It's a quiet Sunday morning.  You're pottering around your home, working at various chores, when the doorbell rings.  You think, "That's funny.  We weren't expecting anyone!"  You peek out of the window and see two well-dressed ladies with a couple of equally well-dressed young children.  You don't recognize them.  Who are they?  They're Jehovah's Witnesses.  And they're going from house-to-house!

Here's a second scenario.  It's a warm summer's evening.  You're splitting firewood in the back yard, when the dog starts barking.  You think, "That's funny.  We weren't expecting anyone!"  You walk around to the front of the house and you see two tall, slim, clean-shaven young men, with short, neat haircuts and wearing smart, mid-grey suits.  Who are they?  They're Mormons.  And they're going from house-to-house!

The Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) insist that the Bible encourages their members to go from house-to-house to preach the gospel and to gain converts.  The Church of God insists that the Bible advocates no such thing and that, in fact, Jesus Christ commands against this practice.

A casual scan of the relevant scriptures on the subject can, on first glance, be confusing.  At first they seem to contradict each other.  Jesus Christ, it seems, says one thing and the apostle Paul, another.  What is the truth on this matter?  Does God want us to preach His gospel from house-to-house, or not?

It is the purpose of this sermonette to explain what Jesus Christ really does say, through His Word in the Bible, on this subject of preaching the gospel from house-to-house.

Law of Love

God's Law is a law of love (Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8).  His commands are based on proper love and concern for Him and for other people, both in and out of His church.  His commands concerning preaching the gospel from house-to-house are no different.  They are limited by His law of love and are based on loving concern and respect for the privacy and free choices of others.

There are three main, relevant scriptures in the New Testament referring to the term "house to house," plus a fourth, which we will visit briefly.  Let us take a look at each of them in order:

Luke 10:
1:  After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither He Himself would come...

That last detail seems to be significant.

2:  Therefore said He unto them, "The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray you therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He would send forth labourers into His harvest.
3:  Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves.
4:  Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes: and salute no man by the way.
5:  And into whatsoever house you enter, first say, 'Peace be to this house.'
6:  And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it: if not, it shall turn to you again.
7: And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire.  Go not from house to house.

Jesus was instructing seventy of His followers before sending them out to various towns and villages, which He had planned to visit later.  He told them to stay at the homes of "sons of peace," obviously people who had already received and accepted His gospel message.  The seventy disciples were to accept hospitality from them – and them only.  Jesus commanded them not to go from house-to-house to preach, to heal, or even to seek food and lodging.  As per the numerous examples of Jesus Himself and John the Baptist previously, their preaching to and healing of the general (previously unconverted) public was usually to be done in central places, whether public or private, and the people were to come voluntarily if they were interested in what the disciples had to say.

Mobile Mass?

We find our next "house-to-house" verse in the book of Acts, shortly after Peter's inspired and inspiring "sermon" on the Feast of Pentecost:

Acts 2:
41:  Then they that gladly received his
{Peter's} word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
42:  And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
43:  And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.
44:  And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
45:  And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.
46:  And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,
47:  Praising God, and having favour with all the people.  And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

Some have twisted the mention of "breaking bread from house to house" in verse 46 even to advocate the taking of Mass or Communion from door to door!

The true and simple meaning of this verse is revealed in the more modern translations of the Bible.  The Revised Standard Version reads:

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts.

The Modern Language Version puts it this way: 

Daily they frequented the temple together and ate their meals at home together.  So they received nourishment... 

The Church of God was brand new.  Its members were not preaching from house-to-house.  Nor were they taking the Passover (which they were commanded to continue to keep annually) from door-to-door.  They were simply enjoying meals together in one another's homes.  We do this very same thing today.  Pot luck lunches after Sabbath services and having church brethren over for dinner must rank amongst our favourite and most common weekly church activities.  Of course, such lunches and dinners are usually pre-planned.  But even though invitations do occasionally go out at the last minute, the guests are always pre-invited.  They do not come unannounced, ring at your doorbell, expecting to have a meal with you.  Even the way we enjoy meals together is – and certainly should be – based on God's Law of Love, and upon the rules of common courtesy.

A Contradiction?

Still in the book of Acts, but more than a quarter of a century later, we find our next "house-to-house" verse in chapter 20, from the mouth of Paul who was at that time in a place called Miletus on the west coast of Asia Minor, not far from Ephesus:

Acts 20:20: 
And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house,  (Acts 20:20) 

Uh-oh!  This verse says that Paul did teach from house to house!

Yes, he did.  But let us ask who he was talking to – whose houses he was teaching in.  Let's look at this verse in its context:

Acts 20:
16:  For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost...

By the way, please note that Paul and the Church of God were still keeping God's Holy Days at this date – 27 or 28 years after Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension.  Continuing:

17:  And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.
18:  And when they
{the church elders} were come to him, he said unto them {the church elders}, "You {elders} know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you {elders} at all seasons,
19:  Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews:
20:  And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you
{elders}, but have showed you {elders}, and have taught you {elders} publicly, and from house to house,
21:  Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks
{the Greek word "Hellen" can refer to all Gentiles}, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

Was Paul writing here that he had preached from house-to-house to people he had never met before?  

