The Apostle Paul routinely uses metaphoric language throughout his letters to articulate a “Christians” need to be connected to a community of believers. The intent of his statements is to convey the importance for believers to come together as one body in a “relationship with God through the Spirit and, as a consequence of this, its holiness and the wholehearted service it should render to God (Banks, 48).” Through all of Paul’s letters, Philippians 3:8 is the only one reference in which he mentions the name of Christ in an individual manner (“my Lord”) as every other reference to Christ is made in a group sense (“our Lord”). Paul understood that we were called by God individually but understood and articulated that a call to faith in Him was not an individual endeavor.
It is clear that God always redeemed any group of people as a whole and not single individuals. As a result, it is imperative for a believer in Christ to become involved in a community of believers since that is where they are called to exist as Christians in order to experience the appropriate environment needed for discipleship. In regards to this topic, Joseph Hellerman stated in When the Church Was a Family that “[p]eople who remain connected with their brothers and sisters in the local church almost invariably grows in self-understanding, and they mature in their ability to relate in healthy ways to God and to their fellow human beings (Hellerman, 1).”
Thus, the life of a Christian should not be disconnected from a community as it will result in them lacking spiritual growth due to a lack of Christian relationships (Hellerman, 2). Hence, it is imperative for Believers in Christ to not overlook what Paul articulates in his letters concerning the need for them to place focus on shaping their relationships with other Believers within a family oriented community. Therefore, it is the hope of this post to articulate the foundation of Biblical community in regards to our individual need to draw near to God as one family in fellowship with Christ that is centered in Trinitarian Love in contrast to our modern view of community.
Modern Christianity Community
The modern American church has made it the norm to make their statement of beliefs available publicly in some form. Thus, anyone interested in knowing where a church stands can easily find such information which is an indication of what the churches congregation finds important. This transparency certainly helps a community become familiar and comfortable with the beliefs of any church. Such statements of faith will often include the basic components of the Gospel (Christ’s life, ministry, death, and resurrection), the authority of the Bible, and various integral aspects of Christianity.
Yet, many individuals will find that a congregations doctrinal statement ignores the basic biblical design for human relationships and their need for community within the church for spiritual growth (Hellerman, 121). The modern churches failure to clearly articulate the need for to have family-oriented community relationships within a churches context is extremely disappointing considering the importance the Bible places on having a balanced relationship between God and humanity.
The Ten Commandments provide an excellent illustration of the relational balance mankind is supposed to model between God and humanity. The first four commandments are concerning our relationship with God while the remaining six are concerning our relationships with other people. Such a framework for relationships is also found throughout scripture as each Pauline epistle is usually concerning the relationship between God and humanity (Hellerman, 121). The importance of humanities relationship with God is stressed throughout the Pauline letters as Paul spends a majority of them addressing the issue of how Christians are to relate to each other within a family oriented community.
The relationship that humanity has with God is integral to salvation in itself as it is the centerpiece to the foundation for our family oriented community as Believers. Despite the New Testaments articulation of a believers need for community, the American Christian has come to believe that their faith is individualistic due to church social cultural expectations. Hellerman articulates that the American culture has caused Christians to become “socialized into an American Christian paradigm that understands salvation to have everything to do with how the individual relates to God and nothing to do with how we relate to one another (Hellerman, 123).” In short, the current modern American Christian culture has cultivated a gospel message that is founded on an individualistic ideology that simply ignores or rejects the significance of Christians living within a healthy family community.
The disconnection that has occurred in the Gospel and community in the modern American church has occurred due to the stark cultural differences between the first century Mediterranean societies and the beliefs and actions of the modern church (Hellerman, 123). These cultural differences are a result of the “… individualistic tendencies of our [American] culture…it is not uncommon to encounter persons who claim to be followers of Jesus but who remain unconnected to a local faith [family] community (Hellerman, 123).” Thus, the modern American church has strayed from the path its counterpart modeled in the New Testament.
The key difference that have altered the churches mindset is counter to what has been written in the New Testament. The New Testament articulated that salvation and becoming a son or daughter of God through Christ are intertwined (1 Corinthians 12:13). There is no reference in the New Testament that speaks of a believer having an individualistic oriented relationship with God the Father (Hellerman, 124). However, it does reference that an individual is saved by one family through His son Jesus (1 Corinthians 12:13). Therefore, salvation is seen within a family oriented community. As a result, a personal relationship with Christ cannot occur outside the family community.
