Home Start-Up Independent Churches

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Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
These days, some churches are started by people who believe they should go ahead and start them and be the "leader" or "pastor" of them. These churches may even be started in such a person's own home. In such a case, the person decides to do this independent of any authoritative structure but himself (hopefully not herself!). In terms of ecclesiology, what should be made of these churches and the "ministers" of these churches, which ministers are not affiliated with Presbytery or congregation or some other authoritative structure? Should they be seen as valid officers but unlawfully called and valid churches but unlawfully started? No ministers or churches at all, with no right to existence?

If they are seen as valid ministers and churches, then that would seem to mean they should be treated as true churches and true ministers that one has an obligation to; and yet these obligations arise and the church truly constituted outside of the bounds of any structure besides an individual's decision to start such a church? Wouldn't that then mean basically any who was successful at starting such a church could gain such authority in Christ's church? Would "whoever is not against us is for us" apply here in accepting such churches as truly constituted?

If they are not seen as valid, then that means validity depends on the existence of some ecclesiastical structure? In which case, what is required of the ecclesiastical structure so that such a calling and ordination is valid (since separate denominations recognize the validity of the ministers and churches of each other)?

And further, what is a good way to act towards such churches and the leaders of such churches, recognizing that whatever the answer, such is certainly not an ideal situation?

To simplify matters, let us say such a church has a true confession, albeit, a hidden one (since most of these churches aren't that into confessional Christianity), i.e., implicitly in that it preaches a true gospel.


Edit: For clarification, I am not speaking of "house" churches or the "house church movement." The home is merely a convenient place for such a start up to begin, but the goal of the start up is always for church planting: for having an actual church, dedicated meeting place (which is preferably not in the home for practical reasons such as too many members to comfortably meet in a private home), and ministry.

Edit2: I should have mentioned this earlier, but I am primarily interested in the case of a non-ordained person doing this and gathering a congregation to himself, rather than a congregation in some unusual circumstance (as allowed in Presbyterian thought) or in ordinary circumstances (as in Independent thought) electing someone from among themselves to be their officer.
 
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Herald

Administrator
Staff member
Raymond,

Putting the issue of independencey aside for a moment, home churches in the United States seem to be started more out of desire than necessity. That is my opinion but I would be surprised if there was data to prove otherwise. There are some parts of the world where house churches are a necessity because of persecution. If that is happening in the United States than I am unaware of that.

Unfortunately this is happening with some frequency among Calvinistic Baptists. Churches seem to pop up out of nowhere with the founder being the pastor. Many of these "churches" will even subscribe to the 1644 or 1689 LBC, but they are a mishmash of inconsistent teaching and practice. Maybe some of these home meetings actually take off and take on the semblance of a true church. Do the ends justify the means? I wish I could say this is strictly the domain of Baptists, but it is not. Any theological persuasion can start a home church this way, and many do.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Herald said:
Putting the issue of independencey aside for a moment, home churches in the United States seem to be started more out of desire than necessity. That is my opinion but I would be surprised if there was data to prove otherwise.
Yes, I agree, and I agree that any theological persuasion might start a church in this manner. I actually do know a church that was started in a home (albeit, always with the goal of having an actual church with an actual building and an actual ministry), and it has certainly taken off to take on the semblance of a true church (an "interdenominational" one). I know that in moral matters, the ends do not justify the means, and also that the callings of our Reformers were not ordinary and were defended as such.
 
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KMK

Administrator
Staff member
In terms of ecclesiology, what should be made of these churches and the "ministers" of these churches, which ministers are not affiliated with Presbytery or congregation or some other authoritative structure?

Unfortunately this is happening with some frequency among Calvinistic Baptists.

In my experience, house churches are baptistic and Calvinistic because they have been disenfranchised by the broadly evangelical mainstream church. So, they usually see it as an act of necessity even if we do not.
 

Herald

Administrator
Staff member
In terms of ecclesiology, what should be made of these churches and the "ministers" of these churches, which ministers are not affiliated with Presbytery or congregation or some other authoritative structure?

Unfortunately this is happening with some frequency among Calvinistic Baptists.

In my experience, house churches are baptistic and Calvinistic because they have been disenfranchised by the broadly evangelical mainstream church. So, they usually see it as an act of necessity even if we do not.

Ken, yes. I have heard that reason given. Calvinism among Baptists has been going through a resurgence. If the SBC is a bellwether Calvinists are not being well received in mainline Baptist churches. Ergo the birth of a home church.
 

