Church, Cathedral or Home

What is a church? If you answered that it is a building for public worship, you would be correct. Globally there are approximately thirty-seven million of them according to the internet. But this number reflects not only all the local churches of the Lord Jesus, but also all of man’s religious organizations. And in this number the focus of worship ranges from God to man-made gods. Anything from planes, trains, and cars to the sun, moon, and stars.

Here is another question. What is the Church?

“It is the officialdom, or clergy.”

BZZZZ, wrong!

While others may have a better definition of the Church, I define it as this.

“The Church is believers in the Lord Jesus Christ called out, to gather for the purpose of worshipping our God. To be instructed in righteousness by the Word and Spirit, strengthened in love and faith. To disciple and fellowship with one another.”

The local church is the topic of this article. Knowing that I am jumping into what has already been the cause of an enormous amount of debate and conversation, some might suggest, as some have, that I might want to write about something else. But in seeing just how much the devil has inspired division and condemnation between believers over this, I wanted to know what it was that would cause believers to sacrifice unity to think themselves right.

I want to make it clear; I am not advocating one over the other. I have attended and worshipped in both, and I have experienced what is good, and what is not so good with both. I believe one of the worse things that could come from misinterpreting my words, is more division in the Body of Christ.

So, whatever your opinion and preference is about this issue, whether one attends a home church, and another an institutional church, we should as believers avoid strife about churches and strive for unity in the Church. (Psalm 133:1) The common criticism against home churches is the “forsaking the assembly.” (Hebrews 10:25) Which brings questions to mind. What constitutes an assembly? Is there a quorum that must be met? I have been to some rural churches where on any given Sunday there might be fifteen to twenty in attendance. What is the difference between assembling in an institutional church or in a home, hotel conference room, or a school gymnasium? Is the building the issue?

Is it only an ornate cathedral that was chosen from the architect’s plans that satisfy your opinion, or could an empty convention center that has been rehabbed with contemporary amenities suffice? Back in the early eighties I had the privilege of being able to help rehab an old store in Toulon France, into a church. In attending an institutional church years ago, I took part in rehabbing a former grocery store into a church building. Then years later we moved to a more spacious building that had been a former skating rink…and yes, we jested with each other about being “Holy Rollers”. In recent years, a church I attended planted a new campus, and an automotive service garage was converted in this instance.

Or is it the style of worship that could differ between the two? Are you one that holds to tradition? Do you decry anything but an organ? Or do you need a large band and a worship leader that looks more like a pop star in a concert. Is the pre-planned, programmed order of service favored over the relaxed, unscripted, free for all of home churches. Can you only listen to a Pastor that wears a suit and tie, or can you receive from one in a t-shirt and jeans? Do lay out of church when you find out the Pastor will be gone and an associate, or ministry leader will be in the pulpit?

After praying and deciding to write this article, I looked at the Word first, then what some theologians and widely respected men and women of God were saying. What I found was that the Word of God gives no clear command for either, and men’s ideas were dogmatic and favored one or the other. I did find someone that offered some wisdom and countered the strife and division found in the arguments of today, but he lived in the 18th century and his words might be a little antiquated for today’s modern sophisticated church.

Next, I sought counsel from a dear and respected brother. He was attending an institutional church, and I was a member of a home church. After a brief discussion, we decided to take some time to first pray, study the Word, then consider our own experiences. I ask him to take the position of pro about home churches, I would address the cons. Then we looked at institutional churches and reversed our roles. In sharing our thoughts with each other I noticed that his pros on home churches, for the most part were in relationship, only two addressed facility and finance. And my cons of institutional church mirrored them closely.

In bringing this article to a close, I want to offer some pitfalls and strengths for both. First the strengths of institutional churches.

Many institutional churches enjoy the benefit of more elders or spiritually mature men and women that guide young believers. Larger budgets allow for building of larger appealing churches. Can afford better amenities and technology.

Now a pitfall.

Institutional churches tend to be more focused on growth in numbers, thereby putting more into the production of an event than relationships.

Now to home churches strengths.

Can be more missional. They are mobile and often leave their four walls and serve the community. Accountability is much easier and applied without partiality. Budgets are low, there are little if any paid positions. Everything is based on voluntary service. And their pitfalls.

No preparation so there is usually no order. Their people show up when convenient. Gone is the ability to slip in while the music is going. Lacks being attractional. Often explained as the lack of being able to afford a building, or the absence of the vision to grow.

These strengths and pitfalls were not an exhaustive list, but just some that I have seen. But whether in an institutional or home church, one thing we should not do is enter into judgmental condemnation of the other. Instead, all should be thankful for the freedom to openly worship our God, many in the Body of Christ do not have this freedom. Lastly, I will leave you the wisdom of the man from the 18th century.

“Let not him that worships under a steeple condemn him who worships under a chimney.” John Newton