What if you were only required to go to church 3 times per year? And what if there was no Internet, no phone, no other means of communicating than writing a letter or talking face to face with others?
That was the situation in Israel around 250 BC - roughly 250 years before Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. In the Old Testament, God didn’t require a Jewish person (men) to go to the temple in Jerusalem except 3 times each year*, which was considerate as they were spread out all over the nation with no means of travel other than their feet. (*Exodus 23:17)
Here come the Greeks!
The Greeks, led by Alexander the Great, conquered Israel and Egypt from 333-331 BC. Alexander had been a student of Aristotle and became convinced that Greek culture could bring unity to the world. Greek culture brought many things to residents spread throughout the nation of Israel – dress and styles, theater, athletic games, gymnasiums and spas, the arts, Greek language and way of reasoning.
Enter ‘gatherings’ and the ‘separated ones’
By the mid 200′s BC Israel was becoming Greek. It had been over 200 years since the last prophet, Malachi, and God didn’t seem to be speaking anywhere in the land.
You couldn’t tell a Jew from a Greek because both went to theaters, had spa and gym days, went to sporting events – and all that was required to identify themselves as Jewish was go to the temple in Jerusalem 3 times a year. There were no weekly meetings in those days – but that was about to change.
Seeing what was happening to their nation, a holiness movement arose to separate Jews from Greeks, to educate the Jewish population about their God more than a mere 3 times per year. As the holiness movement organized they decided to have weekly neighborhood meetings where these separated families could gather and learn about God. But when to meet?
Keeping the Sabbath
God’s command in Exodus 20:8-11 of keeping the Sabbath holy just said they couldn’t work on Saturday. This was because God didn’t work on Saturday, so they didn’t work on Saturday to honor Him, and that was keeping the Sabbath holy. Because they worked the other 6 days, the Sabbath was their day off and thus became the logical time to gather in these new home meetings.
And here is the funny part
In Hebrew, the word ‘separated one’ is Pharisee. The Greek word ‘gathering’ or ‘place of learning” is synagogue. The holiness movement was led by ‘separated ones’ or Pharisees, and the initial home based meetings were synagogues. They determined walking more than about 1/4 mile (.4 km) on the Sabbath would be work, so they reasoned each home gathering could convene with every 10 Jewish males of adult age within that radius. Even in Jesus’ time most synagogues were homes, or converted homes. Only later did they build buildings called synagogues.
Today, if believers wish to worship on Saturday that’s fine, for they do it unto the Lord and I find no fault. Just don’t say God said Saturday was the day to worship on for that is error and ignorance - well meaning perhaps, but wrong. The Sabbath command just said rest, and was a type and shadow of Jesus, who would gave us rest from our sins – it was made for man, not for God. (Mark 2:27)
They gathered in homes on Saturdays to learn about God that they might live God’s ways and His culture in the midst of Greek culture. As holiness movements go, they added more and more rules around God’s law, so that by the time of Jesus He was constantly cutting through those laws to teach the Old Testament as it was intended. (My ‘Sermon on the Mount’ series, 1 & 2, cover some of this)
Family life tied to revelation from God
The Lord had invented the home and family in the Garden of Eden, and met with Adam and Eve there. When He appeared to Abraham in Genesis 18:17-19 He tied revelation from heaven to the quality of family life:
“Shall I hide from Abraham that which I am about to do…for I know him, that he will train up his children and his household like him, to keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgement; so that the Lord may bring upon him all that (I) have spoken to him.”
Throughout the Old Testament parents are told to talk of the Lord when they rise and when they sit, when they come in and go out – the home and family has always been the place God has chosen to be the first and foremost place to learn of Him.
Temples live in homes
When God moved out of the temple in Jerusalem and into human beings on the day of Pentecost as seen in Acts 2, making human beings living temples, it was only natural these new believers would continue to meet in homes on Saturdays as they had been doing for some 250 years. It remained the focal point of learning about God. Later, resurrection day became foremost in their thinking and many started meeting on Sundays.
They didn’t meet in homes because of persecution, they met because God had been meeting in homes with families since Adam and Eve. Many if not most of Jesus’ miracles were in homes. And that is why house church is growing so quickly around the world, whether in persecuted lands or not – because God invented and ordained the home and family as the core place to learn of Him so that’s where He naturally moves. It is the context of the NT, for the authors of the NT were house church leaders writing to and visiting with home based gatherings of the church.
The arrogance of ‘the church’
The arrogance of 1700 years of the auditorium system of church is that it thinks it is the means by which God spreads His gospel! Jesus didn’t send an institution to preach the gospel, people who live and meet in home gatherings send themselves – not specially trained people called missionaries, we send ourselves into homes and towns and businesses to make disciples through relationships.
Home is where life and food swirl with activity, so church in the home focuses on life.
Cross thinking or resurrection thinking?
What is the symbol of Christianity? The cross. Death. Think about what a contradiction church culture is versus what New Testament realities are. Those writers were focused on Christ who lives in us, on Jesus’s resurrection, His triumph over the enemy and death, our newness of life. Christ in you the hope of glory.
Why then is our whole church culture focused on death? Why aren’t there symbols of empty tombs on steeples of the churches and hanging on our walls? Why do we identify with the death of Jesus rather than on His resurrection? Why is the cross spoken of 51 weeks of the year and the resurrection the focus just 1 Sunday of the year? The whole of the NT is focused on His resurrection; why isn’t church culture?
Why do we have altar calls to bring people to the cross rather than resurrection power calls? Why bring people to the cross at the close of every service, reminding them they are sinners, (they know that already so this isn’t news) rather than focus them on the power of Christ inside to overcome that sin!?
House church is focused on the resurrection because it is all about discipleship. I sat with a young man just before a home church meeting was to start – he had only known the Institutional Church but decided to try house church that week.
His head was bowed in despair. Unable to see anything but his own repeated failures and sin, he was on the verge of suicide. He had been through countless altar calls but was no better. Through his tears he told me he repents and is fine for a time, but then goes right back into sin, as he put it; “I go to the cross over and over again, but I can’t break the cycle of sin in my life.”
I told him he wasn’t thinking New Testament truths, that he was looking back at the cross rather than the power of the resurrection and Christ who lived in him right now. The NT says we already died and are now raised from the dead in Christ. We are seated in the heavenlies in Christ. We have authority and power over the devil. We have been blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ. We are new creations and all is new. We are justified in Christ and have peace with God. (Romans 5:1-2, 6:3-5, Eph 1:3, 2:6, II Cor 5:17)
He was cross-thinking, I was resurrection-thinking. The good news is he did find peace and victory that day and after, all because he changed his thinking from death to Life. From cross culture to resurrection culture.
Are you trained to think Christ in you which points us to Him, or are you focused on self and how you fail the cross repeatedly? Do you think first to Christ in you when you need answers, or do you think you need to go to church to hear x speaker or have x person ‘give you a word’ or do something to get God to hear you?
Are you thinking the cross or resurrection power in your life? More next week, until then, blessings,