The Church in
(A Sermon by Rolfe Barnard)
Before we get into Rolfe Barnard's sermon which the Lord lead him to
preach on, I wanted to make this quick note, which turns out to be a
brief story as it relates to the sermon below. Not long ago, I spoke
to two young men on this very topic of a church meeting in a home.
One of them spent time as a missionary in such places as Japan. He
agreed that Churches normally start out assembling in the home as
his assembly once did, but eventually once the Church has grown
"they have to build a building", he claimed. Although, there is no
Scripture basis for such a requirement found in the NT no matter
what the size of God's assembly is. However, I do understand his
position in this way, if the church has grown to a point where it
needs a larger area to assemble. And of course there is nothing
wrong with that, but also more churches could be formed in other
homes as well if the church grows to that point.)
In the Home
It is a matter of history that for the first two hundred years
after Christ the church never had special buildings of their own,
and when at last they did the art of exhortation degenerated into
the issuing of commands. Many groups which began in homes and have
now become well-known organizations have lost out in spiritual
effectiveness since they moved into special buildings for their
gatherings. This has not happened suddenly. A special building is
not a sin but merely a sincere effort to glorify God, which may
ultimately involve more drawbacks than advantages.
A study of the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles of the New
Testament, especially the epistles of Paul, confronts us with the
church in the home. Four times "the church in the home" is
specifically mentioned. For instance, the apostles wrote letters to
churches and to individuals and sent greetings to or from the church
in So-and-So's house. In Romans 16:5 we read, "Likewise greet the
church that is in their house" (the house of Aquila and Priscilla).
In I Cor. 16:19 we read, "The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila
and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is
in their house."
And from scriptures like this we gather the idea that the church in
the home of Priscilla and Aquila was a firmly established church of
that time. Again, in Col. 4:15 we read: "Salute the brethren which
are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house."
And then in Philemon verse 2 we hear Paul addressing himself to
Philemon and the church in his house.
Not one single instance can be found in the New Testament where the
early Christians ever built what we call a house of worship.
Sometimes they will meet down by the riverside where Paul will
preach and God will open Lydia's heart that she will attend upon the
Word. In Jerusalem for a while the temple was used as a place of
public testimony, but also in addition to the public testimony in
the temple every house of every believer was a place of meeting. We
need to carefully note Acts 2:46 and then read with great care Acts
5:42. For a while, you understand, before the Jews really came to
understand the issue, Jewish believers were welcome in the temple
and were asked to speak.
When the temple was denied the preachers, then only the house
remained. Then Paul and others journeyed into Gentile domain, and
being Jewish believers, were permitted for a while to preach in
synagogues. There the God-fearing people and the proselytes whose
hearts God had been opening and preparing, He saved, and out of them
little groups called New Testament churches gathered. But later, as
the issue was more clearly defined and the Jewish people understood
its implications, the synagogues were closed to the preachers of the
gospel, and then only the house or "the church in the home"
remained. Over twenty times in the Acts of the Apostles and in the
epistles we read of believers carrying out their united worship in
the home of a believer. The word "church" is, of course, of Latin
origin. The Greek word translated "church" in our Authorized Version
is "ekklesia" and it means "the called out ones." EK equals out
from; KALEO means to call. This word is also translated "assembly."
The word "church" or "assembly" is found 115 times in the New
Testament. It is used once for a town council (Acts 19:39), and
twice for a mob or unlawful council (Acts 19:32-41). The word
"church" or "assembly" is used twice for Israel in the old covenant
(Acts 7:38). But the word "church" is used 110 times for the body of
Christ or believers.
The church is not:
# (1) A building.
# (2) A denomination.
# (3) An organization, nor
# (4) Many bodies organized, such as synods, conventions,
associations, denominations, Church of England, etc.
The church is:
# (1) A body of believers. Read carefully Eph. 4:4 and I Pet. 2:5.
# (2) A fellowship—one fellowship.
# (3) A living (not organization but) organism. The church as one
body is clearly shown in such passages as I Cor. 12, Romans 12, Col.
1:18 and Eph. 1:22-23.
The church is a body of called out ones. Read chapter two of
Ephesians, especially verses 19 and 22. The church is a "building,"
yes, but it is a building that is being built by the Holy Spirit,
not with brick and mortar and hammer and nails—and it is a building
indwelt by God the Holy Spirit. It has Christ as the Chief
Cornerstone and the Foundation of the church, as to order, structure
and doctrine, as outlined here in this passage.
Well-nigh buried under the elaborate structures which man has built
upon it is the church (so-called) of today—but God's purpose
concerning His true church has not changed.
Let's review just a moment the assembly of called out ones. It is
the building of God. It is the household of God. It is the body of
Christ. It is the pillar and ground of truth. It is a holy temple.
It is the habitation of God. It is a heavenly colony sojourning here
on earth, bearing witness in the power of the Holy Spirit to the
risen, ascended, glorified Lord. That is the church.
It is important to get fixed in our minds that the early church was
taught to regard itself not merely as a collection of saved
individuals but as active members of the body of Christ. Not only
did all believers form the one body universal, but each group
functioned as the body locally. In each of the three cases where
these are mentioned (Rom. 12; I Cor. 12; Eph. 4) is no suggestion of
only one man ministering to the whole group but each is shown as
having the privilege of possessing some spiritual gift and the
responsibility to minister this gift to the rest of the saints so
that every believer is looked on as a minister to the rest. Modern
research in education has shown that we learn little by merely
listening, but when we try to impart what we know to others we
really begin to master our subject. This shows us the wisdom of God
in planting the church, not as a vast congregation of listeners, but
as a small body sharing with each other what they learn from the
The picture we have of the early church, therefore is something very
simple but very vital. Whenever two or three would gather together
in the name of the Lord, there they would expect to find their once
crucified, now risen Lord present in the midst of them. They would
also expect the Holy Spirit to work in each of them and share with
each other what was thus revealed. In Col. 3 we read, "Let the word
of Christ dwell in you richly...teaching and admonishing one
another"—and this was addressed to a whole congregation, not simply
to one man we call the pastor.
As the Holy Spirit worked in the midst, some or all of the gifts of
the Spirit mentioned in I Cor. 12 would be manifested for He divided
severally to every man as He chose. Each would himself be edified by
His gift, and those who heard would likewise be blessed. As each
small group divided, and so grew into a number of groups, these
continued in fellowship with each other, and all of the small
gathering in one city would together form the church of God in
Ephesus or wherever it might be. Yet each group would have no say in
the way another was carried on. The Lord was the Head of each and
worked in each as He saw fit, but they would be free to exhort and
admonish each other, though not to command.
We find that this true church did not usually get on well with
organized religion, but if there was a division it always came about
by the organized religious group casting out the true believers.
Until this happened, we find the position pictured in Acts 2:46,
Continuing daily...in the temple, and breaking bread from house to