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How a person functions as a member of a church is determined to a great extant the person’s images of what a church is.
If the church is understood as . . . then a good member . . .
• Country Club participates, pays his dues, invites guests
• Corporation makes a profit, attends meetings, protects image
• Spiritual Co-op gives in order to get, does his share
• Lecture Series listens, takes notes, attends
• Theater is on time, dresses appropriately, is a critic
• Counseling Centre is open and honest, comes to get needs met
• Political Activist Group supports the cause, debates outsiders, raises funds
The question before us is whether there is a Biblically prescribed model of what the church should look like that will inform how we are to view our responsibilities and the nature of our participation within it.
The Church as Family of Families
We believe that there is indeed, and we refer to this model the “Family of Families”. Many people refer to the church metaphorically as a family, but we believe that this model is more than a metaphor. We see both logical and scriptural support for this idea.
Logical Support: The logical unfolding of this concept is developed from a few basic Biblical truths. First, every Christian is adopted son or daughter of God. This is especially emphasized in texts like John 1:12&13 and 1 John 3:1.
John 1:12 But to all who did receive him, the one's believing in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
1 John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.
If every Christian is a child of God, then it stands to reason that we are to relate to one another as brothers and sisters.
Rom. 8:29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
The language of “brothers” or “brothers and sisters” as the Greek word adlephoi is translated is used 271 times in the New Testament in all New Testament books except for Titus and Jude. Joseph Hellerman – a researcher on the early church and Professor of New Testament Language and Literature, finds this surprising for in the Greco-roman world “the closest family bond in ancient Mediterranean society was not the bond of marriage. It was the bond between siblings … Correspondingly, the most treacherous act of human disloyalty in an ancient family was not disloyalty to one’s spouse. It was the betrayal of one’s brother.” Hellerman, Joseph H. (2009). When the Church Was a Family (Kindle Locations 896-899). Hellerman writes in his book, "When the Church was a Family", that other religions of the Greco-Roman era did not dare use such familial language to speak of the relationship between their adherents. The New Testament does and goes beyond, making practical application of the spiritual reality of our brotherhood.
1 John 3:10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
1John 3:11 For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
1John 3:16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
John contrasts our relationship as brothers and sister in Christ to Cain and Abel’s relationship as physical brothers, and he challenges us to not just love one another in word or talk, but actually in deed and truth, not closing our hearts or our hands toward one another, but meeting one practically and physically meeting another’s needs.
So if we are all in some real way and not merely metaphorically, children of God by the Spirit, and if we are all in some real way and not merely metaphorically, brothers and sisters of one another by the Spirit, would it not seem to be also the case that a local church would be in some real way and not merely metaphorically, a family by the Spirit?
Scriptural Support: If the above were true, we would expect to find strong scriptural support for the idea of church as family. Indeed, this is precisely what we find.
Jesus' Vision of the Church as Family:
Matt. 12:46 While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. 48 But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
Luke 18: 23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. 24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” 28 And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” 29 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”
We see the fruition of Jesus’ vision particularly in the book of Ephesians. The book of Ephesians was written at a time when Paul was most focused on established believers in their faith and in the churches he had planted.
They needed to understand the nature of the church, just as we do. Paul was writing to churches that struggled with the ethnic tension of having Jewish and Gentile Christians worshipping together. In 2:19 Paul declares that Jesus has torn down the wall of hostility and separation so that the Gentiles are “no longer strangers and aliens, but [are] fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” Paul goes on to reveal that part of his apostolic task was to “reveal for everyone what is the plan (or administration) of the mystery (that Jews and Gentiles are co-heirs together)” (3:9). The word plan literally speaks of the “household order”. The church is a visible expression of the manifold wisdom of God to demonstrate that our Three-in-One God can bring together unity out of diversity. Out of all the families of the earth, he is making a family.
We see Paul’s concern for this household order in 1 Timothy 3:15, in which he explains that his instructions to Timothy in establishing the church were “so you would know how to conduct yourself in the household of God.” The church is based on a household model – not a business, not a country club, not a lecture series, not a political organization. This is why in the book of Ephesians, after Paul unfolds the mystery of the plan of God in the church, there is a big section detailing a household order for individual Christian families to follow. What do we make of this abrupt transition from church to home? If we understand Paul’s concept of the church as family of families, this makes perfect sense. If the local church is indeed based on a family model, then it stand to reason that the health and ordering of a church will be directly related to the health and ordering of its families.
Two core truths
Two core truths are derived from the concept of the church as a family of families. The first is that
1) Church as Big Family: the local church should resemble and function as a large extended family. This truth alone should revolutionize our understanding as what it means to be a member of a church. However, there is another point:
2) Family as Small Church: Every Christian family should resemble and function as a small church. This truth may well be as revolutionary as the first.
It is perhaps in I Timothy that we see this household concept applied most practically. In Chapter 3, Timothy gives guidelines for leadership in God’s household the church:
1Tim. 3:1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?
In 5:1Timothy is instructed to deal with people in the church on the basis of family relationships: 1Tim. 5:1 Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.
Later in the chapter, he is given instruction as to how to care for the widows of the church. He says in verse 16 If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows. The idea is: if she has family to take care of her, great, if not, we are her family.
Other Areas for Reflection as We Grow Our Church as Family
a. Evangelism and small groups
b. Ministry participation (not because of a program, but because your part of the family.
c. Giving: not a tithe like we’re a temple, but we’re a family that has bills to pay and we need to take care of our brothers and sisters.
Consider how the concept of Family as Small Church might look like in terms of:
a. Marriage relationship
c. Family devotions and times of prayer
d. Christian Education