What did a Christian house look like?
What did the homes used by early Christians for worship look like? Richard Krautheimer describes them for us:
"And as the congregations were recruited by and large from the lower and middle classes [1Corinthians 1:26-31], their houses would have been typical cheap houses. Such houses are know to us, if not from the first and second centuries, at least from the fourth and fifth. In the Eastern provinces, they were apparently one-family buildings up to four stories high. The dining-room on top was the only large room, and often opened on a terrace. This is the upper floor, the anageion or hyperoon frequently mentioned in the Acts [Acts 1:7; 20:8], the room 'high up, open to the light', of which Tertullian still speaks after A.D. 200.
"The furnishings would simply consist of a table and three surrounding couches, from which the dining-room takes its name in Latinized Greek - the triclinium. The main couch opposite the entrance was presumable reserved for the elder, the host, and speaker as honored guest. The congregations might crowd the room, including the window sills, so that at Troas - from the heat of the many lamps and the length of the sermon - a young man fell from the fourth floor (the tristegon), only to be resurrected by St. Paul [Acts 20:5-10]. In Rome, where tenement houses with horizontal apartments were the rule, not necessarily including a dining-room, any large chamber may have served for these gatherings. No other rooms would have be required by the congregations." (ibid.)
Indirect Evidence of House Churches
The early church in Jerusalem met in private homes for fellowship and meals. Luke records: "And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved" (Acts 2:46-47). Some time later, private homes were no longer in use just for fellowship. The apostles utilized them as another location besides the Temple to teach and preach: "And everyday, in the temple and from house to house, they [the apostles] kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ" (Acts 5:42).
Saul (before he became Paul) in 32 A.D. led a persecution against believers. In writing about this event Luke records: "But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house; and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison" (Acts 8:3). Why did Paul enter "house after house"? Because he knew that is where he would find Christians gathering to be taught and to fellowship.
In the Spring of 44 A.D., during another wave of persecution, homes were still being used as a location for Jerusalem Christians to assemble. During this persecution James the brother of John is killed by Herod Agrippa and Peter is imprisoned. Herod plans to keep Peter in prison until after Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, then kill him (Acts12:1-5). While Peter is in prison the Jerusalem Christians continually pray for him (verse 5). The inference here is to communal prayer, not just individual prayer. This is supported by verse 12 where it states that people were gathered for prayer. After Peter is miraculously freed from prison he ". . .went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying" (Acts 12:12). One reason Peter went to the house of Mary that night, besides it being close by, may have been that he knew it was a home where believers gathered to be taught and to fellowship.
During his second missionary journey Paul departs Philippi (Acts 16:40) and arrives in Thessalonica. He preaches in the local synagogue over a period of three Sabbaths. The result of his evangelism is that several Jews, and a greater number of Gentiles, become Christians (Acts 17:1-4). This angered a few of the Jews, who stirred up a mob made up of "wicked men from the marketplace" (verse 5). The mob attacks the "house of Jason" looking for Paul and Silas (verse 5). While in Thessalonica Paul and Silas were staying in the home of Jason (verse 7). Not finding them at the Jason's house the mob instead finds Jason and some brethren. The unruly mob takes those in Jason's house to the city authorities (verse 6). There is the suggestion here that the house of Jason was more then just the place where Paul and Silas were staying. It had likely became the first meeting place outside of the synagogue for the new believers in Thessalonica.
After leaving Thessalonica Paul travels to Berea, Athens, then on to Corinth (Acts 17:10-18:1). He stays in Corinth for about a year and half (verse 11). Paul starts out preaching in the local synagogue but soon many of the Jews reject his message. From then on, he concentrates on preaching to the Gentiles (Acts 18:1-6). Paul no longer goes to the synagogue to preach, but: " . . . went to the house of a certain man named Titius Justus, a believer, whose house was next to the synagogue" (verse 7). The house becomes Paul's base of operation, and an early meeting place for the fairly new Christians in Corinth.
At the close of the book known as First Corinthians (written in late 56 A.D.) Paul makes a reference to someone named Stephanas: "Now I urge you, brethren (you know the household of Stephanas, that they were the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints)" (1Corinthians 16:15). The English word "household" is a translation of the Greek word "oikia" (Strong's Concordance #3614), meaning a house or dwelling. The "house of Stephanas" is a valid translation, and that is how the King James Version translated this verse: "I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and [that] they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,)" (1Corinthians 16:15). Since those living in Stephanas' house were some of the very first people converted in the area, the chances are highly likely that his home became the first meeting place of the new fellowship.
Toward the end of his third missionary journey Paul meets with Ephesian elders at Miletus (Acts 20:17). Commenting on his stay in Ephesus he says: " . . . I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house" (verse 20). Paul preached in houses because that is where Christians met. Continuing his journey he eventually arrives at Cesarea. While in the city he stays in "the house of Philip the evangelist" (Acts 21:7-8). During Paul's visit, Philip's house was a meeting place for the local Christians community (Acts 21:10-15).
False teachers subvert house fellowships
In his letter to Titus Paul warns: "For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach, for the sake of sordid gain" (Titus 1:10-11). The Greek word translated by the NASB as "families" and in the NKJV as "households" in verse 11 is "oikos," which we know is best translated as "house." The King James Version Bible translates verse 11 as: "Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake." Green's Literal Translation of verse 11 is similar: "whose mouth [you] must stop, who overturn whole houses, teaching things which [they] ought not for the sake of ill gain." Paul is warning Titus to beware of false teachers who travel from house to house (fellowship to fellowship) spreading their false doctrine. Paul sends a similar warning about false teachers to Timothy: "holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; and avoid such men as these. For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins . . . " (2Timothy 3:5-6).
Towards the end of the first century the apostle John writes what is know as his Second Epistle. In his letter John states that there are certain doctrinal standards a teacher should have before he is permitted to teach: "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting" (2John 1:10). John is warning his readers to be careful who they allow to teach during their time of worship and instruction in someone's home.
In this study we examined some evidence showing that after the death of Christ the early church or "ekklesia" met in small groups at someone's home. There are at least 21 references to house fellowships in the New Testament. These gatherings of believers show us it is perfectly acceptable to meet in this fashion today.