God also purposed that His church would function as a family because He designed us to need close intimate relationship with others. The baby from its birth needs the touch and care of its loving parents. Little children need to be embraced and loved from an early age. People of all ages need others they can relate to in the context of open fellowship. We need one another because God created us that way.
That’s why genuine Christianity is really a family and fellowship is the practical way life is shared among the members. God, of course, is the Father in this family and He gives Himself fully to move among His children in the person of the Holy Spirit. This is fellowship—the common sharing of Christ between family members. Through His Son, the Christ, redemption is secured bringing forgiveness of sin and His love, unity and power to meet every need. To the extent that we stay close to one another by allowing Christ to freely mingle with us as individuals and as a cohesive family, we will experience continuing spiritual growth and encouragement as we meet the challenge of life in this fallen world.
God began the history of humanity with a family, and revealed Himself throughout the Old Testament to one family after another. Remember Adam and Eve, Noah and his family of eight, Abraham and His extended family, the families of Isaac, Jacob, and on and on throughout the Old Testament. Jesus conducted His ministry with a small family of followers who walked with Him and learned from Him through the normal activities of any family. They ate together, traveled together, went to weddings, went fishing, and walked through the countryside together as Jesus used the elements of nature as the subjects of His stories.
They were closely knit; sharing intimate knowledge of one another and living in a risk free zone where questions were asked freely and religious dogma was left to the theologians. They talked with Jesus about life, forgiveness, healing, the kingdom, and many normal subjects that families talk about around the dinner table. It was informal, but real and truth-filled. Pretense was discouraged and face to face honesty encouraged. Life flowed freely as the Facilitator of life walked among them. It was a normal life but, because Jesus was there, normal became miraculous as the sick were healed, the blind made to see, the dead raised to life, and wondrous miracles of God’s creativity caused the extraordinary to become ordinary. Jesus was teaching His followers to be the church, to be family, to love and be loved.
When Jesus poured out His Holy Spirit on His waiting followers, family life took on a different but strangely similar form. The disciples continued to meet with Christ through the indwelling Holy Spirit and He continued to walk among them as the Father and honored Guest. They met in homes or wherever they could find as Jesus had done with them and continued their informal times of truth-filled fellowship where face to face encounters made life a wondrous spiritual adventure (Acts 2:46). They devoted themselves to the teachings of the apostles, fellowship, having meals together and prayers (Acts 2:42). This home-centered fellowship would not change throughout the New Testament (Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Phil. 1:2) and on into the first centuries of the church’s growth.
They built no religious buildings, established no clergy, developed no programs, preached no mandated sermons, and collected no tithes because there was nothing to pay for. They were a family and when they met together it was family time with everyone invited to participate in the ongoing quest for truth and genuine Christianity.
At times they met in large groups in the city or in the temple at times of prayer, but mostly they met in small groups because smallness allowed for the intimacy they had known with Jesus during His earthly visit (Acts 2:46). Every teacher knows that effective teaching and learning declines in direct proportion to the rise in the size of the class. The smaller the group the better the sharing and the intimacy necessary for growing close and developing genuine relationship. Jesus knew this and His disciples witnessed this in their times of family fellowship with Him. His ministry was not primarily about reaching the masses so much as changing the lives of a small group of followers who through genuine family life would change the world.
A healthy family is intimate. Love grows strong in an atmosphere of sharing and closeness. Of course problems arise but they are easily dealt with when people are in close proximity. It is virtually impossible for people to experience this intimacy in large groups. It is especially impossible for a pastor to truly get to know his sheep when there are hundreds of them scattered everywhere. The life of the church is meant to mirror the intimacy between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the perfect love of the Godhead. Of course completeness in intimacy takes much time and that is why we are encouraged to journey toward completeness in Christ (James 1:4; Matt. 5:48; John 17:23).
Visit any healthy family and you will see active participation. There is open, friendly chatter around the dinner table as the day’s activities are shared. Problems come up and everyone lends a hand in solving them. Disagreements are dealt with and apologies and forgiveness are common. Mistakes are made and corrected in the healthy flow of love. The mothers and fathers and older ones set examples of respect and love. All ages, young and old, participate so sometimes it is a bit messy but it is always uplifting and heartwarming.
True family life is not top-down but inside-out and Jesus all around. By that I mean that no one person dominates but all learn that they have a viable part in the ongoing progress of the family. In the earthly family fathers are encourage by Paul not to provoke their children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). Yes the father is head of the family but like Christ, who is Head of His church, he leads with love and righteous discipline. Genuine Christianity has no titled clergy who control God’s sheep but only gentle shepherds who lead the way.
In this family the members are known as “brothers” and everyone is called to be a servant of the others, and no one was to be called teacher or rabbi (Matt. 23:8; John 13:14; Eph. 4:12-16). In the upper room, the Son of God, washed the feet of His followers and commanded them to do likewise to one another. Christ took the humble position of the bondservant and we are called to take the same position toward one another. No one is to seek the preeminent position as Diotrephes did in 3 John 1:9. There are no titles or positions of honor but only Christ the King walking as Guest of honor among His people. It is a family of brothers and sisters saved from the ravages of the world and joining together in the protective household of the living God.
Some will protest that this simple understanding of Christianity makes no place for modern expressions of the church. In guiding us back to the simplicity of God’s word I am not disparaging you or the fellowship you are part of. My mandate from the Lord is to help God’s people return to the simplicity from which we have drifted in recent decades. Constantly people are questioning the things I say by appealing to tradition, practicality, common sense and other sources of behavior.
My appeal is back to the simple expression of God’s word and the original intent of its Author when He inspired it. We can only know genuine Christianity as we listen to the One for whom it is named, the One who died to conceive it and lives to inspire and empower it. May His grace and peace lead you back to this simple family life as He readies us for the grand climax of the ages.