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Theology

Pre-Constantinian Church

One list-member wrote: I am given pause to reflect on the house church setting which predominated pre-Constantine. Worship in the ordinary setting. We know little about the adornments employed: did they use the ordinary settings of the home (bread and wine?) or some special ‘religious’ artefacts? What are the implications of this?

Nathan responded:

Actually, there has been one very revealing example of a pre-Constantinian house church uncovered in an archeological dig. It is at Duro-Europos which was frontier garrison town on the Euphrates. It dates from around 232-256, more than half a century before Constantine. What it tells us, is that at least by that time, the house churches had been thoroughly renovated internally to provide for the needs of congregational worship. It would have still looked like any other house from the outside, so as not to draw attention to itself in times of persecution, but inside it has been substantially altered. An internal wall has been removed to make a larger meeting room. There is a small platform that was probably the location of the communion table. A room which may have previously been a bathroom has been altered to create a baptistery room. And perhaps most surprisingly to modern Baptists, the internal walls are heavily decorated with murals depiciting biblical characters and stories, in a style which has some affinity with the style of later iconography. Some of the description of early Christian worship as being based in ordinary home contexts is a bit misleading. The New Testament gives evidence of the apostles continuing to worship in the synagogues and Temple for as long as they were allowed to. That they also worshipped in private homes is no surprise, since Jewish worship had always had those three centres – Temple, Synagogue and Home (remember that the Passover is predominantly a domestic celebration; once the paschal lamb is sacrificed at the Temple, the meat is taken home and the rest of the liturgy takes place in the family setting). As Jews, the apostles practice of worshipping in the home was not a new Christian inovation, but a continuation of one aspect of their previous worship customs. What the house at Dura Europos shows us is that once the Christians were no longer able to worship in Temple and Synagogue, they found the need to create their own special purpose spaces for the needs of their gathered worship. Peace and hope, Nathan _____________________________________ Nathan Nettleton Pastor, South Yarra Community Baptist Church Melbourne, Australia

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