Was the Original Ecclesia a House-church Movement?

A Polemic and Dialogue

I read the statement three times: “Read the New Testament, and you will see that every city had one church with many house churches, with one apostle who planted churches leading the entire network.”

So, I thought, “I have read the new covenant potion of the Bible for more than fifty years, and I’ve never read this.”

[I’m responding to this one statement as a basis for discussion of the original model of Ecclesia available for restoration in the New Era Reformation. I’m offering this as a basis for scholarly dialogue about the new covenant revelation of ekklesia.]

There is a preponderance of summarized and simplified mythology and kingdom urban legend about “the Early Church” and its “fathers” that has been used to justify all kinds of conflicting conclusions. This entire muddle and body of work, based upon the ideas summarized in this statement, would be both odd and misleading as a foundation for what is coming in the New Era Reformation. It is a total misrepresentation of the Ecclesia.

It is a fundamental misreading of the Bible statements, read in a church-growth context that reaches a conclusion entirely at odds with history and the thinking of God and the originating apostles.

  1. We want to be radical. “Radical” means to restore the original design and definition of ekklesia.
  2. We want to be a Remnant. Remnant refers to the renewal and revival of original power and purpose.
  3. We want to restore the kingdom culture. Through the Remnant, the “whole” where the Remnant rises will experience radicalization. The Remnant will experience Awakening and Reformation. The Remnant will receive and release the kingdom culture, and the existing culture will experience Awakening and Reformation through its spiritual influence.

The Proper Biblical Model of Ekklesia

So, we need to get this right – this “Early Church was like this” thing needs to be accurate.

First, let’s be clear: kingdom citizens can meet in a modern three-bedroom domicile on Tuesdays, an abandoned horse barn on Friday, an open field at midnight, a cave, a high-rise flat on the thirtieth floor of a New York City skyscraper at noon on Wednesdays, or a Starbucks on Saturday morning. None of these meetings is an ekklesia. No “two or three” is an ekklesia. (One of the oddest misappropriations of Scripture available.)

An ekklesia is more than a meeting of kingdom citizens. Kingdom representatives lead it. It is a group of prepared and positioned saints called into assembly to respond to the Capstone, Head, and Groom. It is not the totality of the kingdom culture, but it comes from the kingdom culture.

Our only source of “origination” is the Bible. To know the design and definition of ekklesia, we listen to the King.

The Bible

We should and must ignore the “other sources” as a means of providing insight into what ekklesia looks like in the New Era Reformation. If God wanted these sources to testify of who He is and how He does stuff, He would have included them in the Bible. Reading them will confuse the context and exaggerate small things into determiners, leading us to false conclusions about the Early Church. It will cause us to embrace and defend ideas about which the Bible never even hints.

The Bible is not exhaustive, so we need to find the presuppositions of God’s thinking in His conclusions. God did not tell us everything about ekklesia, but what He did tell us is entirely, eternally without error, and it reveals the thinking behind what He did say. We cannot hammer the Bible into modern church-growthism without putting words and meaning into the mouth of Jesus and the originating kingdom leaders that were never in the mind of God.

Forget the entirely erroneous idea that God didn’t tell us everything because He wanted us to fill in the blanks, or that He left room for us to appropriate the Bible for our own working definitions of ekklesia. (I have no time for discussing such an obviously ridiculous idea.

The City-State Polis

The Bible does not say that the early church had a city-church, but that the Ecclesiae were identified by regions or by a city-state or a “polis” that represents an entire region of various conglomerated enterprises and people groups.

This polis had city gates from which surrounding walls emanated, with gates in them to control points of entry and egress, identified as the safe zone into which the entire population of the region found security if attacked. The polis had a governing system resident in its main gates.

We do err to continue to say that “city church” defines original ekklesia. Influence defines ekklesia, not geography. Assignment defines ekklesia, not geography. Authority defines ekklesia, not geography.

The Bible does not say that each city church was a conglomerate or compilation composed of “house churches.” The idea of micro-church completely ignores the meaning of the word, the function of the assembled citizens, and the kingdom leadership dynamics provided to represent the King.

The Oikos Identifier

I know we combine several mentions of ekklesia with Oikos, add the “house-to-house” wording of Acts with some other references, to come up with a “church-growth model.” I know that. But, we do so while ignoring kingdom culture and kingdom ekklesia, and we superimpose a meaning for the wording that is not available in the original language. [More on this in a moment.]

We end up with this vision for the church of modern three or four bedroom domiciles with parked cars at the curb or in the garage, and children in a bedroom watching videos, while adults do God stuff in the front rooms. We see occasional visits from the network leaders and contact with apostles and prophets and teachers in other forums. We see the heart and soul of ekklesia as friendship and family. We exaggerated the idea of community at the expense of culture. We exaggerate the idea of “we be bro and sis” at the expense of the kingdom leadership relationships.

While we do find friendship and a spiritual sense of brother and sister, father and mother in the Bible, the meaning is not the modern American cultural assumptions that have been altered in the past two centuries – I mean, what the Bible says is not something adapted to existing culture but radically confrontation to existing culture. Our understanding of family has been altered by existing culture, so we adapt the spiritual meaning of lineage and brother and sister, mother and father, through a shattered lens.

God begins with the kingdom culture. We begin with the existing culture. We operate directly opposite from the presuppositions of the King of the kingdom.

While church-growthism asks us to start with the existing culture and force-fit the Bible to that, the Bible assumes that His representatives establish the Kingdom of God and its kingdom culture as a transformative spiritual influence on the existing culture.

