by Terry C. Hulbert
In choosing “The Christian Home” as the theme for their third General Assembly (1977), leaders of the Association of Evangelicals of Africa and Madagascar perceived the determining practical issue in the church today.
In choosing "The Christian Home" as the theme for their third General Assembly (1977), leaders of the Association of Evangelicals of Africa and Madagascar perceived the determining practical issue in the church today. It is also significant that the home is a key factor in evangelism and church growth — a potential often overlooked or misunderstood.
Household evangelism has strong biblical and strategic bonds with church growth principles. It involves two ideas: (1) The Christian home is a means of evangelizing the extended family and the community, and (2) the pagan family is the goal of evangelism.
THE MEANING OF HOUSEHOLD EVANGELISM
Household evangelism does not mean that children become Christians when their parents believe (although, as Paul told the Corinthians, this does give them a spiritual advantage over children in a pagan home). There’s nothing automatic about salvation.
Household evangelism is the basic decision by parents, or a father, to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, followed by consultation with other members of the family so that they, as individuals, decide to come to Christ, resulting in a Christian family and household.1
Peters identifies three basic features in household salvation: (1) The family acts in deliberation and unity on the basic issue as explained from the Bible; (2) the decision is made under the direction and guidance of the parents, or the father; (3) the decision is made consciously, voluntarily, and without pressure by the members of the family old enough to do so – and with the support of the family.2
THE RELEVANCE OF HOUSEHOLD EVANGELISM
In a recent church growth workshop in Sierra Leone pastors discussed the importance of working through the family unit in evangelism. They said that it was not only courteous to go first to the head of a household, or tribal group, or village, but that often it was very productive. They gave examples of evangelists asking the authority person for permission to show him what they proposed teaching. This resulted, usually, in permission to make a presentation to the elders and people. They were exposed to the basics of the gospel in the process of determining if the message should be taught.
When the village leader gives permission to preach, people feel freer to receive the message than if their leader had been bypassed. Even when the ruler is resistant to the gospel, he will often given permission to teach it, if he is approached with respect. What is true of a village situation usually applies also to penetrating a household unit. A respectful approach to the head is appropriate and potentially very productive.
BIBLICAL EXAMPLES OF HOUSEHOLD EVANGELISM
1) In the Gospels. Jesus and the apostles often presented the gospel to a whole family or household together. The Scripture records that, as individuals, many or all of a household would turn to the Lord Jesus at almost the same time.
For instance, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, he healed the son of a Roman army officer (John 4:46-54). The father was actually in Cana, where he had come to find Jesus, and the son was sick at Capernaum, some 20 miles distant. The servants later told him that the son had been healed at the exact moment Jesus had pronounced him cured. As a result, "he himself believed and his whole house" (Jn. 4:53).3 A Roman father and his family and workers were saved together, as each believed on Christ at about the same time.
Even more striking was the transformation in the household of a despised Jewish tax collector in the city of Jericho. In his method of evangelism, Jesus went beyond where we usually go today. Zacchaeus probably believed while he was in a tree in downtown Jericho. He had sought Jesus, apparently willing to expose his heart to him, and Jesus had responded. He did not need to go to Zacchaeus’ house to save him! But at that time of great pressure, when crowds were following him to that last Passover in Jerusalem, Jesus insisted on going to Zacchaeus’ house.
We can imagine the family’s shock as the prophet from Galilee walked in with the tax-collector father to whom no respectable Jew would speak. Zacchaeus had "received him joyfully" (Lk. 19:6) and, as a result, his whole family was to be introduced to the Savior. And they received him, too, so that Jesus could say, "This day is salvation come to this house. "
That this included at least the family and probably the servants is indicated by Jesus’ use of " house, " when if only Zacchaeus were meant, he alone would have been mentioned. The context also indicates that oikos carries the sense of household.4 The next verse notes that ". . . the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which is lost." Jesus had sought them as a family group, in their house and through the head of that household! Because the Lord had gone into a home to evangelize, a man who began the day as a troubled tax collector ended it as the head of a family of God’s children.
