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									             Is It A Radical Restoration Or A
                    Radical Departure?
               An Examination of the House Church Movement
                        among Churches of Christ
Introduction: Paul wrote, “Finally, my brethren rejoice in the Lord. To write the
same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you” (Philippians
3:1). There has been a disturbing trend among our brethren, as well as the
religious world at large that has become quite attractive to many young
Christians. It is commonly termed The House Church Movement.

 This movement has presented unique challenges largely due to its covert,
  gradual and ambiguous approach. It has gained traction by targeting those
  young in the faith and those eager to promote the social gospel, as well as
  those dissatisfied with an appeal for the conservative principles of biblical
 It is my sincere conviction that the leaders of this movement have such a
  disdain for faithful local churches that their real plan is to break up local
  congregations or at the very least weaken them, making them ripe for
  apostasy and thus preparing them for their agenda. While its proponents
  characterize their efforts as “A Radical Restoration” it is an outline for a
  Radical Departure.1
 It is important for sake of conceptual clarity to define the phrase “House

        I.       Defining the “House Church Movement”
                a. What is not meant:

    Radical Restoration, A Call For Pure and Simple Christianity, F. Lagard Smith
      i. We are not using the term to encompass every group of
         Christians meeting in a house, for that practice is both
         historic to Christianity and authorized in God’s Word.

b. What is Meant:
       i. To speak of the “House Church Movement” is both accurate
          and misleading at the same time.
      ii. While it is true than an identifiable movement exists
          towards this practice, there are many different forms of this
    iii. The movement arose in rejection of organized
          (“institutional”) congregations.
c. Characteristics of the Movement: Man Centered
       i. They believe smaller groups are essential for true worship
          and fellowship and see this as a fundamental difference
          between themselves and those they call “institutional
          churches” (organized congregations with church buildings,
          full-time preachers etc.)
      ii. They stress that house churches were the pattern
          established for the church in the New Testament.
     iii. They reject any name or description to identify their
     iv. They define the essential size as limited by the number who
          can eat a common meal together which they see as the true
          source of “fellowship.”
      v. They incorporate the “communion” or “Lord’s Supper” as a
          part of those meals.
     vi. They tend to accept and welcome a broad range of
          doctrinal diversity and religious practices among
          brethren. They say that house churches must be “relational”
          and “social” rather than “doctrinal” in their thinking and
    vii. They seek out a casual atmosphere in dress and action.
                 viii. They reject declarative preaching and teaching.
                   ix. They reject having “full-time preachers.”
                    x. They reject any “office” or authority whereby man has a
                       leadership role.
                   xi. They denounce weekly contribution.
             d. Is it a real problem?
                    i. Ethos House Church, Nashville, Tennessee; Group from
                       Franklin church of Christ; CABG – Bowling Green, KY;
                       Christians in Tampa, Tampa, Florida – churches playing
                       with idea strongly in Arkansas.
     II.      The Methodology of the Movement:
             a. Unbiblical View of Grace & Unity
                 (Destruction of Doctrinal Distinctiveness).
                     i. While there have been numerous books written advocating
                        this movement2 including John Mark Hicks’ work, “Come to
                        the Table,” and Mike Root in his book “Spilt Grape Juice,”
                        the most influential advocate has been F. Lagard Smith in
                        his work, “Radical Restoration.”3
                    ii. Smith previously advanced an argument for the acceptance
                        of denominational baptism in “Who Is My Brother, 1997.”
                   iii. Additionally he has argued for the annihilation of the
                        wicked soul, rather than eternal conscious punishment in
                        hell (After Life, 2003).
                   iv. “HCC is non-denominational and an effort is made to
                        accommodate Christians of many backgrounds…Infant
                        baptism was a hot button for the historical Anabaptists and
                        Baptists. It was seen as the very symbol of church-state
                        collaboration, and many of the early confessions
                        anathematize the practice without mincing any words.

