What the biblical evidence demonstrates is not that there is a “better” method of doing church. The biblical evidence, if I may be so bold, is “amethod“, that is to say, it fails in any sense to provide a “method” for how church is to be done. This must be distinguished from “anti-method” that some may think I am implying. I am not “anti-method, nor would I say that I myself am amethod. But as far as the scripture demonstrates, it does not directly bear witness to any “favored” manner of doing church. The NT has no comment on whether the Home Church structure is good or bad. Even the existence of a Home Church structure is at best implied and almost all of our evidence for it comes from later sources.
I use amethod and anti-method to help make a distinguishing mark that is often muddied in discussions about church structuring, especially when it comes to Home Church proponents. The bible is not anti-method, for their are basic and fundamental contours demonstrated in the NT that help give shape to what forms a healthy gathering of believers. Structures such as Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds, Pastors, Elders, Teachers, and so on, in order to build the church. There are other structures I do not wish to elaborate, for this is outside of my current purpose. But what must be clear is that when “doing” church, there certainly must be structure and organization. Paul argues against and exhorts the Corinthian church for their disorganized worship services. The NT is not anti-method.
There are many who believe that simply meeting in a home and talking about Jesus is “church”. Certainly Christians spending time together do constitute those in the CHURCH, or the Bride of Christ, but this is a categorical mistake to say that they are “having church”. There is certainly something altogether different about Christians meeting intentionally together to celebrate Christ himself, not simply to hang out and have a meal. Many confuse this anti-method and believe almost to a degree that church must instead be spontaneous and even unorganized, for this is an attempt, they would argue, to place constraint upon the work of the Holy Spirit. They take the bible’s amethodological standpoint and conclude that since no sincere, outlined method is offered in the bible, therefore any and all method or structure is bad or negative. That is, they concluded that the bible must be then anti-method. Rejecting structure, they become anti-method and thereby condemn any structure unlike their own. If professed believers meet together in an institutional organization, it is at once denounced and refuted as even anti-scriptural. What has happened with these forms is that they themselves have committed the very fallacy that they condemn other believers for doing themselves. In condemning other believers for committing themselves to an institutional structure (e.g., church membership) and moving toward anti-method or anti-structure, they become themselves anti-scriptural, in an ironic twist.
What must be held in tension is that the bible does not prescribe any “set” method for doing church, outside of basic structuring. There were other forms that existed at the time of the early church, both home and institutional, and neither must be appealed to as the divine mandate for doing church.
The tables also must be turned in the other direction, towards a more organized or institutional type structuring. It must be noted that it is scarce that any of a more organized or institutional type would appeal directly to the Early Church or the book of Acts itself for defense. More organized and institutional churches look for support elsewhere. Whether this is good or bad must be weighed on other factors. It is not my concern to discern whether this is so, but only my concern to show that the current appeal to the “Early Church,” especially as found in the book of Acts is not fundamentally what we should “model” ourselves after, at least not in an organizing fashion. There are other central components that all churches, whether in a home, a building or even institution, must hold on to. Their commitment to those central components must not be surrendered, and when a church, whether it be in a home or institution, commits and lives out those central components, its healthiness will be apparent.
What must be kept in mind when doing and participating in a church environment is that the Early Church serves as a guide but not a model. We cannot model ourselves directly after the Early Church, for in doing so we become anachronistic, neglecting the current context of our time, where different needs (though ultimately the same) are to be met. We cannot assume that what worked in the 1st century will necessarily work in the 21st century, and vice versa. The Early Church had a specific context and needs that needed to be met and we have a specific context and needs to be met. The church of the 21st century must constantly be aware of these needs. This is not to say that the church must be a constantly morphing entity, as many in the postmodern movement are suggesting. At the rate that things are changing today a church may become outdated in a matter of years. There certainly needs to be constants that are maintained regardless of time and cultural changes. Culture must not determine structure. But Structure must adapt to culture. A church in America is certainly going to look different in some respect than a church in China, but these differences must be minimal at best. Scripture is the same in all cultures, Jesus is the same in every human situation, though his application may vary. Some contexts may need certain emphases. Paul emphasized different things to the Jews than to his Roman and Greek worshipping audiences. So also must we reflect this on some level.
What must contribute to the shape of the church is the necessities of that situation. As a church in a persecuted region might necessarily be forced to go underground and meet in house-churches, a church in a free society like America or Europe may be much better suited to a public congregational meeting. What must guide these decisions is the needs of the situation. It is the goal of those who create and implement church structures to correctly apprehend these needs and focus church praxis to meet those needs.