You Don’t Need an Apostle to Start A House Church
I’ve had a lot of conversations with people who are considering joining or starting house churches. One of the odd realities of the house church movement in the United States is the belief that apostles (sometimes also referred to as “workers”) are needed to start legitimate house churches. I hear this a lot, but I believe it’s harmful.
So I will fairly often get a question that goes something like this: “I live in ___________ City. I don’t have a group believers who want to start a house church and no apostle will come help me. What should I do?”
I understand why people would look at the Scriptures and think that apostles are the only ones who start churches. But it’s a fairly odd belief for a movement that has based much of its identity around the idea that Jesus shows up wherever “two or three are gathered.” If Jesus meant this, and I believe He did, then church begins when two or three legitimate believers gather in his name, not when an apostle shows up to pronounce them a church.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think apostles are incredibly important, essential really, to the building up of the body of Christ. I also think that apostles do plant churches and probably plant more churches than people with other giftings in the body. It’s part of their nature. But to say that an organic church must be started by an apostolic worker is a great way to get less house churches started.
An argument could be made here that more house churches could be started without apostles, but they would be of lesser quality, less focused on the glory of God and more prone to be outside of what the Lord intended. Except the Scripture doesn’t paint that picture. Here a few places where it seems that Scripture shows us hints of non-apostolicly founded churches:
- Acts 2:42-47- This is the Jerusalem church that was birthed after the Holy Spirit fell on the 120 in the upper room. Now I won’t argue that the apostles didn’t help form the house churches described in this passage, obviously they were a vital part of the community. But they were 12 men out of 3000 people. There was no way the apostles could have spent a significant amount of quality time with each house church there, especially not in the way many understand the modern apostle/worker starting a house church.
- Acts 11:19-21- Here is a church or a number of churches (“a large number of people”) that was formed by “those who were scattered because of the persecution.” We know that this doesn’t include the apostles, because Acts 8:3 tells us the only people who stayed in Jerusalem were the apostles. Now, apostles were eventually involved. I think apostolic input into any church is important. But this church started when believers scattered by the persecution started preaching the gospel and people came to the Lord.
- Colossians 1:7- The church in Colossae was started not by Paul, but by Epaphras. Paul had never been to Colossae but wrote his letter to them to encourage them in their walk. I would actually argue Epaphras was an apostolic worker, but if you want to get super technical about it, Paul never calls him that.
- Revelation 2 & 3- Again, we don’t know a lot about most of the churches mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3 other than the church in Ephesus. What we do know is that Paul started the church in Ephesus, but other unnamed believers started the churches in Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philladelphia, and Laodecia. These were most likely churches that were established as the Gospel went out from Ephesus into all of the region. These were all affirmed as churches by Jesus himself, even though Paul only planted the church in Ephesus.
I say all of this to make the following point: If you can’t find an apostolic worker to help you start a house church, you are not abandoned by God. Quite the contrary, you could be a vessel the Lord uses to lead unbelievers to Christ and see a church formed. This is why I want you to plant a house church.
And given what we see in many of these Scriptures, I think it’s very appropriate for apostles to help with the ongoing maturing and equipping of house churches they didn’t start. Part of their role as a bond-servant of Christ is to serve churches in just such a manner. Paul tells us explicitly in Ephesians 4 that God “gave some as apostles…for…the building up of the body of Christ.” So to say we don’t need apostles would be silly.
But to despair, to give up hope, to stop believing God for the formation of churches without an apostle ready and willing to help is just not what I see in the New Testament. I see a whole people learning to follow Christ and willing to risk even their physical lives to share the gospel with those who have never heard it. And when those souls come to Christ, there should be no wringing of hands because no apostle is present. There is simply a confidence that the God who has led them this far would continue to empower and sustain them.
And in this way, we don’t just gain apostles, but we embody the kind of apostolic Christianity I believe God wants to restore in the Earth. May it be so, even for those who are reading this today.