  Come To the Table, Revisioning the Lord’s Supper, John Mark Hicks; Spilt Grape Juice, Mike Root; Radical
Restoration, F. Lagard Smith
  F. Lagard Smith’s father, Frank Smith, served as a faithful preacher for years in the Birmingham, Alabama area.
After attending Florida College, Smith went on to receive both his Bachelor’s degree and his Doctor of
Jurisprudence degree in Oregon. Smith was a professor of law at Pepperdine for twenty-six years before joining
the faculty at David Lipscomb University as “Scholar in Residence for Christian Studies.”
          Modern house church theologians, however, are not nearly as
          dogmatic on this issue--some are, and some are not...” (HCC).
       v. Non-institutional Church in Franklin, Tennessee dismissed
          their preacher over his refusal to preach the truth on
          instrumental music, the group then divided and the
          preacher began a House Church Congregation.
      vi. “Asking questions is a great way to get answers and to feel a
          part of the group. As a by-product, diverse answers are OK
          too. Although every church usually has a particular answer
          for most questions, a good church realizes we are all still
          growing in knowledge and maturity in God’s Word. A good
          church recognizes the value in diversity and thrives on it”
     vii. This mindset often is attractive to those who have
          erroneous positions ranging from the nature of God to the
          end of time (Preterism) because their opportunity to
          infiltrate a group without opposition is easier.
    viii. Disdain for the confrontation of error and a proclivity to
          stereotype all brethren who oppose their efforts as
          formalistic, legalistic, pharisaical, unfeeling, inactive,
          traditionalistic Christians is common among change agents
          (Logical fallacy of “name calling”).
b. Diluting of Local Church Commitment:
       i. Amanda Phifer described several characteristics of a San
          Francisco house church in an article published on two
          Baptist websites: “It’s a church without a name, without a
          building… without a program, without even an address…
          being more like Jesus does not mean being a super-
          involved church member… ‘If a believer spends two whole
          days of each week at church, surrounded by other believers,
          Karen asks, then when does that believer have time to
          interact with, much less impact, non believers?’ ‘If you go to
          worship Sunday morning and Sunday night and you spend
          those times listening, then that means you have to set up
    another time during the week when you can have some
    interaction with other believers and really learn and grow.
    That’s a huge chunk of time. But if you make all your time
    with other Christians chunky, meaty, the real stuff, then you
    have that much more time to hang out with non-Christians…”
    BOWLING GREEN, KY (Presented May 3, 2003 at Smith’s
    Grove, KY Church of Christ, where Scott had preached for
    several years; explanation of why he was leaving Smith’s
    Grove to begin the new work)The new work starts May 18,
    2003 in Bowling Green, KY. These remarks give “my vision for
    the new work.” “We’re not going off the deep end.” “We
    wanted a Smith’s Grove type work in Bowling
    what does that mean?” “We’re going to continue what we
    started doing here but “take it to another step … So, what do I
    envision? I envision just a simple, Bible-based, informal,
    spontaneous, relaxed atmosphere where everyone can feel
    comfortable with one another, where we can all gain strength
    and encouragement from one another and grow in our
    personal relationship with participation,
    mutual edification, and not just a spectator audience.”“Now,
    what is an assembly going to look like....I don’t know? I am
    not too sure. It may be very fluid for the next several
    months...for the next several years.” We plan to meet Sunday
    afternoons around three or four. “The reason we chose that
    is because Sunday mornings you get up–I mean the
    alarm clock goes off–you are scurrying around the house
    trying to get breakfast cooked and kids dressed and
    everybody rushes out to church and Sunday mornings
    are just so hectic and the two assemblies just do not seem
    to fit our society at this point....So, we are just going to have
    a Sunday evening assembly. So that Sunday morning is going
    to be built around having devotions in our families on a one
    to one basis. I need time like that.”
     iii. It is odd that those so concerned about convenience and
          fitting in with society will then criticize and question the
          discipleship of brethren who are actively involved in
          congregational activity and personal devotion.
c. Dismantling of the Local Church
       i. Stereo-typical presentation of all churches of Christ in
          order to restructure those congregations.
