Christian House Loyalty
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25. Christian House Loyalty

Slaves Serving Master

Country Cottages Christian House loyalty and particularly loyalty to the head is paramount in the House of Faith. The household head acts 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, is the trusted intimate friend from whom loyalty, support, and devotion are expected.

Herod's Household

Saints IconManaen, a teacher in the first century Christian Church at Antioch, is brought up with Herod Antipas, a ruler of Galilee, and Perea and bears the title of Herod the Tetrarch and King Herod in the New Testament. He enjoys a position of trust within the household of Herod the Tetrarch (BC 20-39 AD) who is also known as Herod Antipas. A "tetrarch" means "ruler of a quarter" because, at his father's death, the lands are divided into four and shared with three other brothers. Herod rules Galilee and Perea occupying the eastern side of the Jordan River Valley in the 1st century AD. Herod divorces his wife and marries his half brother's wife, Herodias, who then asks for the head of John the Baptist as a reward for her daughter's fancy dancing! Manaen subsequently becomes a Christian. There is also a family relationship with Tiberius, the Roman Emperor (BC 42-37 AD), between 14-37 AD. Pontius Pilate, who serves as the fifth prefect of the Roman province of Judea from 26-36 AD, can be destroyed if malicious reports reach the Emperor suggesting that Pilate shows favor to an Imperial pretender. Dr. Michael Green reminds us in "Evangelism in the Early Church" that Pontius Pilate says 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 hinges on loyalty, obedience, protection, love, and equality. There are some modern-day equivalents to this heavy patriarchal leadership model. Christian house loyalty with that of its slaves is very important in Roman society and the wider Early Church. Much of the suffering that Peter's first letter envisions is because, by adopting Christianity, individuals are disrupting household loyalty, which is one of the glues that held society together. Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids write in "Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Development." "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." Thus house slaves are probably being beaten for their faith according to 1 Peter 2.20, which reads, "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 are in the awkward position of being required to do all they can to maintain the house's stability while also holding fast to their religious convictions and commitments to Christ. Suffering for so doing is 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 brings 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." 1 Peter 4.16 adds, "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 HouseholdIn Roman times, the Christian house head enjoys supreme power as the undisputed leader in his household and has the respect of every person. The Christian House of Faith, even under the Roman Empire, was a complex institution. The patron is its undisputed house leader and head. He enjoyed supreme power over the members of his family whom he can try at a family court if he feels so disposed, and in particular over the women and slaves in his household who remain 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" writes of the Christian house. 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 and the freedmen, who frequently took the family name but remained in a looser connection to it.

House Family Faith

Peter Teaches CorneliusPeter teaches Cornelius the house family faith, and in the same way, Paul instructs Lydia. This common faith brings unity to all household members. Roman households are united in either a common religious cult or later in the Christian house faith irrespective of age or personal beliefs. The house proves the crucial medium for evangelism within natural groupings, no matter which member of the family is the first to be won to the faith. Of course, it is preferable if the head of the household is converted first, for he will bring over the whole family with him. Dr. Michael Green writes that this is what happens in Cornelius's case when he contemplates a change of belief. He gathers together his blood relatives, his slaves, and his friends, and together they hear the preaching of Peter and decide on the Christian Way. When Cornelius professes faith, he has his whole family baptized with him. When Peter enters the house, and it is a large one, "he found many persons gathered." The head of the family commits the rest of his dependent group to the same faith. The same thing happens with Lydia, a textile saleswoman from Thyatira operating for a time in Philippi but having other homes in Corinth and Rome where Saint Paul later visits and stays. ✞

Christian House Slave

VillageThe Christian house slave is essential in the faith community. The community respected their individual beliefs, being treated as equals by many households. Lydia's whole household, no doubt, includes many a Christian slave together with some freedmen. She is herself without a spouse and children, as she seems to have been unmarried, but they are all baptized together. So also is the whole household of the Philippian jailer when he professes faith. It is the natural thing to do in those times when household unity is hugely important. The Early Church's stress on believers as members of the household of faith does not obscure individual beliefs. The particular character of the household code in 1 Peter, for example, is partly because individual Christian Household slaves, both men, and women, contrary to their household heads, believe in Christ and are thus religiously different from their household heads. 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." Discuss the relationship between the household head and Christian household slaves. What role does 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 © 2021

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