Christian House Loyalty
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Christian House Loyalty
Page 25

Slaves Serving Master

Country Cottages Christian House loyalty and particularly loyalty to the head were paramount in the House of Faith. The head acted on the family's behalf in terms of financial protection, provision of food, and if necessary legal intervention. A further group often considered with the household were the trusted friends to whom intimacy was granted and from whom loyalty, support, and devotion was expected.

Herod`s Household

Saints IconManaen who was a teacher in the first century Christian Church at Antioch was brought up with Herod Antipas who was a ruler of Galilee and Perea and bore the title of Herod the Tetrarch and King Herod in the New Testament. He enjoyed a position of trust within the household of Herod the Tetrarch, (BC 20-39 AD) who was also known as Herod Antipas. A "tetrarch" meant "ruler of a quarter" as at his father's death the lands were divided into four and shared with three other brothers. Herod ruled Galilee and Perea occupying the eastern side of the Jordan River Valley in the 1st century AD. This is the same Herod who divorced his wife and married his half brother's wife, Herodias, who asked for the head of John the Baptist as a reward for her daughter's fancy dancing! Anyway, Manaen subsequently became a Christian.

Not Caesar's Friend

There is also a family relationship with Tiberius who was the Roman Emperor (BC 42-37 AD) between 14-37 AD. Pontius Pilate, who served as the fifth prefect of the Roman province of Judea from 26-36 AD could have been destroyed if malicious reports reached the Emperor suggesting that Pilate showed favor to an Imperial pretender. Dr. Michael Green reminds us in "Evangelism in the Early Church" that Pontius Pilate said to the crowd at the trial of Jesus, "If you release this man you are not Caesar's friend."

Obedience Love and Equality

Slaves Serving MasterThe relationship between the household head and a slave, the wife and visiting friends in a New Testament House of Faith hinged on loyalty, obedience, protection, love, and equality. There are some modern-day equivalents to this heavy patriarchal leadership model.✞

Christian House Loyalty

Christian house loyalty with that of its slaves was very important in Roman society and the wider Early Church. Much of the suffering that Peter's first letter envisions was because, by adopting Christianity, individuals were disrupting the household loyalty which was one of the glues that held society together. Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids wrote in "Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Development" that "no doubt many non-Christian heads of households felt obligated for the sake of maintaining the household to discourage its members from departing from the accepted religion of the house, and this may at times have led to attempts at physical coercion."

Slaves and Masters

Thus house slaves were probably being beaten for their faith according to 1 Peter 2.20 which read, "But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this, you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps." Both slaves and wives were put in the difficult position of being required to do all they could to maintain the stability of the house loyalty while at the same time holding fast to their religious convictions and commitments to Christ.

Suffering Commendable

Suffering for so doing was considered commendable in 1 Peter 2.18 "Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate but also to those who are harsh." It brought glory to God according to 1 Peter 2.12, "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." and 1 Peter 4.16, "However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name."

Christian House Head

Medieval Picture Of HouseholdThe Christian house head in Roman times enjoyed supreme power as the undisputed leader in his household and had the respect of every person. The Christian House of Faith, even under the Roman Empire, was a complex institution. The patron was its undisputed house leader and head. He enjoyed supreme power over the members of his family whom he could try at a family court if he felt so disposed, and in particular over the women and slaves in his household who remained under his unquestioned protection and power. Occasionally, we find a female household leader with the respect of the whole group.

Undisputed Leader

Dr Michael GreenDr Michael Green (1930-present) the British theologian and evangelist in "Evangelism in the Early Church" wrote of the Christian house head that apart from his kith and kin, the "house" would include the slaves, who were dependent on it for their livelihood and place (such as it was) in society, also the freedmen, who frequently took the family name but remained in a looser connection to it.

House Family Faith

Peter Teaches CorneliusPeter taught Cornelius the house family faith and in the same way, Paul instructed Lydia. This brought unity to all household members. Roman households were united in either a common religious cult or later in the Christian house faith irrespective of age or personal beliefs. The house proved the crucial medium for evangelism within natural groupings, whatever member of the family was first won to the faith. It was preferable, of course, if the father was converted first, for then he would bring over the whole family with him. Dr. Michael Green wrote in "Evangelism in the Early Church" that this is what happened in the case of Cornelius when he contemplated a change of belief. He gathered together his blood relatives, his slaves, and his friends, and together they heard the preaching of Peter and decided on the Christian Way.

Cornelius's Household

When Cornelius professed faith, his whole family was baptized with him. When Peter entered the house and it was a large one, "he found many persons gathered." The action of the head of the family committed the rest of his dependent group to the same faith. The same thing happened in the case of Lydia, a textile saleswoman from Thyatira operating for a time in Philippi but having other homes in Corinth and Rome where Saint Paul later visited and stayed.✞

Christian House Slave

VillageThe Christian house slave was essential in the faith community. Their individual beliefs were respected and they were treated as equals by many households. Lydia's whole household no doubt included many a Christian house slave together with some freedmen. She was herself without a spouse and children, as she seems to have been unmarried, but they were all baptized together. So also was the whole household of the Philippian jailer when he professed faith. It was the natural thing to do in those times when household unity was hugely important. The Early Church's stress on believers as members of the household of faith did not obscure the significance of individual beliefs. The particular character of the household code in 1 Peter, for example, is partly the result of the fact that certain Christian Household slaves, both men, and women, contrary to their household heads, had believed in Christ and were thus religiously different from their household head. In Ephesians 6.5 Saint Paul also tells the Ephesians regarding slavery, "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free."

Household Relationships

Discuss the relationship between the household head and Christian household slaves. What role did the wife and visiting friends in a New Testament Household of Faith have with regards to loyalty, obedience, protection, love, equality? Are there any modern-day equivalents to this heavy patriarchal leadership model? What about millionaires, royalty, movie stars or top politicians?

"Christian House Loyalty"
by Ron Meacock © 2019

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