Big Family of God?

I’ve written a few articles recently where I’ve talked about the importance of revisiting how we think about and talk about God if we are to see significant cultural change.  I’ve suggested that we need to try and get away from corporate/business imagery and start to talk about the church as body and as family.

On what basis do we talk in terms of the church as family? Is this anymore of a biblical concept than some of the other concepts. Well, to be sure, if we mean by family the 20th/21st century concept of a nuclear family then probably not. However, here are some reasons why we should think in terms of the church as family.

First of all, there is the fact that God invites us to address him and know him as Father.[1] Notice too the familial language in the concept of adoption which is central to the Gospel.[2]  Then there is filial language to describe Christ’s relationship to us, he is not ashamed to call us brothers.[3] This language of brotherhood spills over into the description of believers as brothers and sisters from which the concept of “the brethren” in some independent church circles arose.  

Another way in which we see the imagery of family at work in Scripture is seen in the way in which the church functions with elders.  This idea has its roots in patrio-centric family, clan and tribal structures in the Old Testament.  In the New Testament, the extended Greco-Roman household can also be seen as a model for the church hence the expectation in 1 Timothy and Titus is that the elders will first of all demonstrate their character and calling by their stewardship of their own physical household.

The family image whilst focused on relationship and love does not mean  that love ignores sin and fails to challenge people to godliness. In Hebrews 12 we are told that it is a loving father who disciplines his children.[4]

Nor is the image of family life one that preludes a call to mission and to work.  Our 21st century way of living compartmentalises life into work, home and church yet those distinctions of spheres would not necessarily  have been so significant when the New Testament was being written, or indeed for much of the history of the church.  Rather, the expectation would have been that work would have centred around the family business and instead of heading off to the factory or office for adults or school for children, much would have happened from home.

So, we see the unity of the Son and The Father and the love between the two in John 5 in this way. First of all, the Father loves the Son, shows him his work and allows him to share in it giving him the necessary authority.  Secondly, the Son loves the Father and is obedient, doing the work shown.[5]

So the imagery of God’s people as God’s family is central to how the New Testament views the church and is perhaps one of the best starting points for our thinking about the church today.


[1] See e.g. Matthew 6: 7-15.

[2] Ephesians 1:5

[3] Hebrews 2:10-12

[4] Hebrews 12:5-11.

[5] John 5:19-24.

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