ZackF

Puritan Board Graduate
Unless there was absolutely nothing resembling a Bible believing church within 50 miles I would have a hard time putting my family under some kind of lay ran start up. I can think of a situation like the only ordained man within 100 miles is a DJ who received his credentials from an ad in the back of Rolling Stone magazine.
 

Andres

Puritan Board Doctor
In such a case, the person decides to do this independent of any authoritative structure but himself (hopefully not herself!).

If a "church" has absolutely no authority structure, what's to prevent said leader from being a she? What's to prevent a plethora of other problems? What you describe sounds like a bad idea. I'm not opposed to a group desiring to plant or start a new congregation, but there are right ways and wrong ways to do this.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Andres said:
If a "church" has absolutely no authority structure, what's to prevent said leader from being a she?
Nothing but the moral convictions of the one who starts it, and the social and civil structures that are or are not in place, I guess. It does help for purposes of analysis though to assume a "he" because the "she" would be one who has no valid ministry even if vetted by some ordination process? I agree that such is a bad idea, but I wonder what to think of these in ecclesiastical terms. Of course, the apparently successful ones will see their growth as a sign of God's favor and blessing, confirming their original efforts.

KS_Presby said:
Unless there was absolutely nothing resembling a Bible believing church within 50 miles I would have a hard time putting my family under some kind of lay ran start up.
Are you assuming that such a person is still a layman? Why? Does this mean the ministry is not valid?
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
I am also struggling through a study of what ordination is, who does it, and how it is to be done (while holding to a belief in the independency of the local church):

Here are my very initial cursory notes:

--The verb cheirontoneo seems to be used a lot more than "appoint" and cheirontoneo seems often to mean to "elect by vote" or "stretching out of hands." Am I understanding this correctly? This would mean that congregational selection of a pastor to that office is central (instead of selection by an outside Synodical structure). Thus, pastors can plant churches, but also churches may also designate their own pastors and need not answer to any supra-ecclesiastical authority outside of themselves.

--In Acts chapter 6 (the choosing of the seven), it appears that there was much congregational input.

---However, in 1 Timothy 4:14 (Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership) it appears that the existence of the eldership came before the laying on of hands of Timothy.

So, an ordinary custom among already-planted churches would be that already-existing pastors/elders from the congregation would ordain new pastors to their office with congregational approval/consent/desire. They can and normally do invite other outside pastors as advisers, though the power of ordination lies solely within that congregation.

Or, in the case of missionaries and church-planting evangelists, they would ordain and commission a man to go out from amongst them and plant new churches (who would then recognize this man's office by yielding to his teaching). However, there is nothing in Scripture that would seem to make it impossible for a new church to spring up on its own (spontaneously generating) upon the discovery of the Word of God. In this case of gathered believers intentionally meeting together, it seems appropriate that they appoint their own pastor.


The 1689, in chapter 26, paragraph 9:

The way appointed by Christ for the calling of any person fitted and gifted by the Holy Spirit for the office of bishop or elder in a church, is that he is to be chosen by the common consent and vote of the church itself. Such a person should be solemnly set apart by fasting and prayer, with the laying on of hands of the eldership of the church (if there be any previously appoint elder or elders). The way of Christ for the calling of a deacon is that he is also to be chosen by the common consent and vote of the church and set apart by prayer, with the laying on of hands.

If we are to define a "church" as an intentional gathering of believers for worship, then it appears as an independent baptist that I must admit that house-churches may spring up with no outside input or influence and (assuming that they are, indeed, true churches) have the power to call their own pastors from amongst them.

This seems to happen in the Muslim world or China (groups of believers meeting together to worship deciding to appoint themselves a pastor). I cannot deny that these may be true churches and their pastors true pastors.
 

Wynteriii

Puritan Board Freshman
I would say to classify the majority of independent home church plants to be based out of desire not necessity is creating a false dichotomy. There desire could be based on the necessity of a church because of the fact that there are no churches in the area or because there are churches, but they hold to doctrines that would be deemed heretical, have by-laws prohibiting members who hold to the doctrines of grace, and/or have a refusal to search the scriptures to see if the doctrines of grace are so and refuse the mention of reforming.
 

ZackF

Puritan Board Graduate
Andres said:
If a "church" has absolutely no authority structure, what's to prevent said leader from being a she?
Nothing but the moral convictions of the one who starts it, and the social and civil structures that are or are not in place, I guess. It does help for purposes of analysis though to assume a "he" because the "she" would be one who has no valid ministry even if vetted by some ordination process? I agree that such is a bad idea, but I wonder what to think of these in ecclesiastical terms. Of course, the apparently successful ones will see their growth as a sign of God's favor and blessing, confirming their original efforts.

