For the past 250 years, the Western Church has exclusively gathered one way—in a building.
WE BELIEVE THERE IS ANOTHER BIBLICAL ALTERNATIVE.
Why House Church?
For centuries, Christians in the West have enjoyed public church assemblies protected by government policies of religious freedom. However, over the past 50-60 years, we have seen two growing threats encroach upon the local church that are eroding not only its witness but also its 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.
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, there is an emerging consensus among mature believers that crowds and buildings are not the best producers of the intimate, family-like culture seen in the Scriptures. 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 Seminary 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.
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. 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. 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 Seminary aims to produce a global network of biblical house churches (Reformation Fellowship) who are led by pastors who have been not only rigorously trained but also are committed to the same doctrinal and ecclesiastical standards of any other faithful and historic evangelical church.
Fruitfulness Flows From Structure
To be clear, there is no one perfect way to conduct the local church meeting. That is, our ministry is not claiming ultimate knowledge or flawless interpretation of the Bible on these matters. But we do have a considerable amount of Scripture available to us for creating biblically accurate Christian gatherings. While many of these ecclesiological doctrines have been buried, forgotten, or carefully cut out of the modern church practice, we feel that unearthing of God’s original architecture is essential.
Furthermore, we believe church fruitfulness flows largely from structure. In fact, we believe spiritual fruitfulness can be greatly promoted or prevented by structure alone. This principle is demonstrated all around us. For example, biblically structured marriages principally generate spiritually healthy homes. Biblically structured homes generally produce spiritually healthy children. Because we believe that God’s Word does not return void (Is. 55:11), we believe those who earnestly seek God’s design for the local church will find that it too, will yield spiritually healthy souls.
Now structure without the Holy Spirit will leave us only with a moral association of infertile people—a gathering of individuals polished in formation but bankrupt in spiritual power. Like all things of the Christian life, “Unless the Lord builds the house those who build it labor in vain.” (Ps. 127:1). That is to say, we are not looking to activate orderly house churches who hold a form of godliness without spiritual power. We are looking to help regenerated, devout Christians who are dedicated to the furthering of God’s commission, in God’s timing, according to God’s Word.
As you have likely noticed this school is focused on building biblical churches within houses and not buildings. Nevertheless, we do not believe that biblical church is limited to the home. In truth, we believe there are many biblical churches that gather in buildings, public school auditoriums, community centers, and even under trees, beaches, and huts. It is merely our conviction that houses offer a uniquely intimate, financially sustainable, politically free, universally applicable, and spiritually fruitful expression of church that is harder to accomplish in a larger group setting in a commercial location.
To say it again, we are arm-in-arm with our Christian brothers who are shepherding faithful traditional churches around the world.
We hold the same biblical ecclesiology; we’re just carrying out these doctrines in a different location. It is our sincere hope that if the Lord is calling you to plant, pastor, or simply join a biblical house church, whether domestic or international, whether civilly free or greatly persecuted, that our ministry is an encouragement and resource for your journey.
Bringing Church Home
Not all countries permit public church gatherings, and, in those more hostile nations, homes become an effective solution that has proven to produce an abundance of spiritual growth.
Meeting in homes forces groups to be small and deeply connected while also encouraging the sense of family that seems to be missing between Christians today.
House gatherings alleviate the legalities of incorporation, reduce the risk of persecution (for those living in oppressive areas), and eliminate the financial weight of a church building, staff, and salaries.
Founded by Dale Partridge originally as a companion ministry of Relearn.org, Reformation Seminary is now a legal, graduate-level theological school aimed at equipping aspiring pastors to plant biblical house churches.
However, while this demand has expanded, Dale noticed that “house church” had become a tarnished term in the West as it was generally associated with free-spirited, anti-institutional, ungoverned, and even cultic gatherings of Christians.
