by Roger Gehring
Roger Gehring comes to the rescue of those in search of more than popular accounts of the rise of house churches.
Hendrickson Publishers, P.O. Box 3473, Peabody, MA, 01961, 2004, 408 pages, $30.00.
—Reviewed by Mike Barnett, professor of church planting and global Christianity, Columbia International University, Columbia, South Carolina and John Brady, regional leader of Northern Africa and the Middle East International Mission Board (IMB).
We are in the midst of a renaissance of house churches around the world. We cannot deny it, but how can we explain it?
Roger Gehring comes to the rescue of those in search of more than popular accounts of the rise of house churches. At last we have a readable, scholarly, in-depth analysis of the biblical reality and early history of house churches and their role in mission. Gehring’s gold mine of scholarly research identifies the house as a key component for the birth and expansion of the Christian faith. His thesis provides a “rock solid foundation” (311) for those who hold to the viability and vitality of house churches and small groups today.
The most avid house church advocate will be amazed at the biblical evidence for house church strategies. What role did houses play in the strategy of Jesus before and after the resurrection? How did Jesus’ model transfer to the first church in Jerusalem? What about Paul’s work among Gentiles? What went on within the house church? What archaeological evidence is there for the scope and scale of households of faith? These questions and more are carefully answered.
Gehring offers a fresh look at the pattern of mission used by Jesus himself. He systematically unpacks the context and text to reveal the link between the message and work of Christ and the oikos (house or home). He does not shy from controversial aspects of first-century life. He deals with the realities of slavery, the role of women and the absolute power of the householder over family. He relates these issues to both the gospel and the broader ecclesia (church). Positive and negative aspects of oikos culture are identified and changes prescribed in the household codes of Paul’s letters are highlighted.
Though house churches are seen as the “incubator and nucleus of the mission church,” Gehring proposes a balanced tension between house churches, the local church (whole church in one location) and the mission as essential for the health of the church universal (300).
House Church and Mission deserves a wide reading by the missions community. It joins solid, detailed, biblical research with questions of practical mission work. Though the study assumes the reader has some knowledge of Greek, the lay leader will benefit as well. Biblical scholars will likely cherish this volume as an important resource for years to come.
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