Christ taught us to pray, “Our Father.” He wants us to be a family to each other. Not in our warped western sense of immediate family holed up in our houses in front of the tube but in the eastern sense of extended family sharing life day by day. In their excellent book, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, Richards and O’Brien demonstrate just how revolutionary the teaching of Christ and his apostles was to those in their own culture and remains today to ours. Please consider the following excerpts from that book and their implications for your own context:
Paul’s vision of church life in his letter to Titus includes every member encouraging and instructing the others to embody the gospel in their behavior. The older women are to teach the younger women “to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home … kind … and to be subject to their husbands” (Tit 2:4-5). Older men are to encourage the younger men to be self-controlled, to do good and to show integrity and seriousness (Tit 2:6-7). When these relationships operate appropriately, the young learn to live the gospel by the examples of their Christian “family,” and the Christian community embodies the faith in such a way that outsiders take notice and God is glorified.”
If we’re not careful, our individualistic assumptions about church can lead us to think of the church as something like a health club. We’re members because we believe in the mission statement and want to be a part of the action. As long as the church provides the services I want, I’ll stick around. But when I no longer approve of the vision, or am no longer “being fed,” I’m out the door. This is not biblical Christianity. Scripture is clear that when we become Christians, we become-permanently and spiritually-a part of the church. We become part of the family of God, with all the responsibilities and expectations that word connotes in the non-Western world. We don’t choose who else is a Christian with us. But we are committed to them, bound to them by the Spirit. And we are not free to dissociate our identities from them-mainly because once we are all in Christ, our own individual identities are no longer of primary importance.
Randolph Richards;Brandon J. O’Brien. Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Kindle Locations 1138-1144). Kindle Edition.
Family doesn’t always feel good. But it’s the only entity in our world where people are both loved unconditionally and expected to grow. We didn’t stop growing when we turned 18 or 21, we need the family of God to be up in our business so we’ll be about his business. This process doesn’t always feel good either for the one confronting or the one being confronted. But it’s what we need to grow into Christ-likeness.
Family isn’t always convenient either. There’s always someone who needs help with something and providing that help siphons off resources which we could be spending on our own agendas. But getting over our agenda must be part of learning to love. Giving and accepting help allows everyone to encounter Christ who by dying in his prime demonstrated that real life has nothing to do with what we accomplish and everything to do with loving God and loving people.
Sadly, in the Bible belt provides a plethora of alternatives to sharing life as spiritual family. When family is painful, we can go to a church that hungers for our resources enough to make us feel good about ourselves. When family becomes inconvenient, we can find a church that will happily allow us to sit on the back row and give our 2.3%. So many people will take this option and twenty years from now, they will be the exact same person they are today, only older.
Please don’t settle for less than Christ’s vision for his people. Families share life. Institutions suck souls. Which do you think Christ wants? Which do you want?