in Jerusalem. The church is identified in Jerusalem and then found in Judea, Samaria and as far as Antioch. As the development of the church continued churches were established throughout the Roman Empire through the work of men like Peter and Paul. The canon of scripture began to be formed establishing the organization and structure of the church especially in the writings of the now apostle Paul (formerly Saul of Tarsus). From these writings a glimpse of New Testament church work is formed to show that God intended the early disciples to assemble together each first day of the week for fellowship in the communion of remembrance of the Lord’s Supper and to engage in the preaching, teaching, and admonition of the word of God. Paul went through the churches ordaining elders in every church showing a divine pattern of leadership of men who would shepherd the flock among them. The epistles to the Romans, the church of God at Corinth, saints in Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse and the churches of Galatia establish the divine pattern of churches in every place following the pattern of New Testament teaching given through the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised in the gospels that He would build His church, Luke writes about the beginning and propagation of the church purchased with the blood of Christ and men like Paul, Peter, James, and John outline the pattern of the church in their epistles. All came to the same conclusion the church is an organized body that assembled in one place for the purpose of worship and exhortation.
There is one part of the early church that is only hinted at but obvious in its conclusion. Where did all the saints meet? Luke does not say where the three thousand on Pentecost gathered together and it is unlikely all stayed in Jerusalem. The church did exist in Jerusalem for many years and a short time after Pentecost the number of men came to be about five thousand. Paul sheds light on the logistics of the early church when he mentions in his letter to Colosse the church found in the house of Nymphas. He also referred to the home of Priscilla and Aquila as the meeting place of the church (letter to Romans and to Corinth) and the church in the home of Philemon. When the church met in the homes of the saints they gathered together as the people of God for the purpose of worship following the divine pattern given by the Holy Spirit. The reason the early church met in homes is the early Christians could not erect public buildings for the sole purpose of assembly. This would especially be true under persecution. Through every century the people of God found ways to gather together as the local church to carry out the work of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. The place of the assembly was expedient to carry out the command and varied from buildings, caves, open fields, under trees and wherever the faithful could gather to fulfill the divine pattern of the New Testament church. Meeting in homes is a pragmatic way if large enough to accommodate the number of the assembly but does not detract from the pattern of gathering together as a local body of believers.
John saw in the Revelation seven churches in the cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. These were churches organized in the pattern of the teachings of New Testament. The church at Ephesus had elders who were exhorted by Paul to feed the flock among them and to serve as overseers of the church. This would be accomplished whether the church met in an assembly hall or in the home of a saint. Wherever they met they gathered together in one place to fulfill the commands of the Lord. Paul reminded the church at Corinth that when they came together to partake of the Lord’s Supper they were to have a proper attitude showing the pattern of coming together. The apostle affirms the command to come together as a local body of saints under the leadership of spiritual leaders. Singing together as the church can only be done when the saints assemble as one. To be exhorted by prayers, teaching and preaching are found in the local assembly. The conclusion is that while the church can meet in many disciplines of location the command to gather as one as the local body of Christ is without question. There can be some confusion by some that local assembly is not necessary and that a modern view of the church at home is a function of the early church. Indeed, worship in the home is necessary but when members forsake the assembly of the saints they fail to follow the divine command of how the early church was organized. Elders cannot shepherd members who refuse to submit themselves to the oversight ordained by the Holy Spirit. The Lord’s Supper is a communal activity of saints that gather together instead of a single act of an individual. Early Christians met in homes out of necessity as many churches today are found in apartments, homes, rented buildings and yes, beneath the canopy of a tree. The place is incidental. Assembly as a body of people is commanded.