              1. It is a classical example of the “Bait and switch”
                 method of deception – We are told we are really a
                 “denomination” when in actuality we are not, while
                 the restructuring plan is termed “non-
                 denominational” but is yet in reality filled with
                 denominational concepts.
              2. F. Lagard writes, “Before real progress can be made, we
                 will have to undergo a pivotal paradigm shift in the
                 way we perceive even the notion of “church” itself…Our
                 concept of the church typically tends to suggest
                 organization, complete with hierarchy and dogma. By
                 contrast, the early church…was far closer to being an
                 organism—less dependent upon formal structure and
                 more spontaneous in action” (While it is true the
               universal church is an organism, the local churches most
               certainly had structure and unplanned spontaneity in
               Corinth was not pleasing to God).
            3. While some brethren may have denominational
               concepts of the church of which sound brethren have
               been critical does not warrant FLS broad brush of
               misrepresentation of our brethren as a whole.
            4. Lagard’s criticism continues: “Our typical pattern for
               church organization closely follows the blueprint of
               both Catholic and Protestant ecclesiastical structure”
               (60). (Assertion without proof).
                  a. Odd language for a man who is arguing that we
                      have “city-wide elderships” along with the
                 possibility of “statewide and nationwide
                 networking” (252) – nothing can be considered
                 more of a “typical pattern for church
                 organization” which “closely follows the
                 blueprint of both Catholic and Protestant
                 ecclesiastical structure.”
              b. He complains about denominationalism and
                 then sets out to build a denomination of his
       5. HC Advocates affirm that the binding for local
          churches is to meet in homes.
              a. FLS: “Piecing together archaeology and history,
                 it appears the primitive church typically met in a
                 room sufficiently large enough for probably 40-
                 50 people in the house of a wealthy member”
              b. His favorite words and phrases are:
                 “apparently, it seems, from all appearances, as I
                 attempt, perhaps, it is possible, assuming, it
                 wouldn’t necessarily mean, fairly compelling,
                 reasonable interpretation, it appears, we are
                 not specifically told, I suppose…”
              c. The reality is that the N.T. Church met in many
                 different venues: the Temple Porch (Acts 5:12);
                 upper room (Acts 20:8); a room in the temple
                 (Acts 2:46); a house (Acts 28:30); a synagogue
                 (James 2:2; Acts 18:26-27); a school (Acts 19:9).
              d. It is interesting that with all this talk about
                 “house churches” these groups end up in “union
                 halls,” “school rooms,” “apartment complex club
                 houses – just as long as there is room to eat.
ii. Distortion of the Lord’s Supper
       1. Radical Restoration of the Corinthian Concept
          (I Corinthians 11:17-34).
      a. “The Lord’s Supper gave meaning to their table
          fellowship and their table fellowship gave
          meaning to the Lord’s Supper” (133).
      b. No, the statements “this is my body,” and “this is
          my blood,” as well as “do this in remembrance
          of me” explains what has true meaning.
      c. FLS argues that Paul was not condemning
          having a social meal with the Lord’s Supper, but
          wanting to come only for a social meal. I
          honestly do not know what translation these
          brethren are reading from, because I find
          nothing close to such a conclusion in the text.
      d. Scott Thornhill about CABG: “Someone recently
          gave a good invitation. “Sharing something like
          that while we are partaking of the emblems
          together and we may take in greater quantities
          of that. So, that is the Sunday assembly, with a
          potluck afterwards, every Sunday.”
