Household Conversion

What is household conversion? Household conversion? You may be unfamiliar with that idea, but if you’ve read any of the Book of Acts or some of the New Testament, the idea may be more familiar to you than you realize. Often there are snippets or phrases that we find especially in the New Testament where it talks about when one person comes to saving faith in Jesus. This then often the entire household, it says, comes to faith.

Sometimes one is baptized, and it says the entire household is baptized. We have some examples of that in the Book of Acts, acts chapter ten and eleven, when Peter meets a Roman centurion named Cornelius. It says that after Cornelius receives a message that Cornelius’s household believed and they too were baptized. We come across that in Acts chapter 16, which we looked at just this past week with Lydia and with the Philippian jailer, when they came to faith in Jesus, their households came to faith, and it says that their households were baptized. Or you have a guy in Acts chapter 18 named Crispus who was a leader in the Jewish synagogue at Corinth who came to faith.

His whole family also came to faith. And then you also have little snippets of things similar to that kind of phraseology in some of Paul’s epistles. So what are we to make of that? When one person gets saved, does that mean that automatically everybody else in the family has to do that? How does that whole thing work?

Well, we have to explore by asking just a couple of basic questions. One is what is actually meant by a household back then? Back then, a household like today means typically two or more people. But back then, often, that could include extended family. It might include servants or staff, it could include relatives, it might include children, but not necessarily.

It depended kind of like again today. So nothing clearly, though, in those texts tell us exactly who was involved. And even in Acts chapter ten and eleven with Cornelius, it says that he invited his relatives and his closest friends to meet Peter and to hear from Peter. So perhaps extended family and household could include some close friends. We don’t totally know.

So we have to kind of move on then to the next question of saying, can a person build a theology or a belief system out of this idea of household conversion and say, that’s why infants should be baptized, or that’s why young children should come to faith and be baptized too? Well, I think we have to be careful there because there is not one single instance in Scripture that is overtly indicating that an infant is to be baptized, or of a record of an infant actually being baptized in Scripture. Now, we as a church, we do not practice infant baptism. And sometimes that question comes up because people are like, well, but look at these instances of households coming to faith. What we do see in Scripture is not infants being baptized, but more often than not, a parent dedicating their child to the Lord.

So that’s why we practice child dedication where we pray over families whenever they bring their children to us and are looking for support and saying that they desire for this child to one day come to faith on their own because one person’s faith doesn’t save another person’s faith. And so we are wanting to come along these families and to pray for them and to offer up our support. And so that’s what we do in the form of our child dedication. So there is no indication that with these households we read about in the Book of Acts, say for instance, or the New Testament epistles, that there were necessarily infants there. Now, also one question that should come up is does this necessarily imply some sort of force or demand, almost like telling a child that you’re forcing them to eat their vegetables.

You’re going to do this whether you like it or not. It’s almost like telling a person, well, you’re going to get baptized whether you like it or not. Again, that doesn’t seem to be the spirit of what we read in Scripture that the whole of the whole council of Scripture speaks about individual accountability. So probably the easiest and the simplest and the most logical response that we can have is that when it says that a household comes to faith in the new Testament, what it’s saying is that those who are old enough and able and capable enough to voluntarily make a decision on their own to profess faith in Jesus and to be baptized and to understand that did so, and that anything more than that is adding things to scripture that aren’t really there. Now, I do want to be sure, though, to point out it is important for us to recognize the influence that family members have on one another.

And I think that’s also part of these passages as well. That when a father comes to faith in Jesus, the closer relationship that he has with his spouse or perhaps or with the children, the more possible that those who do not know Jesus in the rest of his family will follow his example. Or the same with a mother or the same with a young person who comes to faith. And the parents and others in the family see that. So it makes sense that Lydia’s family would follow her example and come to faith.

It makes sense that the Philippian jailer would see this incredible story of change in the Philippian jailer’s life and then the rest of them would follow suit. So it doesn’t necessarily mean that anybody demanded that that they do these things. These were individual choices. But salvation when it comes to one often comes to an entire household. That’s often how the Holy Spirit works.

And that’s something for us to keep in mind as well. So thanks so much for these questions. Continue to tune as we address these questions in the coming weeks.