Archaeologists have discovered the apparent underground remains of a fourth century church in ancient Laodicea, according to this report.
The comments are alternately annoying and amusing:
1) Calling the New Testament “fourth century” is misleading, since the earliest fragment we have (Papyri 52, aka P52, John 18:31-33, 37-38) is routinely dated 90-125 AD, and is considered one of the last New Testament books written. A very early Revelation manuscript is Papyri 98, dated either second or third century AD.
2)While it is true one can reconstruct almost all of the New Testament from ancient Christian quotes, the Church fathers providing these quotes range from the end of the first century AD to the thirteenth century. Also, it is often hard to tell if a Father is giving an exact quote from a copy of scripture, or quoting from memory (we all know how fallible memory can be!), making the usefulness of fathers’ quotes less than ideal. And for scholars, the million plus quotes from the Church fathers are problematic because there is no complete catalog of them.
3) It is also true house churches were among the original meeting places for Christians. But some formal buildings we would recognize as churches were apparently being built (and subsequently destroyed during the persecutions) in some parts of the Roman Empire before the Edict of Toleration in 313 AD. The real explosion of church building happened after the Edict of Toleration, however, the basilica style church coming into prominence. House churches continued, but their use fell off as the hierarchical church deemed them refuges for heretics.