The modern Christians’ perspective on salvation is an example of cultural ideologies being imprinted onto biblical doctrine. The concept of individualism within salvation has found widespread acceptance in the modern church due to people believing that salvation is only concerned with only an individual benefiting. It is believed that an accurate view of salvation is seeing that it is “God’s ultimate desire is to create from all nations a reconciled people living within a renewed creation and enjoying the presence of the Triune God (Grenz, The Social God, 38).” His redefinition of salvation requires the modern American church to return wholeheartedly back to living out its faith within the New Testaments idea of community.
The letters in which Paul wrote to various churches or individuals utilized “family” oriented language founded upon the relationship between Christ, believers in Him, and God (Banks, 49). In Paul’s Idea of Community, Robert Banks communicates that Paul, in his earliest letters, argues that “Christians are to see themselves as members of a divine family” with God as the head of the family as the Father (Banks, 49).
It is imperative to explain why this discussion is even being considered. The Apostle John tells gives us an answer to this inquiry in John 3-5-6.
Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they
are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to
It is likely that every believer has shared their faith at some point and has come across an individual that sees themselves as a good person through their own efforts. As a result, the individual does not see themselves in need of help because when you are perfect, you can do everything for yourself (Grenz, Created For Community, 177). However, those that are honest with themselves will claim that they do need help from a savior.
This admittance to needing help stems from the thought that we are not perfect and see that they do not have to accomplish everything ourselves (Grenz, Created For Community, 177). Those that declare that they need help from Christ have the realization that they ultimately cannot do anything themselves as the children of God (Grenz, Created For Community, 177). Stanley Grenz summarizes this point by stating that “God has reached down to us in our failure and inability. God has brought us into fellowship — community — with himself, doing for us what we are unable to do four ourselves (Grenz, Created For Community, 177).” An understanding of God bringing us into fellowship with Him is an important concept that must be fully grasped in order to fully understand the Gospel message.
It is important to have a proper understanding of fellowship with Him as it is a normal tendency for Christians to construe what the Gospel message means in their individual lives. This is why it has become normal for Christians to believe that the Gospel is simply about God loving them individually. An attempt to understand the Gospel in this fashion simply destroys its message as it becomes necessary to ignore certain integral concepts to the Christian faith that interlock completely (A.W. Tozer, 79). David Platt discusses this in his book Radical, where he asserts that “the message of biblical Christianity is not ‘God loves me, period,’ as if we were the object of our own faith. The message of biblical Christianity is ‘God loves me so that I might make him–his ways, his salvation, his glory, and his greatness– known among all nations (Platt, 71).” When believers view the Gospel properly, they will place Him at the end of it (Platt, 79) which will focus us on His yearning for a divine loving relationship with every individual within a Christian community to glorify Himself.
In the Gospel of Mark (3:33-35), Jesus gives those surrounding Him the meaning of family:
Who are my mother and my brothers? And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.
This response preceded an exposition concerning a persons’ inability to stand divided in regards to who a person is primarily following. The Gospel of Matthew sheds light on this issue as chapter eight narrates a dialogue that Jesus has with a potential follower who was obligated to dealing with his father’s funeral as the oldest son. Matthew recorded the following dialogue: “Lord, another one of His disciples said, ‘first let me go bury my father.’ But Jesus told him ‘Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead (Matthew 8:21-22).” The response that Jesus gave to the son is certainly inappropriate according to any culture.
Jesus’ response is certainly offensive to those of Jewish decent since they considered the burial of an individual’s father to be sacred. However, His words contain more than a degree of insensitivity. Jesus’ words “are diametrically opposed to first-century Jewish family values; for that matter they fly in the face of a society’s family values. Jesus’ statement here is not alone in its subversive, anti-family tone among His sayings in the four gospels (Hellerman, 54).” The biblical concept of family went against Jewish culture than and our own modern idea.
The biblical definition of family certainly goes directly against what evangelicals have generally believed. The proper view of family is clearly articulated in the Gospel of Matthew (10:34-37):
For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
This passage and others is making the point that an individuals’ loyalty must transcend their biological family and extend into their new family in Christ (Balswick, 259). The intent of Jesus remarks in this passage was not to dissolve an individuals’ biological family, but to express His desire for those that follow Him to embrace family oriented relationships beyond their biological families (Balswick, 259).
