What is a House Church?
Simply put, a house church is a church body which doesn't assemble in an established church building but in the homes of its members. By their very nature, house churches tend to be smaller in size and counter-cultural in many ways.
No one denies that the earliest Christians met in houses. The book of Acts regularly describes Christian assemblies taking place in peoples' homes (Acts 2:42; 5:42; 20:20). Church meetings are recorded in the homes of John's mother (Acts 12:12), Lydia (Acts 16:40), Aquilla and Priscilla (Rom. 16:3-5; 1 Cor. 16:19), Gaius (Rom. 16:23), Nympha (Col. 4:15), and Philemon (Philem. 2).
Was this practice pragmatic, or was there a theology behind it? If they avoided building church structures and met in homes on purpose, does that mean that we should too? If so, why? Different house church advocates give different answers to these questions.
It goes without saying that there are many types of house churches, and many reasons Christians seek out the way of the house church. For many Christians (like Jeff Barth, What About Church?), the house church is simply an extension of the home schooling principle. Their driving motivation is withdrawal from the world. For others (like Del Birkey, The House Church), the house church is a key to renewal and mission in the existing church. For yet others (like Steve Atkerson, editor, Toward a House Church Theology), the house church is part of apostolic tradition and should be considered normative on that basis. And for yet others (like those criticized by James Rutz, The Open Church) it is merely a rap session, an outlet to express frustration over the institutional church. A cursory reading of house church booklists and home pages reveals that the house church movement is anything but uniform. (On the other hand, that's part of the diverse house church dynamic!)
The purpose of the open house church articles is to make another contribution to the house church movement, posing important questions about doctrine and hermeneutics.