When the Church Was a Family, part 2

As church-going Americans, we have been socialized to believe that our individual fulfillment and our personal relationship with God are more important than any connection we might have with our fellow human beings, whether in the home or in the church. We have, in a most subtle and insidious way, been conformed to this world.

… the Bible says almost nothing about making the kinds of decisions that face young adults.

One cannot find a passage detailing a series of criteria for choosing a mate or a text that will help a collegian decide which major to pick. God’s Word is relatively silent on these topics. And we should not be surprised. For all its timeless relevance, the Bible remains a collection of strong-group documents written by people who shared a collectivist worldview.

People in biblical times simply did not make major life decisions on their own.

In the New Testament world the group took priority over the individual.

The Christian communities established by Peter, Paul, and others in the Roman Empire were strong-group, surrogate family units in which the good of the group took priority over the desires and aspirations of the individual members.

For the early Christians, the church was not an institutional organization with a mortgage payment. The church was a living organism with a mission.

The strong-group outlook of the New Testament church meant that the early Christians did not sharply distinguish between commitment to God and commitment to God’s family.

Upon conversion we gain both a new Father and a new set of brothers and sisters. Nothing here strikes us as particularly unorthodox. The early Christians, however, would have understood the above assertion to be true not only positionally but also relationally, that is, as a reasonable description of everyday life in the local church.

This reality cannot be overemphasized. Jesus and His followers did not define loyalty to God solely in terms of a low-group, individualistic “personal relationship” with Jesus. Nor, by the way, did they define it as loyalty to the church as an institutional organization (more on this later). For the early Christians, loyalty to God found its tangible daily expression in unswerving loyalty to God’s group, the family of surrogate siblings who called Him “Father.”

This is the lens through which we need to read Jesus’ variegated teachings about family in the Gospels. People in Mediterranean antiquity had to leave one family in order to join another. If we are truly serious about returning to our biblical roots, where our relationships with our fellow human beings are concerned, our priority list should probably look something like this:

(1st) God’s Family — (2nd) My Family — (3rd) Others

This represents a radical reinterpretation of what it means to follow Jesus.

When the Church Was a Family: Recapturing Jesus’ Vision for Authentic Christian Community – Hellerman


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