2. In Acts and the Epistles, In the early church the household continued to be the focus of evangelism. For instance, in Acts 2:46 this was true of Jewish believers in Jerusalem. As a sequel to Pentecost they "broke their bread by households." They shared the common food and experiences of the day, and hallowed their fellowship by partaking of the tokens Jesus had given. them for remembrance of himself.
They did it, not just "in homes" but "by households," family Units.5 That family units are in view is attested by F. F. Bruce’s translation, "by households."6 If many had been evangelized as families (cf. Zacchaeus, Stephanus, et al), it would be natural to fellowship and worship by families.
In Acts 20:20 Luke records a similar situation among Gentile believers in Ephesus. Whole families had come to know the Lord together and they were being taught together; Paul taught them publicly and "by households."7
Cornelius lived at Caesarea, the Roman capital of the middle east. He was a Roman army officer who had admired Jewish religious values and had been seeking their God. But he was a Gentile, a member of a people whom Jews called "dogs" and who, as a group, had not yet been touched by the news of redemption in the cross and power in the resurrection.
Cornelius not only waited himself for Peter to come, as he had been instructed, but called together his family and friends to hear him (Acts 10:24, 33, 44-48). In a few short statements Peter reviewed the history of Israel, the meaning of the life and death of Christ, and the way to receive forgiveness of sins. As a result they believed and were baptized and discipled. Note that the record mentions only Cornelius as seeking spiritual answers. This need could have been met in a private interview with Peter. But God so guided that a whole household heard the Word with him, and following his example, also came to know the Savior personally.
Lydia lived in Philippi of Macedonia in northeastern Greece where she had established a fabric business (Acts 11:14, 15). Perhaps she was a widow. At least we are told that she had a house large enough to accommodate Paul, Silas, Luke and Timothy. God had opened her heart and when Paul explained to her who Jesus was and how to believe on him she responded.
Her whole household must have heard also because they believed and were baptized, an ordinance Silas would not have administered if each person had not believed. The point is again illustrated that Paul could have taught Lydia alone. The outcome indicates, however, that he had arranged to meet with her whole household.8
A jail warden, probably a retired Roman army officer, also lived in Philippi. When an earthquake let his prisoners escape he saw no way out for himself but suicide. Even at that crucial moment Paul did not deal with him alone but saw the potential for evangelizing the whole family group (Acts 16:30-34).
He told him that salvation was to be found in Jesus Christ, and that this salvation was available not only to him by faith, but to his whole family as they would believe on him. As a result, "they" (presumably, at least Paul and Silas, and perhaps Timothy and Luke who might have been nearby) "spoke unto him the Word of the Lord and to all that were in his house. " And all this was sometime after midnight. Even though the hour was late and the time was short, they taught them enough basic theology that each could make an intelligent, personal decision.
If only the jailer had been evangelized, the record would not have included the fact that Paul and his friends spoke the Word of the Lord to the whole household.9 As a result, the whole family believed and was baptized. Paul was washed of his stripes by the jailer, and the family was washed from its sins by Jesus.
The individuality of their decisions is made clear in verse 34: he rejoiced believing in God with all of his house." He did not believe for them, but rather they believed with him.10 At midnight the father was about to take his own life; by dawn he was the head of a family of God’s children.
Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue in the city of Corinth, "believed on the Lord with all his house" (Acts 18:8). Again, he did not believe for them, but as he took this step, they believed witb him. It was in this same city that Paul also baptized the household of Stephanus (1 Cor. 1: 16).11 It was from here, too, that the household of Chloe later sent word to Paul of Corinthian church carnality.
Paul’s practice was to evangelize households, at least in Corinth and Philippi. Both Jewish and Gentile homes were involved. This emphasis is reflected in Paul’s later statement to the church at Corinth that a child with even one Christian parent has a greater likelihood of being saved (1 Cor. 7:14).
