Dager describes his book as “a guide for those desiring to start a house assembly after the pattern of the first-century ecclesia.” In truth he does a pretty good job of accomplishing his stated goal. For those who, out of necessity or desire, wish to establish and/or participate in a house church, Dager’s book has much to offer. There are some excellent chapters on church leadership, spiritual gifts, and functioning of the body. He supports biblical positions on women’s role in the church, baptism, and the gospel and has an interesting appendix on music.
While there is much to commend in The House Assembly, there is also much that is disturbing as well. First, Dager paints with an extremely broad brush. In his mind, virtually all traditional churches are apostate, all pastors are control-freaks, out for the money and personal gain, and everyone in the traditional church has misunderstood the Bible since the third-century. He allows for few exceptions to these accusations, but even the exceptions may be well-meaning but confused.
Secondly, he offers a strange mix of Covenant theology and Brethren ecclesiology with a twist of Pentecostal pneumatology. Let me unpack this comment. Dager dogmatically asserts that the church is spiritual Israel and only those deluded by apostasy would think otherwise (v. 13). He makes some effort to support his view but never really wrestles with the pertinent passages in the debate. He confuses the old covenant given to Moses with the promises given to Abraham (p. 17), although he scores points for recognizing that the new covenant was given specifically to Israel. Then he loses those points by misrepresenting the dispensationalist understanding of Israel by claiming, “It states that God has completely finished with Israel with the coming of Christ (p.27).
Next, Dager elevates the Brethren pattern of assembly to the only true paradigm, attempting to support this through the examples given in the book of Acts. The logic is that, because certain patterns are found in Acts, they must be followed today. But Dager is not consistent. For example, the early churches were small in number and met in houses, so the only acceptable biblical pattern is for small house churches today. But he reneges on this logic when it comes to the day of worship. He admits that the early church met daily for a time but sees this as unique to their situation (p. 42). He also dismisses the early church’s practice of holding property in common (Acts 4:32) in the same manner (p. 160). He sees mandates in biblical patterns where he wants to, and dismisses them as he desires. This is not a consistent hermeneutic.
He rails against preaching (pp. 50ff) but recognizes the importance of gifted men teaching the Word (p. 48). He repeatedly vilifies pastors (pp. 7, 42, 50) but speaks in reverent tones of house assembly elders. He belittles missionaries but believes in apostles (p. 194), although it is the same word in the Greek. He disagrees with pastors or congregations appointing elders (p. 96), but believes there still exist apostles along the order of the Twelve who should appoint elders (although he never tells us how we are to identify such apostles) (pp. 105-109).
Dager’s charismatic tendencies show up in his denial of cessationalism (p. 106), his belief that true apostles continue today (pp. 105-109), his confidence in continued prophecy and prophets (pp. 110,111, 179-0181), and in his faith that the Holy Spirit will reveal truth to individual hearts (p. 183).
In addition, Dager calls for a rebellious spirit. Whereas Scripture tells us to obey our leaders (Hebrews 13:17), Dager calls for undermining authority (p. 33), resisting structure (p. 43) and abandoning established churches (p. 99). While these things will be necessary in many situations, Dager’s definition of apostate is so broad as to define virtually any church not embracing his own house assembly paradigm.
Dager erroneously believes that apostasy has been the result of the clergy-oriented structure of the church, rather than the sinful flesh of men (p. 92). He has reduced the problems of the church to a faulty structure and is now attempting to replace that structure with an improved model. Ultimately, no matter how pure in motive, all structures are doomed, including Dager’s, as long as we believe the fault lies in the form rather than with people. Contrary to the glowing portrait (e.g. p. 122), house assemblies are also filled with imperfect people who will abuse the system, offend people and distort Scripture. The key to a spiritually healthy church is not to replace it with a new model, but to keep it faithful to the Scriptures. It is possible for both small house assemblies and traditional churches to honor God as they obey Scripture. Success will not be found in the form but in our understanding and application of the Word.