2. Does I Corinthians 11 condemn an ordinary meal
   eaten in conjunction with the Lord’s Supper?
      a. Required that the Corinthians come together “in
          the church” (18) and that in “one place” (20).
      b. Their coming together is not “at home” (33-34).
      c. Their common meals were termed “his own
          supper,” in contrast to the “Lord’s Supper” (20-
      d. It is not the Lord’s Supper because it is not
          eaten in remembrance of Christ (24-25), rather
          it is eaten to satisfy physical hunger (21) and
          shames the poor (22).
3. There are instances in HC of women testifying during
   the Lord’s Supper to the assembly and is a direct
   violation of I Corinthians 14:34-35.
            4. The corruption of the Lord’s Supper is only the
               beginning of the plan—for the intention is the
               demolition of our worship as we see it in scripture:
               “The question is not so much whether there ought to be
               a kitchen in the church building, but should the church
               be in the kitchen.”
            5. Let this be a lesson: Present acceptance of
               unauthorized practices only leads to radically
               unauthorized practices in the future.
    iii. Attack on Scriptural Elders
            1. “There is nothing to rule out the possibility that the role
               of elders in the early church might well have
               encompassed more than one level of involvement—
               even simultaneously…Perhaps elder oversight may have
               been exercised through a group of house churches
               which collectively comprised a larger, recognizable
               “congregation.” More thought provoking for us, of
               ocurse is the third possibility—that elders in individual
               house churches might also have come together as a
               group of city-wide elders to discuss matters of
               importance to the entire community of
               believers….Nothing necessarily precludes “Jerusalem’s
               elders” from being gathered from among elders in a
               multiplicity of house churches” (178).
            2. Smith’s plan is radical, but not in restoring New
               Testament Christianity, but the Catholic plan for the
               organization of the church.
            3. N.T. reveals that elders were appointed in every
               congregation (Titus 1:5; Acts 14:23; I Peter 5:2).
d. The New Social Gospel (Galatians 1:6-9).
      i. Emotionalism
            1. “Wednesday night service is an “informal, spontaneous,
               very uplifting time. I think all the assemblies ought to
               be like that. One of the things that is difficult is the way
         the furniture is arranged....It is hard to share....That
         may be a step too much, to get folks some chairs out
         and to be interacting with each other where you could
         see each other, like a living room setting would be.
         That may be too much of a step but at least trying to go
         down toward that more informal sharing assembly on
         Sunday mornings” (Thornhill, CABG).
      2. FLS and HCA desire to turn our worship assembly into
         a camp-like retreat.
      3. This will not produce substantive spirituality, but
         superficial emotionalism.
      4. The HC Movement is promoting divisons in local
         churches, perverting the Lord’s Supper into a
         common meal, etc.
      5. FLS’s vision is: A nameless church without preaching,
         but full of eating common meals and informal banter,
         that discards the bible plan for leadership and acts of
ii. Man-Centered rather than Biblically centered.
      1. “I would like to meet in a multipurpose building if you
         can maintain that living room atmosphere....The way
         the structures are set up, and the pews are set up, that
         we come, we sit, put on our proper clothes, and that
         interaction is not as comfortable as it is when you come
         over to my house....But I do not think you have to meet
         in houses but I do believe you have to have that kind of
         atmosphere…I am still the Scott you have known for ten
         years, not some radical left wing person that is going to
         start some love feast Pentecostal group…At this point a
         man got up and gave an extended testimony about how
         the Lord had helped him through difficulties in starting
         a new business.” (Scott Thornhill re: start of CABG).
      2. The Social Gospel is not merely about the use of the
         treasury, but it is about the focus of the teaching
                             and preaching as well as an appeal for palatable
                             and comfortable Christianity over and against true
                             reverent worship and discipleship.
