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House Church Movement

House Church MovementSpreading the gospel in antiquity was primarily based on the use of Christian homes. We encounter Jesus speaking to the people as he sat in people's homes with them. Luke 7.36 relates, "When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table." This had positive advantages. The comparatively small numbers involved made real interchange of views and informed discussion among the participants possible. There was no artificial isolation of a preacher from his hearers. There was also not the same temptation for either the speaker or the heckler to "play to the gallery" as there was in a public place or open-air meeting.

Informal Relaxed Atmosphere

The sheer informality and relaxed atmosphere of Christian homes such as those described in Acts, not to mention the hospitality which must often have gone with it, all helped to make this form of evangelism particularly successful. Dr. Michael Green (1930-present) the British theologian and Anglican author in "Evangelism in the Early Church" relates that it was in private Acts Christian homes that the wool workers and cobblers, laundry workers and the yokels did their evangelizing. Even the children were taught that if they believed, "they would become happy and make their home happy as well."

Christian Family Affairs

Christian family affairs were essential elements in society in the New Testament household of faith whether in prosperity or times of need. Prosperity (or want) came not to individuals in isolation but the entire household. The very word "economy" comes from the Greek for "house law." Financial and other administration were Christian family affairs, not individual ones. Such matters were often the responsibility of the householder's wife. Clement of Rome (c30-99 AD), who was martyred by being tied to an anchor and thrown into the sea, referred glowingly to women who have been taught in 1 Clement 1.3 "to manage the affairs of the household with dignity." Psychologically, a person's identity, from that of the householder to that of the lowest slave, resided in his or her connection to, responsibilities toward and function within the Christian family. Ordinarily, a household was held together by a common religion, generally following the religious beliefs of the head of the household. It was relatively simple therefore that if the head of the household became a committed Christian then everybody else in his home was expected to do the same also.

Seedbed of State

Cicero (BC 106-43) the Roman statesman and philosopher wrote, as related by Editors Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter in "Dictionary of New Testament Background," "Since it is a natural feature of all living beings that they have the desire to propagate, the first association is that of marriage itself, the next is that with one's children, then the household unit within which everything is shared, that is the element from which a city is made, so to speak the seedbed of the state." What were the pros and cons of living in a Greek or Roman household in Jesus' time?✞

Ostia Insula Home

Oikos HouseThe terms family, house, and home as found in the Ostia insula home have defined society in the Early Centuries of the Roman Era and also in our society today. The typical Ostia insula home was a kind of apartment building housing all of the lower or working people and the middle servant classes. The word "insula" comes from the Latin for the word "island" meaning a city block. The "elite" and "very wealthy" on the other hand lived in a "domus" or a large single-family residence. The ground level of the insula building was used as shops, restaurants, workplaces, and businesses with the upper floors for accommodation. These insula buildings were often and typically given the name of the owner.

Living Conditions

Ostia Insula HomeThe historian Strabo (BC 63-c24 AD) wrote that the insulae (plural of "insula") in the Roman Empire often had sanitation and running water. They were however often shabbily built of mud brick, timber or poor quality concrete and were prone to collapse. The owners or landlords often speculated in real estate and if one did collapse they charged higher rents for a rebuilt unit! Surprisingly, insulae might be six or seven stories high and a few even reached nine stories! A single building could accommodate 40 people in an area of 3,600 square feet or 90 square feet per person. An average family of four might only have 360 square feet of living space!

Greek and Hebrew Words

Roman Family HomeNeither ancient Greek, Hebrew nor Latin has words that directly translate what modern Western English means by "home." Carolyn Osiek and David L. Balch in "Families in the New Testament World - Households and House Churches" tell us about the Greek word "oikos," the Hebrew word "bayit," and the Latin term "domus" and that these can all refer to the physical building but can all just as well, and more often do, mean "house or household, including material goods and slaves, immediate blood family, or family lineage." Perhaps the English "home" is a more appropriate equivalent for some of the same realities. Nor does the Latin "familia" refer only or even usually to the nuclear family, but rather to all persons and objects under the legal power of the male head of the family, house or home.

Early Church House

Jerusalem HouseThe Early Church house was often used as a meeting place in Jerusalem for a group of Christians. The assembly of Christians in an Early Church house was not by accident. Four reasons suggest themselves according to the British theologian and evangelist Dr. Michael Green (1930-present) in "Evangelism in the Early Church" for the choice of a house as a meeting place for the Jerusalem Church.

