Journey into the “church at Bill and Jane’s house”
Come with me on a journey inside the “coming together” of the followers of Jesus that I dream about…
“And on the first day of the week, when we gathered together to break bread” Acts 20:7
This is the main meeting of the week, when the believers pour into Bill and Jane’s home, one by one, to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and edify one another. Those who can, bring food and drink to eat and to share, which is an important “ingredient” to the Supper. Some of the poor or those temporarily unemployed have little to bring but are gladly accepted into the gathering. As they come through the door, the first thing is to greet one another with a “holy kiss” and reunite as a family.
The most common thing done in homes with families is to eat together, and the church in Bill and Jane’s is no exception. They reclined at the table and ate their meals together “with gladness and sincerity of heart”. There was much joy and spontaneous outbursts of praise and thanksgiving during the meal. Conversation around the meal included stories about work, family life and their walk with the Lord. Sometime during the meal, or after the supper, the bread was broken and eaten and the cup was passed and the wine was drunk. A fresh wave of reverence fell upon the gathering as they remembered the Lord’s death and judged carefully their “body unity” and love and care for one another.
“Since there is one loaf, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one loaf” 1 Cor 10:17
After the supper, the people “assembled” to share their gifts of the Spirit with each other — including the children!— and build up each other. There was no “pre-ordained order of service” because no one knew what the Spirit will bring. The simplest way, and perhaps the fastest, was to start with singing, but not the kind that says, “Turn to page 33 in your song book, please”.
“With all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” Col 3:16
The Holy Spirit brought “fresh, perhaps spontaneous” (Barrett’s Commentary on 1 Cor.) songs to different ones as they were filled with the Spirit and overflowed with inspired singing. The songs themselves were not only pleasant melodies but were teachings and sometimes even warnings! This was followed by more gifts of the Holy Spirit as He moved and inspired each one.
Let all things be done for edification.
“What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation.” 1 Cor 14:26
Quite possibly one of the leaders/elders would offer a teaching, which usually was in the form of a dialogue. Paul wrote to Timothy that the elders who work hard at “preaching and teaching should be considered worthy of double honour” (1 Tim 5). Of course, anyone in the gathering could bring the teaching at anytime! As the Holy Spirit led, somebody in the assembly may have “jumped to their feet” with a revelation and the one who was speaking would take a “back seat” to the fresh revelation that was unfolding.
This in turn may have led to a time for prophets to speak, followed by a time of “weighing” by the believers — taking out the bones and leaving the meat! At this point the gift of discernment (distinguishing of spirits) is vital. From here, the sky is the limit for the direction the Holy Spirit may lead. He might guide the elders to anoint and pray for the sick. He might direct others to initiate more songs, hymns and spiritual songs sung to each other. For those still suffering in the gathering, they would break into groups and pray for each other, confessing their sins as well. For those cheerful, they should start praising again! (James 5).
“For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men, but to God; for no one understands him, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries.” 1 Cor. 14:2
More than likely the Holy Spirit would inspire two or three to give, orderly and decently, a tongue, followed by an interpretation. Tongues were sometimes consider “too showy” in the NT and different ones were suspicious and wanted to forbid them, but Paul made very clear that this was not acceptable! Tongues followed by an interpretation was another of the many means the Holy Spirit used to encourage and build up the saints. Here I agree with Gordon Fee: “All that interpretation does is to make the ‘tongue’ become intelligible speech. Because it was intelligible does not mean that it was now directed toward men. It may simply mean that the content of the ‘mysteries’ or prayer or praise is now made known.” (Corinthians – a study guide). Imagine mysteries being spoken to God in a tongue being interpreted into your mother tongue for everyone’s encouragement and edification! This is church at its best!
When the believers gathered together in Bill and Jane’s house their constant question was “How can I build up the others?” They didn’t go to receive but to give! There was no attitude that said: “I have had a hard week and now is my time to receive!” Here the “Golden Rule” of Jesus came very much onto play: “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” In God’s economy, the more we serve one another with what we have, the more we are blessed in return by the body, “being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part.” (Eph 4:16)
While the gathering wound to a close, appointments were made to meet again between the main gathering. Financial needs were addressed and wealth and possessions (and even property!) were shared by all, “as anyone had need”. Finally, one by one, just as they came, the believers would pack up the children and head off to their homes, refreshed and encouraged by the coming together again of the Bride of Christ and the proper working of each individual. Some would stay and linger, while others would stay and help with the cleanup. Please note that no one received a salary in the church at Bill and Jane’s house, though honour was given where honour was due, which sometimes included free-will offerings.
As needed, the church in Bill and Jane’s house would get together with other house churches in the network for city-wide gatherings: such as making decisions the whole church needs to be in on (Acts 6/15); the visit of missionaries and apostles sent out from the house churches (Acts 14); and church discipline issues (Mtt. 18/1 Cor. 5). Once again no one received a salary in the network, except if the need arose for a full-time/part-time HC network co-ordinator, who informs the different house churches in the network of “when and how” and secures the facilities needed. Teaching elders who moved between the house churches were also certainly financially supported as needed. (1 Tim 5)
It is an axiom of life that that which is alive is growing and budding new shoots! The first church on earth was said to have “filled Jerusalem with this teaching”. May the Lord Jesus grant us His grace that we may fill our cities as well with the glory of the Lord…