The Domestic Church

Here is my article from the Knoxville New Sentinel, January 4, 2013. It was published five years ago last month, but it’s a topic that’s always on topic.

When people think of the Christian “church,” they usually think of the tall, long building with the triangular roofing and the spire or bell tower. Some think of the worship service that takes place inside that building. Occasionally, someone will think of the people who attend the worship service, or the registered members of the congregation.

Rarely, though, does someone think of the home and the family that lives there. Yet, there is ample witness to the idea of the Church in the home in the Scriptures and in the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant traditions.

Christ assured us that, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20). The Acts of the Apostles records how Peter preached the gospel to Cornelius, words by which he and his “household” were saved (Acts 11:14). Paul made mention in his letters of households of faith when speaking of particular Christian families (1 Corinthians 16:15; Philippians 4:22), as distinct from churches that met in people’s homes in the early decades of Christianity.

St. John Chrysostom, the early fifth century Archbishop of Constantinople who is revered by Eastern and Western Christians, said plainly that, “the household is a little Church.” Orthodox brides and grooms receive a crown during the marriage liturgy to signify, in part, their leadership in their domestic church.

John Calvin, a giant of the Reformation, wrote of the church in the home: “What a wonderful thing to put on record, that the name ‘church’ is applied to a single family, and yet it is fitting that all the families of believers should be organized in such a way as to be so many little churches.”

Finally, the bishops of the Second Vatican Council wrote in the conciliar document Lumen gentium (Constitution on the Church): “In what might be regarded as the domestic church, the parents, by word and example, are the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children.” (LG, n. 11).

Clearly, the idea of the “domestic Church” or the Church in the home is hardly new to the Christian tradition. How is it that we lost it? Many families “go” to church on Sunday mornings. Many families think of themselves as part of a church, that is, a parish, community, or congregation. Most families, I suspect, hardly think of themselves as a church after they leave Sunday worship, or when living day in and day out within the walls of their home. Within the walls of that home, though, is lived out the mystery of faith in those relationships that challenge us in the most fundamental and spiritual ways. How can we expect to be a sign of Christ to the world if we fail to live the life of Christ among those who have to put up with us every day?

Perhaps with the turning of a New Year, Christian families of all stripes can regain an old way of thinking of themselves. Family activities, leisure time and vacations, home furnishings, finances, and all elements of family life, including those that support the family, such as work and school, can take on new meaning when seen in the light of the family as the Church in the Home. The surest testament to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit is the transformation of lives. Dedicated to the idea of the Church in the Home, the Spirit can transform family life from the mundane to the miraculous. It may be as simple as assuming a new perspective on what we so often mistake as the ordinary.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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