Traditional or restorationist?

Notes on Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck’s
Why we Love the Church:
in praise of institutions and organized religion

Chapter 5 : The Historical (One Holy Catholic Church)

Chapter 5 primarily focuses on responding to claims made in the book Pagan Christianity, about how the church is or is not to be run.

DeYoung sees two large themes in Pagan Christianity that he wants to respond to. The first theme is the idea that the church is not a building so the church should not have a building. The second theme DeYoung addresses is the idea that the form or order of service in the Christian church is inconsistent with New Testament Christianity and must therefore be discarded.

Because of my early years’ obsession with how the church is REALLY supposed to work, I found this chapter fascinating. I spent a lot of time in my teenage years trying to tease out from Scripture what the New Testament church really looked like. I didn’t come to many firm conclusions, though, because–well, the Bible doesn’t really make a big deal out of where the church met or what order of service they followed.

So I enjoyed hearing DeYoung’s thoughts on the matter. And I enjoyed thinking through this topic again–with a few years more experience and Scriptural study under my belt.

Basically, this chapter is a response to a Restorationist view of the church. Restorationism seeks to return the church to its early New Testament roots, with a worship style that closely mimics that of New Testament believers.

I find myself in an odd state in relation to Restorationist ideology, because I am a traditionalist at the core–but I still fancy myself revolutionary (who doesn’t, right?) I like the idea of modeling a church after the Acts church–the church which saw the explosive growth of Christianity to all of the known world within a generation (Zowie–who can’t long for that?). But I also see great value in the traditions handed down in the 1700 years since Constantine. I love the traditions I know and see–the liturgy, the church calendar, the creeds. I don’t want to scrap these in order to return to the “original”. I want more than just a Restorationist church–I want a church that embraces Christian tradition throughout the ages.

But what if the authors of Pagan Christianity are right, and what I see as Christian tradition is really pagan tradition and not Christianity at all? What if the buildings and liturgy and music I know and love is really a perversion of what God intended the church to be? That seems to be what these authors claim.

So I must ask myself: what specifically does God have to say about how church is to be done, and is church tradition in opposition to God’s intent for the church?

Question 1: Should churches meet in dedicated buildings or in private homes?

According to this newest wave of Restorationism (as opposed to the 19th century Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement), meetings of the church were never intended to be conducted in church buildings. Instead, believers met in each others’ homes.

In light of this, various Restorationist groups have taken different paths. Some, such as the Plymouth Brethren, have official meeting places, but they have chosen not to call those meeting places “churches” lest anyone should think that the building rather than the people are the church. Others, like those in today’s house church movement, have eschewed formal meeting places altogether, choosing instead to meet in individual homes.

But what does Scripture have to say about where the church is to meet?

My reading of the New Testament gives no indication that there is a specific place where the church is to meet. Assemblies in the book of Acts met both in individual homes and in public places. Acts 2:46 says that the church continued “daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house…” We see that the church assembled in a public place of worship as well as in individual homes. In Acts 5:12, the church meets in Solomon’s porch (a colonnade on the East side of the temple, according to Zondervan’s Pictorial Bible Dictionary). In Acts 5:42, the apostles teach and preach in the temple and in houses. Paul preaches frequently in synagogues during his missionary journeys (Acts 9:20, 13:5, 13:15, 14:1, 17:1-4, 17:11, 17:17.) When dissension arises in the synagogue at Corinth, Paul withdraws with the rest of the church to the School of Tyrannus, presumably a semi-public lecture hall (Acts 19:8-10).

At least in the book of Acts, we see the church meeting both in homes and in public places, sometimes in public places specifically set apart for worship and sometimes in public places that also (presumably) had secular use.

Home church proponents might point to the mention of “the church that is in your/his/her house” in the epistles. But again, the exact meaning of these references is not always clear. First, the church in one person’s house may be simply referring to the believing family or household of that individual. It is not inconceivable that some of the people who were mentioned had large households, composed of extended family as well as servants and even slaves. So the reference “the church that is in your house” may not in fact be referring to a meeting of the church at all.

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that when Paul refers to “the church that is in [Priscilla and Aquilla’s] house” in I Corinthians 16:19, he is referring to a group of believers who regularly congregate at Priscilla and Aquilla’s house. This is quite possible. But does it necessarily follow that since the church met in Priscilla and Aquilla’s house, all churches should meet in individual’s homes?

I don’t believe so. Perhaps the church met in homes, but I see no evidence in Scripture that the church MUST meet in homes. In fact, based on the record of Acts, it seems that the earliest church met BOTH in public places of worship and in private homes.

So I see no support for a nostalgic return to “house churchism” or for a derisive dismissal of church buildings. The New Testament makes no firm statement as to where the church is to congregate, and gives examples of both informal and formal, public and private meeting places. I would not dare to create dogma where God Himself has remained so silent.

(to be continued: discussing the “order of service” and church government)

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