A good friend of mine who quite obviously has a gift of love for people has lend me his book by Frank Viola entitled Reimagining Church, a book which he has read but is still rather ambivalent about. I am looking forward to discuss the book with him tomorrow Lord's Day after service.
From what I have read so far, Viola's book is historical revisionistic, postmodern in philosophy, neo-liberal/neo-orthodox in theology and communitarian in sociology. In this post, I would like to address the gathering place of the church, a point of contention in Viola's book as he adamantly in Chapter 4 insists that churches ought to meet in homes and not other buildings. Viola is thus not for meeting at homes per se but against meeting anywhere but in homes.
The problem for Viola is his neglect of the biblical text itself. We can grant that many churches meet at homes, but that is besides the point since we have no problems with churches meeting in homes. In the biblical view of things, the place where believers meet for church is adiphora (matters of indifference). It is only in Viola's mind that gathering places are so essential that anywhere but homes are suspect as being pagan, a contention which Kevin DeYoung has said in his book Why we love the Church as being "much ado about nothing" (p. 121)
With this in mind, and not addressing the facts that houses at that time could accommodate many people, we can see in Acts 19:9 that the Apostle Paul used the "hall of Tyrannus" (certainly far from a home) for church services and he did that for two whole years. This counter-example from the Scriptures itself should show us the error of Viola's teaching., a teaching which has its roots more in a postmodern rejection of modernism than with true biblical teaching on the subject. The fact of the matter is that early Christians treat gathering places as adiphora, and thus they meet in houses, in lecture halls and, during the times of persecution, in the catacombs. It is simply silly to make this matter into a major issue of contention, which Viola and the house-church movement unfortunately do.
In an attempt to get around this passage, Viola in his book on page 95 astonishingly makes the claim that the meeting in the hall of Tyrannus was temporary! First of all, to remark that they were temporary and discontinued after Paul left is to argue from silence. Secondly, two years of church services is not a short time and to call it temporary is stretching the term a bit. There is simply no analogy available to the "special seminars, workshops, and conferences of our day" for they are most definitely not done more than a few Sundays, nevermind two years.
In conclusion, Viola is in error in his promotion of the "house church model", not because meeting in home is wrong but because the topic is adiphora and there is nothing in inherently better or worse to meet in homes. By making it THE only acceptable method for biblical churches, Viola embraces legalism in this regard. Seeing his contempt for the institutional Church which Christ established (notwithstanding his spin), Viola is a schismatic and is to be treated as one.