Longing for a home
(A Return to Apostolic Tradition)
It may seem odd, having never been married nor having been a homeowner, to title this article in such a fashion as above. As with many of my articles, I speak from a deep seated desire not only to have my own need fulfilled, but more importantly to meet the desire of my Lord Jesus Christ. May this be our aim as the reader considers the importance of having “home” as the base of all our operations as believers.
It goes without saying that what many of us have called home or think of as home has pleasant if not joyous memories. Many of us can recall playing ball with dad in the backyard, working on school projects with mom or simply barbecuing in the backyard on weekends. I vividly remember fishing in the pond in the backyard and ice skating on it in the Winter. As much as the siblings all enjoyed going on vacation, it almost seemed as if coming home was all the sweeter after a few days away. I don’t believe that comforting feeling upon arriving there was merely from jet lag or hours in the car. There’s something special about home that many of us just can’t put into words.
To be fair, some other people’s experiences don’t echo those of many of us. When they think of home it reminds them of anger, abuse and strangers coming in and out at all hours of the night. What they recall of mom and dad includes visiting them in jail, police cars, flashing lights and drunken brawls. For many, their experiences are just too painful to even want to recall, let alone discuss with anyone else. For them the further they get away from home the better. Are we even a little surprised as so many run away from what they have known as “home?”
As most of us realize, the significance of home is so much more than having grown up in a place we called home. It is more than having one’s own room [for those who did], coming home each night to both parents [some of us did], or just having a stable environment from day to day [most of us did]. There’s more isn’t there?
Occasionally I find myself traveling through neighborhoods where either my parents owned a home or where I myself have once lived. It’s likely that you have found yourself doing the same thing. Do you ever wonder why we do this? I find myself reminiscing about what happened in those places [the bad: dad whipping me with the paddle, throwing me outside in the snow barefoot, smoking something out back, stashing other things in the attic] and the good: having a week off due to a blizzard in the Winter, cutting fallen trees after a tornado, buying my first stereo and driving the family car for the first time]. Whether it was these “firsts” at home or other experiences after leaving home, each holds an indelible mark upon my memory and conscience. It is these actual experiences that shaped the person I am today and the individual I would later become. The later in life, the more I see the handiwork of God through it all. It seems that regardless of how old we become, our longing for “home” never quite leaves us despite our earnestness to depart during those teenage years. Home reminds us of something that despite how we might try to emulate it elsewhere just never seems to satisfy. It really is true you know: there’s no place quite like home.
I wrote the above as kind of a backdrop for what I care to address in this article: our longing for a home. You see my friends, I really believe that this longing for a home isn’t just something I myself seem to be in need of. If this was merely a matter of having my own I could rent or buy one, if only independence, I could move out into my own place, if success was my aim, I could move into a wealthy neighborhood and flaunt my success. I think we all know how vain this can all become, that is, if we fail to recognize why God has fashioned us through the use of the various places we have called home. You see, it isn’t the actual home per se that matters, but rather, it is those things and people that comprised the home within the home. It was the people who endeavored to build into our lives that made each home what they became known to represent. Can I offer you an example?
Many years ago I lived in an apartment complex called Greenfield. I had a roommate and from the very first day we intended to use that apartment for the glory of God. Little did I realize at the time how God would use that place, the people we met and those we served in the manner that He did. In fact, despite the local congregation being somewhat disinterested in us helping them out, God used us mightily because we simply believed His promise despite what every else said and thought about us. The results on many occasions were beyond what I could have ever asked or ever imagined. God not only promised but did exceedingly beyond on many occasions…
The reason for our success in those days is not difficult to discover. That said, it’s not as simple as most of you would likely surmise. I’d like to say we prayed a lot [we did] and studied a lot [we did] and did all kinds of spiritual service [we did that to]. But do you know why we had spiritual success? Because God Himself chose to work through three guys who were committed to Him and the specific ministry He had called us to. Now what was that ministry? Was it preaching the gospel? [No, but we did that daily] Was it equipping the saints? [No, but we often encouraged and admonished each other] Was it faithfully attending a church or services? [No, we went but our fellowship was so much more exciting and purposeful] Then just what was it!
Others and one another, not necessarily in that order.
