The command to assemble, Heb 10:25, necessitates a place where the church can assemble. It is true that in the early days of the church many of these assemblies took place in homes or private dwellings. 1 Corinthians 14:23 and 1 Corinthians 11:20 both speak of the church coming together in one place, without specification as to location. The meeting in Acts 15 apparently was not in a private dwelling. To assume, therefore, that churches only met in homes or that churches could only meet in homes is an assumption without biblical foundation. The place of meeting is incidental to the meeting itself. Jesus loosed the place of worship in John 4:20-21, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship. Jesus said to her, Women, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father.” It should be noted that not all the above verses, cited by the querist, refer to churches meeting in someone’s house. In Acts 2:46 the scripture speaks of “breaking bread from house to house.” While some have applied this “breaking bread” to the Lord’s Supper, I do not believe such an application is correct.
McGarvey points out that “the breaking bread” mentioned in this verse is not the breaking of the loaf of verse 42, but refers to common meals of which they partook from house to house. This is evident from the connection: breaking bread from house to house, they received their food with gladness and singleness of heart. It was that breaking of bread in which they received their food, which was not done in partaking of the emblematic loaf.” The real underlying question that needs to be addressed, however, is “what is an example?” Is every incident recorded in the New Testament an example for us to follow? If not, how may we determine the difference? If these passages that mention churches meeting in homes are not examples, what are they? First of all, to argue about when an example is binding is to misuse the word “example.” Webster defines the word example as “a pattern, a model, an illustration of a rule or precept.” An example illustrates a rule or command, thus becoming a model or pattern for carrying out that command.
Incident is defined by Webster as something “occurring accidentally, casual, that which happens beside the main design.” It is a mistake to say that an example is an incident or vice-versa. Such is a confusion of terms. It would also be a mistake to speak of an example that is not binding. If something is an example, it illustrates a rule or command, and is therefore binding. We must, therefore, decide whether or not an event is (a) an example illustrating a rule or precept, or (b) a casual incident. Illustrations for applying the rule are: in Acts 8:38 “They went down into the water” illustrates the command to baptize. Philippians 4:16 “Ye sent once and again unto to my necessity”; 2 Cor 11:9 “that which was lacking to me the brethren which came from Macedonia supplied”; 2 Cor 11:8 “I robbed other churches taking wages of them” all illustrate the rule “Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should all live of the gospel” I Cor 9:14.
These passages further show that in support of gospel preachers funds are to be sent from the congregation directly to the preachers. Acts 20:7 illustrates “when” (the first day of the week), the disciples observed the Lord’s Supper. Hebrews 10:25 contains the background rule for that assembly. “They all drank of it”, or “out of it” Mk 14:23 illustrates the command “drink ye all of it” Mt 26:27, and serves as an example of how we drink the fruit of the vine when observing the Lord’s Supper.
In Acts 27:38 we read “They lighted the ship and cast out the wheat into the sea.” Here is an incident with no background precept, principle or command. Hence it is not an example of anything for us today, but merely a happenstance that occurred beside the main design. The same is true of the scriptures cited by the querist where churches gathered in some home to worship. There may have been a number of reasons why they did so. Some have suggested that public places where hard to come by. Others that such public gatherings would only agitate the leaders of the political system under which they lived. One thing is certain, they did not meet in private homes because of a biblical command.
Published in the OPA September, 1997