The modern house church movement has both captured allegiance and anxiety. Many acclaim it as a rediscovery of New Testament Christianity, while others see in it an escape from the realities of established church life.

The early Christian community started as a house church. The record in the book of Acts tells us that 'They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship... They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts. 'Some twenty-five years later, the apostle Paul wrote to friends in Rome: 'Greet also the church that meets in their house.'

During the following decades the Christians continued to meet in homes. In times of persecution they went underground into the catacombs. But after the Roman Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in AD 313, church buildings began to multiply. In

the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the Reformation fostered new churches as Protestants built their own places of worship. Yet in every century Christians have met in homes in small groups to supplement their more formal church life.

Others, however, have left the established denominations to form independent house churches. It is this latter development, evident since the mid-twentieth century, that can be called 'the house church movement'.

The same but different

The thousands of house churches around the world vary widely in origin and purpose.

In England three main branches have originated independently of each other as offshoots of established denominations. They have no central organization and want to be known simply as local churches. Yet each 'chain' of house churches has a distinctive character. They are linked by the itinerant ministry of their leaders, common hymns and ...

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