A Biblical Alternative to Traditional Church
Reformed Doctrine, Early Church Passion
We believe there is another biblical alternative
For the past 250 years, the Western Church has exclusively gathered one way—in a building.
For centuries, Christians in the West have enjoyed public church assemblies protected by government religious freedom policies. However, over the past 50-60 years, we have seen two growing threats encroach upon the local church that erodes its witness and freedom. The first is internal, while the second is external.
Internally, we’re watching many traditional churches homogenize with the culture. In an interest to attract visitors, these churches have attempted to market themselves with rock-concert-style worship services and elaborate productions. Others have added coffee shops, book stores, skate parks, age-segregated children’s programs, and a church campus that looks more like a university than a place for Christians to worship God.
But, generally speaking, those churches who have taken this approach to ministry have also opted for watered-down doctrine, unclear theological positions, and preaching that aims to entertain rather than mature the congregation in the Word of God.
After studying at Western Seminary, The Master’s Seminary, and Grace Bible Seminary, Mr. Partridge, with the help of Dr. Jason Barker, founded Reformation Seminary and Reformation Fellowship.
However, by God’s grace, a generation of born-again Christians has begun to seek the Scriptures in search of something more. As they read, they begin to see the rich, deep, bold, intimate, holy, lovestruck, Gospel-focused Christianity of the Early Church. Yet, when comparing the beauty of this potent form of Christianity to the flashy and superficial form of the present age, they are left with nothing more than a painful incongruency.
In other words, for many, the westernized church feels miles away from the biblical church. Here, we are ten feet wide but only one inch deep. There, they may only be one foot wide, but they are ten feet deep! Ultimately, for many years now there has been a growing consensus among mature believers that crowds and buildings are not the best producers of the intimate, family-like culture seen in the Scriptures.1 Many have even described these highly institutionalized churches as “audience Christianity” where they feel like an “inactive spectator” to a weekly Christian conference.
In a very real sense, these churches, in an effort to attract the lost through theatrics and gimmicks, have neglected the very core purpose of the Sunday gathering—the edification of the saints.
To be straightforward, Reformation Fellowship is by no means anti-traditional church. On the contrary, we greatly appreciate and support the many faithful traditional churches who stand committed to Scripture.
However, we do believe the biblical design for the local church is experienced most fruitfully when placed into a more intimate and modest environment—like a home. It is in these smaller, tightly-knit communities that Christians can not only receive doctrinally-sound preaching from biblically qualified elders but can experience a degree of fervent fellowship, one-anothering, and servanthood that’s more difficult to attain in a traditional church.
The Outside Problem
Unfortunately, this internal degradation of the local church is not our only problem. On the outside, the culture is viscously attacking the Church’s beliefs, freedoms, and reputation. Consequently, this rising hostility toward Christian values will soon cause many local churches to move away from the government-sanctioned, publicly visible, and more vulnerable expression of church and move toward a more private, concealed, and agile form of Christian assembly. We must remember, historically, Christian persecution has primarily been driven by governments. Sadly, almost every Western church is currently sanctioned by and formally connected to their local, state, or federal government. As the values of the biblical church and the secular government grow further apart, this civil connection will be broken and the underground church will take root. This shift will not be universal but will occur to varying degrees depending on the political environment of a particular country, state, or city.
While the house church may be new to the West, it is not new to church history. In fact, even today, tens of thousands of Christians gather in house churches worldwide. For instance, current conservative estimates contend that over 17 million Protestant Christians meet in homes in China alone.2
Having said that, the vast majority of house churches (in America or abroad) are not led by pastors, elders, or deacons who have received formal theological training. As a result, many of these churches lack sound doctrine, ecclesiastical structure, and theological accountability.
For this reason, Reformation Fellowship aims to produce a global network of biblical house churches led by pastors who have been rigorously trained and are committed to the same doctrinal and ecclesiastical standards of any other faithful and historic evangelical church.
A Ministry Extension of Reformation Seminary
Every Reformation Fellowship pastor has completed a one-year, graduate-level program in ecclesiology at our companion ministry, Reformation Seminary. Some of our pastors have gone on to complete their Master’s in Theology which includes a second year of language studies in biblical Hebrew and Greek.
In addition to theological training, graduates apply for ordination and are thoroughly reviewed by the faculty of the Seminary prior to the appointment to pastoral ministry and admission to the Reformation Fellowship Network.
With over 50 students enrolled per year, Reformation Seminary and the biblical house church movement is continuing to grow. Most men are located in the United States but we have several students from Canada, Australia, and all over Europe.
Why a Network of House Churches?
Historically, in the West, house churches have had a bad reputation. Unfortunately, the vast majority of house churches were planted out of angst for the traditional church or with a heart to be free from doctrinal accountability. As a result, these communities have either erred on the side of total informalism or all out legalism. Furthermore, each house church was different. Some were baptist, some were charismatic, some were heretical, and some were glorified bible studies. We needed a way to produce a doctrinally sound and ecclesiastically consistent community of house churches where visitors could expect substantial similarities between home gatherings.
This was the problem that Reformation Seminary and Reformation Fellowship have set out to solve. Our heart is to bring church home by blending Reformation doctrine with Early Church passion. But more than that, it’s to create an effective way to locate safe, faithful, and fruitful house churches all around the world.
- Brandon J. O’Brien. The Strategically Small Church: Intimate, Nimble, Authentic, and Effective, (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House), 2010.
- Karrie J. Koesel. The Rise of a Chinese House Church: The Organizational Weapon. (The China Quarterly 215, 2013). 572–89. doi:10.1017/S0305741013000684.
Our Theological Advisors
Reformation Fellowship’s theology and ecclesiology is overseen by the Reformation Seminary Theological Advisory Board.
Dale Partridge, Chairman
The Master’s Seminary and Grace Bible Theological Seminary.
Dr. Jason Barker, Dean
D.Min New Orleans Seminary. Academic Dean at Reformation Seminary
MDiv, The Master's Seminary. Pastor at Indian Hills Community Church
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