You see, any of us can share the gospel with people in need. It’s really not all that hard to do. We can teach till we become horse, many of us do that already. We would like to convince ourselves we are really helping people when we do so. We can start a Bible study, we can attempt to inject truth into others, take them out to eat and continually share the truth with them. But have you ever even considered, “Is this what God would have you to do?” Would you consider it?
Inside or outside of Christ, all men are primarily drawn by one thing. Despite Jesus making this as obvious as possible, we still attempt to skirt His obvious command and exchange it with some “religious” substitute. Not only do we do this within our profession and practice, the local church also participates through their continual use of man- made traditions that they hold so dear. We follow those traditions as if they give us life, and yet as Jesus Himself has made clear- man’s traditions nullify His Word, they make His commands of no effect because we’ve replaced them with our own alternatives. Don’t believe me?
“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.” [John 15:12-14]
We’ve heard and read this verse a hundred times haven’t we? Can we actually say we’re being obedient to:
1. Love others just as Jesus loved us [How did He love us?] by laying His life down for us [dying for us].
2. Are we laying down our lives for our friends? How are we doing this?
3. Are we becoming Jesus’ friends through obeying His commands?
Now, what possible tradition(s) of men could or would thwart us from being obedient to the above? For example, “How do you know that I truly love you?” Is it because I call myself a Christian, show up to fellowship meetings, teach the Bible or write these long letters to you? Can I suggest there is really only one way you can know that I or anyone for that matter truly loves you:
“Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” [1 John 3:18]
Obviously there is only one way my love can be expressed toward someone else. That love is expressed through my actions, and my willingness to speak the truth to others regardless of what that costs me, actually, especially if it costs me.
“By this all men will know you are My disciples, if you love one another” [John 13:35]
Just curious guys and gals? Just where do you suppose this world and its people are ever going to get a glimpse of Christians loving one another? I think it’s fair to say that we can exclude television, radio and the internet. Like most avenues, that’s just impersonal talk and often showmanship and they know it. How do you suppose that is any different than our preaching to them at some church service?
I suppose we could suggest they come and visit our fellowship. Without a doubt many have made this suggestion before, and despite this being a very questionable and anti-biblical tradition, most could care less. Just curious: Why would any unbeliever want to visit a so-called Christian church if such a thing even exists? How would that convince them of our love?
I suppose we could preach to them about the love of Christ. That’s certainly in the line of obedience provided we speak the truth in love. But is that the best way that they witness our corporate love for one another? Just where on earth can sinful humans witness the love of Christ?
Men, not God have abandoned the home
Have you ever considered just why the original apostles and the new ekklesias that were established all met exclusively in homes? In fact, for almost two hundred years after the apostle John went to be with Jesus, saints were still meeting in their homes. Despite this fact, the majority of professing believers these days not only refuse to follow the original apostles in this lead, but regularly make excuses for not doing so. I’d like to show you as plainly as I can that this decision to abandon the home as the primary base for Christian service was not merely a mistake, but amounts to disobeying what the Bible shows to be a prescriptive command. In addition to this, I’ll easily show how many facets of our ministry and outreach are hindered by this choice and just how necessary it is that we return to the biblical example the original apostle’s laid down for us.
Is home fellowship a command?
“But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. For in the first place, when you come together as a ekklesia (church), I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it” [1 Corinthians 11:17,18]
The verses above concern the gathering together of the saints and how the practice of the Corinthian saints was not only improper but unprofitable in the least. On one hand, these Corinthians were holding firmly to some traditions (11:2) and yet were miserably failing in others such as 1) the place and manner woman pray and prophecy, 2) the interdependence of men and women and 3) the proper use of head coverings. My intent is not to cover these topics themselves here but to recognize two important things:
1) The importance of holding to apostolic traditions (verse 11:2)
2) The universal practice of these traditions in each local ekklesia. (11:16)
Why understanding church tradition is vital
Pick a church, any church. Regardless of whether we find that church in modern history or hundreds of years ago, whether it is of any brand of denomination or found in any particular place, one thing remains consistent among them: Each has a culture and that culture is defined by the traditions each church holds and promotes. A few examples are given below.
1) One particular religion has a tradition of confessing one’s sins to a priest they themselves have ordained, this priest supposedly having the ability to forgive the sins of others.