That is not what the Bible says or infers in the original text without translation assumptions from people who have no “original ekklesia context” in mind.

The Oikos could be a building, but that is not the right way to look at the discussion. [I’m not responding to the question of how we should accept this premise in this article.]

The Oikos could be clarified by adding the words “meets here,” but they are not in the text.

Writing the letter to the Romans, Paul asks them to greet Prisca and Aquila, who bared their necks for Paul. He says all the Ecclesiae of the nations thank God for them. He asks that they also greet the ekklesia, “according to their Oikos.” [kata]

Note that no verb or descriptor is available to translate “meet” or “gather” or “assemble” in this phrase. Translators add that. Why? Because they translate with the presupposed conclusion that an ekklesia meets or assembles at a location, and they choose to infer that this is what Paul says about the Oikos of these kingdom leaders.

I could just as easily translate this phrase as “the ekklesia identified by the kurios, [“leader or lord of the lineage of,”] those identified as an ekklesia because they are aligned with Prisca and Aquila.”

Without the context of church-growthism, this would make complete sense. In the mind of a first-century Italian, this would make perfect sense. A modern church-growth model of house church would bewilder every originating apostle.

Note the pre-church-growth Tyndale translation carefully: “The company that is in their house.”

Tyndale worked on translations from 1494-1536. I disagree with the use of the word “company” here since we have the plural of ekklesia in the previous phrase, but the point remains that Tyndale didn’t see this as a house church. He was not hammering into a church-growth context. [I offer only one example here for the purposes of brevity, not to present a conclusive opinion from history.]

We should conclude that the modern real estate ownership model is not described in the Bible. We should not conclude that the ekklesia in modern regional function would not own or rent buildings for the assembled kingdom ekklesia.

We should also remember that the ekklesia can be regional but “underground” without making “underground” the norm for all Ecclesiae.

An Oikos is a lineage of extended family, employees, servants, and non-family members working ‘in and on’ an inherited estate, often involving hundreds of individuals who all come into the kingdom as an Oikos through individual salvation experiences. That is, households would become Christian. [Notice that I have not even broached the subject of spiritual Oikos.}

[You could have a member of the Oikos who is not a member of the kingdom who could not or should not participate in the actual ekklesia functions.]

You do not see a domicile with fifteen people meeting on Thursday called “ekklesia.” You should assume such meetings occurred, but they are kingdom meetings. They are not an entire kingdom ekklesia in assembly.

Kingdom Leadership

One apostle in every city? Not really. We cannot make Paul coming out the mountains of what is now Turkey, entering Ephesus, laying hands upon a dozen of John’s disciples, establishing a Kingdom Center (by my definition) at the retreat center of Tyrannus into a “this and no other” model for kingdom expansion. [It is a good model though.]

Paul went to Ephesus with the team that had been at work in Corinth. Paul left, alone, after a short season, leaving Prisca and Aquila in Ephesus. Was there another apostle there? No. Was this an instruction to strategy for kingdom expansion? No. Was John already there working in a separate church? No.

It is not the purpose of this article to address this, so I will be brief in merely pointing out the urban legend has no Biblical basis for insisting upon such a model as a means of restoring the original design.

After the First Century

Once we get past origination, do we see a model of house churches and a city-wide church infer in our polemic?

Or, do we see many apostles working in council in nations, regions within countries, leading the blueprint construction of many kingdom leadership assignments? Do we see a kingdom expanded with more apostles available than the originating Twelve? Or, do we see only Twelve distributed throughout the world? Or, do we see any instruction from God that reveals His thinking about how and when apostles work together?

In the beginning, apostles did things together. Apostles went in teams. Apostles traveled about, visiting kingdom citizens operating in kingdom Ecclesiae. Apostles secured the apostolic order by teaching and training the apostolic Didache.

Apostles did not cease function when Holy Spirit completed the new covenant portion of the Bible. (forget that silly notion since it has not one burp’s worth of evidence in the Bible or anywhere else to support it.)

But, we have no evidence contrary to the Bible anticipation that many apostles were available to work in council, by individual assignment and metron (a measurement of assignment and authority). Some worked at the national and international levels. Some worked at the regional levels and were more “in residence” in a regional metron.

So, we do not have an original version of ekklesia designed and defined by Jesus by “a city-wide church meeting in residential domicile led by one apostle who planted those churches or the original ekklesia that was afterward distributed in house churches.” We do not have any Bible evidence of this, so why do we say it?

Church-growthism designs and defines “church” in this way. The restoration of the apostolic was fitted to this model. That is, the apostolic restoration we have experienced for the past fifty years was hammered into a church-growth model.

We must escape this system to reset the original kingdom. We must reestablish kingdom culture and kingdom ekklesia to the design and definition of Jesus, the King of the kingdom.

If you say that Jesus is the only one who can do this, and He will do this upon His return, you have a massive problem in reconciling this with the Bible. Will there be an ekklesia upon His arrival? Yes. The very teaching that assumes there is no kingdom now also assumes there will be no ekklesia then. Assumptions that ekklesia should not reach ultimate until He returns while believing there will be no ekklesia after He returns are patently illogical.

The point of the ekklesia now is that it will judge the Earth when Jesus returns. The King of kings has kings. The Judge of all the Earth has judges. The High Priest of our confession has priests. They will all function with Him.

To the specific point of the urban legend about the original church had no building or budgets, led by one apostle, distributed in house churches is not the model for the New Era Reformation.

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Dr. Don

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