                          3. We need to hear sermons about the family and
                             home (Sunday morning series) however when the
                             motive is to hear those things to the exclusion of
                             distinctive doctrinal sermons so as to be more
                             palatable to the unsaved we have bought fully into
                             the social gospel.4
    III. Groundwork for HC Movement among Non-
         Institutional Brethren.
         a. Denial of Brethren
               i. No doubt, some will defend the modified HC by saying it
                  differs from that seen above from denominationalism or
                  even that which is proposed by FLS.
              ii. But let there be no mistake about it---the similarities will
                  most likely outweigh the differences. The variations will be
                  slight, but the concept will be the same.
             iii. But why is this movement found attractive by some?
         b. Conditions that Have Provided Fertile Ground For HCM
               i. Many brethren have been drinking more at the
                  fountains of denominational thought than from the
                  Word of God (I Timothy 4:15-16).
                      1. There is too much of Rick Warren, Tim LaHaye, Max
                         Lucado and others of their kind and too little bible
•      Dan Petty wrote: “There is a tendency that is present among churches and Christians today which is
     quite disturbing. It is an apparent, general dislike of ‘doctrinal’ preaching. Many seem bored with the
     careful exposition of Scripture. Others have unofficially rebelled against preaching that ‘contends for
     the faith,’ on the dubious grounds that it is too negative or controversial. As a consequence much
     preaching has turned to an unbalanced diet of preaching to deal only with matters of a positive, non-
     controversial nature. Lessons on attitudes and treatment of our fellow man are often perceived to be
     less offensive. It should be emphasized here that these (‘positive’) kinds of themes do need to preached
     on and often…Indeed there have been times when perhaps the balance was tipped in the other
     direction and brethren received more than their fill of controversial preaching…But we must beware of
     the swing of the pendulum…”
                                a. Case in point: Preacher in NI congregation in
                                    central Arkansas preached a sermon on grace
                                    and the introductory story/illustration and
                                    primary points were nearly verbatim from the
                                    book entitled, “In the Grip of His Grace—You
                                    Can’t Fall Beyond His Love” by Max Lucado. The
                                    book is conceptually wrong and yet chapter one
                                    was fundamentally preached.5
                          2. The effect has been that some brethren have been
                             desensitized to the danger of the encroachment of
                          3. Those who participate in the HCM rarely if ever
                             return to conservative congregations.
                    ii. The desire for a more “social gospel” (John 18:36).
                          1. Some of our brethren have adopted the definition of
                             “fellowship” as being social interaction common in the
                             religious world.
                          2. To those who have doubted the clear and present
                             danger associated with wrongly defining and wrongly
                             apply the Bible doctrine of “fellowship,” wake up!
                          3. Those false concepts are aiding the influence of the
                   iii. Growing Desire for a Casual Atmosphere in Worship
                        Assembly (Psalm 89:7).
                          1. The same people who mock appropriate apparel for
                             worship would not dare dress casually on other
                          2. I have not seen a congregation yet where casual dress
                             was the norm which was strong. It is not merely the
                             dress, but what it reflects.
                          3. VBS – teachers set a good example for our children
                             and that is not going to change.
                          4. To those who adamantly push for casual apparel in
5, Living By Grace, April, 2011
                          worship you may be unknowingly aiding a casual
                          atmosphere characteristic of the HCM.
             iv.    Rising lack of respect and rebellion toward qualified
                       1. While elders can be wrong and Christians are not to
                          submit to unqualified elders leading a congregation
                          into apostasy – Nor should Biblical elders be
                       2. It is not unusual for those who become dissatisfied
                          when they are not able to have their agenda
                          accomplished to decide that they prefer a House
                          church without real leadership.
                       3. Those who secretly engender disrespect for faithful
                          elderships often are enamored by the HCM.
              v.    HCM provides the perfect environment for doctrinal
             vi.    Mind-set of those who are dissatisfied with the
                    designation “church of Christ” are enamored by this
             vii.   Lack of balanced contextual preaching – preach on
            viii.   Mind-set of those who minimize the value of indepth
                    directive preaching and teaching give a helping hand to
                    this movement.
             ix.    Lack of involvement and activity as a congregation can
                    aid this movement.

Conclusion: Let us realize the potential of biblical congregations which are
laboring in love!

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