The topic of whether a home church qualifies as a true biblical church is one that generates much discussion and debate among Christians. While there are differing perspectives, ultimately what matters most is whether a church, whether in a home or a dedicated building, adheres to biblical truths and principles.
When evaluating if a home church is biblically legitimate, there are several key factors to consider:
1. Basis in Scripture
The first crucial question is whether the home church is founded on scriptural teachings, patterns, and principles. A true biblical church must align with what the Bible says about the doctrine, leadership, ordinances, worship, discipline, and mission of the church. If a home church departs from or ignores biblical truths, it would be difficult to consider it a legitimate church.
The Bible does not prescribe a mandated model or location for a church. The early church began by meeting in homes (Acts 2:46). What matters most is not the meeting place but the beliefs and practices of the church. A home church centered on the Word of God can certainly be biblical.
2. Right Doctrine and Theology
A key mark of a true church is sound doctrine and theology. A home church, like any church, should teach and follow biblical truths and orthodox Christian beliefs. If a home church teaches aberrant theology or doctrine not grounded in Scripture, it would lack legitimacy as a true church.
Some of the key doctrinal matters a church must align with include the triune nature of God, the deity and humanity of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, the inspiration of Scripture, and salvation by grace through faith. A home church must be grounded in such core tenets.
3. Proper Leadership
The Bible lays out qualifications and roles for church leaders, such as elders/overseers and deacons (1 Timothy 3:1-13). A home church should follow biblical standards for church leadership.
Church leaders should be godly, spiritually mature individuals who meet moral and spiritual qualifications. They should teach sound doctrine and be able to instruct in Scripture. Church leaders should shepherd people with care and humility while exercising proper authority for building up the congregation in the faith.
If a home church has leaders not aligned with scriptural qualifications and roles, it would be biblically deficient.
4. Faithful Administration of Ordinances
Two ordinances prescribed in the New Testament are baptism and the Lord’s Supper. A church, including a home church, must faithfully administer these ordinances. Baptism should involve immersion of professing believers, as modeled by Jesus. The Lord’s Supper should regularly commemorate Christ’s death on the cross for our sins.
If a home church neglects these ordinances or practices them in ways contradicting Scripture, it would lack conformity to biblical church patterns.
5. Focus on Discipleship and Evangelism
Jesus commanded His followers to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). An authentic biblical church, whether based in a home or not, should be committed to discipleship and evangelism.
There should be nurturing of believers toward spiritual maturity. And members should be engaged in gospel witness, locally and globally. If a home church is not intentionally making disciples and spreading the gospel, it would not fully align with the mission of the true church.
6. Expression of Spiritual Gifts
The Bible teaches that every believer is given spiritual gifts by the Holy Spirit to build up the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). A home church, like any biblical church, should encourage and provide opportunities for members to actively use their gifts.
Whether it be teaching, serving, encouraging, giving, leading, or other gifts, a home church should foster participation and engagement of its people in employing their gifts to strengthen the congregation.
7. Commitment to Loving Community
As seen in Acts 2:42-47, the early church devoted themselves to fellowship, sharing meals, praying together, and meeting one another’s needs. A home church should foster genuine community and relational connections among its members.
Believers should be united in love and harmony. They should not be isolated but committed to regular fellowship and sharing life together. If a home church lacks real community, it would miss a key aspect of biblical church life.
8. Practice of Church Discipline
Scripture gives instruction on confronting sin and practicing church discipline when necessary (Matthew 18:15-20). A home church, like any church, should humbly and lovingly exercise discipline when a member is unrepentant in serious sin, to protect the purity of the body.
Appropriate discipline, done in the spirit of restoration, is a mark of a biblical church. A home church that avoids discipline altogether neglects this difficult but important dimension of being a healthy church.
9. Structure of Leadership
The Bible does not prescribe one specific leadership structure for churches. Many churches have a pastoral leadership model, with a senior pastor and other supporting pastors and ministers. But a home church may have a more plural elder-led structure, with multiple equal leaders.
The key is not the particular structure, but whether the church has godly, qualified leaders who meet biblical criteria. A home church with shared leadership of elders or co-pastors can certainly fulfill scriptural principles for church governance.
10. Connection to Broader Body of Christ
While a home church may be small and independent, it should not be isolated. In the New Testament, churches had connections with the broader church through giving, reporting, visits, letters, etc. (Acts 11:22, 15:1-35; Romans 15:26; 1 Corinthians 16:1-3).
A home church should seek accountable relationships with other sound churches and ministries. Some level of cooperation and connectivity with other believers is expected, though details may vary.
In summary, the key factors in evaluating a home church biblically have little to do with its size, location, or structure. Rather, the crucial considerations are whether it adheres to sound doctrine, practices biblical ordinances, upholds scriptural leadership qualifications, nurtures discipleship and fellowship, exercises discipline, meets real needs, preaches the gospel, and avoids isolation.
If a home church aligns with biblical principles in doctrine and practice, it can indeed be a legitimate biblical church, regardless of meeting in a house rather than a dedicated church facility. But if a home church strays from scriptural truths, no meeting location can make it a faithful church.
As with any church model, there can be both healthy examples and unhealthy examples of home churches. Each must be carefully examined in light of Scripture. The Bible gives principles, not precise formulas, for a doctrinally sound, healthy church. When grounded in God’s Word, a home church can fully embody characteristics of a true New Testament church.
What matters most is not form, but faithfulness to the Word of God. A church in a home that adheres to scriptural truths could be more doctrinally sound than a church in a large building that has drifted from biblical orthodoxy. The key is evaluating any church according to scriptural standards for doctrine and practice.
In assessing a home church, questions to consider include:
- Is it founded solidly on the Word of God?
- Does it teach sound biblical doctrine and theology?
- Does it follow scriptural standards for church leadership?
- Does it obey Christ’s command to make disciples locally and globally?
- Does it cultivate loving fellowship and community among believers?
- Does it adhere to the biblical ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper?
- Does it encourage use of members’ spiritual gifts to build up the congregation?
- Does it exercise humility, care, and biblical faithfulness in all it does?
If a home church exhibits these biblical qualities and priorities, it can indeed be considered a legitimate, true church, regardless of its small size or house location. While no church model is perfect, a home church focused on honoring Christ and adhering to Scripture can fulfill the Bible’s definition for a faithful church.
In the end, what makes a church truly biblical is not outward traits but inward conformity to the principles and truths of God’s Word. When evaluated against Scripture, a home church has the potential to be just as legitimate as a more formal church structure. The key is faithfulness to biblical doctrine and practices.