by Ralph Neighbour (Jeff Tunnell is on vacation for two weeks)
Recently one of my doctoral students was challenged by some pastors of traditional churches, stating that the early church only met in house groups and that there was no need for cells to gather in a public service. The current house church community endorsers take great pains to defend the position that regular gatherings of the house groups is unnecessary. One view they endorse is that we should be guided by the Jewish Old Testament festivals and meet only a few times a year.
This flies in the face of important facts:
1. From the start of the ecclesia’s life in acts, they went from house to house and to the temple to hear the Apostles teach. We are also told that the Apostles taught both in the Temple and from house to house. That sounds to me like Bill Beckham’s reference to a “two winged church” was present from the start.
2. 1 Corinthians 16:2 reveals Paul directs that upon the first day of each week (Sunday) the congregation should set aside support for the needs of the brethren in Jerusalem. Obviously in addition to the daily house meetings there were gatherings on a weekly basis. Sunday was the chosen day for the congregational meeting.
3. By the time Hebrews was penned (AD 65), the weekly gathering is obviously referenced as the writer says in 1 Corinthians 11:33-34, So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you may not come together for judgment. And the remaining matters I shall arrange when I come. (NASB77)
In the next blog, I will add additional reasons why the cell church that is allowed to grow and grow by the cleaving of its basic communities brings an impact to a community never possible when the house churches all exist in semi-secret in home groups.