KS_Presby said:
Unless there was absolutely nothing resembling a Bible believing church within 50 miles I would have a hard time putting my family under some kind of lay ran start up.
Are you assuming that such a person is still a layman? Why? Does this mean the ministry is not valid?

It would go the reason of the ministry to begin with. Is there something else around? I was understanding the post to be about being apart of the starting up of a "start up" and not something further down the line.
 

Herald

Administrator
Staff member
I would say to classify the majority of independent home church plants to be based out of desire not necessity is creating a false dichotomy. There desire could be based on the necessity of a church because of the fact that there are no churches in the area or because there are churches, but they hold to doctrines that would be deemed heretical, have by-laws prohibiting members who hold to the doctrines of grace, and/or have a refusal to search the scriptures to see if the doctrines of grace are so and refuse the mention of reforming.

Wynter,

We do not know if the majority of home churches are started out of necessity. What is necessity? I wonder what type of answer we would receive if we interviewed a representative number of house churches to find out why they started, what they believe, the qualifications of person starting the church et. al.

I am aware of a church in Kansas City (Christ Church Fellowship) that meets in many different homes simultaneously. That seems like a unique take on the home church movement. I have not investigated it enough to speak knowledgeably, but it does seem to provide some level of ecclesiastical oversight.
 

KMK

Administrator
Staff member
People, like Frank Viola, who teach that independent house churches are 'ideal' are wrong. But, in most churches there are plenty of things that are not 'ideal'. One has to decide what hills one is going to die on.

Presbyterians seem much more offended at the idea of a house church than Baptists, yet they don't seem to have a problem with 'micro-denominations'. I see them as similar phenomenon.
 

JasonGoodwin

Puritan Board Sophomore
I would say to classify the majority of independent home church plants to be based out of desire not necessity is creating a false dichotomy. There desire could be based on the necessity of a church because of the fact that there are no churches in the area or because there are churches, but they hold to doctrines that would be deemed heretical, have by-laws prohibiting members who hold to the doctrines of grace, and/or have a refusal to search the scriptures to see if the doctrines of grace are so and refuse the mention of reforming.

This thread has given me quite a bit to think about with regards to these churches.

On the one hand, there are church plants set up by sending denomination such as the PCA, OPC, RPCNA, SBC, etc. Those I really don't have an issue with. At least there's a measure of accountability (as long as they're held to it).

On the other hand, those that are completely independent sometimes run the risk of running into apostasy and heresy, especially with some of the American megachurches which most of us probably know about (and which I shall not waste any time expounding upon them. We know who they are.) I don't know if they go independent because they don't know where to go for affiliation, or if they have come up with some "novel" way of doing "church" that actually displays an utter contempt for the Gospel and continues to lead many astray.
 

jogri17

Puritan Board Junior
It is not ideal, but in various circumstances there not be any other choice. A church is defined by the pure teaching of the Gospel and the proper administration of the sacraments and not but following a certain book of order.

That being said, a far more wise way to go about it would be contact a local church, or a pastor via distance (skype or google hangouts), and to have someone who is trained to sit in and watch or help teach, or help train the person wanting to start up an independent church.
 

Herald

Administrator
Staff member
People, like Frank Viola, who teach that independent house churches are 'ideal' are wrong. But, in most churches there are plenty of things that are not 'ideal'. One has to decide what hills one is going to die on.

Presbyterians seem much more offended at the idea of a house church than Baptists, yet they don't seem to have a problem with 'micro-denominations'. I see them as similar phenomenon.

Is this Frank Viola the ex-MLB pitcher?

Sent from my iPhone killing Galaxy S-4
 

Andres

Puritan Board Doctor
Presbyterians seem much more offended at the idea of a house church than Baptists, yet they don't seem to have a problem with 'micro-denominations'.

This Presbyterian (and I know of others) does in fact have some reservations with "micro-denominations".
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
KS_Presby said:
It would go the reason of the ministry to begin with. Is there something else around? I was understanding the post to be about being apart of the starting up of a "start up" and not something further down the line.
It seems there was much about my question I should have clarified, though even with those clarifications it seems there may be a variety of cases to consider. I was referring primarily to a self-started church plant by a non-ordained person with the goal of having an actual church with that previously non-ordained person (whether he is considered ordained now or not, is one of the questions of the thread) as pastor or leader of that church. While I am interested in the starting of the start up, I am also interested in what occurs afterwards in terms of ecclesiology.


