First, I think it’s best to define two terms and why they are/should be different. An Institutional church is a church that owns a “church building,” meets regularly, and has a fairly reproducible service, meaning that it is organized and consistent. A house church, especially the modern house church, is a group of people that meet in a less formal setting with no definitive structure. I don’t think either system is better than another, but I don’t think there is a common-ground between them, in as far as how they are done. It’s either institutional or it’s house-style – you can’t have an institutional church that runs like a house church (because then it’s a house church that owns a separate building), and can’t have a house church that runs like it’s institutionalized (because then it becomes a miniature version of an institutional church).
I’m going to qualify this post with my experience with two house churches. The first I attended, I only went once. It wasn’t a bad experience, my schedule just didn’t allow for me to attend frequently enough for me to officially go there “full-time.” The second one I went to, I went from November to April (4 months), and found that it had the title of house church, but functioned like a miniature institutionalized church.
Now, most people that join a house church do so because they do not find themselves agreeing with the system of the institutionalized church, or they use the house church as a supplement to the institutionalized church. The thing is, though, is that house churches are started as an alternative to the institute, but instead of acting as an alternative, at least in my experience, they seem to just be glorified bible studies and a lot of personal prayer/singing. This isn’t bad, but it doesn’t solve the problems that people claim the institute does. The desire of the house church is to replicate the church described in the New Testament. The problem with that is we are trying to import the culture of 40-60AD into our culture and way of life. Why is this a problem? Well, in all technicality, it isn’t, but you also have to be aware that this means we are limiting ourselves to that culture and way of life, let me explain:
Church in the New Testament looked very different from the regular church service/meeting. There weren’t rows of pews, no pulpit, no raised platform for the pastor, and no preaching from the pastor. There weren’t definitive “church times,” and often no discernible and static place to have a service. At most, the only real defined meeting place was sometimes the local Jewish temple/synagogue. Now, I know what you’re thinking, that this couldn’t be right, because how could any Christian know the bible or hear a sermon. Well, let me ask you this: in the New Testament, specifically the book of Acts and beyond (epistles/letters), do you ever read that Christians met in churches? Do you ever read about a sermon preached to Christians (no, not to gentiles – there are numerous examples of that)? Do you ever see any reference to a pulpit? Do you ever hear about the pastor being central to a Church or even better, does Paul ever address a letter to a pastor? If you find any of these to be “yes,” please do give me the reference and I’ll admit I was wrong. I’m not trying to be arrogant, but I am trying to prove a point. The point is, we currently have nothing like the New Testament church. Sure, there are churches that say they are “New Testament” but what they really mean is “Modern, with a few changes to make us more relevant to or culture.” Again, this isn’t bad, but it seems to be a self-defeating purpose. So, does house church currently accomplish a New Testament church? Not really, it’s just as predictable as an institutionalized church, just a different location and a different formula.
Here is my solution, and you can agree or disagree, but God doesn’t want us living on old revelation. Just like God didn’t want the Christians living just like the Israelites, God doesn’t want us to be stuck in the past. So, what does God want us to do now; it’s not like we have an open canon that we can feed on for the latest trend God is showing for our church. Well, Christians, let me reveal something to you that God revealed to me – it’s not about church. I know this from experience that when I attended a institutionalized church (and even the house church), when I missed a service, I felt bad. This should be the alarm that this is not spiritual, but religious! When anyone’s spiritual growth and maintenance depends on something other than your relationship with God, you’re in trouble! Instead of church, worry about community – doesn’t Hebrews challenge us to not forsake the gathering of the saints? It doesn’t mean attend a church service, it means commune with each other, support each other, know each other, pray for each other. There is nothing wrong with attending a church service, but there is also nothing wrong with not attending one. I find myself accomplishing spiritual growth by working on my personal relationship with God, and helping others, but the roots have to be in your relationship with God! It’s not about your knowledge of the bible and it’s not about the good work you do regularly, because that shifts the focus outside of God and into your own ability.
If you take anything out of this post, make it your objective to know God a little more each day. You will NEVER EVER get to the point of knowing God fully, so it’s humbling and constructive t o do this. Before you go to a church service of any kind, get your relationship with God right.