The traditional view of the composition of the early Christian communities is that they are from the proletariat. Ah ah early Marxist interpreters of Christianity make a great to do with this. It's a movement of the proletariat. Ah, it's essentially from the lowest classes. but if you actually look at the Book of Acts, and you look at Paul, and you begin to collect the people who are named, or identified in some way. Here you have um Erastus, the City Treasurer of Corinth.
An ancient inscription with the name of Paul's follower, Erastus, can still be seen in the ruins of Corinth.
Wayne A. Meeks:
You have Gaius of Corinth, whose home is big enough ah to let him be not only Paul's host but the host to all of the Churches of Corinth, all of the little household communities can meet in his house at one time. You have Stephanos and his household who have been host to the community. You have Lydia in Philippi, who is ah the seller of purple goods, a luxury fabric. You have Prisca and Aquilla, and we wonder why the woman is usually mentioned before her husband. She must be a woman of some consequence.
Wayne A. Meeks: You have quite a variety of different social levels represented in these early Christian communities. Not people at the absolutely top level, you have, with the exception possibly of Erastus, ah, no one from the aristocratic orders - no one who would be a member of the city council. Um, you have no agricultural slaves who are at the bottom of the hierarchy. But, in the rest of the social pyramid, everything in between, you seem to have representatives in these early Christian groups.
Wayne A. Meeks:
So we begin to get a picture of upwardly mobile people, to use a modern anachronistic way of describing them. Uh, people who have mixed status, who probably will be viewed by the aristocracy outside as uh nouveau riche, not people who don't quite belong. But in their own eyes perhaps deserve more status than they are getting from the larger society and have found within this community uh a role of leadership and a role which is recognized.
The worship of an early Christian house church probably centered around the dinner table. The term communion actually comes from this experience of the dining fellowship. We also know that all other aspects of worship that we think of as going with early Christian practice probably happened around the dinner table as well. Paul refers to one person having a song and another person bringing a prayer. Everyone is contributing to the banquet whether it's in the form of food or in the form of their piety and worship.
Throughout the New Testament and particularly in Paul's letters and in the Book of Acts, we find that women owned the houses in which the early Christians met. This I think is significant because I don't think the women who owned these houses were simply providing coffee and cookies in effect for the Christian community. I think that this probably gave them some avenue to power in actual roles in the church.
Paul speaks of women as his fellow evangelists and teachers and patrons and friends, as he does of men. But, I don't see a picture of a Golden age of egalalitarism back there. I see a new unformed diverse and threatened movement which allowed a lot more fluidity for women in certain roles, for awhile, in some places and not in others.