I had a friend of a friend ask this question of him recently. He said, “My wife and I grew up in the traditional church. But when we began having children, that just didn’t seem to work anymore. So my wife and I began our own family church, where we can teach our own children, worship together as a family and where we can grow together spiritually. It’s working for us.”
So, is a church made up of only one family, really a church?
I don’t believe it is. Here’s why: First of all, there’s no biblical prohibition I’m aware of, regarding a “one family church.” However, neither is there a description of a one family church that worked. There’s an odd story in Judges 19 about Micah’s one family “church” centered around an idol and a rouge priest. And it’s possible that in the early church, or even in some remote village today somewhere, there was, or is a family who are the only believers they know, trying to be “a church.” For them it’s better than no church, but I still don’t believe it’s a church.
Is there a definition of a church in the Bible?
The best “definition” we do have, is found in Acts 2:42-47. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
There are many other descriptions of the various activities of all kinds of churches in the New Testament and almost all were home churches. But I’m not aware of any that were “one family churches.”
So what is a church? There’s no biblical definition of a church. But throughout history, here are some of the elements many theologians and serious Christians have identified, as the minimal requirements for a church.
1. A gathering of believers made up of males and females including children if any. (This rules out men’s groups, being a church, for an example.) And all the descriptions we do have in the Bible is of groups of believers – more than a single family.
2. They gather for worship, including prayer, the studying of scripture and caring for the needs of each other. In a one family church, who is it who would challenge – unsound or unbiblical teaching?
3. There is a leader, chosen by the adult members in the group, which the church can “un-chose” if they prove to lead in an un-Christlike way. (A single family church can’t “fire” dad, or mom as their leader.)
4. Discipline is exercised. In Matthew 18 and in 1 Corinthians 5 we read of a church exercising discipline. How can a single family church, exercise discipline of it’s leaders if the parents are the leaders?
5. The sacraments of baptism and communion are observed. There is no biblical prohibition I’m aware of that parents couldn’t baptize their own children, or celebrate communion together. (I’ve served communion to our family on occasion.)
Summary While there are no prohibitions against a single family church in the Bible, I think such a gathering doesn’t even come close to the churches described in the Bible and would be very unwise. Having made that declaration, has our family ever had “family church” while on vacation? Yes. But we’ve never considered it a true church.
I am in support of multi family, including singles, home churches. In many ways home churches are much closer to the close community of New Testament churches.
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