Language changes. Our ways of thinking about even the most important things in life change. As you read the Bible today, try to imagine the stories you read in the context of your life right now. Or try to imagine a conversation we might have at church today taking place some 2,000 years ago with Paul or Peter or James taking part in the conversation. It was while thinking along this line that I began to wonder how those people who lived and participated in church life in the first century would react if you transplanted some of our church conversations into their culture or how we would react if you brought their conversation into our church life today. It is pretty common to hear people in church talk about their home church in our time. It may be someone who is traveling and stops in to worship with us on a given Sunday. They are from some other part of the country or world and out of loyalty to Christ make their plans to be part of the worship gathering with us on a given Sunday. As would be normal, we would go to them and introduce ourselves and do our best to make them feel welcome as part of our gathering. In the conversation they explain they are from a distant state and city. They explain that their home church is in that far away place, where they have lived for the last several years. We understand they are talking about the church they normally worship with when they are home. It is the church that counts on them and that invest in their spiritual life and growth.
While we never read of anyone referring to a particular congregation of the Lord’s people as their home church in the New Testament, it is clear that people did identify with particular congregations in that time. Paul and Barnabas became so firmly established as part of the Antioch congregation that they would return to that church at the end of each of the missionary journeys to report what had happened during their last journey and to spend time with the church there to both have time for renewal in their life and to encourage them in their spiritual development. Think about what happened when they returned from the first missionary journey and found that teachers had come to Antioch from Jerusalem and were disturbing the church by telling these Gentile Christians that they had to be circumcised and obey the Law in order to be real, fully Christian. Paul and Barnabas were so frustrated by what they saw that they went to Jerusalem to confront the false teachers and try to stop such actions from happening anywhere else.
While the New Testament doesn’t refer to a home church, it does demonstrate it’s value and that it was a concept that mattered deeply. In Colossians 4:12 Paul tells about Epaphras, “Who is one of your own, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus.” He said he sent them greetings and noted that he was “always striving earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. For I testify for him that he has a deep concern for you and for those who are in Laodicea and Hierapolis.” Epaphras had made his way to Rome to be able to minister on behalf of the church to Paul who was a prisoner there. But it is obvious that his heart was with the people in his “Home church.” He certainly cared for Paul and wanted to help him. But his prayers and concerns were for the people back home. In this incident there is a strong point that I think we need to learn. It makes a difference in our spiritual life if we have a “home church” for which we feel a strong bond of love and concern. I know that when one becomes a Christian they become a member of the body of Christ as a whole and not just the local congregation. One might argue that since they belong to the body of Christ there isn’t that great a need to be deeply committed to the local body of believers. But it would be a futile argument.
We all need to be part of a local body where we feel deeply a part of everything that goes on. We need the bond that declares how much we are needed in that local body. We need the closeness that develops there, so that people care about us and what happens in our life. It is typically in the local church where we are able to get involved, where we pray for each other and reach out to help one another. Without that local church where we feel at home, we can drift away from God and His will and no one know the difference. But in the home church, where we feel like family and have close friends, we are missed and people reach out to us when something goes wrong.
Is there a church that you consider your home church? If not, what in the world are you waiting for to become committed to a home church? You haven’t found the perfect place yet? Well, stop looking for it, because if there was such a place you would mess it up when you got there. Just as our personal families aren’t perfect, yet a place of love and fulfillment, the local church isn’t perfect, but they serve a perfect Lord and Savior and that is enough.