Acts House Church

Archway to GardenThe Acts house church was typical of the primary meeting place for Christians in the Early Church. Saint Luke, the author of Acts located many events of the early church's development in the houses of particular individuals. It was in an Acts house church according to Acts 2.2 that the first believers were baptized by the Holy Spirit, "Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting." The earliest churches met in people's houses as recorded in Acts 2.46 "Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts." We also read in Acts 12.12, "When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying."

Saul Raided Houses

Saul later called Paul, raided the Acts house churches as a persecutor on behalf of the Jews and Romans. In Acts 8.3 we read, "But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison." Later, Saul is healed in the house of Judas according to Acts 9.11 "The Lord told him, 'Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.'" Peter later stayed in the house church of Simon the Tanner in Acts 10.6, "He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea." It was upon Simon's roof that he saw the vision that encouraged him to go and visit Cornelius.

Peter and Cornelius

CorneliusAgainst Jewish practice, Saint Peter entered the house of Cornelius, a Gentile in Acts 10.25 "As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence." This became a point of contention according to Acts 11.2-3 "So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, 'You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.'" From this, it was established that, as Saint Paul later expressed it, "the old walls of separation between Gentile and Jew were coming down in Christ." Saint Paul stayed at the Acts house churches of many of his converts according to Acts 16.15 "When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. 'If you consider me a believer in the Lord,' she said, 'come and stay at my house.' And she persuaded us." Other references confirmed this. Acts 16.40 tells us, "After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia's house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them." This made it abundantly clear that the Early Church's principal locus of operations was in the house churches of individual Christians.

Early Christian Expansion

Roman EmpireThe extended household of faith had a prominent place in Early Christian expansion in the Roman Empire from 33 to 313 AD. Arthur G. Patzia wrote in, "The Emergence of the Church - Context, Growth, Leadership, and Worship" "When Brad Blue writes about the early Christian expansion 'throughout the Empire, house by house,' he captures well a significant principle of Paul's missionary strategy." When Paul's attempt to evangelize the Jews in the synagogues far and wide failed, he was forced to turn to the Gentiles. Many of his first converts were entire "households," with the "heads" of each house probably becoming the benefactors or patrons of the church by offering their homes as meeting places. Such leaders probably would have taken responsibility for the weekly gatherings of fellowship, worship and the study of Scripture in the family home.

Extended Household

Extended HouseholdThe structure of the household had a significant impact on early expansion in the world. The household family house was a social unit that included both the nuclear and extended family under the headship of the householder, who had complete authority over all the members. In many cases, such a household included the family but also slaves, freed persons, servants, laborers, business associates, and tenants. The household was also used for gatherings of social, professional and religious clubs or guilds. The patron was probably the leader of such meetings or at least was considered the benefactor.

Sociological Family

Emperor AugustusThe Christian, the household and the sociological family unit are basic elements in the New Testament Early Church society. The sociological family unit is basic in Graeco-Roman society and thought. Part of the strain at the end of the Roman Republic was due to the clashes of rival families. Part of the success of the Caesars as presented in the "Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Development" (editors Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids) was the concept of the supremacy of Augustus' family unit, the household of the Emperor which was dispersed to various parts of the world.

Graeco-Roman Society

Family UnitThe sociological family unit in the Hellenistic world, as in the Old Testament, was not the individual, the city or the state but the family or household unit. Early Christianity, including the New Testament itself, to a large degree addressed people not as separate individual entities but as connected to a family.

Old Testament House

FamilyIn the Old Testament, the term "house" was frequently used figuratively as a reference to one's family unit. A family unit according to the "Dictionary of New Testament Background" (editors Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter) included not only an immediate nuclear family but usually a somewhat extended family and those who were dependent on and connected to that family in some way, all under the authority of the householder.

Head's Authority

JoshuaThus, when Joshua promised that "I and my house will serve the Lord," he meant his family and other people living with his family under his authority would serve the Lord. Similarly in Genesis, as Acts 7.10 recounts, when Joseph was made governor over Egypt and Pharaoh's household, it meant that he had stewardship both of the nation and the Pharaoh's family and attendants. "He gave Joseph wisdom and enabled him to gain the goodwill of Pharaoh king of Egypt. So Pharaoh made him ruler over Egypt and all his palace."

"Acts Christian Home"
by Ron Meacock © 2019

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