Photo Credit: &Koeln6b1StAposteln by Olaf Peuss
13 responses to “You Don’t Need an Apostle to Start A House Church”
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- June 23, 2017 -
- August 27, 2017 -
Thanks Brad. Just FYI…I got your email and it was part of the inspiration behind this post. I plan on writing you back personally on this a little more. Hope you’re well.
Very good article. I think that Jeremiah 31:34 is key to our new covenant. ““They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying “know the Lord,”, for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,”, declares the Lord.” God does give teachers and prophets and apostles, but the heart of our new covenant is that we all know Jesus and all have his Spirit and are to be filled with his Spirit. God wants to move through us. We don’t need apostles and prophets and teachers to come and teach us how to live — we should be teaching and prophesying to each other and sending the apostles out (in teams, in my opinion), to start churches where there are none. It is our ingrained response, from Adam on down, to be passive and wait for someone else to step up and lead. But that is not God’s heart for us. To be honest, I would be uncomfortable having an “apostle” come over to “guide” me in starting a church — I think that the church is based on relationship, and the authority in the church is based on relationship. If I don’t know that “apostle” and if I don’t know what he is like when he is at home with his family and friends, then I am uncomfortable putting him in any type of authority position.
I agree. The way I say it is that anyone can start a house church, just like anyone can start a family–because that is what a house church is. It takes an apostolic and prophetic foundation to catalyse a disciple/church multiplication movement.
Neil: What do you mean, “It takes an apostolic and prophetic foundation to catalyse a disciple/church multiplication movement”? I don’t see the role of apostle as having much to do in the discipleship/multiplication of a church. I see them as people, preferably, in my opinion, a team of families, that a house church (or closely aligned group of house churches would send out to a new area — different city, state, country). I think the discipleship and multiplication of house churches is more something that grows up organically as a healthy house church reaches out to its general locality and assimilates new converts or new members from traditional churches. On the other hand, I think that the Bible leaves the definition of apostle somewhat open to allow us to respond to God in freedom, and I think that everyone has their own ideas about what apostles do. I am curious to know a little more about how you see their role in the local church.
Neil, thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughts.
Good points. Especially that of those scattered as a result of persecution being the ones who were used to start new fellowships and not the apostles.
Travis, I am curious. Where does this idea that a church needs to be started by an apostle come from? I assume it has charismatic roots — Charismatics are, I guess, the only ones who believe that the five-fold ministry is for today. But is it a house church thing? Or is it more imported from the strong emphasis on apostles and prophets that we see today in charismatic circles? House churches seem to have their pet doctrines, just like home schoolers, or any group of Christians — I am Charismatic, a homeschooler and do house church, so I have exposure to all three groups and their distinctive emphases.
Thanks for the question. The charismatic church would be an easy scapegoat wouldn’t it? Honestly most of the people who hold this teaching within the house church movement would disavow the charismatic movement to some degree. There are a number of high-profile authors who teach this…I’ve refrained from naming names because a flame-war is not what I need at this stage in my life, but I’m saying something because I’ve seen so many believers stuck in futility and confusion because of this teaching.
Thanks for your restraint. Just because we disagree with someone on some point doesn’t mean that we need to personally name them and tell everyone that we disagree with them. But, it is good to discuss teaching that you disagree with. If it is wrong teaching, it is important to point that out. And, more importantly, as the Bible says, we know in part. Through the process of discussion they can learn from us, and if we have open ears and heart, it might turn out that we might learn something from them too.
I like your thoughts here, I think too often Christians congeal to heavily in the ‘clergy culture’ mentality – that only elite group of ministers can make moves for God. Accountability is good, but each Christian is called a priest (1 Peter 2:9) and above all is under Christ. Believers should feel they have more autonomy to do good works – I know in the past I have felt restrained from doing ministry for want of a ministry to be ‘under.’ Christians are under Christ, let us follow His directive – that’s how disciples become apostles anyhow.