Does the Bible Authorize Building a Meeting House?
By Kyle Pope
ollowing the Bible as our sole pattern means that we as
Christians must be willing to test all things we do by that pattern. Even in things that may be longstanding
practices, it is fitting for us to test whether the Bible authorizes those
practices. In that spirit, let’s consider a question that often arises in issues
regarding what the church is authorized to do—Is there Biblical
authority for the church to build a building?
New Testament Places of Assembly. The Bible tells us that the first Christians
in Jerusalem assembled in the temple courts. Acts 2:46 describes them as—“continuing
daily with one accord in the temple” (NKJV). This would not refer to
the temple itself, where only priests could enter, but the courts and
colonnades which surrounded it. As
the church grew outside of Jerusalem, some Christians are described as opening
their homes to allow the church to assemble there. When Paul wrote to the
church in Rome he told them to greet Aquila and Priscilla (16:3), adding later,
the church that is in their house” (16:5). When this same couple
lived outside of Rome, they did the same elsewhere. Writing to the Corinthians
Paul says—“the churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla
greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house” (I Corinthians
16:19). In Laodicea a brother named Nymphas opened his home to the church. To
the Colossians Paul charged—“Greet the brethren who are in
Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house” (Colossians
4:15). Philemon, Apphia, and Archippus, a family in Colosse, hosted the church
in their home (Philemon 2). Some think that Archippus may have preached for
this congregation. Paul wrote, “say to Archippus, ‘Take heed to the
ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill
it’” (Colossians 4:17).
addition to homes and the temple courts, the Bible records for us that churches
also made other arrangements for places to meet. After Paul withdrew from the
synagogue in the city of Ephesus, he met with the brethren in what was called “the
school of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9). It is unclear whether this was a
building, a courtyard or some other type of place normally used for schooling.
The text doesn’t tells us how the brethren secured this place to meet.
Did they pay rent to use it? Was one of the members involved with the school?
We do not know.
there is one other text which adds to our understanding of this issue. In the
epistle of James a word is used describing a Christian assembly which may tells
us something about the place of the assembly. Teaching the brethren about the
sin of partiality, James begins, “if there should come into your
assembly a man...” (James 2:2). The word translated
“assembly” is the Greek word synagogue translated
elsewhere “synagogue.” By the time of the first century this term
was used to refer to both the people and the place of a Jewish assembly. The
text in James is talking about a Christian assembly, but the use of this word
may indicate that James is talking about a Christian meeting house. If so, once
again, the text does not tell us how they secured the building, or even what it
looked like or how it was built. What is clear, however is its existence. In
all cases when the church assembled, there was some place where this assembly
The Command to Assemble.These texts show us the approved
examples of the church meeting in a public place, private homes, a school and
probably in a meeting house set up for that purpose. Are there any Scriptures
which authorize setting up such a place of meeting? Hebrews 10:24,25
teaches—“let us consider one another in order to stir up love
and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the
manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the
Day approaching.” The word translated “assembling” is a
verb related to the word synagogue noted above. The Hebrew
writer, through the direction of the Holy Spirit, is not just commanding any
type of gathering for any purpose. Rather, he is commanding continuing
religious assemblies. If the Lord gives a command, it only follows that He is
authorizing what is necessary to carry out that command. The church could meet
in a public park or marketplace, but what if none is available? The church could
meet in the home of one of the members, but what if no member has a home large
enough to accommodate a large congregation? Must the size of the congregation
be restricted to a number small enough to fill the home of the wealthiest
member? The church in Jerusalem grew to 5000 men alone (Acts 4:4).
very command to assemble authorizes a congregation to secure a place to carry
out that command. What if this requires spending money? How is the church
authorized to secure money? Through the “collection for the
saints” (1 Corinthians 16:1). While this might not authorize the church
to buy Corinthian leather pews, gold-plated communion trays, or marble bathroom
fixtures, if the church is charged to assemble, then the church is authorized
to do what is needed to carry-out that charge.
Conclusion.The Bible grants the church liberty to
meet in a variety of different settings. However, the very command to assemble
authorizes the church to do what is necessary to fulfill that command. If a
congregation through necessity or choice decides to secure a permanent place to
assemble it is authorized by approved example and the generic authority of the
command to assemble to do so. Given that the authority to secure a permanent
place of assembly comes from the generic authority to assemble, it is
imperative that a congregation limit its use of such a facility to only those
things which the church itself is authorized to do.