Friday, February 08, 2019

Leadership: House Church Leadership 5

Previous posts:
1. The arrival of the gospel in a city like Corinth was socially disruptive. The beliefs and practices of the synagogue were relatively uniform and stable prior to Paul's arrival in town. When he arrived, the synagogue is suddenly divided. Many Jews believe, including the synagogue leader. Others no doubt do not. Paul becomes a divisive figure in the Judaism in the city.

God-fearers are elevated. Where before they were peripheral figures not fully included in the synagogue, now they are equal participants. A wealthy Gentile Roman citizen like Titius Justus is now a person with power. [1] Is this individual possibly the Gaius of Romans 16:23 and 1 Corinthians 1:14?

The church as a whole can apparently meet in Gaius' house, suggesting a group of 40-50 (Rom. 16:23). Perhaps once a week they meet together to eat the Lord's supper, which seems to be a meal in 1 Corinthians 11. During the week, perhaps they meet in smaller groups in the houses or apartments of other believers. It is in these smaller groupings that factions in the congregation likely congealed.

You had Jews and Gentiles loyal to Paul. You had Jews and Gentiles who used Apollos as an excuse to undermine the first group. Perhaps you had Jews who preferred Peter and the Jerusalem approach over and against Paul. All the disagreements within the church addressed in 1 Corinthians reflect differing social groupings in the assembly.

2. The synagogue would have had a council of elders that provided leadership for it. We can imagine that such a collection of elders eventually formed for the house churches of the early church. A smaller house church probably would not have enough people for a full council. We can image that these cells often did not have ten people in them.

So it seems more likely that collections of elders first developed on a more city-wide basis, or that the churches of many cities did not have elders at all. Women in these churches quite likely played prominent roles not least because many of the first believers were women. A Priscilla or a Lydia likely were every bit as influential and played just as much a leadership role as anyone in their churches, whether they were called elders or not.

We should probably take Acts 14:23 in this developing way. Paul and Barnabas recognized leaders in individual house churches. They likely charged them with the ongoing continuation of worship and teaching in those locations. But these would mostly have been more like the size of our modern Bible studies than full blown churches like we have today. There were no church buildings.

So we can picture Paul designating Lydia as the leader of the church that met in her house or Priscilla and Aquila as the "elders" of the church that met in their house. [2] Then, perhaps, when you took all these individual elders in the individual house churches and looked at a city as a whole, this group might be called a council of elders for the city (e.g., 1 Tim. 4:14; 5:17). At this early stage, these things were likely very informal rather than formal structures. If a house church disagreed with the other groups in the city, there was nothing to stop them from going their own way.

[1] The name Titius Justus looks like a Roman name, perhaps Gaius Titius Justus or some such.

[2] There is the question of age. Were these women and men old enough to be considered "elders"? One way or another, formally or informally, we can imagine that they had the equivalent authority and power in their churches.

No comments: