Article Review:

F.V. Filson's "The Significance of the Early House Churches"
The Journal of Biblical Literature

Offered by JR.

      Filson's essay is a brief historical sketch of early Christian communities. He brings "oikos" and "ekklesia" together in the phrase "house church"; he refers to the "house church" mentioned in the opening of Paul's letter to Philemon as "a home center for a band of disciples" (106). This gathering place is compared to the home of Prisca and Aquilla (1 Cor 16:19, rom 16:5) and of Nympha (Col 4:125).

      Filson focuses on the practical benefits of home churches. He makes the point that these households were witnesses to non-Christian households around them; failure to show hospitality was failure to share the gospel. Perhaps Paul's overriding concern in writing to Philemon is the spread of the gospel - something that he knows requires hospitiality within the household.

Offered by ML.

The first section of this article discusses some of the physical conditions of the early church. They typically met in houses and they were small for the most part. These homes were often modified to accommodate the believers as they worshiped. Filson mentions two other sources apart from the Bible in his discussion of house church. The first one is from the Martyrdom of Justin in Chapter 2 that states "Christians do not 'all meet in the same place.'" The other source refers to Dura-Europas an archaeological site that reveals a small house that was converted to house church.

Filson has five points that he brings to light regarding house church.
1. Christians had a distinct "common cause bond" in Jesus Christ.
2. Since Church was in the homes of the believers Paul emphasized family life with in the household and the proper relationships.
3. The quantity of house churches in cities explains "party strife" in the early church.
4. Early Church social status appears to be cross-section of society.
5. "Church polity can not be understood with out reference to the house churches." Leadership often came from the "God-fearers" who are independent and have strong leadership qualities.

This article on House Church is a good introduction but does not go to the heart of house churches.

Offered by DN.

      Quite possibly the fountain head of “house church studies,” this suggestive little article was submitted by Floyd Filson in 1939. Though he does not provide any thorough argument for his proposals, his thoughts are intriguing. His basic thesis is that the house churches, the actual physical conditions under which the first Christians met and lived, is a particularly promising approach for the study of early Christianity. He offers five propositions for consideration.

      First, the house church enabled the followers of Jesus to have a distinctively Christian worship and fellowship from the very first days of the apostolic age. Second, the large part played by the house churches affords a partial explanation of the great attention paid to family life in the letters of early Christian writers. Third, the existence of several house churches in one city goes far to explain the tendency to party strife in the apostolic age. (His reading of 1 Cor. seems faulty on this point; the conflict is clearly within a single worship setting; not between separate assemblies.) Fourth, the social status of the early Christians must allow for the existence of those with sufficient means to welcome the church into their home. Fifth, the development of church polity is illuminated by the house church. Everything in such a situation favored the emergence of the host as the most prominent and influential member of the group.

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