So then . . . you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. (Ephesians 2:19)
A Strong Sense Of Family Ties
According to Barna, the majority of Americans say that family is an essential part of their identity. When asked the question, “How much does family make up your personal identity?,” 62% of those surveyed responded, “A lot.” Thus Barna concluded that “People rank family as more central to their identity than any other surveyed factor,” including faith, nationality, ethnicity, or career.
Based on these findings, we must conclude that our culture has a strong sense of family ties. And this should come as no surprise, really. It makes total sense that throughout the thousands of meals, dozens of family vacations, arguments, Christmases, report cards, and countless other experiences we’ve shared with our parents and siblings, our sense of who we are, for better or for worse, has been formed and solidified by our experience of this thing called family.
But what if I told you that the family’s identity-forming power is not an end in itself, but is a divinely designed reality that’s meant to point us to something much bigger than any one biological family? Or to be more specific, what if the New Testament itself re-interprets and re-appropriates the concept of the family so that, because of the Gospel, it has everything to do with life in the local church?
“The Complicated, Wonderful Truth”
For a biblical approach to these questions, I want to commend to you some insights from Andy Crouch, the executive editor of Christianity Today. If we’ll hear him out, he may just provoke our prayerful consideration concerning what he calls a “complicated, wonderful truth” about our “first family,” the local church. He remarks, “As a Christian, I actually don’t believe the biological family is the main place we are meant to be known and loved in a way that leads to wisdom and courage.”
The first family for everyone who wants wisdom and courage in the way of Jesus is the church—the community of disciples who are looking to Jesus to reshape their understanding and their character. And the church is, and can be, family for everyone in a way that biological families cannot. No matter whether your parents are still living—or whether they were ever loving—no matter whether you have a spouse or children or siblings or cousins, you have a family in the church. Of course, not all churches live up to this ideal—any more than all families do—but as our first family, the church is the place we learn to become the persons we were meant to be.
Finally, he concludes,
But if the church is meant to be our first family, it cannot be just a friendly, weekly gathering. The first Christians met in homes, and those homes were not single-family dwellings but Greco-Roman “households” that often included several generations as well as uncles and aunts, clients and indentured servants . . . The church too was a household—a gathering of related and unrelated persons all bound together by grace and the pursuit of holiness.
So here’s the complicated, wonderful truth. If our families are to be all that they are meant to be—schools of wisdom and courage—they will have to become more like the church, households where we are formed into something more than our culture would ask us to be. And if our churches are to be all they are meant to be, they will have to become more like a family—household-like contexts of daily life where we are nurtured and developed into the person we are meant to be and can become.
These insights help us to see that, as American Christians, we may be drawing lines where they were never meant to be drawn. More exactly, it’s all too easy to think of our family life and our church involvement as two delineated entities—one personal and the other religious—which intersect at various points. Such a perception however is far too compartmentalized to bring about the kind of Spiritual flourishing that the New Testament prescribes for our lives.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that your family—that is, your spouse, your children, your parents, your siblings, or anyone else who may fall into that category—will never flourish as God intended without its identity being defined by a local church. Therefore, we must think again about where we are drawing lines between church and family.
After all, the church, being God’s ordained context for true worship (1 Pet. 2:5), is a storehouse of true blessedness. It is where God’s people experience “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). It is where we taste “the powers of the age to come” (Heb. 6:5). Indeed, it is our home away from home—the place where God has promised that He will complete His gracious work of forming us to be courageous and wise followers of Jesus (Phil. 1:6). Therefore, as His disciples, our strongest ties shouldn’t be to our biological family, but to our eternal, Spiritual family.
So as we look to another Lord’s Day when LifePoint Church will gather, not only as people who have common religious convictions and moral values, but as family, let me ask you, Where do your ties tend to be the strongest? Do you see your family as an end in itself? Or do you view those in your house as belonging firstly to God’s house? When we begin to see our families as God’s family, it will change everything about our lives—our finances, our calendar, our recreation, our vacationing, and our priorities. I know all that sounds very radical, even crazy—because, from a worldly perspective, it is! But it’s also totally worth it.
Indeed, when we get serious about belonging to God’s household, we will receive His greatest blessings for our lives. It all comes down to our sense of identity, our understanding of who we are meant to be—God’s messy, ragamuffin family gathered to worship Him in Christ and share in the life that only He can give.