House Churches -- By: Kevin Giles

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 24:1 (Winter 2010)
Article: House Churches
Author: Kevin Giles

House Churches

Kevin Giles

Kevin Giles has been an Anglican minister for more than forty years. He is the author of many books and articles. In 2006, he resigned as Vicar of St. Michaels, North Carlton, Diocese of Melbourne, and now concentrates on writing and teaching. He shares a ministry with his wife, Lynley, a marriage educator and counselor.

When I was a child, my mother taught me the chant with the accompanying finger play, “Here’s the church and here’s the steeple, open the doors and see all the people.” Deeply embedded in this rhyme is a cultural image of the church: a special building with lots of people sitting in rows looking toward the ordained minister out in front. Most of us bring this understanding to the text of Scripture. When we find Luke or Paul writing about “the church,” we imagine he is speaking of a gathering of fifty to several hundred people meeting in a specially constructed building, taking part in a liturgical service led by one or two people out in front, with one ordained and paid pastor/minister/priest who does most of the preaching and teaching and, in most denominations, usually presides at Holy Communion.

Nothing could be further from the first-century experience of church. It is agreed by virtually all New Testament scholars today that, for at least two hundred years, most Christians met in private homes.1 The local church, the congregation to which the early Christians belonged, was a gathering in a home. These house churches were physically limiting on numbers. Even the largest homes excavated could accommodate no more than fifty people, and most large homes far fewer—often no more than twenty people. This home setting determined the character or form of these gatherings. It encouraged informality and wide participation (1 Cor. 14:26). It was simply not possible for someone to be “out in front” leading everything and doing most of the verbal work. Then we need to recall that house church gatherings usually involved eating together. In this context, when the bread was broken and the wine poured out, those present were reminded of the death of Christ (Acts 2:46; 1 Cor. 10:14-22,11:17-32). Setting out the food, eating it, and talking together as the meal progressed must have made “church” something like a dinner party.

House Church Formation And Leadership

Because the house setting of church gatherings was taken as axiomatic by the writers of the New Testament, much is not explained. Luke, as the historian of the early church, is most informative. Both in Jerusalem and in t...

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