The Apostle Paul asserts that being adopted as sons and daughters of God through Jesus’ affirms that “the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:16-17).” This familial relationship is unique in its own way as a believers connection to God is not like a relation between an infant and father , but is more like a relationship between adult children and their father where they are able to relate to Him deeply in a intimately and mature way (Banks, 50).
Let Us Draw Near as One Family In Christ
Jesus presented the requirement for believers to adhere too if they desired to be a disciple. This requirement is centered on believers living within God’s family, which is focused on drawing near to Him. The author of Hebrews affirms the nature of humanities relationship toward God stating that, “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:22).”
In Experiencing The Presence of God, A.W. Tozer asserts that “‘Let us draw near’ means that we have something to do (Tozer, 166).” Tozer’s purpose in this statement is to make the point that humanity is not meant to simply do nothing upon the foundation of grace it receives from God, but to move forward in seeking (Tozer, 166)” spiritual activities. He adds that the Good News is that man can approach God again by drawing near to Him (Tozer, 166).
It is imperative to understand that ‘drawing near to God’ is not in some distant land or place. It is incorrect to believe that we need to travel to some distant place to meet Him as He is not far from anyone (Tozer, 166). Tozer goes on to assert that “God is here, and the nearness to God that we talk about it not one of distance, it has to do with a rich person-to-person and soul-to-soul relationship. It has to do with trust, love and intimacy of heart (Tozer, 166).” The personal nature in which God approaches each person, despite their personal background, should cause each of us to see each other as members of a common family.
In consideration of this, Paul asserts that believers in Christ have the opportunity to “do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10).” Thus, despite a persons or groups alien or estranged relationship to the divine promises, they are to be seen as covenant members and should be treated as part of the body of Christ as adopted children of God (Ephesians 2:18-19; Banks, 50).
Family Relationships in Trinitarian Love
Paul clearly expected Christians to enter into loving relationships at their local church community. He articulated that the love they express to each other should be genuine familial affection. Paul clarified what he exactly meant in his letter to the Corinthians:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never ends (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a).
His description of loving one another was founded on having an attitude of patience, humility tolerance, kindness, resilience, generosity, confidence, perseverance, and optimism (Banks, 52). The attitude which Paul describes here is also found throughout his letters to various churches. In this discussion, he was not talking as much about an individuals’ personal relationship with God as He was talking about the familial interaction between believers as brothers and sisters (Banks, 52). Therefore, the relationships found within the Christian community must be identifiable their sacrificial nature for one another (Banks, 53).
The essence of humanity is centered on being relational in meaningful relationships that bring fulfillment to those involved in them (Balswick, 18). These type of interpersonal relationships humanity is supposed to be involved in is modeled between the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit (the Trinity). In The Social God and the Relational Self, Stanley Grenz states that “[t]he same principle of mutuality that forms the genius for the human social dynamic is present in a prior way in the divine being (Grenz, The Social God, 18).” As a result, the church must look to and study the uniqueness and unity of the Trinity to grasp a fuller understanding of the model of relationally that needs to be implemented within its family community.
The relationship between the members of the Trinity is our model for a healthy Christian family community. The foundation of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit’s relationship is their essence of love. In this triunity, we are able to see a true pattern of love seen through Jesus’ relationship with His Father:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full (John 15:9-11).
The loving relationship of the Trinity is centered on three distinct characteristics. The characteristics of the Trinity’s loving rationality can be described as (1) each member being distinct from the others and able to reflect their unique roles; (2) each member is equal in value; (3) and that each member is in a a unified mutual love that empowers each member to carry out their individual purposes. The love that the Father, Son, and Spirit have for one other is the same love that we are to reflect to every individual (John 15:12).
The relational essence that Christians are to reflect is found within Trinity (Balswick, 18). The use of “us” within Genesis 1:26-27 designates the presence of the Trinity in humanity’s creation. The presence of the Trinity in creation models to humanity the established covenant relationship it has with God. The covenant relationship between humanity and the Father is revealed and actualized in Christ (Balswick, 19). The individual distinction and unity seen in the Trinity is to exist within the family community. In Karl Barth’s Theology of Relationships, Gary Deddo states,
In the revelation by the Son of the Father through the Spirit we come to recognize the activity of the one God apportioned to each person of the Trinity. The Father is the Creator; the Lord of Life; the Son is the Reconciler; the renewer of life; the Spirit is the Redeemer, the giver, the conveyor of this life which is given, sustained and renewed (Deddo, 36).
