Friday, December 21, 2007

And His Whole Household

I have not been able to get this concept (households and hospitality) out of my mind over the past week or so. Scot (over at Jesus Creed) has been talking about infant baptism stemming from passages in Acts (16:15) where whole households were baptized at once. Although I posted a comment there I have very little interest in infant baptism per se but this concept of household salvation is what has been capturing my mental energy.

I think the “household” concept needs some clarification and expansion. Based on some of the research of Birkey (The House Church), Judge (The Social Pattern of Christian Groups in the First Century) and Banks (Paul's Idea of Community), to think of a household as parents and children and a few servants drastically simplifies the term. Households were led by a supporting patriarch and its size was limited to his ability to support the family. Although some households were small - just scraping by so to speak, most would have had some level of ability to support a number of people. It would have certainly included extended family, servants and/or slaves (and their families), and possibly close friends (and their families) all living in the same estate or under the protection of the householder. They would have engaged in business enterprises or agriculture together and would have remained together - possibly for generations - with leadership being passed down through the male heir.

This does not mean that everyone was wealthy - or that everyone necessarily lived in the same house. It means that those with substance kept others in their employ and as part of their households and so had a certain responsibility for them. We may have some difficulty understanding that in our culture because we have have become a culture that traffics mostly in money as currency as opposed to work, or goods. It is similar to work situations today where we provide a service to a company (householder) in exchange for money which we use to buy or rent a house, buy clothes, food etc and establish a life.

The interesting part is that people believed and then their whole households also believed. For example:

John 4:53
Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, "Your son will live." So he and all his household believed.
Acts 11:14
He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.'
Acts 16:15
When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. "If you consider me a believer in the Lord," she said, "come and stay at my house." And she persuaded us.
Acts 16:31
They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household."
Acts 18:8
Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.

When the householder believed (and therefore changed his behaviour and his values and his business practices) those in his household who were dependent on him also believed (and changed their behaviour). What Scripture doesn't always connect is that many times this household then became the location for a new church. This is certainly the case in Philippi where the church met in Lydia's house.

This is an interesting missiological strategy. The genius of the early church was its ability to use a key social structure in the Roman world (the church that met in households) to propagate and nurture the growth of the Kingdom.

What are we to make of this? Should all churches become house churches to better propagate the Gospel? Maybe - in China, or Korea or India - but not in Canada, or in USAmerica, or in Europe. The individualistic mindset of Western culture militates against that option. House churches in the New Testament were a response to the sociology of the first century. They just fit. It was pure genius.

The question that poses itself to me is: What "just fits" in our postmodern Western post-Christendom culture? What is the sociological structure or system that will allow the Gospel to have such an impact as it had in the first century?

I don't know what it is ... yet, but it has got my mind whirring all week.


volkmar1108 said...


Interesting that you've brought this subject up...

The past couple of days I've been reading House Church and Mission by R.W. Gehring. Most pertinent is the middle paragraph of page 58. On page 59 the term "householder evangelism" is used. Very interesting section.


hillschurch said...

Thanks Tom.
I just looked up that section of the book and it really is fascinating that the household approach was actually initiated by Jesus (pre-Easter as Gehring says). The most vivid example is Zacchaeus!