2) The majority of organized churches having made the decision to build edifices or rent buildings instead of continuing to fellowship in homes.
3) The majority of today’s churches have a religious hierarchy in place.
The Bible talks often about traditions, both in a positive and negative light. We can see from the verses above that the apostle Paul commended the Corinthians for adhering to traditions he personally taught them, and yet we find Jesus condemning the traditions of the Pharisees in Matthew 15:1-9. It becomes increasingly clear that there are “traditions of men” [man made traditions that nullify God’s commands that He hates] [Col 2:8] as well as other apostolic traditions we are called to obey due to their origin being from God Himself. These traditions we find, due to their apostolic nature, were not temporary but fixed for all time.
“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or letter from us” [2 Thessalonians 2:15] -Paul
For this reason I have sent you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every ekklesia (church)” [1 Corinthians 4:16,17 – Paul
“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” [2 Timothy 2:2]
It is quite clear that what Paul was taught by Jesus Himself (what he calls “my ways” were then taught to Timothy and then were to be taught to other individuals as well as in every local ekklesia. The words “every ekklesia” above and “we have no other practice” [referring to the apostles themselves] and “nor have the ekklesias of God” shows that Paul had very specific traditions that he taught both individuals and corporate assemblies about how ekklesias were to function that carried the authority of a command. This is shown within the section of scripture few argue as being related to how corporate assemblies gathered and functioned (1 Corinthians 11:17-14:40). Some would start earlier in 1 Corinthians 11:2, but this would include the section upon women praying and prophesying which seems to conflict with them remaining silent in 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35. Despite this, the following are included in this section that obviously relate to how corporate gatherings are to function and where:
(11:18) For in the first place, when you come together as a ekklesia …. Although the location isn’t specifically mentioned here, many other places in the New Testament show these fellowships to be exclusively in the homes of the saints. Even if one was to argue that the saints occasionally met in the Jewish synagogue, this didn’t last for very long. The practice of fellowshipping in homes lasted for more than 200 years after the last of the original apostles died. Despite what has become a contrary practice for some 1800 years now (the reasons for which are easily to be discovered in history), there cannot be found a single Biblical precedent for this, nor is the function of any local ekklesia enhanced in any manner whatsoever by this change. In fact they are seriously hindered if not incapable of being obedient to God on many fronts.
(11:24-26) For as often as you eat this bread or drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. This celebration, which turned sour for the Corinthians due to selfishness, was not in any way a communion service but rather a full meal the saints enjoyed together whenever they met as an assembly. Sometimes called the Lord’s Supper or Love Feast, it was celebrated regularly as a precursor to the marriage supper of the lamb to come. Although some argue about it being a full meal (How can one go hungry or get drunk, verse 11:21, 33 if it was not) Having this meal and remembering what Jesus accomplished for us is an apostolic tradition and therefore a command of Jesus Himself.
Again: (14:26) Therefore if the whole church assembles together… when you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. The statement above couldn’t be more plain. When a local ekklesia gathers the fellowship is to be interactive among the saints and be geared toward edifying each other. These fellowship meetings do not allow for up front teaching or regular Bible study any more than it does tongues without an interpreter. The tradition and command is clear: “each one has.” Furthermore, these local gatherings have never been a worship meeting or service. Such a service misleads the saints in the proper understanding of worship and does not exist in the New Testament. What Jesus desires for us, what “each one has” in totality amongst us becomes the expression of Jesus in our midst. “Each one has”(vs.26) and “you can all prophesy one by one”(vs.31) as in all the churches of the saints (vs.33) is an apostolic tradition and therefore a command of Jesus Himself.
(14:34) The women are to keep silent in the ekklesias; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in ekklesia. (in an assembly). To this day there is an ongoing dispute about what appears quite obvious in this verse. If you are one to ignore the obvious then Paul says to you in verse 36:
“Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only? Obviously the answer is NO to both questions. The word of God came not to one particular ekklesia but to one particular individual (Paul himself, Galatians 2:2,7) who was responsible in teaching it to both individuals and to the local assemblies he and the other apostles established. The revelation Paul received included the instruction above. It is an apostolic tradition and therefore a command of Jesus Himself.
