Monday, June 27, 2011

House Churches and Households in the New Testament

It was Paul’s habit to preach first in synagogues. When that didn’t work out, Paul frequently went to people’s homes.
Acts: Acts 16:13-15: And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.

Acts 17:5-9: But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.

Acts 18:1-3: After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade.

Acts 18:5-8: When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.

1 Corinthians 16:15: Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints— be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer.

1 Corinthians 16:19: The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord.

Colossians 4:15: Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.

Philemon: To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house … I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.
I’ve mentioned all of these, without yet getting into the network of house churches listed in Romans 16, to give a picture of the overall world in which the Apostle Paul traveled. Now note the greetings in Romans 16. Lane further explicates that Christians in Rome “appear to have met as ‘household’ groups in privately owned locations scattered around the capital city. They constituted a loose network of house churches, without any central facility for worship. The absence of central coordination matches the profile of the separated synagogues in Rome during this period.” (208)
Romans 16:3-4: Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. Greet also the church in their house (καὶ τὴν κατ᾽ οἶκον αὐτῶν ἐκκλησίαν).

Romans 16:10: Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus (τοὺς ἐκ τῶν Ἀριστοβούλου).

Romans 16:11: Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus (τοὺς ἐκ τῶν Ναρκίσσου τοὺς ὄντας ἐν κυρίῳ).

Romans 16:14: Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them (καὶ τοὺς σὺν αὐτοῖς ἀδελφούς).

Romans 16:15: Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them (καὶ τοὺς σὺν αὐτοῖς πάντας ἁγίους).
It is this feature of “separate islands of Christianity” in particular that does not allow for, and most blatantly contradicts the notion of “a Petrine ministry” of a “successor of Peter” in the city of Rome, as Roman Catholicism has emphasized for so many centuries.
The strategy of situating the church in a home was sound, for it provided Christians with relative privacy, a setting where identity and intimacy could be experienced, a ready-made audience as well as a social network along which the influence of the Christian movement could spread. The conversion of households with their dependents helps to account for the growth of Roman Christianity.

The number of house churches in a given locale such as Rome is a topic for debate. Klauck, for example, contending for a plurality of meeting places, argues that the preposition κατά in the Greek phrase κατ᾽ οἶκον αὐτῶν ἐκκλησίαν in Romans 16:5 (1 Cor 16:19; Philemon 2) should be understood distributively, i.e., “the church which constitutes itself as a household.” M. Gielen, appealing to contemporary papyrological evidence as well as the fact that the formula occurs in the context of a greeting, argues that the preposition should be interpreted simply as ἐν, i.e., the church in the house of X.” Gielen is correct to point to some form of common meeting in Corinth on the basis of Romans 16:23, where Paul refers to Gaius as “the host to the whole church.” But she fails to account successfully for the greetings in Romans 16:14-15, where separate groups seem to be indicated. There may well have been meetings of the whole community in some places, such as Corinth, but in other places this may not have been the case. There is no evidence for a common meeting in Rome (Citing John Maier, “Social Settings” 34, in Lane pg. 210).
But it is not just a lack of evidence of a common meeting area (located either through linguistic evidence, or archaeological or inscription evidence) that demonstrates the structure of these various house churches. The very notion of how the role of leadership exercised itself in first century Rome provides further evidence of the internal structure of these bodies. More on that next time, Lord willing.

No comments:

Post a Comment