In the last two blog posts I talked about dysfunctional families: first in Palestine, and then in America. Let’s get to the good news. Let’s talk a bit about the functional family. To do so, let’s set the stage of how the early church thought about the issue of family. In the early church, the issue of family was a huge deal for several reasons:
First, in ancient Near Eastern society, individual identity was largely subsumed by familial identity. Where we place a high value on our individual worth, ancient Near Easterners (along with most of those in the history of the world, actually) would have derived their primary worth from their extended family.
Second, the family was a hugely significant because many of those in the early church had been cast out of their families because of their decision to join this emerging group of Christ-followers. Those from Jewish families would have been cast out as following a false Messiah, as being tritheists, and for subverting the Jewish religious order. Romans who followed Christ would have been cast out of their families for being part of a religious group that was branded as being disruptive, traitorous, and even cannibalistic.
It was no small thing for this group new believers, many of whom had been rejected by their own families, to understand the new family they belonged to.
In Ephesians 3, Paul describes this surprising family:
“This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel… For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being…”
We often talk about the Body of Christ in church today. And that indeed is a Scriptural metaphor, and an important one, for understanding our identity in Christ and in relation to other believers. But we don’t often hear about the new family we have been given: a family made out of every ethnicity, all with one true Father. Our true family is the family of God.
We have been given a new last name – we are sons and daughters of God. That was a great hope to the first century believer. I think it’s a great hope in this day and age as well. A day and age where families are breaking down in very real ways. A day and age where very few people find their homes to be safe places.
It’s also a great call for the church. We’re called not just to be a group or a club or a gathering… we’re called to be a family. That doesn’t mean we won’t have in-house problems, but it does mean that those problems happen between brothers and sisters of one Father. It means that our churches should be places of refuge and safety. Places of honesty. Places where ‘kitchen conversations’ happen, not just foyer conversations. Places where we can confront in love and be confronted in love.
Is your church this kind of place? Why not? How are you standing in the way of it being that kind of place?
Praise to the Father for naming us his own. May he bless you, my brother and my sister, and may he build up his family in local churches in every corner of the globe.