Methinks the main cause of starting these is out of a felt "necessity" because of a felt burden for some area or in some way, "felt led;" and of course, whenever one is led by God, one has a necessity placed on oneself. But a constrained necessity to preach the gospel is part of the calling of a minister. So it would seem such self-appointed ministers would be valid ministers? And their churches valid, since a true church is defined by its profession of the truth? In which case, it is indeed the case that anyone successful in self-appointed church planting could have a valid ministry and truly constituted church, even if such planting was done in the same area in which many other possible churches or Presbyteries existed. Indeed, what stops one from having a bible study in one's house, declaring the people in the study a "church," and making oneself pastor of that church (assuming that the people in the bible study agree with this transformation from a study to a little church)? (And I guess, if the bible study chose this man for their pastor, then Pergamum's post applies and so indeed, anyone who does this would have to be seen to have a valid ministry and true church.)


And if the comparison between micro-denoms and these self-church plants holds, then we would indeed have to recognize the validity of their office and churches. Though in the micro-denom case, I would think that much depends on how and why it was formed? Unless micro-denom is defined in such a way that it is universally a bad thing (I don't know the precise definition)? And also, in the micro-denom case, aren't there usually lawfully and validly ordained ministers involved? And also congregations that call such ministers? So I'm not sure the analogy holds, exactly.
 

KMK

Administrator
Staff member
While I am interested in the starting of the start up, I am also interested in what occurs afterwards in terms of ecclesiology.

It depends upon whether this is a baptistic/congregational startup or a Presbyterian startup. I don't think this could happen in the Presbyterian system.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
KMK said:
It depends upon whether this is a baptistic/congregational startup or a Presbyterian startup. I don't think this could happen in the Presbyterian system.
If the person was truly a Presbyterian, it couldn't. But I suppose it is theoretically possible for the non-ordained person to otherwise hold to Presbyterian views and self-plant a church that upholds Presbyterian views without connecting it to a nearby Presbytery, and then as it grows, connect the various churches to that one in a Presbyterial government. No doubt, for consistency, such a plant would have to be passed off as necessary to do. But in either form of government's case, the question concerning the validity of the ministry and church arises.
 
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JoannaV

Puritan Board Sophomore
Is a man who is ordained but then leaves his church still considered ordained or just a regular lay person? I know of Calvinistic churches started by former Arminian pastors. I suppose this could happen within Presbyterianism too, if an elder left, say, the PC(USA) and didn't know much about trying to start a church in connection with, say, the OPC.

If you were part of such a church then I assume you would already view the pastor as legitimate. If you were not part of such a church then I'm not sure to what extent it matters; that is, what kind of "obligation" would you have to them anyway? Perhaps if you were a pastor and they approached you wishing to engage in some joint activity... I guess I'm just not sure that I would have much interaction with them, and so the question "how should one act towards them" does not seem terribly relevant.
 

Wynteriii

Puritan Board Freshman
We do not know if the majority of home churches are started out of necessity. What is necessity? I wonder what type of answer we would receive if we interviewed a representative number of house churches to find out why they started, what they believe, the qualifications of person starting the church et. al.

I would have to somewhat disagree with this. I cannot see people waking up one morning and non-nonchalantly decides they will start a church for they have nothing else to do. I would say that they all start out with a perceived necessity. We can disagree with their perceived necessity (which we rightly should) and spend time trying to prevent this person from creating further disunity in the church.

My response to your wonder and call for a survey of home churches. I don't think the things you listed should be limited to home churches for these are things non-home churches argue about. In fact, we do so on this forum.
 

yeutter

Puritan Board Senior
It is not ideal, but in various circumstances there not be any other choice. A church is defined by the pure teaching of the Gospel and the proper administration of the sacraments and not but following a certain book of order.
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Actually the Belgic Confession teaches that a true Church is one where the Gospel is rightly preached, the Sacraments are rightly administered, and Church Discipline is rightly exercised. Is a home startup independent Church a breach of Church Discipline?
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
If the Sacraments must be totally "rightly administered" than baptists and presbyterians must advance arguments to un-church the other. But I think both sides would recognize that the other is a true church, right?
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Pergamum said:
If the Sacraments must be totally "rightly administered" than baptists and presbyterians must advance arguments to un-church the other. But I think both sides would recognize that the other is a true church, right?
I had thought that the Presbyterian view is the profession of the truth is the one essential mark of a true church, while these other marks are secondary and for the well-being of the church. So Bannerman in Chapter 5 of his Church of Christ:

"The one note or mark, then, which is common to every true Church, and peculiar to every true Church, is the profession of the faith of Christ. Whatever be the differences in other respects,—whatever be the distinction in outward form or administration, in ordinances, in government, in worship,—these things are subordinate to the one criterion of the profession of the true faith, which marks by its presence a true Church, and declares by its absence an apostate one."



