Christian House Children
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27. Christian House Children

Justin Martyr

Christian ChildrenWe know all too little about Christian house children from the Early Church records. But there is some evidence that Christian homes were making their mark very early upon the children brought up in them. Bishop Polycarp (69-156 AD), whose name means "much fruit" in Greek, was a second-century bishop of Smyrna recorded as a disciple of John the Apostle and that John himself had consecrated Polycarp Bishop of Smyrna. He was brought up in a Christian home in Turkey and died a martyr tied up and burned at the stake. One of his prayers was, "Now may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the eternal high priest himself, the Son of God Jesus Christ, build you up in faith and truth and all gentleness and all freedom from anger and forbearance and steadfastness and patient endurance and purity." Two of the Christians martyred with Justin Martyr about 165 AD were Paeon and Euelpistus. Justin Martyr, (100-165 AD) an early Christian writer, was born in Nablus and martyred in Rome, Italy. He died with some of his six companions. In "Evangelism in the Early Church," Dr. Michael Green, reminds us that Justin, replying to the prefect's inquiry as to where he learned his Christianity, replied, "From our parents, we received this good confession." And Euelpistus answered, "I willingly heard the words of Justin. But from my parents, also I learned to be a Christian."

Obey Your Parents

Refectory PictureChristian children learned their faith from their parents to follow the lord and obey in the Household of Faith. Justin Martyr (100-165 AD), though born in a pagan family in Samaria, informs us that "many men and women of the age of sixty and seventy years were disciples of Christ from childhood." In Pliny's statement in Bithynia in 112 AD, he had found among the Christians not only adults but little children. This new Christian children's faith had caught "many of every age." Dr. Michael Green writes that this is not surprising when we recall the solidarity of the family in both Jewish and Graeco-Roman society, and the care with which Jews train their children in the faith, and pagans educate their young. It would have been odd if Christians did not bestow equal attention to their own children's faith and that this did frequently bear fruit. Ephesians 6.1-2 speaks of the Christian children's faith and their obligations. "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right." Ephesians 2.19 adds, "Honor your father and mother (this is the first commandment with a promise) that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth." This injunction has its correlative for the parents in the Christian home as in Colossians 3.21 "Fathers, [or "parents"] do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged." Ephesians 6.4 adds, "But instead bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."

Christian Parent Faith

Pond LifeThe Christian parent's faith becomes an example for their children to gain eternal life. The New Testament has little to say about the Christian parent's faith and the teaching and training of a child. It is clear that children could partake in the kingdom of heaven, and that their attitude of trusting obedience is, in fact, a model for adults to follow if they are to gain eternal life. The parent's faith is to be passed on to their children and is paramount. Through this faith, witness, and example, children are brought into and nourished within the fellowship. Dr. Michael Green notes that at Tyre, we find a delightful glimpse of children and wives appearing to wave Paul and his company goodbye. Acts 21.5-6 informs us, "When it was time to leave, we left and continued on our way. All the wives and children accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach, we knelt to pray. After saying goodbye to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home." Together they all knelt on the beach and prayed and then bade each other farewell. How important is it that Christian parents introduce their faith to their children from the very earliest age?
How can we become better Christian parents to our children? ✞

Christian House Slave

The attitude of a Christian house slave to other servants, bondservants, masters, and slave masters are all important in the Early Church. A Christian house slave is commanded in 1 Peter 2.18-22 to submit to their master. Saint Peter writes, "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 is commendable if someone bears up under pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 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. 'He did not sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.' When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him, who judges justly."

Greek Word Doulos

It was more common in these early churches for slaves to be Christians rather than masters. Since Paul does not address masters and considering the lengthy theological foundation in 1 Timothy 6.1-2, "Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather, they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved." We note here that "bondservants" is the Greek word "doulos," which means "slave" indicating those who are "under bondage." Titus 2.9-10 also establishes Christ's suffering as the pattern for Christian household slaves who must continue to suffer unjustly. "Bondservants are to be submissive to their masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior." Some slaves bought themselves freedom, and yet as "freedmen" chose to remain in their master's service. Many slave owners were kind and treated their slaves, almost like family members. Many slaves were intelligent, learned, and tutored children or as scribes read or wrote letters.

Servant Attitude

The unique grounding on Christ reveals the churches' particular circumstances that Peter wrote to ground their behavior in the Faith. Titus 2.11-14 (also 3.3-7) reads, "For God's grace has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age. At the same time, we wait for the blessed hope the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good." Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids write in "Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Development" that, in any case, the church's calling to engagement in the world prohibited a Christian house slave from opting out of this social institution. To encourage anything else would be regarded by unbelievers as anarchy. How does a "servant attitude" affect our relationships with one another? Discuss the phrase "there is no longer slave or free."

Christian House Servant

4000 Christian SlavesThe relationship of the Christian house servant, slaves, and the slave master is important in the Early Church household. The most illuminating adaptation of household terms to theological ideas is the constant assertion that a Christian house servant is the servant of God. Household leaders are told by 1 Corinthians 4.1, "Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of God's mysteries." Duty entrusts them in 1 Corinthians 9.17 to the administration of God's goods for the household's benefit. Saint Paul writes, "If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me." More commonly still, they are simply household servants, stressing the subjection rather than the trust. The Early Church history professor from Australia Edwin A. Judge (1928-present) writing in "The Social Pattern of Christian Groups in the First Century" asserts that these metaphors from slavery suggest how far they appreciate the institution as a means of support for the otherwise unrepresented and helpless. The bond frequently excites feelings, not of resentment, but personal devotion and loyalty towards the master by household servants. Moreover, as with the centurion who came to Jesus in Luke 7.2, "There a centurion's servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die." This Christian servant is dear to the centurion, and the bond was the basis of mutual affection.

"Christian House Children"
by Ron Meacock © 2021

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