Dale, out of a desire to fully understand the Scripture’s instructions for local church structure, began a decade-long journey of defining what he calls “biblical house church.” Through this season of study, he founded Relearn.org in 2018. Relearn.org was established as an effort to initiate the public discourse around the Bible’s doctrines regarding local Christian assembly (and more specifically house church assembly). Today, the ministry is focused on producing theologically sound content, resources, and tools to support house church communities around the globe. Relearn.org, however, is not a theological denomination but rather an association of house churches operating within the historic evangelical church, confessions, and creeds.
the birth of Reformation Seminary
In 2019, Dale Partridge along with the Reformation Seminary Theological Advisory Board wrote a living document titled House Church: The Doctrines, Convictions, and Liturgy of Biblical House Church. It has since been updated and revised in a book format under the title “How We Do House Church: The Biblical Doctrines and Convictions of Reformation Fellowship. It is from this ecclesiological position along with the 1689 L.B.C.F. that Reformation Seminary was born.
While still early in its ministry, the Reformation Seminary faculty is on a mission to train and equip biblically qualified servants of Christ who are marked by sound doctrine and Kingdom vision.
In the West, Kingdom vision is commonly associated with large buildings, countless programs, and a church culture that seems more tailored to entertaining visitors than edifying the saints.
As a school, however, we believe that multiplying churches that are small, connected, and culturally committed is a generally more fruitful approach to stationary churches that are large, crowded, and produce a community of transience.
What we’ve learned is that when you have a committed, biblical community you don’t need the crowds. Crowds are not inherently bad, and in times of outreach, are to be desired but in a local church setting, we find that crowds often (but not always) inhibit the scriptural objectives of establishing deep, accountable, and loving relationships.
Furthermore, we believe global saturation of the Gospel must begin with overwhelming and authentic local faithfulness. That is to say, we believe the depth of the church is the key to expanding the breadth of the church. For this reason, Reformation Seminary aims to teach our pastoral students that a Kingdom vision must first flow into those 8-15 families within their flock before it will ever flood into those who are looking in.
All that to say, while our focus is small, it is also many. The word “multiply” in Scripture is more accurately translated from the Hebrew to mean “swarm.” In other words, we were founded upon a vision to plant not only thousands of house churches but thousands of fruitful, disciple-making, lost-loving, Bible-obsessed, communities of God’s people who multiply and swarm their local area with truth and love. To this passion, we need workers. To this vision, we need men who will stand up and show up to the call of God to shepherd His people according to His word.
To close, we look at the words of the great seventeenth-century Puritan George Swinnock, “The time is short, the task is large, and the work is important.”
nestled in the southwest
Located in Prescott, Arizona, Reformation Seminary becomes an inviting destination for students looking to experience our established house church community and God’s majesty in nature, and the more than 300 days of sunshine bestowed upon this small Northern Arizona township.
LOCATED IN PRESCOTT, ARIZONA
As a popular resort town with visitors from around the world, Prescott is an ideal location for students to experience not only God's natural beauty but also Gospel ministry among a multi-cultural religious community.
As an academic program, Reformation Seminary is a rigorous four quarter (one year), seminary-grade, ecclesiological diploma program for qualified men. The Reformation Seminary Admissions Committee is highly selective and is looking for pastoral candidates with high character, adequate biblical knowledge, and clear pastoral gifting. While the curriculum is based upon the adapted historic evangelical church doctrines found within Biblical Church, they can be more simplified into four academic categories.
1. biblical knowledge
Students will spend twelve months watching, studying, discussing, preaching, writing, and testing on foundational biblical and theological knowledge and disciplines.
2. Exegesis and preaching
In like manner, students will strengthen their aptitude in extracting and communicating the meaning, lessons, and application of the biblical text.
3. Pastoral disciplines
Students will develop an understanding and reverence for the character and responsibilities of a biblically qualified pastor, counselor, and leader.
4. Planting and multiplication
Students will learn the scriptural mandate, principles, and strategies for establishing and multiplying biblical culture within a local house church.