What Happens at a House Church Gathering?

Not every house church needs to be structured the same, and there is room for a lot of variation. Every house church should reflect its own cultural and social nuances—one reason why house churches can be very effective in evangelism, especially in countries that have no Christian cultural tradition. House church members don’t invite their neighbors to a church building that appears completely foreign to them where they would be involved in rituals that are completely foreign to them—major obstacles to conversions. Rather, they invite their neighbors to a meal with their friends.

The common meal is generally a major component of a house church meeting. For many house churches, that meal includes or is the Lord’s Supper, and each individual house church can decide how to best bring out its spiritual significance. As previously mentioned, the original Lord’s Supper began as an actual Passover meal that was packed with spiritual significance by itself. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper as a meal or part of a meal is the apparent pattern followed when the early believers gathered. We read of the early Christians:

And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer….And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart (Acts 2:42, 46; emphasis added).

The early Christians were literally taking loaves of bread, breaking them, and sharing them together, something that was done at practically every meal in their culture. Could that breaking of bread during a meal have had some spiritual significance to the early Christians? The Bible doesn’t say for certain. However, William Barclay writes in his book, The Lord’s Supper, “It is not in doubt that the Lord’s Supper began as a family meal or a meal of friends in a private house….The idea of a tiny piece of bread and a sip of wine bears no relation at all to the Lord’s Supper as it originally was….The Lord’s Supper was originally a family meal in a household of friends.” It is amazing that every modern biblical scholar agrees with Barclay, yet the church still follows its tradition rather than God’s Word on this issue!

Jesus commanded His disciples to teach their disciples to obey all that He had commanded them, so when He commanded them to eat bread and drink wine together in remembrance of Him, they would have taught their disciples to do the same. Could that have been done at common meals? It certainly seems as if it was when we read some of Paul’s words to the Corinthians believers:

Therefore when you meet together [and he is not talking about meeting in church buildings, because there were none] it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk (1 Cor. 11:20-21; emphasis added).

How would such words make any sense if Paul was speaking about the Lord’s Supper as it is practiced in modern churches? Have you ever heard of the problem of anyone in a modern church service taking his own supper first, and one being hungry while another one is drunk in conjunction with the Lord’s Supper? Such words would only make sense if the Lord’s Supper was done in conjunction with a real meal. Paul continues:

What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God [remember, Paul was not writing about a church building, but a gathering of people, the church of God], and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you (1 Cor. 11:22).

How would people be shamed who had nothing if what was being done was not in the context of an actual meal? Paul was pointing out the fact that some of the Corinthian believers who arrived earliest at their gatherings ate their own meal without waiting for the others to arrive. When some arrived who were perhaps so poor that they brought no food to share at the common meal, they were not only left hungry, but also shamed because it was so obvious they had brought nothing.

Immediately after this, Paul wrote more about the Lord’s Supper, a sacrament that he “received from the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:23), and he recounted what happened at the first Lord’s Supper (see 1 Cor. 11:24-25). He then warned the Corinthians against partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner, stating that if they didn’t judge themselves, they could actually eat and drink judgment upon themselves in the form of weakness, sickness and even premature death (see 1 Cor. 11:26-32).

He then concluded,

So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you may not come together for judgment (1 Cor. 11:33-34).

Contextually, the offense being committed at the Lord’s Supper was inconsideration of other believers. Paul again warned that those who were eating their own supper first at what was supposed to be a shared, common meal, were in danger of being judged (or disciplined) by God. The solution was simple. If one was so hungry that he couldn’t wait for the others, he should eat something before he came to the gathering. And those who arrived earliest should wait for those who arrived later for the meal, a meal that apparently included or was the Lord’s Supper.

When we look at the entire passage, it seems clear Paul was saying that if it was the Lord’s Supper that was being eaten, it would be done in a way that it was pleasing to the Lord, reflecting love and consideration for each other.

In any case, it is crystal clear that the early church practiced the Lord’s Supper as part of a common meal in homes without an officiating clergy. Why don’t we?