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Chapter 6    House Churches In The New Testament

There is much to be learned from observing the recorded churches in the New Testament. A look at their unity amid great diversity will give us a model to grow toward. A look at their simplicity of structure and freedom in Christ gives us a model uncomplicated by the world. A look at their explosive growth despite agonizing persecution will give us a model to reach forward to.

The household is the basic social unit that God has set in place.  It is no accident that in the New Testament the church that moved the gospel across the continent of Europe was made up of diverse household churches.

In the Old Testament, the household was the basic unit of the society. It is the one social institution that has stood throughout history. God gave Eve to Adam and set up the first household, the only social entity that God has initiated. The Jews were of the household of Abraham according to the flesh. The church (ekklesia) is the household of God, and Christ Jesus is the head of the family. We are God's "called out" family. Each local assembly (ekklesia) of believers is a household in the family of God, with elders. (shepherd)  

The New Testament churches flourished as they followed God's established order of households. Since God is the same now as He was then, and we are still in the age of grace, the order has not changed. If we are to experience the power and explosive results of the early church, we must follow God's order and arrangement.

Every church mentioned in the bible is a household church. There were no church buildings built until the late third century when governments began to take control of the church

The Churches at Jerusalem:

It was in Jerusalem that about 3000 people were born again on the day of Pentecost. Acts 2:41 tells us that they "continued ... from house to house." Simple arithmetic makes it plain that there were at least fifty to sixty house churches to accommodate that number of people. In Acts 4:4 we see another 5000 "men" saved. The fact that the Word points out that it was 5000 "men", indicates that along with these men came their households. We don't know how many people were part of the growth explosion in the early part of the book of Acts, but we know there were many households. It was in this context that in Acts 5:42 we are told that "daily ... in every house they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ."

The churches at Philippi:

Throughout the New Testament, the churches mentioned are all groups of God's called out people meeting together in households. It is significant to note that the first church in Europe was in the household of a woman named Lidia. In Acts 16:34 it is called "the house of Lidia." If she was not the head of the household it would have been called the house of Lidia's husband's name. Lidia was a single, business woman who was the head of her own household. It is worth taking note that God chose her to provide the home and leadership for the first church in the European continent. We could profit much by reading Galatians 3:28 again and realizing that with God there is neither male nor female in the church of grace.

Soon to follow was the house of the Philippian jailer. (Acts 16:34)   By the time the letter to the Philippians was written there were more churches , as can be known from the introduction of the letter. It is addressed to saints, bishops, (plural) and ministers. (plural)

The Churches at Corinth:

In the area of Corinth there are four churches specifically mentioned. How many more there were we don't know. The Bible only tells us about these four.   In Acts 18:1-4 we learn of the church that was in the household of Pricilla and Aquilla. This husband wife team was an important part of the advance of church in three key European cities; Rome, Ephesus, and Corinth. Paul considers them to be sunergous or co-workers, trusted and able to live and carry the gospel just as Paul himself.

Also mentioned is the church that met in the house of Gaius, where Paul stayed when he wrote the letter to the Romans. (Romans 16:23)   The household of Stephanas is greeted in the first chapter of First Corinthians. It is also mentioned in I Corinthians 16:15,16 as a model church that the believers should pattern themselves after. Paul wrote that the household of Stephanas had "addicted themselves to the ministry." (I Cor. 16:15)  What a commentary to their believing. What a pattern for us in this lethargic time.   Another church mentioned in Corinth is the household of Choe, which was embroiled in contention. (I Cor. 1:11)

The Churches at Ephesus:

When Paul came to Ephesus he found twelve men who were believers. Twelve men equals twelve households. We don't know how many of these households hosted meetings of the church. We do know that Paul stayed in Ephesus for two years and three months and taught the word of God. The Bible tells us that all of Asia heard the gospel during that time. Paul didn't personally speak the word to every person in Asia. Each person that received the gospel and believed knew that part of being a believer was to carry the message they had been called out to carry. God has not changed. It is still our responsibility to carry out the ministry of reconciliation.   There must have been many household churches scattered across Asia at the end of that two year period.
The Churches at Colosse:

The church in the house of Archippus, which Philemon was a member, is mentioned in Philemon chapter two. The book of Colossians speaks of Nymphas and the church in her (1) house.