No!  These were Jewish and Gentile church elders from Ephesus – church members that Paul already knew.  

The teaching of these Ephesian elders (as well as other church brethren) "in public" by Paul would have been the equivalent of our modern-day Sabbath services, Bible Studies and public Bible lectures – presided over by a more senior or experienced visiting elder. 

As supported by virtually every reputable Bible commentary, the teaching "from house to house" would be the equivalent of modern day elders of God's church visiting, counselling and teaching other elders, members and prospective members.  This might also include the in-home anointing of the sick (James 5:14-15).  An elder who has recently moved to a new church area will spend time visiting other elders and church members in that area to get to know them better.  In such ways, most elders of God's church today go from house-to-house on a daily basis.  However, such visits are normally agreed upon, planned and set up in advance.  This is God's way, and again, with loving concern for the privacy of the people being visited.

House-to-house Gossip

Our final "house-to-house" verse comes – not from the mouth – but from the pen – of Paul:

I Timothy 5:13:
And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.  

This verse is not, of course, dealing with the subject of preaching the gospel from door-to-door.  But let's touch on it briefly, as it does deal with the related subject of a Christian's respect for the privacy of others.  

Paul, in the first part of the fifth chapter of this letter to Timothy, discusses a Christian's duty toward widows; and here he gives some brief instruction for the conduct of the young widows themselves.  

But this warning against gossip can be extended beyond the category of young Christian widows (which in today's church is, I'm sure, a comparatively small group) out to every member of God's church.  Gossip is not the sole domain of young widows.  Applying this extension then, this verse warns us all not to gossip.  

The surrounding verses suggest that our time would rather be much better spent getting busy with family and church activities.  There is more than enough work in our local congregations to be shared amongst our reduced numbers.  Why waste time in negative and backward-looking conversations?  Why waste time with destructive criticism of those who are doing their best to serve us?  If a fellow member or your minister or deacon is doing something you don't agree with, go talk to him about it (Matthew 18:15-17).

What is the Right Way?

Returning to the main topic, God's holy written Word reveals that preaching the gospel from house-to-house is not the proper way.  It violates His law of love.  Although we must grant the house-to-house preachers an "A" for their zeal, they pay their unexpected visits unannounced and at times which are often inconvenient for the target householders.  They also put themselves at an unfair advantage, because they have all of their arguments pre-prepared beforehand and ready to unload on the poor, unsuspecting householder.  If the householder allows them to get started, they usually exert pressure for the householder to accept their version of the gospel and to join their organization.  

Back in England in the early 1970s, a pair of young American Mormon missionaries once fasted and prayed for three days for my wife and I to be convinced that theirs was the true church and the true gospel.  (They were very fine and zealous young men, by the way.  We do not think or speak badly of them and we will always have fond memories of the time we spent with them).  

In my own personal experience, I feel that it is best not to argue with such house-to-house preachers, nor even allow oneself to be drawn into a religious discussion with them (Titus 3:9); but rather to politely and firmly assert that you are not interested and to request that your address be added to their "do-not-call" list.

By contrast, God's way of preaching the gospel is so obviously right.  It was one of the main things that initially convinced many, including my wife and myself, of the identity of God's true church.  No one ever tried to force anything on us.  Many will remember the booming voice of Herbert Armstrong sternly warning his listeners, "Don't believe me!  Blow the dust off your own Bible!"

God's way is to make the gospel freely available and as widespread as a church's budget allows.  Although God must do the calling and choosing (John 6:44), His way is for those who hear and recognize the true gospel to decide for themselves whether or not they wish to accept it.  Conversion forced or coerced by another human being is no conversion at all.  

Over the years, God has used various types of medium to make His gospel available.  The primary Bible examples from Jesus, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul and other early church elders and members are what we today refer to as "public lectures" and, of course, personal example. 

But God has also, in more recent times, used radio, television, magazines, booklets, reprint articles and, of course, the comparatively new medium of the Internet, through which God's church can now reach a potential audience of millions, at very low cost.

Such means have enjoyed various levels of success.  To one extent or another, God has borne spiritual fruit through all of these methods. 

I'm sure that every one of our members will tell you that no Church of God minister ever came knocking on their doors to try to talk them into conversion.  Most, I believe, including ourselves, were led by God to "hear His call" via radio, TV, a church magazine or booklet, or via the fine Christian example of a friend or family member.  But always without any pressure.  We all had to make the effort ourselves to write or phone to request further contact, additional magazines, booklets, or a visit from an elder.  We all chose to continue to listen to church programs, to read church materials and to maintain contact with the Church of God.  According to God's Word, this is so obviously the way it should be.

Go not from house-to-house!


John Plunkett
Victoria, BC, Canada