Extended Christian Household
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42. Extended Christian Household

Early Church

Capernaum HouseThe extended Christian household is essential to the survival and future of what we call "the Church" today. It was the bastion of the Faith in the Early Church. Saint Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3.15, "God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth." God's household today is indeed the upholder and base of all Christian truth as the extended Christian household is in the Early Church.

Household Churches

Human GrowthWhen Saint Paul is writing, the only "church" is that which meets in Christian homes. Centuries later, churches of the type we know today are established. The modern household of faith, like the Early Church's extended Christian household, is intended to be a biological entity and grow in the same way that a human being develops. The Household of Faith is the direct descendant of the extended Christian household. The extended Christian house is the vessel that contains the Body of Christ in the Early Church. The Household of Faith, in conjunction with the corner church today, has the power to energize Christians in their faith again.

Christ's Spiritual Powerhouse

BodyThe household of Faith can be Christ's spiritual powerhouse in the local church today. What is the relationship between the Body of Christ and the household of faith? In the Early Church, the Body of Christ is Christ's powerhouse in which the extended Christian household resides. In the modern church, the Body of Christ is Christ's spiritual entity, which lies in the physical entity, the Local Church, or it's subsidiary, the Household of Faith. At certain times in our history, rulers have tried to exterminate the Christian Church. Even though they destroyed the outer physical entity, the buildings, the inner spiritual entity, the Body of Christ, continued in the group of Christian believers. The spiritual entity becomes more robust because of persecution.

Precious Ointment Vessels

Ointment JarsThe Local Church and in this new model, the Household of Faith, are like glass vessels that contain a precious ointment, the Body of Christ. Similarly, the corporate church is like a heavy coat that wraps, warms, and protects the Body of Christ within. This relationship is sacramental, being an "outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace" according to the Catechism in the old Book of Common Prayer. The Household of Faith replaces the Local Church, where there are not the resources to support it, or becomes an extension of its ministry.

Christian Household Churches

Apple PieAs Christians, we must explore how household churches and the Body of Christ can energize our ministries today. The New Testament astonished us with the statement in 1 Corinthians 12.27, "Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." Being part of that Body is the key to the formation of dynamic Christian household churches, whether that entity is the local congregation or the household of faith. A vertical relationship with Christ and a horizontal friendship with a group of committed Christians are foundational to the growth of the Christian Community or the Christian Household Churches today. This dual relationship exists in the Household of Faith. It is still valid that you and I and the small group of fellow believers we gather around us are together God's divine vehicle, "The Body of Christ!" God still operates today, as in the Early Church, through the Christian Household Churches, which contain the Body of Christ.

Extended Households

FoundationChristian Household Churches could not have survived in the early centuries without extended households. They were the foundation for the later institutional church. The institutional model of the Church today based on the same organizational structure as a classroom, especially with the introduction of pews and boxes in the eighteenth century has hidden the household church. We need instead to be communicating with God today as our forbears did in the Early Church and meeting in homes as well as churches.✞

Christian Household

Constantine StatueThe Christian household had a declining place in the Early Church during and after the reign of Emperor Constantine (272-337 AD.) The Christian house was the only model of "church" in the first three centuries. There were very few church buildings as we know them today. The Christian household continued until the declaration of religious freedom during the reign of Emperor Constantine at the beginning of the fourth century, specifically 313 AD. Saint Paul, in Romans 16.23, writes of the Christian household, "Gaius welcomed the whole church and me into his home." Saint Paul adds in Romans 16.5 concerning Priscilla and Aquila's Christian house, "Greet the church that meets in their home." The fact that Saint Paul lists the names of twenty-five individuals and their families whom he seems to know personally in Romans 16.5-15 indicates the warmth and closeness of the Christian household in the vicinity of Rome. He writes, "Greet also the church that meets at their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia." Roman and Greek societies develop from Christian households in the early centuries AD. The Christian household in the Early Church consists of a family or several families together with grandparents, parents, children, teenagers, and widowed relatives, as well as servants, slaves, many babies, and infants living together under the same roof. The Christian household also appears to have embraced other childless couples, small family units, and even visiting Christians.

Early Church House

Aboriginal ElderThe Early Church household of faith has a dominant place in society from the first to the fifth centuries AD. In the New Testament record, the Early Church house conducted its worship services in a home. In the first century, Christians who believed in Jesus as the Messiah continue to worship in the synagogues as well until the Jews expelled them. They then gave baptismal instruction, started to perform baptisms, and celebrated the Lord's Supper in the household environment. In each town, there may have been one or two or more Early Church households of faith. In a large city, there could have been many more. Leaders of Early Church households came from those of a good reputation in the community. The highest moral standards of its leaders were essential. Those who were successful in the management of their own house were considered suitable to be a "bishop" a priest or deacon and even the wife of a bishop. "bishop" may also be translated as "elder" or "overseer." Saint Paul writes that "bishops" had the care of all the churches. He tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 3.2-5, "Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?" In some Bible translations, "household" is substituted for "family."

Christian House Leadership

Bishop TheodoraThe deacons, bishops, and elders functioned as Christian household leaders. When he looked at qualifications for theses roles, Theodora, who was the mother of Pope Pascal 1st, had a harsh warning against immorality. The 9th century Lady Theodora portrayed on a mosaic in the Basilika Santa Prassede, Rome: Zenon Chapel, is also called Episcopa Theodora. She was a devout Christian woman unusually sainted in her lifetime, hence the square halo. The title "Episcopa" for Lady Theodora is a mark of her piety and her position as the Pope's mother. She was a holy woman who practiced great austerity and religiosity, but not necessarily as an ordained bishop. As Joseph Hall (1574-1656) wrote in "Episcopacy by Divine Right," "The Word of God and not the existence of bishops is the test of a true church."

Overseers, sometimes called bishops or elders and other Christian house leaders, were probably always male. The qualification for a bishop as "the husband of one wife" is therefore rather strange in its New Testament context but may also be translated as "married only once" as a warning against immorality or adultery. It could also be a warning against bigamy for anyone becoming a bishop, overseer or elder. Acts 16.15,32-34 mentions a few prominent women in Christian house leadership, including Lydia, a dealer in fine cloth but not specifying them as "bishop." Paul listed the moral and leadership characteristics required of those who desired this calling. He wrote in 1 Timothy 3.12 of deacons, "A deacon must be the husband of but one wife, and must manage his children and his household well." A third passage described in 1 Timothy 3.11 the qualities of their "wives" who "were to be women worthy of respect." "Wives" here is interestingly the same word used of "deaconesses." From this, we can deduce that women and men had an equally important role as Christian household leaders in the New Testament church, though the Scriptures qualify only men for the roles of bishop, priest, or deacon. When it comes to Christian household leadership, it is not gender but the person's spiritual and moral qualities that are essential for leadership. A leader of a house is different than that of a bishop generally reserved for men.

"Extended Christian Household"
by Ron Meacock © 2019

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