The Church in general, responded with great displeasure and frustration during the implementation of Covid-19 regulations by the government which restricted normal Church gatherings and operations. The concerns have been fully warranted on the part of the Church especially considering the urgent need and importance to protect religious freedoms which have been increasingly under threat in recent years. However, the current challenge also offers an opportunity for the Church.
The opportunity lies perhaps in cell groups and home churches. As the Church manoeuvres her way forward, perhaps small is the new big. Small groups and house churches, as organic building blocks for the Body of Christ, are best suited for koinonia, the equipping of the saints for work of ministry, the spreading of revival and the ability to overcome persecution. This mode of meeting and worshiping has been effective and remains the only alternative for nations where religious freedom has been limited or banned. The effective spreading of the Gospel and the depth of believers in such places has also been exceptional. In accordance with the testimony of Scripture, during times ahead we should expect religious freedoms to be suppressed in most parts of the world including democratic nations as the global manifestation of the antichrist policies and social upheavals become prevalent, resulting in great tribulations expected in the last days.
This will also be the greatest opportunity for the advancement of the Church and the Gospel of the Kingdom. However, the current form and means of operation of the Church may not be effective both to overcome tribulations and seize the opportunity for greatest advancement of the Kingdom. Just as lockdowns have offered the Church the opportunity for Sabbath rest in the Lord, perhaps it is also an opportunity to rethink Church operation in preparation for times ahead.
I fear that churches that have not invested and do not cultivate house fellowships or gatherings will most likely be stifled and probably not survive lockdown regulations. It may help to revisit the roots of the early Church through the following Scriptures:
Act 5:42 — And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
Act 2:26 — And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread from house to house, they received their food with glad and generous hearts.
Act 20:20 — How I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house.
It should also be recalled that the word Church in the New Testament is a translation of the Greek word ekklesia, which means “called out ones” or “assembly”. It never refers to a building or place. Church is the assembly of believers in whichever form that takes.
Cell groups are a modern version of traditional form of churches that existed in early centuries of Church history. The biblical Church community, which turned the world upside down with the Gospel, was made up of house or home churches which were generally led by the mother and/or father of the household as an elder providing pastoral care to the household of faith. The local believers met regularly in these home churches for worship, breaking of bread and discipleship. The five-fold ministry was mainly functioning through general overseers and itinerant ministers who helped to pioneer of the Gospel to new territories while strengthening and building up individual churches through cross pollination and mentorship.
Most New Testament epistles were written by the apostles to house churches scattered throughout the cities where the Gospel had been preached. Large public church gatherings for worship and ministry came into effect after the Edict of Milan in 313 AD when Constantine proclaimed religious tolerance for Christianity in the Roman Empire. Since then, the form of large gathering for worship and ministry remained the norm for much of the world where religious freedom prevailed or was enforced.
The Church needs to prepare and reconsider her strategy of gathering and doing ministry in case modern-day “emperors” decide to ban or hinder religious freedoms. In the first centuries, home churches actually became the main base for church community while large public gatherings were mostly used for apostolic preaching, seminaries and conferences. Meetings held in synagogues, public spaces and marketplace were fluid and mainly for evangelism purposes as well as for equipping the saints where possible (e.g. Hall of Tyrannus where Paul propagated the Gospel for two years). As the Church manoeuvres her way forward, perhaps small is the new big.
This new big can take shape anywhere the Assembly finds itself including the marketplace for Kingdom advancement. We should recall that a small group of four Hebrew boys gave birth to a prime minister in Babylon, just as another also positioned Esther as queen of Persian Empire. While a small Clapham Group enabled parliamentarian William Wilberforce to abolish slavery in British Empire among many other godly reformations. However, in modern times cell groups have been created to form part of much of the Church but more as subservient sub-groups of the larger church bodies instead of being the main form and aspect of Church.
Home churches and small groups have a number of advantages including:
• Promotes fellowship and organic community life
• Enhanced discipling of saints for work of ministry
• Participation of all saints in ministry and church life
• Accelerated leadership development
• Increased ability to care for one another
• Fast spreading of revival and Church growth
• Historically, some have fostered major social justice and Kingdom reforms for greater good
• Best suited to overcome persecution
• Minimal church operating costs
With all that said, the manner of gathering is not as important as being led by the Spirit and being effective in what you do. Hence all things are to be done by the Spirit and not by flesh and human ingenuity. This will help avoid pitfalls encountered by some modern day house church groups.
Nhlanhla Cele, is a minister and preacher of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. A marketplace leader, conference speaker, thought leader and nation builder with passion to see the Body of Christ attain her full potential and ultimate destiny in Christ.
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