It would not be too much to conclude that household evangelism was a primary method of apostolic evangelism. It greatly increased the number of converts and the number of new congregations. Christian households frequently became household churches.
Often a detailed record of evangelism involved a whole household, as noted in the homes of Cornelius, Lydia, the jailer, Crispus, and Stephanus. Further, it should be noted that these instances of household evangelism involved a variety of circumstances and countries, and Roman, Jewish, and Greek cultures. Whatever their concept of God, the family served as the basic unit of communication and decision-making and therefore served as a very appropriate context for evangelism.
THE IMPORTANCE OF HOUSEHOLD EVANGELISM
1. Household evangelism respects the integrity of the home, moving with and not against the social unit created by God.
2. Household evangelism is usually the most productive method of evangelism. Since the gospel is explained to a whole group at one time, the potential is greater for many to believe than when evangelism is limited to individuals.
3. An initial negative response by the family does not negate the value of this method. It’s true that families are sometimes resistant while individual family members may be receptive. In such a case, the family group must be respected as a social unit and not treated as an adversary, even though it may oppose a believing member.
For instance, in Senegal recently, some young men believed on the Lord and were cut off from their Muslim homes. Their lives were threatened. They maintained a respectful attitude, however, attempting to rebuild bridges to the family. They have now been reaccepted and the way is open for them to penetrate their group with the gospel.
4. Household evangelism helps to establish a strong group to stand in the face of opposition and persecution. As families tend to stand together against an outside threat, so a believer in a Christian household is part of a supporting group which stands with him in persecution.
5. Household evangelism leads naturally and easily into the establishment of a local church group, especially if the household is a large one as was the case of Nymphas, Archippus, Philemon12 and those at Corinth already mentioned. When the family is not large, it can form a house church with similar families nearby.
6. Household evangelism is often more effective in a village or urban area than individual evangelism. Pagan households can be attracted to the superior home life of the Christian family.
For example, I recently asked Aaron Francis, an Indian pastor in Durban, South Africa, the most exciting thing happening in his church. Immediately he responded: "Hindu families are coming to Christ!" I asked him what attracted them to the gospel. He told me that Hindu families are often torn apart by greed and arguments. A Christian family invites an entire Hindu family to join them for a day, or part of a day. As this is repeated, they begin to understand the difference Christ makes and often turn to him to be the Savior and Lord of their family. In this practical way, household evangelism reveals Jesus Christ to a whole Hindu family in a way they would never have seen by passing a church building, or by a brief individual contact.
1. The church is a family of families.
2. As the family is God’s way of reproducing the family of man, the Christian family is one of his most effective ways of reproducing the family of God.
3. While Jesus and Paul were alert to every opportunity to show an individual the way to heaven, they took the family seriously and, if possible, evangelized the whole household.
4. Churches tend to grow in proportion to the quality of their homes and their emphasis on evangelizing whole families.
5. The family must be both the goal of evangelism and the means of evangelism.
1. Peters, George W. Saturation Evangelism. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976, p. 149.
3. "He and his whole household came to believe" (Arndt, W.F., and F.W. Gingrich) . A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957). p. 560.
4. Arndt and Gingrich, op. cit., p. 563.
5. This does not detract from the concept of the family unit. It was because whole family units were involved that the home was the most appropriate place for the event. Cf. the parallel of the passover.
6. Bruce, F. F. The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman, 1973, p. 81. Also Arndt and Gingrich, op. cit., p. 563.
7. Although the context emphasizes a ministry in homes in contrast to a public ministry, the construction is the same as that of Acts 2:46 and would refer to the family within the house.
8. Bruce comments: "When she was baptized, together with her household (presumably her servants and other dependents) . . . " Op. cit., p. 391.
9. Arndt and Gingrich cite this reference as an illustration of oikos, "household, family."
10. Greek, "together with". So also in Acts 18:8 below.
11. Arndt and Gingrich: " Stephanus and his family," Op. cit. p. 563.
12. Col. 4:15; Philemon. 1, 2.
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