The Church As Family
You'll find Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, just north of Dallas. Chuck Swindoll is its senior pastor. When you visit the church's website, here's the first thing you see.
I love it. I've only been to Stonebriar once. It was for the funeral of Howard Hendricks, long-time professor at Dallas Seminary. I attended along with Becky's mom and dad. I recall dad and Chuck Swindoll out in the lobby swapping stories just before the service began. Chuck got his start as the youth pastor at the church where Becky and her family had been attending in Dallas. As I watched dad and Chuck chatter away, the one thing I remember was how approachable and good-natured the senior pastor of Stonebriar was. The church had, well, a family atmosphere about it, of which there was no mistaking.
The New Testament uses several metaphors to depict the church. The church is a building. It's a bride. It's a body. It's a flock of sheep. It's a temple. It's a group of branches in a vineyard. But the most predominant picture of the church in the New Testament is "family." God is our Father. We are all brothers and sisters. We are the oikos, the family of God. By the way, unlike the other pictures of the church in the New Testament, "family" isn't a metaphor. We really are God's family. We really are His adopted children. You, dear readers, really are my siblings. We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. This is the foundation of everything we believe about the church. When you pray with someone, walk with them, carry their burden, defend them, gently confront them, that's family. That's community. That's church. And wherever you find such a family, it's always a gift.
Two takeaways for me:
1) The concept of church as family would have been a good foundation for MRI -- Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ-- a program put forth at the Anglican Conference in Toronto in 1963. Family members are neither all recipients nor all givers. The family of God is a partnership of giving and receiving. Perhaps we need to revive the idea of MRI today in our churches. Let's think of the church not as rows upon rows of spectators but rather as a circle facing each other, as though we were all sitting in a living room together, practicing the "one anothers" -- loving one another, forbearing and forgiving each other, submitting to one another, building one another up, practicing hospitality with each other, praying for one another, and bearing each other's burdens. It can scarcely be conceived what advantages we could reap from viewing our churches as families in this way.
2) If we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, then we should have no problem with calling one another by these terms. The titles we use express what we really believe about the church. The New Testament encourages us to be sibling-minded. We call each other brother and sister because we are anxious that we will exhibit the richness of our spiritual family. I've visited a country in Asia some 13 times. There it was common to call each other brother and sister. I was "brother Dave," and right glad to be so! Maybe we could work harder in our American churches to be true to our identity as the family of God, expressing the fullness of our love and care for one another even through the words we use to address each other.
This morning, during my prayer time, I prayed for some of you. I prayed for a brother whose dad is recovering from surgery and for his family. I prayed for a sister who is struggling with her faith. I thanked the Father for a brother who just passed his Ph.D. dissertation defense. I prayed for my brothers and sisters who are facing enormous persecution in a nation many miles away from the U.S. I still believe today what I have always believed: that God is our Father, that He takes good care of His children, and that His comfort is like nothing else in the world. I'm so thankful He's there when we need Him, because I've needed Him desperately this month. He asked me what I needed and I told Him without any fear that He would rebuke me for asking (James 1:5).
He is my Abba, my Dad. And He's yours too, my brother and my sister.
April 17, 2020
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.