The Early Church - Chapter 9 - Do You Need a Chapel

Chapter 9 - Do You Need a Chapel

In many lands where Christianity is nearly extinct as a vital force, beautiful cathedrals tower. Vast sums were spent erecting monuments of stone while spiritual life flickered and died. It often seems that the more magnificent the building, the less vibrant life one may find. Can an elaborate building often be a compensation for an unwillingness to live zealously for God? We give money rather than life?

What did the early church do? There are no rules about buildings in Scripture. The early church was flexible and adaptable, determined to survive in every environment; therefore, its externals were minimal, quite different from the beautiful and elaborate temple service.

The apostles and early converts used whatever means were available to further the work. The temple. was a natural meeting place, excellent for proclaiming the gospel of Christ to large numbers. Crowds of people thronged the place. The Christians met daily in the temple for preaching and teaching (Acts 2:46). However, they needed a different arrangement for remembering the Lord in the breaking of bread and for fellowship. For this they split into smaller groups in homes, "breaking bread from house to house" (Acts 2:46).

The church in Jerusalem was soon scattered by persecution (Acts 8:1) and the Christians carried the good news wherever they went. To reach outsiders, to evangelize, they used public buildings. The synagogue was first used. Here was an audience schooled in the Scriptures, waiting for the Messiah. These deserved to hear first (Acts 13:5, 14). In most cases some believed and formed the nucleus for a new church.

In time the Jews who disbelieved rejected the Christians from the synagogue and they began to meet in homes (Acts 18:17). Where else could they go? For evangelism they still went to public places - a riverside (Acts 16:13), a market place (Acts 17:17), a school building (Acts 19:9), and one could always go from house to house, knocking on doors, telling out the good news (Acts 20:20). It was a vibrant, aggressive ministry. They had no building in which to hole up; constantly they were in the stream of life.

For their fellowship, worship and teaching they met in homes. Perhaps one home with a large room would be used regularly. Expenses were at a minimum. Funds were used to support the poor and the Lord's servants (Acts 11:29; Phil. 4:16). It was all delightfully simple.

Just how important is a building? Some Christians today are reluctant to start meeting because they have no church building. They feel they cannot do a work for God without a chapel. Some churches today are hesitant to leave liberal denominations because they do not hold title to their building. They feel they cannot carry on if they lose their chapel. Is it possible to be too dependent on a church building?

What are some principles to remember? We must remind ourselves that a church is basically people, an assembly of believers. A building is only a tool. The early church used whatever tools were available. Perhaps the church today is too rigid in its approach. We like to withdraw into our beamed chapels and let the world go by. If people are curious, let them come in.

Secondly, there is the matter of stewardship. Are we putting too much of our income into wood and steel and too little into men who proclaim the Word? Is it possible to put too many thousands into a building we only use two or three days a week? Would a businessman regard this as the best use of capital in his business?

Perhaps our conscience is a little uneasy at times as we sit in our padded pews, admire the warmth and luxury of our wood panelling and hear a missionary tell of the heathen who have never heard. (Oh well, the Lord deserves the best.)

Another principle to consider is that the building should be conducive to fellowship. More and more denominational churches are stressing this. Semicircular or circular auditoriums with a table in the midst are being used. Why? Because the face-to-face contact is seen as important to fellowship. Nearness to one another and to the speaker, intimacy, are being stressed. It is a good trend.

What are some practical possibilities for a beginning church? If land is reasonable, an assembly may be able to buy and to build rather quickly. A modest chapel may be considered a wise investment, especially if no adequate rentals are available. If the assembly is alert and active, the building may be used several nights a week. Such a group may meet in homes until the chapel is ready.

Increasingly though, especially in urban areas, it may be difficult or impractical to acquire your own building. Land is prohibitively high. Enough land may cost $20,000 to $50,000 or more. For a beginning group, this is astronomical. A seminary professor a few years ago predicted that soon it would be almost impossible to start new churches in metropolitan areas. Building costs would be too high.

Is there any way out? A Christian publication (Christian Life, Feb., 1969) told of a pastor moving into an inner city environment to start a church. The church now rents a union hall and is very happy with the facilities. Rent is low and the spartan character of the building forces them to think in spiritual terms of worship. They have a flourishing, happy fellowship.

An assembly starting in this way could have mid-week prayer meetings in homes.A larger assembly could have several prayer meetings.This would stimulate more participation and interest. One or two elders could supervise each meeting.

It is difficult to have larger Sunday services in homes. When a group first starts, it may be feasible but with growth, there is usually not adequate room. Also, there is the parking problem, neighbors complaining, city zoning, etc. A lodge hall, union hall or women's club building may be the answer.

Some churches may decide they never want to own a building. Their money can be put into evangelistic efforts, literature, men, rather than into brick and mortar. In fact, 1 many churches are finding their most effective evangelism is done outside their chapels. Here we need vision and concern. Street evangelism, house-to-house visitation, home Bible studies, ladies' coffee hours — these are a few of the outreaches possible.

For those who live where property is expensive, take courage. Effective assemblies can be formed and function even without owning a chapel. This may even be a blessing in disguise. Such may be forced by circumstances to more creative and effective efforts in evangelism. God is able.