Calling the people in a local church congregation a “family” is pretty normal in Christian circles. In fact one of the most common ways that the New Testament writers refer to the people in a church congregation is by using the terms “brothers” and “sisters”. We are siblings in Christ.
I wonder if that sounds strange to those outside the church. It reminds me of the Olive Garden slogan, “We’re all family here.” Does it seem odd to you that a restaurant chain would be so adamant about the concept of family? Their previous slogan was “When you’re here, you’re family.” And the idea of family is all over their website. But Olive Garden is not alone. Businesses of many varieties use the image of family to describe their company, their work environment, because they are hoping to make a deeper connection with their employees and customers. If you feel like family, it is more likely that you’ll return to their establishment over and over again.
My wife, Michelle, and daughter, Meagan, work at a local coffee shop. It has been fascinating to see family-like relationships develop between not only the other employees, but also some of the regular patrons. Last year Michelle and I did pre-marital counseling for one her co-workers and fiancé, and then I officiated their wedding. At the reception we were seated with a couple other co-workers and coffee shop patrons. The bride felt such a connection to the regulars at the coffee shop, that she invited them to her wedding!
Certainly the definition of family must also be broad enough to include adoptions, guardianship, and fostering. It seems to me, though, that the definition of family can be even more inclusive than that. In fact, I would submit to you that the Bible redefines family for those who are together in a local church.
As we continue our five-week series on relationships, this week on the blog we explore what the Bible has to say about how the people in a church congregation can become a family, and especially how that church family can have healthy relationships as they walk in step with the Spirit of God, growing the fruit of the Spirit in their lives, and then, most of all, allowing the fruit of the Spirit to flow from their lives to the rest of the church family.
We start at the beginning of the church, in Acts chapters 1 and 2, which tells the story of Jesus meeting with his disciples one last time, giving them instructions to wait in Jerusalem for the gift of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit arrives, Jesus said, the disciples would receive power, and they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the world. Then Jesus ascended to heaven, while the disciples watched him leave. They head back to Jerusalem, just as he said they should, and they, along with the other followers of Jesus, begin what turns out to be a long prayer meeting. We read in Acts 1:15 that there were about 120 of them. But something was about to happen. Something that would change this group of Jesus followers into a different kind of family.
We read in Acts 2 that God the Holy Spirit arrived just as Jesus said he would. The followers of Jesus are baptized with the Spirit, and empowered, fulfilling Jesus’ promise. They are even given the ability, by the Spirit, to speak in other languages, and the disciple Peter takes the lead, preaching a sermon to the crowds who had traveled to Jerusalem from all over the region to celebrate the Jewish festival of Pentecost. We read in Acts 2:41 that 3000 people accepted Peter’s message to believe in Jesus, and they were baptized. Overnight, in other words, the church family grew from about 120 followers to about 3120 followers!
That’s not what we think of when we think of family, right? 3120 people? Even when they numbered just 120 people, we would call that a massive family. At least with 120 people, you can get to know everyone’s name. But you’re not going to be best friends with all 120, and you don’t have to be. 120 people is just too many people to be close with. Family doesn’t have mean being best friends with everyone in the family, but it does mean caring for them.
What did the very first church do, though, to maintain a family relationship? We’ll find out in the next post.