Acts chapter 16 introduces an unexpected situation for anyone who thinks that all early Christians had a personal "heart-felt" response to God/Christ. At Philippi (a Roman colony, Acts 16:12) Paul and Silas answer the jailer's question: "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" by replying "Believe [2nd singular imperative] in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved—you and your household" (Acts 16:31). In other words the jailer's faith in Jesus saved not only the jailer but also his entire household (family and slaves), and the members of the jailer's household were baptized along with him (Acts 16:34)—even though it was only the jailer who believed Paul and Silas (it is the same in Acts 16:34). The same situation occurred earlier in Acts 16:14-15: Lydia opened her heart to what Paul said, and she was baptized—with her whole household. The situation is very different in Acts 18:8, however, where Crispus, his household, and many others in the city believed Paul, and they were all baptized along with Crispus (see also Acts 11:13-18; John 4:53).
The temptation is to assume that Luke was simply a careless or imprecise writer, and he really intended that these two incidents at Philippi in Acts 16 should be read in the light of the incident in Acts 8, where it is unambiguously stated that the members of the jailer's household actually did believe and hence (one assumes) had a personal religious experience—although that is not what the text says. But what if Luke was being very precise, and the jailer, as paterfamilias (head of a Roman household), had introduced a new deity (i.e., Jesus) to his family household? Hence the jailer's family and slaves would also worship his new household deity. "The pater familias (sic ) was the priest of the household, and those subject to his potestas [authority] assisted in the prayers and offerings [of] the sacra familiaria [family rites]." *
From this perspective the jailer's family and all his household slaves were required to participate in an exercise of Christian (?) worship, even though they did not share in the jailer's religious belief.
That is not unlike the situation in contemporary Christian worship where we find elaborate ritual and liturgy at one end of a wide spectrum of beliefs and worship styles—and a charismatic type of worship at the other end. Think of that wide spectrum as the distance between Paul's charismatic and spirit-led Christianity (the Pauline letters) at its one end, and the institutional religion of the Pastoral Epistles (1st, 2nd Timothy, and Titus) at its other end.
Assuming that you have not abandoned participation in formal Christian worship altogether, where do you assume you fall on the scale between a keen sense of personal union with the Divine and a somewhat perfunctory participation in a ritual, whose beliefs you no longer share? Or put another way: does God's Spirit dwell within you to the extent that you are conscious of an intimate sharing in the divine Presence, or is it simply the case that God is in his heaven while you at a distance "experience" God only in the ritual, liturgy, and Eucharist (or Mass) of formalized worship?
What do you think?
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University
*H. W. Johnston, The Private Life of the Romans (New York: Scott, Foresman, 1903), 29.