The Church is a Family

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that in Christian culture today we have lost the sense of the church as a family. In a culture where loose affiliations and a fleeting sense of commitment abound, it is apparent that the church is hardly distinguishable from the world. If we get upset about something within the church we attend, we often just hop to a different one down the street where we can “get fed.” In a culture where we often lament the breakdown of family values, we would do well to once again realize that Scripture identifies the church as “a family.”

Here are 4 examples:

Galatians 6:9-10
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Ephesians 2:18-20, 22
For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

1 Peter 4:16-17
Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

1 Peter 2:4-5
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

The Greek word used in the NT that we translate “members of a household” is oikeios.” One lexicon defines this term as “‘Belonging to the house;’ persons who are related by kinship or circumstances and form a closely knit group, with focus on association in common cause or belief.”[1]

What does it look like to be “members of the household of God” in these different NT contexts? 

Galatians 6: 

  • We pursue relationship with each other.
  • We encourage one another.
  • We take special attention to “doing good” to one another.

Ephesians 2:

  • We treat each other as a family, not as strangers.
  • We work hard to destroy anonymity within the local church.
  • We commit to one another as “members” of the household of God.
  • We remember and live in light of our foundation on God’s word.
  • We read, memorize, preach, and teach God’s word day by day.
  • We submit to Jesus as the cornerstone of our foundation.
  • We look to Jesus and submit to Jesus as the head of our household of faith.
  • We take seriously our responsibility to be a dwelling place for God within our city.
  • We do these things as we are created into a context where the Spirit dwells and the gospel advances.

1 Peter 4

  • We build one another up in the midst of suffering.
  • We develop a biblical understanding of suffering and we work hard to persevere with one another as we suffer.
  • We hold each other accountable.
  • We bear each other’s burden, and speak truth to one another.

1 Peter 2

  • We build each other up, knowing that together we are being built by Jesus as a “spiritual house.”
  • We take discipleship (following Jesus) seriously.
  • We actively work out our faith in community, knowing that Jesus saves us and calls us together as his house.
  • We surrender to the work of the Spirit, knowing that it is God who works in us to sanctify and unify us.

I think it’s obvious that living as “members of the household” in the context of a church means going beyond “loose affiliation” with a local church. Coming to a church to consume preaching or music ministry, or because we feel like the kids are well-entertained for the 90 minutes on Sunday, really falls far short of this identifying metaphor.

How do you foster the ‘family environment’ in your local church? Two suggestions:

1) Strongly encourage church membership.
The process for becoming a member can help equip each person in the local church to be the church.

2) Architect community life with some form of small group dynamic.
It may be easier for people to attend church while remaining anonymous, but it is impossible to be anonymous in a family. Some form of small group dynamic in the community life of every church that contains more than a few dozen people is vitally important.

[1] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.) (694). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.