These days of staying at home and practicing our faith at home have in some
respects given us an experience of the New Testament church. In the Acts of
the Apostles and the letters of St. Paul, you will notice that “households”
were baptized. See Acts of the Apostles 16:15, Acts of the Apostles 18:8, 1
Corinthians 1:16, and 1 Corinthians 16:15.
For the first few centuries of Christianity, there were no parishes as we
understand them. Christians would gather in homes to celebrate the
Eucharist, to be baptized, to learn about their faith. When St. Paul
describes the Eucharist in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, this celebration would
have been conducted in a home, most likely over the course of a dinner.
Baptisms could be conducted in local bodies of water, such as a riverbank,
but could also be conducted in a home.
One of the earliest examples of a home church that we know today is at
Dura-Europos, a city in Syria. This church was a house converted for
worship in the mid-third century, that is around AD 240-250. A simple
online search can lead you to photos of the church and information about
Dura-Europos. If you should ever visit the Yale University Art Gallery (New
Haven, CT), you can see a display of frescoes from the church.
The baptistry in the house church contains the most ancient examples of
Christian art. Among the frescoes are the following, which should be
familiar to us as we study the lectionary for the Sundays after Easter:
Three Mary’s go to the tomb of Christ (the Myrrh-bearers); the Paralytic
carrying his bed; the Samaritan Woman at the well. These along with the
others demonstrate what those first Christians wanted the candidates for
baptism to consider as they were baptized and became members of the Church.
Of course, there are many differences between the experience of the church
at home in antiquity and the church at home in our day. But, as we live out
our faith at home these days, know that we are tapping into an experience
from the New Testament Church.