Theological Similarities between the Cell Church and House Church Movements

joelPlease pray for Rob Campbell, who normally blogs today, as he deals with the death of a 55-year old state trooper, who was a member of CCC and left behind his wife and five kids (12-23). They are expecting over 1000 at the funeral.

Yesterday, in response to my blog on key theological principles of the cell church, 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 the points I mentioned yesterday:

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 in the comment section of yesterday’s blog (please read Houle’s comment) 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). So help me out here. Have I overstated my case about the similiarities between the cell church and house church movements? I’d appreciate your thoughts. . .


10 thoughts on “Theological Similarities between the Cell Church and House Church Movements

  • What a great question. Thanks for adresssing it so succinctly.

    I would add the following observations:

    1. House church practioners are usually of the view that a small gathering of belivers is/can be a church in itself. I know that this view is often stated in cell church literature but my observation is that it is not always held in practice by all within cell churches – or at least not in the same way.

    2. Related to that is the role of elders. Again, my observation is that in CC, this function (whatever name is used for it) operates at a “church together” level, whereas in HC it is understood as being a more grass roots role.

    3. There are probaly some views about the nature of organizations as such that are different between the two camps. Although this is a less obvious theological difference, it does have a theological diminsion, touching on such issues as the nature of the Kingdom of God and the church’s role in the world.

    4. More controversially, I think I am right in saying that one is more likely to meet leaders who embrace Open Futurism with HC than CC (though it is not in any way a majority view among such churches).

    Stimulating post, as ever.

  • Great points, Al. And I especially agree with your first and second points. Those are two key distinctions between house church and cell church. I am puzzled by your fourth point and have no idea why house church would be more quick to embrace open futurism more than Cell Churches. By Open Futurism, I believe you’re referring to Open Theism, right?

  • Great insights. I agree that the three underlying theological priniciples you point to are foundational for the church regardless of the varying details seen in the cell church and house church movements.

    It seems to me that each movement has its own strengths and its own potential weaknesses to guard against. The house church focuses on organic body-life without hierarchical control, but it can be tempted to become ingrown and not multiply or network with other house churches. The cell church focuses on leadership development, networking and multiplication, but it can be tempted to have programmatic groups with leaders whose authority may be based on position and control.

    Both the cell church and house church movements, in my opinion, need each other to prophetically speak to each other’s weaknesses and to mutually strengthen each other in maximizing those three theological principles by the power of God’s Spirit.

  • I think personnaly that there are also great dissimilarities.
    I know that the new movement of House churches is more open to gather the House churches together in some way, but the things i read on the internet on House churches in my region seem to indicate big differences with the Cell-church movement.

    1. The elders gathered together from all the House churches do not really form a church in the administrative sense. Am i wrong ? They gather together a bit like a local city gathering of different pastors from different churches.

    2. I am wondering if the independant spirit i have seen on the part of the House Church movement in our region (Quebec, Canada) is not due to reaction to the one wing church. They have understood that the ingathering of many saints on Sunday morning does not produce disciples. So they are in reaction to this and, i think, are going the other way : not needing the ingathering of all the saints from all the House churches. This is often like that. We are often in reaction to the problem w’ve seen in movements.

    3. I would agree with Ralph Neighbour : when we read the NT the pattern we see is a two wing church. I think that going to a left wing church (House Church) and to a right wing church (Traditional church) is a mistake.
    Sorry for folks who don’t agree. I love you anyway :). We need the two. Some gifts are more useful in the House church, other gifts more useful in the other.

    4. I feel the House church movement will be growing because it’s a part of the post-modern context where people like relationship. This is good, but this is a only a sociological openness. There are many difficulties we will experience if we are not carefull. Some of them : not having a plurality of leadership for the church (Titus 1.5). If each elder leads a House church, we never have a gathering of elders to take decisions. Not having full time teachers (1Tim.5.17) for the church and probably many more.

