Christian House Family
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26. Christian House Family

First Urban

StepsWayne A. Meeks writes in "The First Urban Christians - The Social World of the Apostle Paul" that "Unity would be more enforceable in a smaller household than in a larger one. The expectation would be more relevant to some kinds of cultic activities, such as those of the traditional Roman household, than to others, such as city cults in which the heads of the Christian household families might occasionally have obligations."

Patriarchal Family

Likewise, in the General Epistles, the Christian house family has social units to which salvation often comes. Hebrews 11.7 says, "By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith, he condemned the world and became the heir of the righteousness in keeping with faith." Here, the writer refers to Noah building an ark to save his "house and to save his family." Although this is, in the first instance, physical salvation rather than a spiritual one, Hebrews is applying it in a spiritual direction. 1 Peter 3.19-22 also makes the same spiritual point, "After being made alive, he also went and made a proclamation to the imprisoned spirits, to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it, only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water. This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also, not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God." The phrase, "after being made alive," may be translated as "made alive in the spirit." "The pledge of a clear conscience toward God" may be translated as "an appeal to God for a clear conscience." "It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand with angels, authorities, and powers in submission to him." This emphasis is on Noah's faith. The rest of Hebrews 11 emphasizes how the Old Testament family of God also exercised faith.

Christian House Network

Evening Lake and Purple CloudsA Christian house network exists in many cities and together comprises the overall household family of faith through the links they have. To be part of a Christian house network was to be part of a larger organization of relations, of two sorts. Within the house, a vertical but not quite single-chain connected unequal roles, from slave to family head to God through Jesus Christ, the Lord. It also included bonds between client and patron and several analogous but less formal relations of protection and subordination within the household itself. Second, there were kinship and friendship links, between this Christian house network and other families, especially between the household heads, which often entailed obligations and expectations. These connections, however, were not necessarily always formal. Both along and between these lines, there were often strong ties of feeling and voluntary loyalty as part of the Roman Empire structure.

Christ is Lord

Each household where Christ is Lord has a connectedness to Jesus Christ, who has overall control in brings about obedience, protection, and love. Young people are to obey their elders. 1 Peter 5.5 says, "In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility towards one another, because, 'God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.'" Hebrews 13.17 adds, "Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority because they keep watching over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit." These passages suggest that the household of God is not a democratic institution but a patriarchal family consisting of people who are familially related to, dependent on, obedient to, and loyal to the headship of Jesus Christ and, thus, to his subordinate officers, the elders.

Household Connections

Individuals saved in distinction from their household does not preclude the reality of their household connections. 1 Peter 3.1-2 urges, "Wives, in the same way, submit yourselves to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives." The possibility of the household connectedness working in reverse, suggests that the godly behavior of their believing wives might win over unbelieving heads of households.

Head Slave Relationship

Discuss the relationship between the household head and a slave, the wife, and visiting friends in a New Testament Household of Faith. Think of loyalty, obedience, protection, love, and equality. Are there any modern-day equivalents to this patriarchal leadership model?

"Christian House Family"
by Ron Meacock © 2021

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