I have just ordered a new book recommended to me by John White called "House Church and Mission: The Importance of Household Structures in Early Christianity" by Roger Gehring.
Robert Banks wrote this review of the book: "This is far and away the most comprehensive survey of the role of the house - and household - according to the New Testament. It demonstrates persuasively their centrality for both church and mission in early Christianity."
John has provided me with a 16 page summary of this book which is available here: Download house_church_and_mission_gehring.doc
House Church, House Church Movements, and Missions
I will be working my way through both the summary and the book, but here are some thoughts from it:
1. Jesus planted house churches
There are good reasons to believe that Jesus concentrated on the area surrounding Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida (cf. Matt. 11:21/Luke 11:13-15). During this period of residency in Capernaum, the house of Peter was available to Jesus as a center of operation for his ministry and outreach in the area surrounding the Sea of Galilee.
2. Disciples (pre Easter) planted house churches
“It seems likely that in his mission discourse (Lk. 10) Jesus instructed his disciples to use houses in a manner similar to the way he did: as fixed quarters and a base of operations for his mission.”
3. Disciples (post Easter) planted house churches in Jerusalem
“We know of at least two houses in Jerusalem in which the first Christians met: the house of Mary and the house with the upper room. According to all that we know about them, it makes the most sense to assume that the Greek-speaking services were held in the house of Mary.”
4. Disciples planted house churches beyond Jerusalem
“…we can assume a plurality of house churches in Antioch.”
5. Paul planted house churches
“That houses played a decisive role in the Pauline mission is to be expected, not only in light of the central significance of the oikos in the ancient world but particularly because of the important role they played in Jesus’ pre-Easter mission and in the Jerusalem and Antioch churches.”
Gehring goes on to provide some key elements of the New Testament pattern. These, which I simply list, provide a great deal of content to reflect on:
1. A church functioned as a household (oikos).
"For the Pastorals the church really is the household or the family of God. Viewed in this way, ‘house or family of God’ becomes the model for responsible behavior as well as for church order and leadership structures, and thus the central, all-guiding image for the self-understanding and organization of the church.”
2. The leader of the household was the leader of the church.
"The ‘elders’ in the ancient world were most often householders and they ‘owed their position in society to the power of their family, and their position in the family to their relative seniority."
3. A primary purpose of a house church was to serve as a base of operations for the expansion of the Kingdom.
“The preliminary conclusion from these findings is that house churches were significant for the missional outreach of the primitive church in Jerusalem in a dual sense. They were a training ground for Christian koinonia fellowship inwardly and a showplace of Christian fellowship outwardly. This missional expansion of the gospel was due not so much to the mission-strategic initiatives of individuals as to the powerful attraction of a Christian community actively practicing koinonia fellowship.”