    I am not too much open to the House Church movement in general. I think there will be the same problems than the traditional church. We will miss a wing and won’t be able to fly !

  • This helpful exchange started with a query about theological bases, a question we were disposed to ask by our seminary educators.

    An important part of CC & HC practice remains their legality. Try to launch a CC in China, N. Korea, S. Arabia… Western options often seem guided by leaders’ gifts, preferences, or desire to emulate foreign practices.

    Equally important, for me, is the scriptural basis of our practice. For our (abstract) theologies were informed by historical attempts to defend or justify our (concrete) forms and practices.

    Do our behavioural forms facilitate our obedience to the commands of Jesus and of his apostles? In what ways does my theology help and hinder my loving obedience to Jesus, my King?

  • During my time pastoring in the traditional church I noticed there was a tendency among pastors to view house churches with suspicion and criticism. I believe this attitude was born out numerous bad experiences with breakaway groups and dissatisfied church members “doing their own thing.” Often these groups were started in rebellion or in criticism to of the church leadership rather than a true conviction that this was a way of living out the faith that was more conducive to discipleship, evangelism, and true community.

    I tended to look upon house churches this way, as ‘rebel groups’ that were more intent at thumbing their noses at leadership than doing anything really meaningful in a different way.

    Since leaving the traditional church and embarking on my own search, I’ve ended up in a house church approach myself. One glaring problem I discovered right away about CC is availability. They are hard to find! My intent in beginning the search was to find a CC to be a part of and learn about but I couldn’t find one in my city! My search did turn up house church movements though and so we went with what was availiable, was in the home, and espoused the values we were looking for.

    Some would say, “Start your own CC then! Be the change you want to see!” But my goal was to be mentored into a different way by seeing it done. Old habits die hard and I desperately wanted change after 8 years of pastoring in the “one wing church.” My fear has been that if I read some books, maybe go to a conference and try to start something that I will revert back to the familiar and not truly change.

    One other thing I’ve noticed is that when I discuss house church with people who like to preach, they tend to dislike the idea of no large group gathering for “teaching” and proclamation. Preaching was never one of my favorite parts of the pastor position and personally I don’t miss it, hearing it or doing it myself. Orations are not the best way to learn and those who think we’ll be missing out on valuable teaching gifts in our midst by not having such a platform cause me to wonder. While we would not be able to get the information out to as many people at once without such a platform, it would force us to implement a more effective and relational way to teach. Part of the one wing problem is that we have tried to “mass-produce” Christians when it simply doesn’t work. Efficiency in that sense works for factories but not for disciples.

    My concern for CC is that there is a tendency to use mass production techniques for the sake of efficiency, citing Moses and his father-in-law’s advice for how to offload the stress of being judge to an entire nation on his own. A curriculum doesn’t change lives, but people who lovingly disciple do, with or without such tools.

    House church certainly is not perfect and I have a lot to learn about both but I thought I would share my observations from this point in our journey. I believe we are all striving after the same thing which is why I appreciate this forum. Blessings on you all as you search for true discipleship, evangelism, and community. May we all be found pleasing to our Lord as we seek live out His Word.

    • Excellent comment, Al. I loved hearing about your journey and I’m so glad you’re part of this network.

      I also feel there’s a danger in CC of over-emphasizing the sermon. You mentioned that sermons are not the best learning mode. Another reason is that the pastor can easily de-emphasize cell ministry because so much time and energy is spent in sermon preparation and because it’s the time when everyone is hearing the pastor.

      If at all possible, I recommend preaching teams. . .

  • I think there is a big similarity with the cell church and the house church because they are both house based gathering. I think the similarities is in the principles and leadership network by getting all members involved in the ministry of the church.

  • Al said, “During my time pastoring in the traditional church…”

    Al, your story sounds very familiar! Are you my daughter and son-in-law’s friend living in San Antonio?

    Sharing the Journey,
    Rick & Becky Diefenderfer

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