In the early Church not only were there no church buildings but there was also no such thing as any Christian denominations. The denominational or independent churches of today are nowhere to be found in the New Testament except Corinth where they started to crop up and there were strongly condemned by the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 1:10-13).
Even though the multitude of Christians in a city would regularly gather in their respective house churches, all the Christians in every city were viewed as one body, as members of one church in their respective city. And the spiritual leaders were not divided in a city but were a single overseeing body of pastors/leaders. Nowhere does the New Testament use the word “churches” (plural) in a city, but only “the church at Jerusalem” or “the church at Antioch” or “the church at Ephesus” etc. (Acts 11:22; 13:1; 20:17; 21:18; 1Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Colossians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; Revelation 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 4, 7, 14). And there are no exceptions to this fundamental truth.
In the New Testament the word “church” was used in three different ways:
- The universal church: All believers in the world were members of the one single universal world church ꟷ Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).
- The city church: All believers in every city were members of one city church ꟷ “The church at Jerusalem… the church at Ephesus” (Acts 11:22; 20:17, etc.).
- The house church: All believers were a part of one House Church ꟷ “They met in homes for the Lord’s Supper… in their home for church meetings” (Acts 2:46; 1 Corinthians 16:19, etc.).
There was no other kind of church other than the ones condemned by the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 1:10-13). Every believer was a member of the universal church, a city church, and a house church. In other words, Jesus has His universal group, His city group, and His house group.
All elders/pastors in a city were a single body of leaders subject to one another and all responsible together for unitedly overseeing all the Believers in their city. This has many extending implications for reaching cities for Christ and literally fulfilling the Great Commission in every nation. And this is one big reason why the early Christians were fulfilling the Great Commission in their generation. We’ll look at this in more detail later.
The word “church” in the Greek is “ekklesia”. This word has nothing to do with any kind of building. The word means only a “gathering” or “assembly” of any group of people for any reason. It was not a religious or Christian word at the time and had no such connotation. It was a very common word used for any group of people that would gather when Jesus used the word, and He said, “I will build my church.” There were lots of “churches” or “groups” at that time for any number of purposes. Jesus was simply saying, “I will build My group!” In time Jesus’ group became so dominant in the world that the word “ekklesia” began to only refer to Jesus’ “group” or “church”.
In the 4th century when Constantine had Christians take over large pagan temples to worship in, the word “church” then began to take on a very foreign unbiblical meaning. Now instead of the word “church” meaning Jesus’ group or gang of followers, the word “church” began to be identified as a building! Today we say, “Let’s go to church.” But we don’t go to church, we are the church!
Extracts from Jim Cotter’s excellent book Church Revolution Today. http://www.housechurches.org