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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Church--Simple, Hospitable and Affordable

When I tell people that Alma Jean and I have been part of a house church congregation for the past 22 years, I often get a puzzled look. They can see cell groups meeting in people's living rooms, but how can you be a real church and not meet in a specially dedicated building for Sunday services that are led by professional clergy?

For the first centuries after Pentecost, nearly all Christians met in homes for worship and for their weekly Eucharist meals. Most of the New Testament letters are addressed to such home-based congregations scattered all over the Roman empire. With no pipe organs, pulpits, pews, or paid clergy, believers regularly gathered in the living rooms or courtyards of their members to share “a hymn, a word of instruction, a revelation... for the building up of the church." *

Since “Sundays” back then were not holidays, Christians often met early in the morning or at the end of the work day for teaching, fellowship and the “breaking of bread.” An example of one such service in the Acts of the Apostles describes a group of believers meeting by lamplight in an upstairs room--on "the evening of the first day of the week.” **

By the second century AD some congregations had renovated houses or “basilicas” as special places to meet, and by the time the fourth century Emperor Constantine officially endorsed Christianity modest houses of worship had become common in some urban areas. Then Constantine himself launched a gigantic building campaign that resulted in elaborate and expensive edifices for Christian worship appearing all over the empire, an effort that earned him widespread acclaim.

The rest, as they say, is history.

I don’t oppose the idea of church buildings as such, nor do I believe that homes are the only proper settings for worship. But since there is an actual surplus of empty pews in our community, I’d at least like to see a moratorium on investing ever more money in church real estate in favor of other creative options for worship spaces, such as churches sharing facilities (meeting at different times of the day) and/or utilizing other existing meeting places in the community. Or to have more believers meet in each others homes.

And then to invest some of the millions of dollars saved in projects like building Habitat for Humanity homes for the poor or helping feed the hungry.

That might send a message even an agnostic could understand.

                                                          * I Corinthians 14:26      ** Acts 20:7-17
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