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Theological Similarities between Cell Church and House Church Movements

by Joel Comiskey

Winter 2009

Recently Chris Boehnke, a Missouri-Synod Lutheran pastor, wrote, “In the last few years I have looked into the biblical and theological principles for the cell church and house church movements. My goal has been to examine the underlying biblical and theological foundation for each. Does one have a more solid theological foundation than the other? Or are they both equally valid theologically but different ways practically to be the church?”

My personal conviction is that the cell church and house church movements are theological cousins. Think with me on key theological points:

Trinity (community and evangelism). The house church movement and the cell church movement would agree on this point. Both movements critique the impersonal nature of many one winged, programmed based churches. Both movements emphasize the “one anothers” of Scripture and the need to reach out in relational evangelism.

Priesthood of all believers (every member a minister and gift use). Both believe that the house environment is the best place to turn members into ministers and to practice the gifts of the Spirit.

Making disciples (multiplication and leadership development). The newer house church movement (Simson, Cole, Kreider) would certainly emphasize the need to multiply new house churches and to raise up leaders. I heard Larry Kreider emphasize this point over and over in our recent seminars together.

And allow me to add the excellent point that Richard Houle made about the use of ekklesia in the New Testament. Houle mentioned that the NT use of ekklesia referred both to the city-wide church as well as the local house church. Both the house church movement and cell church acknowledge this (read, House Church and Mission, for an in-depth treatment on the topic).

Granted, there are differences between the two movements. Cell church practices the celebration wing more frequently and house church emphasizes the elder role of the leader. Yet, my point here is that the broad theological underpinnings are similar for both movements and because of this, I see great similarities between the two movements (check out my article on house churches). This unity, in fact, has naturally brought the two movements together in recent times:

  • Larry Kreider’s apostolic network includes both house church networks and cell churches.
  • Ben Wong’s CCMN now includes cell churches and house church networks.
  • Church planting movement literature often highlights cell church and house church networks interchageably (e.g., David Garrison).

Even though I believe that both movements stem from the same theological family, I’ll be the first to admit that my expertise, practice, and even bias is with the cell church camp (or highly networked house churches).

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