When we become Christians, God adopts us as His children (I John 3:1). And this new relationship with God as our Father automatically brings us into a brother/sister relationship with all other Christians (Mark 3:31-35). We are members of a new kind of family – not genetically related, but all born of the Spirit (John 1:12,13) and acknowledging one Father.
The household of God (I Timothy 3:15)
At its best, the family is the greatest institution on earth. In our families, we should be secure and accepted.
“Home is the place where,
When you have to go there,
They have to take you in.” (Robert Frost)
A Christian moving to a new town or city should be able to expect to find a warm welcome in any local church fellowship. “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.” (Romans 12:13) And generally, that has been my experience.
“Love the family of believers.” (I Peter 2:17) We should be caring for each other, supporting each other, and sticking up for each other. A home (or church) like this is a pleasure to visit or to belong to. Christians are commanded to show love to everybody, but we have a special responsibility towards our fellow believers (Galatians 6:10). For an example, see Acts 11:27-30. The famine prediction was not just for the church’s information; it was given so that they could take action. In these days, when communications are so much more rapid, we have no excuse for not helping our Christian brothers and sisters in need all over the world.
Making the effort
But happy family life doesn’t just ‘happen’. It requires effort and commitment from the various members, and is counter-cultural to Western individualism. Many modern British families are fragmented by divorce; and even those living under the same roof may spend very little time actually relating to each other; they sleep, eat and watch TV separately. All too easily, this cultural model can seep into our church family life. In some churches, the members meet for Sunday worship but then go their separate ways for the rest of the week. Many Christians seem to think that attending church is optional – and opt out of it altogether. “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian” may be technically true, but it denies the whole purpose of our salvation – you could get married and never live with your spouse, but why bother?
The point of church membership is not to have our names on some list (still less to earn ‘brownie points’ in God’s eyes for attendance at services), but to interact with our Christian brothers and sisters, to love them and build them up in their relationship with Jesus, and to be loved in return. “Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.” (Hebrews 10:24,25)
There are also enough dysfunctional families around to warn us that things can go badly wrong. Behind the front door and the net curtains can lurk serious evils: abuse, domestic violence, sibling rivalry, and personality clashes, to name just a few. There are, sadly, many churches like this too. Family feuds are the worst kind of quarrel (Proverbs 18:19); and our interdenominational squabbles can look very similar.
One problem is that, just as in our human families, we don’t always see eye to eye with our Christian brothers and sisters! We can choose our friends, but not our relatives; and although most of us have some choice over which church fellowship we belong to, there are still likely to be some members whom we don’t find easy to get on with. There may even be some ‘black sheep’ that we would all rather disown – but we mustn’t. We are family.