When the Church Was a Family, part 3

Unfortunately, most Western readers treat “brothers” in Paul’s letters much as we would a punctuation mark, or perhaps as some sort of aside with little theological import. Such an approach is clearly untenable in view of what we have learned about the importance of sibling relations in the New Testament world.

The apostle Paul clearly adopted Jesus’ model for Christian community, as indicated by the extensive use of family language in his letters. But Paul’s vision was not an easy sell, even to people in a collectivist culture.

The first followers of Jesus conceived of loyalty to God primarily in terms of loyalty to God’s group. To be committed to God was to be committed to His family. The inevitable result was that Christians were torn between loyalty to God’s family and loyalty to the natural family. The conflict surfaces often in early Christian literature, where we find numerous warnings about the spiritual dangers of excessive attachment to one’s natural family.

God’s plan for His people ultimately serves a much greater and more encompassing aim—that through His people our great God and Savior would fully and finally receive the glory that is His due. As Peter expressed it: “you are . . . ‘a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises’ of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9).

To be sold out to God (and thereby actualize our justification) is to be sold out to God’s group (and thereby actualize our familification). We need to cultivate both the vertical and the horizontal dimensions of what happened to us at salvation, as we seek to mature in the Lord.

We have removed from the gospel what the Bible views as central to the sanctification process, namely, commitment to God’s group.

B. Witherington eloquently put it this way: “The community, not the closet, is the place where salvation is worked out.”

Among the early Christians, salvation involved both a new relationship with God and a new relationship with God’s group. If we wish to be faithful to biblical soteriology, we must communicate these truths when we share the gospel with unbelievers.

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


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