Family Matters

“I don’t need to go to church.”  

“I don't want to be involved in my church.”

I hear both statements nearly every week from people who profess to be Christians.

And I completely understand it. 

Given the pain that so many have experienced through the failures of the Church…
Given the ways the Church is dangerously entangling itself in politics…
Given the fact that so many churches seem more concerned with seeing their own growth than seeing the growth of their members…

It makes total sense.

As long as we don’t read the Bible. 

As soon as we open the Bible, we find out that the Church is not an institution we stand outside of, but a family we are members of. This is not a cute, ancient metaphor that can be ignored. This is a literal and present truth with serious implications for how we see ourselves, our biological family, our nuclear family, and the local church. Perhaps the best way to think through those implications is simply to review a brief biblical theology of family, which will help provide us with a biblical theology of our involvement in our local church. 


@@The Church is not an institution we stand outside of, but a family we are members of@@


1. God exists eternally in perfect family

God exists eternally in three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each of these persons is equally God (Matthew 28:19-20, 2 Corinthians 13:14) and functions in a unique role in working with the others to fulfill their unified purposes (1 Pet. 1:1-2, Jn. 5:19-30). They exist in eternal unity, mutually serving, honoring, and loving one another in the true and perfect family.


2. We are born outside of God’s family

In John 8:42-47 Jesus contradicts the idea that “we’re all God’s children.” Instead, he teaches that only those who believe in him and his words belong to God. All others belong to the Devil. Thus, since every human being is born in unbelief, every human being is born a member of the Devil’s family. Our actions confirm we are alienated from God and his perfect family (Colossians 1:21) as we follow the Devil’s ways (Ephesians 2:1-3). 


3. Jesus came to bring us into God’s family

As the perfect Son of God, Jesus came to transform us from enemies of God into children of God (Galatians 4:4-5, John 1:12-13). As we are united to Jesus in faith, we become children of God precisely because, and only because, we are one with Jesus - the true and perfect Child of God - by faith (Galatians 3:26).  


4. We are born into God’s family by the Holy Spirit

We only enter God’s family through faith in Jesus, and we only come to Jesus in faith through the work of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14, 12:3). The Bible describes this as a “rebirth” whereby we are born anew by God (John 1:12-13) and his Spirit (Titus 3:5). In this new birth, we are born into a new family -- God’s perfect family -- where Satan is no longer our father and the living God is (Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:6). Yet, since God has chosen to do this for countless men and women, we are not only united to God as Father but to one another as brothers and sisters. 


5. The Church is God’s family and our family

Those who are in Christ have a common Father in God the Father (Romans 8:15-17, Galatians 4:6-7) and a common brother in Jesus (Romans 8:29, Hebrews 2:11). As such, every Christian is a sibling to every member of the Universal Church (the community of all Christians, in all places, throughout all times). However else we might describe our relationship to one another we are – above all else – brothers and sisters (Philemon 15-16). 


@@However else we might describe our relationship to one another, we are - above all - brothers & sisters@@


6. As members of the universal Christian family, we have a unique responsibility to our local church family

A man may have family around the world, but is uniquely and primarily responsible to and for his own household. In the same way, Christians are family to every Christian around the world, but are uniquely and primarily responsible to and for the household God has placed them in. Biblically speaking, the household of God is the local church (1 Timothy 3:14-15) where we experience the most intimate family connections (1 Timothy 5:1-2). As such, it is our duty to care for those within our local congregation (1 Timothy 5:3-10), to select our own leaders (1 Timothy 3:17), submit to our own leaders (Hebrews 13:17), and provide for our own leaders’ needs (5:17-18), to use our spiritual gifts to serve our household (1 Corinthians 12-14), to carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), to restore those in our community who fall into sin (Galatians 6:1), and remove from our household those who refuse to repent (1 Corinthians 5). Christians are to fulfill these and other “one another” passages within the context of their local church. 


7. Our identity as members of our local church family is of greater significance than our identity as members of our biological family

The Bible does not teach that the church is like a family or household, but that the church is God’s family and household. Those who enter into this family must leave their biological family in the process (Matthew 10:37, Luke 14:26). This does not necessarily mean that we physically leave our biological family, though there are circumstances in which this must happen (Matthew 10:34-36). It does necessarily mean that we spiritually leave our biological family and find our primary identity in God’s family rather than in our biological family (Galatians 3:28-29).  


@@The Bible does not teach that the church is like a family, but that it is a family@@


Jesus models this for us (Matthew 12:46-50), and his Apostle teaches it to us when he reveals that the Old Testament teaching that “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” is not ultimately fulfilled in marriage, but in the local church (Ephesians 5:31-32). This is not shocking in light of the fact that the local church – not the biological family, or even the nuclear family – is the temple of God, wherein God’s Spirit dwells (1 Corinthians 3:16, Ephesians 2:22). No other community can provide such an intimate and profound spiritual connection.     


8. Our identity as members of our local church family is of eternally greater significance than our identity as members of our nuclear family

While marriage is created by God as a glorious institution for his glory and our good, it is not eternal (Matthew 22:30). The Church, however, is eternal (Revelation 21:1-3, 9-14). Thus, our central identity is not found in our temporary role as husband/wife or father/mother, but in our eternal role as a child of God and a sibling of God’s people, especially those in the household of our local church. The New Testament epistles provide instruction for how a husband is to fulfill his unique duties to his wife (Colossians 3:19, Ephesians 5:25-33), how a wife is to fulfill her unique duties to her husband (Colossians 3:18, Ephesians 5:22-24), how parents are to fulfill their unique duties to their children (Colossians 3:21, Ephesians 6:4), and how children are to fulfill their unique duties to their parents (Colossians 3:20, Ephesians 6:2-3). Yet these instructions do not appear in isolation. Each of them appears within a larger context of directives for how to fulfill our unique duties to our local church (Colossians 3-4, Ephesians 3-6). Christians have significant responsibilities to their nuclear family as an immensely important portion of their equally significant responsibilities to the local church family. For this reason, many have observed that the local church is a “family of families” who do not exist independently of one another, but interdependently for one another. 


Conclusion

The Scriptures place a high value on biological family, and an especially high value on the nuclear family. Yet, as valuable as these families are, they are both overshadowed by the glories of the family of God (the church in unity with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), in which Christians find their primary identity and in whom God dwells. The specific applications of this truth will vary from individual to individual, but will certainly require that each individual give serious consideration to the local church before making decisions about time, resources, relationships, relocation, and life in general; and, most of all, before saying, "I don't need to go to church" or, "I don't want to be involved in my church."  


Cole Brown is a Humble Beast author and speaker. He is the founding pastor of Emmaus Church, a multi-ethnic church in Portland, and now serves as a missionary helping plant churches in Mexico City, Mexico. Connect with him on twitter or facebook