Gentile Household Churches
Next Previous Index Tellout Home

Acts Legal Distictions 104

Cornelius's Piety

Centurion HelmetSome of the early converts to Christianity formed Gentile household churches. They were attracted to Judaism but had not become full proselytes. In Palestine, we have the example of Cornelius, a Gentile Roman centurion stationed in Caesarea, whom Luke describes in Acts 10.2 as "a devout man who feared God with all his household. He gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God." As a result of Peter's vision and proclamation of the gospel in Acts 10.44-48, "While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues[ or "other languages"] and praising God. Then Peter said, 'Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.' So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days." A number of Gentiles, including Cornelius' household in Acts 11.1-18, were saved and baptized, as Peter opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. Luke appears to reinforce the significance of this event by repeating it to the Jewish believers and leaders in Jerusalem and alluding to it again at the Jerusalem Council.

Obliterated Legal Distinctions

Green GardenPeter reminded the council members in Acts 15.7-11, "After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: 'Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.'" God had obliterated certain legal distinctions between Jews and Gentiles and that salvation was by faith and not by keeping the law. Given Cornelius's piety, generosity and financial means, he no doubt opened his house to the Gentile believers in Caesarea. One wonders whether Philip's house in Caesarea mentioned in Acts 21.8-10 was used in this way as well. Other house churches are described in the New Testament, with the names of the people in whose houses they met at Philippi in Acts 16.40, Corinth in Acts 18.7, Rome in Romans 16.5, Ephesus in 1 Corinthians 16.19, Laodicea in Colossians 4.15 and Colossae in Philemon 1-2. Such phrases as "the brethren who are with them," "the saints" (i.e. fellow Christians) "who are with them" seem to mean "who are in their house church."

"Gentile Household Churches"
by Ron Meacock © 2017

^Top Page Next Previous