In addition to the above, the section of scripture concerning headship and head coverings (11:1-16) could also be considered apostolic tradition. Regardless of how you might personally interpret this text, it remains that the “practice” is to be universal “as in all the churches of God.” (vs.16) You may also want to consider that a practice is something people actually have to do.
I find it interesting and hardly a coincidence that three things are emphasized at the tail end of this section of scripture on how a typical local gathering functioned. The first thing we find is a rebuke, apparently toward those who think they know better than Paul himself:
“If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment. But if anyone does not recognize this [that what Paul writes is the commandment of God] he is not recognized” [1 Corinthians 14:37,38]
The second thing is the command that all things must be done properly. Obviously if there is a proper way in which to do things, that means that all other ways are not proper. Seeing that we have already seen that this section of scripture details the proper functioning of a local assembly, then any alternative to that functioning could not be proper, and in fact would amount to disobeying the commandment of the Lord.
Finally, we address what sums up this section: orderliness. Our God is a God of order and peace in contrast to confusion. (vs.33, 40) If the individuals who comprised the ekklesia had the right to alter what God commanded the traditions would not have been universal in nature. Due to individuals and various assemblies refusing to “recognize” these traditions as commands, chaos and confusion have become rampant. It is specifically due to this failure that individual men have thought it acceptable to add various traditions of their own to the biblical record and the once for all apostolic traditions.
Nullifying the commands of God
When we consider the refusal or failure to obey what we have detailed as apostolic traditions herein, that refusal had to begin somewhere. Now without going into detail about how and when these traditions came into being (something many others excel in doing) I would just like to point out the most serious of these man made traditions. For from this one tradition stem the majority if not every failure to obey God in the manner He has prescribed.
Man, head of his own church
No matter how we might try to convince others of our sincere desire in allowing Jesus to remain central in our thoughts, actions and fellowship, we really should be a little more honest. If for no other reason, what is being called and displayed in the world today as the Church of Jesus Christ is not only far from the real thing, in most cases it portrays the exact opposite of Jesus’ original intentions. The primary reason for this is actually quite obvious to those with eyes to see and ears to hear: men refuse to be both subservient to God and to those they claim they are accountable for. In short, they refuse to relinquish an authority over others they say they possess, an authority God never entrusted them with in the first place. That false authority stems from a misunderstanding about how God intends to govern His Ekklesia, both locally and universally. Due to a refusal of individuals to obey the proper leadership example that Jesus Himself exemplied, man has instituted his own approach which includes and promotes the following lies:
1) Any single individual can be head of the Ekklesia or any local ekklesia.
2) The sheep (Christians) can be a man’s to govern.
3) A leader can command any other believer to act in any particular way.
4) A spiritual hierarchy exists outside of Jesus and everyone else.
5) A division of “clergy” and “laity” exists.
6) Leadership is positional verses functional.
7) Leaders need religious titles of any type.
8 ) Leaders forge the vision or direction for a particular ekklesia.
9) Leaders/elders make the decisions for any given assembly.
The truth be told, the blame for every single man made tradition (including 1-9 above) entering the Ekklesia at large is due to men wanting to usurp the authority of Jesus Christ over His flock. That is where and from whom every problem originates. Wherever a believer discovers any of the above to be present within a particular fellowship, some leader is attempting to control what only Jesus has the right to control. That individual, although possibly sincere, is blocking that for which Jesus is attempting to alter or implement.
So important and vital is the retention of Jesus as Head over His Ekklesia and every ekklesia, it is safe to say that the very life of Jesus cannot adequately flow where leaders choose to circumvent it in the methods and manner above.
Nullifying the house as the home front
On occasion I ask individuals why they believe Christians stopped meeting in homes for regular fellowship. There are all manner of reasons (excuses) to include:
Excuses for fellowship outside the home
1) Church membership is to large/not enough room
2) Others won’t know where we meet/can’t advertise a home
3) We don’t want people in our home
4) We don’t want to be that close to others’ problems
5) It’s too much of an inconvenience
6) They met in homes due to persecution
7) Meeting in homes was only temporary
Reasons for fellowship in the home
1) Apostolic precedent/Biblical example
2) Least expense/buildings are wasteful and problematic
3) Family environment
4) Formal name doesn’t work
5) Buildings aid in misrepresenting what ekklesia actually is.
