Religious Club Houses
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Early Growth Models 177

Benefactor or Patron

Agrippa in SenateReligious club houses met at the house of a member or of a benefactor or patron of the church. The same appears to be true of synagogue associations. In Rome, the "synagogue of the Augustinians" and the "synagogue of the Agrippesians" were either under the direct patronage of Augustus and Agrippa or possibly were freedmen and slaves of those ruling families who were permitted to meet on the premises. If so, they had arrangements that were probably similar to those of Christians as religious clubs "from Caesar's house" as in Philippians 4.22 The status of Paul's churches as club houses probably best explains how their meetings and their common meals were understood by believers, by their pagan neighbors, and by the local authorities. The perceived status of the church as club houses seems to account for the relative freedom from official interference that its growing mission enjoyed as well as the arbitrary sanctions, penalties, and dissolution that could be imposed at will upon it as upon other unlicensed clubs. And, of course, this status offered no protection against more serious charges being laid against Christians.✞

Trajan and Pliny the Younger

The Emperor TrajanThe house church as a religious club is supported in the correspondence of the emperor Trajan with Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia in c. A.D. 110, and in the theologian Tertullian's description of the church along the lines of a religious club. Pliny writes that after the edict of Trajan, banning all private clubs in the province, the Christians gave up their Agape meal meetings. By this he indicates either that they considered the church to fall under the category of religious clubs or that they knew it was regarded by the authorities in that light.

"Religious Club Houses"
by Ron Meacock © 2017

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