Church Is a Family, Not an Event by K. Kandiah
This editorial by Kandiah makes many of the same points I have been making on this blog the last several years.
Church is not just about spreading the Gospel (as so many Christians incorrectly assume), but God designed the church to also serve as a community, another family, where widowed, single, and divorced adults could get their needs for companionship met.
But most churches today do not want to engage in that role; all the church-goers want to go home to their homes in the suburbs with their biological families and just hang out with their families.
Many church-going Christians don’t care to invite over the divorcee’ or the widower or the never married woman and include any of those people in their lives.
The Bible refers to fellow Christians as “brothers and sisters,” but how often do we treat them as family?
…More Than an Event
I have met many pastors and church members who can tell similar stories. As I visit many churches that are embracing people in desperate need of family, my eyes are continually being opened not only to what family truly can be but to what church as family truly can be.
This shift in perception of what church is, and what church is for, has huge implications, not just for our own personal spiritual development but for our understanding of mission, evangelism, worship, justice, hospitality, and discipleship.
Unfortunately, a lot of our language presents and reinforces the idea that church is an event where religious goods and services are dispensed.
We talk about “going to church” more often than we talk about “being” the church.
We hear terms like “shopping around” for a church or “church hopping.” Some Christians are willing to commute long distances to attend a “brand” of church that works for them.
…This may stem way back to the 16th century. The definition of the church that I hear quoted most often comes from the Augsburg Confession: “The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.”
This definition, originally formulated during the Protestant Reformation, was worded specifically to exclude Roman Catholic churches. It bravely challenged the heresy of its day, but it was also reactionary and reductionist, portraying the church as an event where the saints congregate to hear gospel preaching and receive sacraments.
Add this heritage to modern consumer society, and the mindset of church as an event becomes even harder to escape. …
… What would happen if, instead of a flawed sub-biblical overemphasis on the church as an event where religious goods are dispensed in a transactional arrangement, we were to adopt the generative biblical metaphor of the church as family, that is “the household of God” as the primary influence of our conception and practice of church?
Church as family is not a new metaphor; however, our understanding of church as family may have become so restricted, limited, and skewed that it needs an urgent rethink. This particularly struck home to me when I was in Kenya listening to a Christian from the north of the country give his testimony.
This man became a Christian from a strongly Muslim background, was thrown out of his family, and was ultimately forced to flee for his life. He sought sanctuary in a church that welcomed him with open arms. They gave him a corner of the building to live in, with a mattress on the floor and food generously delivered on a daily basis.
The man was extremely grateful for their hospitality. But, he confided, the hardest part of his week was on Sunday morning after the church service when everyone went home to their families and their Sunday lunches, leaving him alone.
Although he was welcome to make his home inside the church building, he did not actually feel welcome inside the homes of the church family.
This church was so near and yet so far from Christlike hospitality. The church building provided shelter, the church members provided sustenance, and the church event provided sacraments and spiritual teaching—but none of these were a substitute for the lifelong intimate commitment of a family.
…In the same way, we misunderstand what God intended by church if we only turn up to Sunday services, Bible studies, and prayer meetings and exclude the Bible’s clear teaching of the family responsibility that church members have to “love one another,” “carry each other’s burdens,” “encourage one another,” and “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (John 13:34, Gal. 6:2, 1 Thess. 5:11, Heb. 10:24).
…There is a depth of intimacy indicated in these greetings that may well have been forged during times of common persecution, separation from wider biological family, and also common courageous service to God in difficult and dangerous times.
Paul’s use of familial language to describe the relationships between Christians in the church community echoes Jesus’ own approach. Famously, once when Jesus was teaching and his biological mother and brothers were outside waiting to speak to him, he corrected his disciples stating that his family members were “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt. 12:49–50).
…According to Jesus, those who convert to Christianity at great relational cost will receive many times more brothers, sisters, parents, and children in the present age (Luke 18:29–30). How is this possible? It is through the alternative family of the church that we receive relationships that can act as a substitute for those that we have lost.
…However, I think the challenge can be pressed further. The problem with the family metaphor for those of us used to a Western nuclear family is that it seems to suggest that the church should be a small and cozy huddle, with strong boundaries between those who are welcome and those who are not—an inward-focused community that looks out for the needs of its own. But this is not the Bible’s model of family.
In other words, when family is used as a generative metaphor for church, it can transform not only our preconceptions and expectations of church, but also our preconceptions and expectations of family.
A non-nuclear, welcoming, diverse family can make the difference to all sorts of vulnerable people and model to an increasingly divided and isolated world a glimpse of the coming kingdom of God.
The church as family offers a healthy counterbalance to the church-as-event mindset. It can be an antidote to more individualistic, sadly even consumptive models of church participation that are common today.
Families look out for one another; families are committed to each other for the long haul. They support one another through tragedy and triumph. Families are not making economic calculations about cost and benefit—they are committed for better or worse, for richer and poorer.
I have addressed many of those subjects before on my own blog, such as:
(Link): “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” – one of the most excellent Christian rebuttals I have seen against the Christian idolatry of marriage and natalism, and in support of adult singleness and celibacy – from CBE’s site
(Link): Why Christians Need To Stress Spiritual Family Over the Nuclear Family – People with no flesh and blood relations including Muslims who Convert to Christianity – Also: First World, White, Rich People Problems
(Link): The Neglected God Calls Us to Reach Out to the Neglected at Christmas: God with Us and Them—Immanuel (Re: People Who Are Alone At the Holidays)