The Churches at Rome:

The sixteenth chapter of Romans is rich with information about the nature of the early church. Great unity was intermixed with great diversity. Careful study of this chapter will reveal much for us to strive for in our relationships with one another.

There are five Roman households mentioned in the Bible. The first is Priscilla and Aquilla's house. The second is the household of Aristobulus. Another is the house of Narcissus. The fourth is "Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes and the brethren with them." Fifth, "Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saint which are with them."

In the sixteenth chapter of Romans there are twenty-seven believers named. A close look at the names will reveal much more about the diversity of the church. There are sixteen Greek names, six Roman, four Hebrew and one Persian. Six of the twenty-seven are women. There are great Roman nobility alongside slaves, and freemen. Unity and love among such a diverse group of people is only possible if they are walking according to the Spirit and not the flesh.  Below is the list:

    Phoebe 16:1,2 Greek, literal: moon god, woman,
     called diakonos, prostatis (minister or elder)

    Priscilla 16:3 Roman, literal: little Prisca, woman
    (of the Prisca family, royalty) called sunergous (coworker)

    Aquilla 16:3 Hebrew, literal: eagle, called sunergous (coworker)

    Epaenetus 16:5 Greek, literal: praised

    Mary 16:6 Hebrew, literal: bitterness

    Andronicus 16:7 Greek, literal: man of victory, called apostolos.

    Junia 16:7 Roman, woman, called apostolos

    Amplias 16:8 Roman, literal: enlarged

    Urbane 16:9 Greek, literal: to enlarge

    Stachys 16:9 Greek, literal: head of grain

    Apelles 16:10 Roman Form of Apollo

    Aristobulus 16:10 Greek, literal: Best counselor

    Herodion 16:11 Hebrew, named for Herod

    Tryphosa 16:12 Greek, literal: luxurious or feeble, woman

    Persis 16:12 Persian, literal: Persian woman

    Rufus 16:13 Roman, literal: red

    Asyncritus 16:14 Greek, literal: not compared

    Phlegon 16:14 Greek, literal: blazing

    Hermas 16:14 Greek, literal: messenger (Mercury)

    Patrobas 16:14 Greek, literal: father of life

    Hermes 16:14 Greek, literal: messenger (Mercury)

    Philologus 16:15 Greek, literal: fond of words (talkative)

    Julia 16:15 Roman, literal: curly haired, woman of the house of         Julius, Roman Nobility

    Nereus 16:15 Greek literal: wet, or boat

    Olympas 16:15 Greek, literal: heavenly (Greek God)


 Location of other Household Churches:

    Athens Acts 17:22

    Amphipolis Acts 17:1

    Antioch of Pisidia Acts 13:14

    Antioch of Syria Acts 13:1

    Apollonia Acts 17:1

    Asia I Peter1:1

    Laodicea Colossians 4:15

    Lystra Acts 14:20

    Berea Acts 17:10

    Bithynia I Peter 1:1

    Caesarea Acts 21:8

    Cappadocia I Peter 1:1

    Crete Titus 1:5

    Derbe Acts 20:4

    Galatia Galatians 1:1

    Iconium Acts 16:2

    Neapolis Acts 16:11

    Tarsus Acts 9:11

    Thesalonica Acts 17:1

    Troas Acts 20:5

There were many churches and individual believers not mentioned in the Bible who stood, lived and died for their believing. Each of those believers was a key to God's plan to proclaim the gospel. Each believer today, as part of God's called out household is key to God's plan to move His word to the people around them.

Let's experience again the power of God in Christ in us. Let us take hold of God's order for the church and make it live. Once again we can really say, "I'm a part of the household of God.)

Link to Chapter 7


    By Neil Tolman
    1996

Neil's House