The most significant book ever written on house churches in the 1st Century is by Roger Gehring and is called House Church and Mission. I don’t very often write posts on this blog about published dissertations, but that is because most of them are not like House Church and Mission. To be sure, it is an academic book and written for scholars and serious students who want to know the ins and outs about what it was like and what it was not like.
Most of you know something about house churches in the modern church. In your judgment, what are the strengths and weaknesses of house churches? Now, let’s think about this from another direction: In what ways are house churches in the 1st Century similar to and dissimilar from small groups today? And, let’s ratchet it up one notch: How are they similar to and dissimilar from your average run-of-the-mill god-fearing local church? Now one more notch: Compare them to mega-churches. Now about this: Do you know about “meta”churches? That is, churches that are conglomerations in a local area of a collection of house churches. One more notch. I’m keen on hearing from you on this one.
Now back to Gehring, professor at George Fox Evangelical Seminary out in the fine country called Oar-uh-gun (Portland).
Brief synopsis: a short history of scholarship on house churches, which only got going seriously in the 1980s. Then he examines thoroughly the use of houses for worship, prayer and mission by Jesus, by the post-Easter Jerusalem church and in Antioch, then on to Pauline churches (big fat chapter), and then in the later NT writings — like Colossians 3:18-4:1 and Ephesians 5:21-6:9. He has a nice conclusion where he sums up everything and then explores how this early Christian stuff gets on with the practice of house churches in the world today.
And, a bonus: some floor plans for St. Peter’s house in Capernaum, and a couple of others. The diagrams are with seeing — and if I knew how to get them from that book onto this blog I’d do it, but I suspect it is outside my techno-capacities, but I think good ol’ Ron Martoia, who now has an iPhone, could do it. (Ron? You there?)
A few highlights:
1. Jesus centered his ministry in Peter’s house in Capernaum (Mark 1:29, 33; 2:1; 3:20; 9:33) and from there he launched missional work and in that home they prayed, worshiped, and learned at the feet of Jesus. There is solid archaeological data for this stuff.
2. Jesus sent his disciples out and expected them to establish missional centers in communities by founding a house church. (Matthew 10)
3. The Jerusalem church was established through house churches (Acts 2:42-47).
4. Paul’s ministry was to establish house church missional centers (Romans 16).
The basic history of church architecture development is:
1. House churches until about 150 AD.
2. Church houses (houses converted into houses devoted almost entirely, or at least several major rooms, to church). Until 250 AD or so.
3. Basilica/hall-length churches. From c. 250 on.