Vincent Branick – The house church in the writings of Paul (Wilmington, USA : Michael Glazier, 1989)

While Paul affirms the existence of the private or single family house church, and while for Paul that house church remains the basic cell of the local church, he clearly wants those house churches to form a body with each other within the city-wide church. Instead of a group of house churches closed to each other or even hostile to each other, Paul envisions apparently a kind of federation of several house churches forming a local church. The Pauline local church existed thus on two levels, both connected with households, 1) a household assembly of an individual family and those associated with that family, and 2) a city-wide level meeting in a private home but consisting of several families. (p. 26)

This quote sums up Branick’s account of Paul’s understanding of church.

· The household churches might start with the head of a house converting to Christianity, and with him – or sometimes her – many others in the house. (Branick makes the excellent point that not all of the household were converted in each case – and this is why Paul has to address the issue of unbelieving spouses; this is why the runaway slave Onesimus was not a Christian when he ran away from Philemon.) Singles or poor people or even other couples would then attach themselves to this household and form a worshipping house church.

· On special occasions, all of these households came together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and worship with their spiritual gifts. It is to these events that Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 – where he warns about the greedy rich shaming the poor and thus making it no longer a true Lord’s Supper – and 1 Corinthians 14 – where he sets out the way to have an orderly meeting in the Spirit. (Maddeningly, he never answers his own problem – he notes that these meetings couldn’t have happened too often; there were too many people to fit into a normal house. But how did they ever fit into one house for these meetings?)

· But this didn’t happen in all cities. He points out that Paul never addresses the Romans as a city-wide church, believing that the different Christian households had not yet formed a federation (p. 70). Similarly, Branick believes that there were multiple house churches in Anitoch which did not have a city-wide gathering. Instead, Peter vacillates between the Greek faction and the Jewish faction (p. 25, referring to Gal. 2:11-13). (Were there perhaps two alliances of Christian households, then?)

One fascinating part of the book is the way he traces the role of Priscalla and Aquilla. These Roman Jews were banished from Rome by imperial edict, and went to settle at Corinth. However, later they were in Rome again, and still later in Ephesus. They owned a house which was the basis of a household church in Corinth. As a tentmaker, Aquilla would not have had enough money to allow them to come to Corinth and buy a house straight away. And why is Priscalla mentioned first many times? Partly because she clearly had a leadership role in the church; but maybe had a high social standing and wealth which Aquilla married into.

The great thing about scholarly criticism of the NT is that it allows us to see developments in the church and significant differences between different writers representing different communities.

· For Branick, Paul sits between Jesus’ openness to outsiders and the Johannine community’s closed attitude to outsiders.

· He sees the deutero-Pauline letters as moving away from house churches with the rise of (paid) bishops and the move ‘toward a city-wide organisation where teaching can be carefully monitored.’ (128)


Meeting report : 10 December 2006

We met at Don and Marianne’s house in Maddington this week.

The main discussion was about the possiblility of helping Bessie, the director of Oikos ministries to come over to the Anabaptist Conference in January. I felt it would be important to have her there, as she can encourage people who are interested in beginning house churches – the best way, we are convinced, to have a chance to ‘live Anabaptism’ (the theme of the conference). I wasn’t sure how everyone felt about this idea, but when it was time to write down pledges toward the cost, we quickly had nearly enough to cover the airfare, and so this showed real enthusiasm!

A lot of house churches, I have heard, avoid money altogether. Yet we have been glad to have the opportunity to take up a weekly offering and help people with it. When we’re just spending our money as individuals, we lose the corporate nature of the decisions and have less accountability. To know that together we can enable ministries makes us feel like we’re doing something as a church. We’ve kept it simple, though – we take up an offering and then instantly give it away to the things we’ve decided it should be used for. No bank accounts and no bureacracy that way.

Meeting report : 3 December 2006

We met at Tim’s house in Huntingdale, and were lucky enough to have three visitors – a German couple, Daniel and Katerine, and Kristo Newall. One of the things that came out of the discussion was a desire to improve our prayer life.

In the top photo are Brad, Katerine and Daniel. In the bottom phot are Ian, Nathan and Kristo. Thanks to Marcia for the photos.

Katerine and Daniel are travelling around Australia and are hoping to find models of being church and living in Christian community to take back to their ministry to youth in Stuttgart.

Kristo is a Christian activist looking for a church.

Body Politics Simplified

I have just posted the simplification of John Howard Yoder’s Body Politics : Five practices of the Christian Community before the watching world.

Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder published Body Politics in 1992. The five practices he writes about are the framework for the 2007 AAANZ Conference’s theme of living Anabaptism. Yoder recovers the Lord’s Supper and baptism as essential parts of the church’s common life, practices with political and social importance. He adds to them the ministry of all believers, admonishment and discernment, and the open worship meeting to give us an exciting picture of living Anabaptism together. I have simplified and shortened the book to make it easier to understand and more relevant. It includes discussion questions at the end of each chapter.

In order to get the most out of the conference, we suggest you try to read the simplification so that you can come ready to share how you think we might try to live the practices today.

Print copies will be available from January and at the conference for less than $10.

Hosting 2007 AAANZ Conference

PAF is currently hard at work making preparations for the Anabaptist Association of Australia and New Zealand’s 2007 Conference. It will be held from 15 to 19th January at Fairbridge near Pinjarra. Brad, Matthew and Don have set up a website : . Here’s an extract from the brochure:

We invite you to live in worshipping community for a weekend to explore this vision in a series of discussions and interactions.
The main talks are structured around the practices of the church identified by Anabaptist theologian John Yoder in his book, Body Politics. Yoder recovers the Lord’s Supper and baptism as essential parts of the church’s common life, practices with political and social importance. He adds to them the ministry of all believers, admonishment and discernment, and the open worship meeting to give us an exciting picture of living Anabaptism together.
You may wish to read this book ahead of the conference; a study guide and summary will be available online by December 2006. Follow the link from
You will also be asked to choose small group electives exploring other aspects of living Anabaptism. Potential topics include caring for creation through permaculture; Anabaptist house churches and small groups; Anabaptism and art; living in community; and Anabaptist worship.