"There is a difference in this respect, and not an undesigned or unimportant one, in the definition given of a Church in the Articles of the Church of England on the one hand, and the Confession of Faith of our Church on the other. The Westminster Confession limits the definition of a Church to the profession of the true religion, as the one essential mark of a true Church. The Articles of the Church of England include, under the definition of a Church, not only the profession of the true religion, but also the right administration of the sacraments. "The visible Church," says the Westminster Confession, "consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, together with their children." "The visible Church of Christ," says the 19th Article of the Church of England, "is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly ministered, according to Christ's ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same."

We are told by Bishop Burnet, that the language of this Article and of the 23rd ("of ministering in the congregation") was so selected, as not necessarily to include in the idea of a Church the doctrine of an "apostolical succession" of the ministry as requisite to the valid and regular dispensation of the sacraments; and not, therefore, necessarily to exclude those Christian communities who claimed no such ministry. But the introduction of the idea of the administration of the sacraments, as being of the essence of a Church, marks the difference between the definition of the Church as given in the xxxix Articles and in the Westminster Confession.

There is no doubt that the profession of the true faith by a Christian Church will, in all ordinary circumstances, necessarily lead to the establishment and administration of the sacraments also; and in this way the profession of the faith may be said to imply or infer the outward ordinances likewise. In this somewhat loose and popular sense, the sacraments, as well as the profession of the faith, may be said to belong to the idea of a Christian Church; and many writers, in so defining a Church, have meant no more. But, in a strict and logical definition of it, there enters into the essence of a Church nothing but what is assigned to it in the Westminster Confession,—namely, the profession of the true religion of Christ. And I have no doubt that it was to avoid the danger of those intolerant and mischievous consequences that might be deduced from the introduction of it, that the element of the administration of the sacraments is excluded from the definition of a Church in our Confession.

That outward ordinances are not fundamental or essential to a Church, is plain from the fact that they are of those things made for the Church, and not of those for which the Church was made. That the possession of the truth is, on the contrary, fundamental and essential to the idea of a Church, is apparent from the fact that the Church was instituted for the truth, and not the truth for the Church."
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
JoannaV said:
Is a man who is ordained but then leaves his church still considered ordained or just a regular lay person?
Good question. I suppose it depends on how the leaving is done? Since the church officers are given to the visible catholic church, I would think that a simple change in churches would not annul the ordination? But perhaps for some other reasons in connection with leaving his local church, like retirement, he would be a regular lay person?

JoannaV said:
Perhaps if you were a pastor and they approached you wishing to engage in some joint activity... I guess I'm just not sure that I would have much interaction with them, and so the question "how should one act towards them" does not seem terribly relevant.
A fair enough point. I suppose it is possible to meet them through an acquaintance who attends that church (if it is a church); that's what has occurred in my case, though I don't know how common such an occurrence is.
 
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MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I believe the Papists had a problem with micro-denominations also. It is a good thing our reformers did not care for the Papists' carnal marks of the church. The Lord can save by many or by few. Head-counting is no way to discern true doctrine. An individual who tries to hide behind a large organisation in this world will still have to give account of himself to the Lord.

However big or small the denomination, there is a problem when organisations who call themselves churches falsely represent themselves, unite under false pretences, cause offences contrary to the gospel, love to have the pre-eminence, exercise dominion over men's faith, manhandle the sacred things of God, and do not care to offend the least of Christ's little ones.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
It seems that if the marks of the church are essentially only the profession of the truth, one would have to conclude that any organization that professes that truth and takes on the work of a church ministry (since it must look like a church to be a church, and it cannot look like a church without acting in a churchly way) is a true church and the officers valid. Perhaps the validity of the ministry could be seen in a similar way to how the validity of a civil government depends on the people in Rutherford's theory (if I'm remembering this right; I know there were some nuances here, and I don't recall them all): since the majority of the people accept the man as their pastor, and since everything else about the organization is a church, that man must be viewed as a validly ordained pastor, though an unlawfully and disorderly called one (unless some unusual circumstance, etc.). I think that would then mean if such a man was to reconcile himself with an already existing church, he would not need to be ordained though an examination may be prudent?
 
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