Paul's Passing Thoughts

Home Churches, the Institutional Church, and the Kingdom of Heaven

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on February 4, 2014

ppt-jpeg4Church history reflects a glaring conflict between home assemblies and institutional religion. The early church met in homes and the Jewish temple at Jerusalem. This was a continuation of the home synagogues that existed prior to Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. However, though they met in several homes and the temple, they knew the temple would be destroyed according to Christ’s prediction.

We have all heard of the spiritual romanticism associated with home churches in countries like Russia and China. Also known as the underground church, by all indications they are flourishing assemblies. Their home fellowship model is by necessity, but it begs the question: does the home church model foster healthy discipleship while the institutional church strangles the former? Church history shows clearly that this is the case. Powerful movements that yield many converts have always started as home fellowship movements and then slip into mediocrity when they become institutions. Almost all of the denominations that exist today started as home fellowship movements.

I am presently doing research on this for two books, and the information is far from being obscure history. The Baptists started as a home fellowship movement, and this was by necessity also because they broke with the Reformers on the issue of infant baptism. Their home fellowships were outlawed and many members were executed over the issue of baptism. As time passed, Baptists were assimilated into the Protestant institutional church.

Another example is the Methodist Church. Methodism started as a New Testament church model. Wesley started societies of home fellowships that were organized within circuits. Each circuit, a designated geography, contained several home fellowships of 10-15 people. The results were staggering, and likely responsible for the Great Awakening in the colonial era. But unfortunately, Wesley sought to reform the Church of England with this movement rather than the societies being a replacement.

However, much more may be at stake than methodology. The debate between the church models may parallel a given position on what the kingdom of heaven is. According to John MacArthur Jr., the kingdom of heaven is a sphere or a realm where God has domain over His people ( This is consistent with the Reformed view overall.

Let’s note the important difference. This view posits the idea that the kingdom of heaven is a realm of influence orchestrated by the Holy Spirit. As a former grammatical interpretist influenced by redemptive interpretists, MacArthur is going to be conflicted on this. He would probably hold to the belief (and rightfully so) that the “flesh” is the mortality of the believer where sin dwells and wages war against the Spirit and our minds. As a half-pregnant Calvinist, MacArthur is at odds with authentic Reformed thought on this wise. True Reformed kingdom theology holds to the idea that the flesh is also a realm, not a remnant of the old self in the believer. We remain unchanged, only the realms change. This is realm manifestation experienced by the believer versus new creature change.

In contrast, there is the view that God’s kingdom is a literal physical kingdom that is in heaven. The kingdom is not on earth, only its citizens are on earth. The Old Covenant had a physical representation of God’s kingdom on earth. That representation has been replaced by the priesthood of every believer. We are the temple, and each and every believer represents the physical temple in heaven. The Holy Spirit doesn’t operate in a realm, he operates in us. Therefore, don’t be confused by the language of some who say Christ is in us; by that they mean we are only experiencing the manifestation of Christ in the kingdom realm. Faith is merely an ability to experience kingdom manifestations, but we are not really valid participants.

Hence, there is the belief that Christ ushered in the kingdom on earth. Yes, the pure form of the kingdom is in heaven, but its spiritual manifestation is progressively manifested on earth. This view of kingdom theology is the basis for reconstructionist and dominion theology. The objective manifestation of the kingdom is in heaven, and it is subjectively experienced on earth—it’s a spiritual kingdom.  As the church shows forth the gospel on earth and seeks to control every corner of it , the subjective manifestation of the kingdom becomes progressively more objective until the kingdom dominates the earth. This also matches the Reformed gospel of progressive justification and glorification.

In contrast, there is the belief that God’s kingdom remains in heaven (hence, the name), and that God will bring the physical kingdom down to earth at an appointed time. Until then, the mandate is to make as many disciples as possible, not to participate in the ushering in of the kingdom. An ushering in of the kingdom necessarily focuses on the centrality of temple worship and an institution that unites as many people as possible.

This is the crux issue in regard to ecumenicalism. It’s individualism versus collectivism. Wesley societies coincided with the freedom and individualism of the American Revolution and the combination had a profound effect on history. Slaves, by necessity, already had an established home fellowship network so the Great Awakening was particularly prevalent among them.

Home fellowship societies are about disciple building—the institutional church is about kingdom building. Christ said he would build His assembly—not His kingdom. It is doubtful that His kingdom needs any building.

The final question is this: is a biblical kingdom theology, in reality, consistent with the home fellowship model and contrary to the institutional church?


3 Responses

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  1. paulspassingthoughts said, on February 4, 2014 at 10:41 AM

    Reblogged this on Clearcreek Chapel Watch.


  2. trust4himonly said, on February 4, 2014 at 5:59 PM

    Hey Paul, just found out from my mother through that my great great grandfather was a participant in John Wesley’s home Bible studies. Just a bit of interesting info. – 🙂


    • paulspassingthoughts said, on February 4, 2014 at 6:08 PM

      Very interesting. That home church movement was probably at the core of the Great Awakening. A network of home churches already existed because of slavery and Puritan oppression. The freedom movement of the American Revelation poured gasoline on the fire.


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