by Pastor Mark Anderson,
Assistant to the Bishop

Actually, for hundreds of years Christians worshipped by gathering their household in their home. Those who attended worship in homes included the Apostles and Saint Paul.

Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia.

Romans 16:5

Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house, Gand Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house.

Philemon 1:2

The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord.

1 Corinthians 16:19

Why did the early Christians worship at home?​ They were aware of the risk of worshipping in large groups because the Christians were suspected by the Romans. So, when gathering in large groups was not safe, they worshipped in their homes.

For example, in correspondence from Pliny, the Roman Governor to Trajan, the Roman Emperor he stated,
“I asked them whether they were Christians, and if they confessed, I asked them a second and third time with threats of punishment. If they kept to it, I ordered them for execution.”

The same level of persecution is happening today in China where some 12 million Roman Catholics worship in homes in secret in fear of the Chinese government.

Without church buildings did the church lose members?​ No, in fact, this was a time of intense growth. Not because Christians advertised but because they talked to their friends and neighbors about their faith.

And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Acts 2:47

Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women.

Acts 5:14

By worshipping at home were people less generous?​

No, this was a time of Biblical Stewardship when even those with very little gave to the fund to bring disaster relief to the people starving in Jerusalem.

For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the Lord’s people in Jerusalem.

Romans 15:26.

The early church worshipped at home because it wasn’t safe to gather together, but they still shared the Good News and were generous.

So, it is now that many Christians do not feel safe to gather, but even at home they use social media to share their own faith and what their congregation is doing. People today are still so moved by God’s grace in Christ Jesus they remain very generous during this pandemic. For that we all say thank you.

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About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson

The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.