In consideration of this, the core of human relationships should be modeled after that of the Trinity. As a result, members of a family community should intentionally cultivate relationships among themselves upon unity and unconditional love that can be counted upon when an individual least deserves or expects it (Balswick, 19-20).
Affiliation Between Family & Fellowship
The affiliation between Christian fellowship and family have become synonymous to one another out of need. Banks argues that this is the case since “Christians may not have had anywhere to meet, especially since the synagogues soon became closed to them and the rooms attached to local temples would have possessed unsavory connotations (Banks, 56).” This practical necessity caused the believers time of fellowship to become intertwined with the characteristics of family as the atmosphere of homes allowed them to express their common bond to one another (Banks, 56).
Jesus stressed the need for Christians to share in their commonality within a community of believers in Matthew. He stated that “whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me (Matthew 10:38).” This verse in its proper context is stating that those who desire to follow Christ must lay aside everything they hold dear to solely focus on Him. This came in direct response to an individuals’ personal obligation to family due to cultural expectations. These comments went in direct opposition to what an entire society held extremely important. His approach to family certainly caused problems for His follower’s families. Jesus understood this as He modeled what was expected of His disciples in Mark 3:31-35.
And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
The words that Jesus spoke are highly outrageous considering the cultural expectations for Him to be the one responsible for the families honor and provide leadership for his family as the oldest son (Hellerman, 55). Therefore, the shear words He uttered dishonored Himself and His family by simply refusing to act upon the social obligation within His family – doing so in a public setting only added to the situation (Hellerman, 55). Yet, it is important to understand the meaning of Jesus’s words in this passage within the proper context.
Modern evangelicals have diminished the importance of a community by placing its focus on what Christ does for each of us. Jesus’s remarks mentioned in Matthew and Mark are not concerning making a decision between our relationship with God and people. “Rather, it is about choosing between one group of people and another–between our natural family and our eternal family (Hellerman, 63).” The Gospels and social values illustrate how Christ’s followers are a surrogate family (Hellerman, 64).
Jesus formed a surrogate family for His followers based upon the social values of the New Testament time. The values that are incorporated in this surrogate family includes: (1) the group takes priority over an individual; (2) the family is the most important group to any individual; and (3) an individuals’ strongest family bond was with their siblings (Hellerman, 50, 64). These cultural values enable us to “assume that one of Jesus’ purposes in appropriating the family model was to insure that His followers would exercise primary loyalty to one another as brothers and sisters in the faith (Hellerman, 64).” This model was a foundation to the cultural dynamics. The values seen in this model are easily identifiable to most, if not all, evangelicals in their own family dynamics. Therefore, the concept that Jesus’ is conveying should not be totally foreign. In short, the purpose of these statements is summed up perfectly by Cyprian of Carthage: “You cannot have God for your Father unless you have the church for your Mother (Cyprian of Carthage, 3.1.214).” Simply, the church is to be the surrogate family for every individual that becomes a follower of Christ.
The Biblical essence of family has been disputed and altered by the ideals of modernity. The numerous perspectives or theories that modernity holds are intertwined with their core beliefs, which can be categorized into two viewpoints: (1) “closely tied to technological development,” or (2) “modernization as social change in various spheres (Balswick, 338).” These concepts have played into the American families desire to achieve things that are socially expected so much so that the average young family decides to move every three years (Balswick, 356). It is this constant movement of families that caused Jack and Judith Balswick to state that “it is inconceivable that the community support system that families need, especially during periods of stress and crisis, can develop within such a mobile society (Balswick, 356).” The concern is that such constant movement will hinder a family from developing and maintaining a healthy connection or connections to a church community.
The challenges that modernity has caused within American has resulted in the imperative need for the church to create an atmosphere that enables the family of God to glorify Him through showing tangible evidence of salvation and the freedom found within Christ through a personal relationship (Balswick, 353). As a result, it is imperative that the church ensures that its attention is solely centered on Christ as He alone holds the power to restore the lives of people, families, and societies. It is necessary for individuals to allow the Holy Spirit to work in their lives to rebuild the family oriented communities in accordance to the Trinities rationality if we expect our individual lives, cultures, and society to become more like Christ.
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Contemporary Home. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007.
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Deddo, Gary W. Karl Barth’s theology of relationships: Trinitarian, Christological and human.
Towards an ethic of the family. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1999.
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Grenz, Stanley. The social God and the relational self: A Trinitarian theology of the imago Dei.
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