Family is a fantastic thing. Before we had modern civilization, before we even had the most ancient form of government, we had families.
Families help take care of us. They help us live, grow, and equip us for life in the world, and to replicate the next generation.
Family In The Bible
In the Bible, family is seen as important in both Old and New Testaments.
We see books like Proverbs written from the perspective of a father imparting wisdom to his son on how to navigate the complexities of this life, and in handling spiritual and practical realities.
Ephesians and Colossians have chapters providing instructions on how husbands and wives should relate to one another, and how parents and children should as well.
The family is so important that Paul instructs Timothy and Titus to appoint elders in the church based on how well those candidates manage their households. The logic goes if you can’t manage your household, you aren’t fit to manage the church of Jesus Christ.
And, though the church of Jesus Christ may have very real institutional, organizational, and corporate realities, in the New Testament, the church is not primarily seen in such a light. Rather, the church is primarily envisioned as a “household of faith” (Galatians 6:10) complete with individuals thought of as spiritual fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters.
It should therefore come as no surprise to us then that when we read the book of Acts, we see Christians relating to one another as if they actually were biological family. The gathered together daily, house to house, breaking bread and sharing common meals together. Though no common ancestry necessarily bound them together, they shared a family lineage in which the Fatherhood of God unites us, and we all share together in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. And, from such a theology, they recognized each other as brothers and sisters of one common family.
The Idolatry Of The Nuclear Family Unit
But in our culture, family has become an idol so powerful that it has morphed our churches into something that distorts this theology of the church, and makes the primacy of our biological families the most important thing going on in our lives. In doing such the church does nothing more than cater to the nuclear family that our culture has exalted, and as a result, distorts what the church is supposed to be and how it functions.
As a result, “Youth Ministry” is often considered the most important ministry in the church. If a church doesn’t have a solid youth ministry, churches know parents will seek out another church that does. And in order to keep their numbers up, a large amount of a churches annual budget will be spent on this arena.
Our churches and various para-church ministries often have words like “Family” in their name. I once went to a church once called “Family Christian Center.” Historically we have had popular ministries like “Focus On The Family” , or “Women of Faith” or “Promise Keepers,” which have all focused a great deal on the nuclear family unit, and catering to the needs of fathers and mothers, and creating successful and thriving families.
Growing out of this idolatry of the family unit, such has even carried over from the church into the political arena. Often, conservative politicians will run on a platform in which they champion traditional “family” values.
What About Those Outside The Traditional Nuclear Family
Do not get me wrong, I have no problem with specialized ministries focused on family stuff per say. But I wonder, what does all this do to people not in a nuclear family? What about those who aren’t part of a traditional nuclear family?
What about singles? Single moms? Single dads? What about couples without kids?
What about the divorced?
What about widows?
What about those struggling with same sex attraction?
What about people who come from broken homes?
How do we minister to these people?
How do they fit into the church world in which the traditional nuclear family unit dominates everything we do? In which our loyalties to those who are our family by flesh crowd out those who are not, or who do not belong to any such family?
I feel our idolization of the nuclear family unit has made the very real sense in which we are brothers and sisters in Christ a thing of the past in some circles.
A New Family
Indeed, this is dangerous to the kingdom of God and contrary to the teachings of Jesus and the spirit of the New Testament.
Who is my mother? Who is my brother? Who is my sister? Jesus said he came to set Father and mother and brother and sister against one another. A man’s enemies should include the members of his own household, and Jesus says we should take the cross to our precious nuclear and biological families, for they are ultimately a threat to what God is doing with His kingdom, and the spiritual family He is forming as part of one new humanity.
Far from making our earthly families the center of our life, there should be a very real sense in which our bonds with our spiritual family are greater in our lives than those we are biologically related too. And if that is not the case, that is problematic. If you aren’t closer to some folks in your church than you are your own kin you aren’t doing church right.
For we are a family who share a Heavenly Father, and we are brought together to ultimately carry out His will in this world.
As part of today’s podcast episode, consider the following passages of Scripture:
34 Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 “For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; 36 and A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD. 37 “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 37“And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.Matthew 10:34-39 NASB
46 While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.” 48 But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” 49 And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! 50 “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”Matthew 12:46-50 NASB