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Some rough draft notes on a lecture on the image of the church as a family.

The Church as the Family of God has two elements:

  1. It displays God visibly – particularly the love of God.
  2. It effects of the love of God.

1.  The Display of the Love of God

The Church is a witnessing community.

The Church exists to display the glory of God.

In The Community of Jesus, “The Church and God’s Glory”, Christopher W. Morgan notes five ways in which the Church displays God’s glory:

  1. Our salvation glorifies God by displaying the inexhaustible nature of his grace throughout the age to come.
  2. The very existence as the church glorifies God by displaying his wisdom.
  3. Our unity glorifies God by displaying his oneness.
  4. Our love glorifies God by displaying his love.
  5. Our holiness glorifies God by displaying his holiness. (232-233).

Interestingly it is household of God, the family of God imagery which Scripture uses to underscore and display God’s glory.

Love and unity seem plainly to belong to the Family of God (or as Minear puts, “The Fellowship in Faith”), but how does that relate to holiness, grace or wisdom – or indeed any of the other things which the Church or displays? Yet, as we begin to examine this matter, we quickly find that it is almost impossible to note the love and unity of the Church without in some manner considering grace, holiness or wisdom.

First, let us consider love and unity as displayed in the Church.

Ephesians 4:1–6 (ESV)

 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

 

Notice that the unity of God, Father, Son & Spirit. The Spirit brings that unity to the Church with the holiness of humility, gentleness, patience, love, peace.

The operation of God in the Church is to create unity. In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul makes much of the effect of the Gospel being to bring together that which was previously kept apart by the operations of this world.

 

Indeed, that is actually what we see in practice when we look to Spirit’s work in the early church. In Acts 2:42-47 we see that the Church acted as household: concerns, life together, eating, worshipping, sharing property. This household was built around the Word of God and the worship of God.

 

In Acts 4, new converts are added to the existing Christians (4:4). When Peter and John were released, it is to the congregated believers to which they came. (4:23). This was their home, their household. The believers cared for one-another in material terms. (4:32-37). To be a Christian is to be in this family which displays a unity which is difficult to understand.

 

This immediately begins to implicate the grace and wisdom of God.

 

In his book, The Church According to Paul, James W. Thompson notes that the Church in the ancient world comprised a community unlike anything else in society. Rather than being a group of like-minded or similarly situated people, the Church was a group of people who brought together by the call of God. God was the one assembling the members of this household, not individuals deciding of their own to come into the Church.

 

This new household exists as a result of God who creates it (by his wisdom) and creates according to measure that he determines (holiness), it begins and continues by his grace.

 

This also immediately calls into view the other images of the Church, the Church as New Creation and People of God:

Paul’s attempted community formation in a pagan culture provides insights for the church in a post-Christian culture. Paul knows nothing of the individual Christian, for people respond to the Gospel by living in communities. As people united by the confession of the death and resurrection of Christ (1 Thess 4:14) the church is unlike other communities, which are defined by ethnicity, gender, social status, and the personal choice of the members. If the church lives by its confession, it will discover, with a Thessalonians, that the majority culture is likely to reject it and to respond with distain or hostility. If we are disturbed that the Christian faith has lost its privilege place in Western society, the Thessalonian Church is a reminder that the first communities had no expectation of public acceptance. From the beginning, the church has lived in tension with its culture because it was brought together by beliefs that most people do not accept. The task of the Christian community is to be faithful under difficult circumstances and to define itself by its basic confession rather than by the standards comment to other communities. 48

The Fellowship of Faith exists because it is a New Creation, it is the People of God, and thus will only continues in love as a body.

We could also consider the matter of holiness in terms of working out the implications of being in a family. Paul refers to the Christian’s corporately as “saints” (1 Corinthians 1:2). When Paul speaks about sexual immorality in 1 Thessalonians he does in explicitly household terms, “let no one transgress and wrong his brother” (1 Thessalonians 4:6).

The work of sanctification becomes the work of the Christian fellowship:

1 Thessalonians 5:12–15 (ESV)

12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.

 

Paul writes to his “brothers”. The “brothers”, those of his family, are to give special concern for those who teach them in the Lord. They are be peaceful among themselves. They are live in love. They are correct or encourage one-another. We see a very similar model in Hebrews 3:12–13 (ESV)

12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

 

Note again the language of family, “brothers”. Holiness is the task of the congregation.

Thus we see that the display of love and unity is also a display of God’s wisdom in creating such a community, and working out holiness in the lives of the people through the familial relationships, and showing the grace of God. Indeed, so densely related are these various respects that it is quickly difficult to favor one over the others.

 

  1. The Church Effects the Love of God

In creating such a community based upon the call of God, the Church faced a problem, these people who came into the family were being displaced from their families of origin. As Jesus promised:

Luke 12:51–53 (ESV)

51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Writing on the other side of the Cross, Peter wrote to those who experienced precisely this loss of friends and families: He refers to them as “exiles” and “sojourners” (1 Peter 1:1). Later Peter writes of the practical effects of this life:

1 Peter 4:3–4 (ESV)

For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you;

Thus, for those who have lost their household, the restoration of a household is a great blessing. It is indeed a need. Thus, Peter speaks at length as to how to not just with the outside world but with one-another inside this new house:

1 Peter 4:8–11 (ESV)

 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Indeed, the loss of one family is more than compensated by the restoration of a greater family of God:

Mark 10:29–30 (ESV)

29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

Thus, the Church as the Family of God effects the love of God. Paul says this in 2 Corinthians 1 in the context of suffering:

2 Corinthians 1:3–4 (ESV)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

 

  1. The Importance of the Church as the Family of God

The image of family most strongly evokes the element of unity and love. That is precisely the most important display of the Church – and, our failure to recognize this has gravely wounded the church:

John 13:34–35 (ESV)

 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

 

And

John 17:21 (ESV)

21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

Francis Schaeffer in his wonderful book The Mark of a Christian: makes the obvious observation: It is our love for our brothers which marks as Christians, and our unity which testifies to Christ.

 Notice, however, that 17:21 says, “that they all may be one …” The emphasis, interestingly enough, is exactly the same as in John 13—not that those in certain parties in the church should be one, but that all born-again Christians should be one.

Now comes the sobering part. Jesus goes on in 17:21 to say something that always causes me to cringe. If as Christians we do not cringe, it seems to me we are not very sensitive or very honest, because Jesus here gives us the final apologetic. What is the final apologetic? “That they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” This is the final apologetic.

In John 13 the point was that if an individual Christian does not show love toward other true Christians, the world has a right to judge that he is not a Christian. Here Jesus is stating something else which is much more cutting, much more profound: we cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of the oneness of true Christians.

Now that is frightening. Should we not feel some emotion at this point?

Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: a Christian Worldview, vol. 4 (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982), 189.

 

Without a visible display of actual love our witness is ruined. Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, in Total Church turn this into a practical point of evangelism. Perhaps the reason our witness is so ineffective is because we never actually look like the people to whom we witness:

 

Christian community is a vital part of Christian mission. Mission takes place as people see our love for one another. We all know that the gospel is communicated both through the words we say and the lives we live. What Jesus says is that it is the life we live together that counts.

 

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People often tell me how they have tried telling their unbelieving friends about Jesus, but they do not seem interested. So they want to know what to do next. My answer is to find ways of introducing them to the Christian community. The life of the Christian community provokes a response.