6) Buildings aid in misrepresenting biblical definitions (ekklesia, minister etc).
7) Buildings too closely resembles old covenant practices
8 ) The temple and house of God are within and among believers
9) Christians emphasize the spiritual, not the temporal
Please. Someone please help me understand. Why would anyone claiming to be a Christian ever desire to act in a fashion that is completely antithetical to what they say they believe?
The real excuse, a failure to love
Despite what people say, the real reason professing believers make excuses about fellowshipping in homes is actually quite simple. They either refuse or are unwilling to count the cost of making disciples. That cost is high to be sure, in fact it will cost you everything you have, everything you own, or think you own. It will cost you your very life. One thing I absolutely find fascinating about the Christian life is this: Even if I couldn’t find any scriptural warrant for doing a particular thing, on almost every occasion I could still discover God’s will if I would simply obey one simple principle: regard other people as more important than myself. That’s truly loving, that’s truly serving, that’s truly dying to oneself. Such a life cuts against everything I think I am, everything I hope to be and everything I once thought I valued in life. Test it. Now. Could I begin to justify having fellowship outside of the home with such a principle in mind? Impossible. Not one single thing is of more benefit outside of the home. Every benefit is derived from within. Why then would I have it any other way? Why?
The household of faith
“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” [Galatians 6:9,10]
When I look about the Christian landscape these days, what I see is a predominant obsession with unbelievers at the expense of the people of God. Whether it’s an overbalanced drive for evangelistic pursuits or God forbid an unbiblical pursuit of attempting to change a local ekklesias mission to cater to unbelievers needs, the saints are sorely neglected. I read in my Bible all about these “one another’s” but rarely do I see these in action. Why would we spend most of our time reaching out to the unsaved when God commands the priority to be our own spiritual family? Could this have something to do with our having jettisoned the home for a supposedly more suitable substitute?
As a family of believers, God calls us to be committed to each other daily. This is not a mere suggestion. Our failure to be obedient here has contributed to a host of problems we’re far too quick to blame upon society as a whole. It’s long past due that we start to consider how our own neglect has contributed to these problems and search out what has always been God’s own solution.
Listed above were what I stated were four apostolic traditions and commands to be practiced when the saints gather together:
1) Celebrating the Lord’s Supper as a full meal regularly, if not daily.
2) Interactive sharing (as each one has) characterizes the fellowship time.
3) Women remaining silent during the interactive sharing (excludes singing)
4) Women to wear a head covering over their hair.
In addition, I’d also like to add meeting in homes to this list because:
1) That was always the apostolic practice.
2) It is very difficult if not impossible to practice the other apostolic traditions outside of a home due to the influence of man- made traditions that nullify God’s Word (prevent believers from practicing them). For example, the sheer number of people in most fellowships prevents the sharing of a full meal and the interactive sharing to occur.
3) In every instance, the function of God’s Ekklesia is better served in a home.
You decide. Is meeting in homes an apostolic tradition and therefore a command of Jesus? There are many, many reasons to believe so, to which I would like to add just one more.
From eternity past our Lord Jesus Christ has purposed that He would call individual sinful people unto Himself. It is hard to fathom how the perfectly sinless Son of God would take upon Himself humanities likeness, much less sacrifice Himself for those very same stubborn and rebellious souls. In this very deliberate action, a purpose few have fully comprehended, is His call to every son or daughter to follow in those very footsteps. In the very thing and in the very place that I cherish as my own, in that place does He call each of us to sacrifice what we hold as our own. I must open my heart, my life, my home.
It is difficult to imagine how so many have never known the peace or blessedness of a home or of a family. We’ve heard the stories, we’ve read the news and see the pain all about us. Do they not deserve to know what true family entails? Are they not those to whom we’ve been sent to share a household? Is it not here that they will witness the love we have one for another?
As we are sure to weigh the consequences of opening our homes to sinners and saints alike, would you consider one last thing? Just as our journey one day began within a home, it is also the place every single believer will someday return. No, not to an earthly habitation wherein we once enjoyed temporary peace and comfort, but this time an altogether different heavenly home. Jesus once said to me, “I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am, you may be also.” These aren’t mere words, but a promise to bring a once sinful people to where they belong- to His heavenly home. Now go and do likewise.