On the danger of excusing ourselves from church in the name of the family

Chris —  August 17, 2009

Obviously, the nuclear family should be a priority for local churches.  But, sometimes people play the family card in excusing themselves from a deep commitment to the local church.

This is yet another area where balance is needed.  Remember: the New Testament vision for relationships within the body is that of brother and sister.  Christians are to devote themselves to sharing life together (Acts 2:42ff).  Do you relate to your local church like they are brothers and sisters?

When, for instance, was the last time you invited some of your “brothers” and “sisters” over for a “family dinner?

Mike Wittmer recently explained (see here) why he is going to use the book, Exploring Ecclesiology: An Evangelical and Ecumenical Introduction , by Brad Harper and Paul Louis Metzer as required reading in a seminary course.  I ordered it.  So far, I have been very impressed.  One of the points I appreciate is how, Harper and Metzger warn against the dangers of placing too much emphasis on the nuclear family:

When the church places undue emphasis on the individual nuclear family, it tends to disregard the church as the ultimate family.  As a result, it also tends to disregard the single person or the single parent raising a family.  However, when we see the church as God’s family, and ourselves as a part of that family, we realize that our spouses and our children, orphans and widows in their distress, and those who visit our fellowship, are members of our family.

This reality was brought home to one of us when he and his family shared in a Sunday worship celebration with a Jordanian and Egyptian congregation in Oregon.  After the service, to our surprise, the people invited everyone over—including us as their guests – – to one of their houses to celebrate the birthday of one of their church members.  It was such a profound experience.  The individual family was part of a larger family, and we were welcomed into the fellowship as part of their family too.

We experienced more intimate conversation with these people we hardly knew that one afternoon than what we normally experience in our own local fellowship of believers.  Perhaps one reason is that in the dominant culture we tend to treat one another and our respective families as individuals and individual nuclear units, for identity is ultimately defined in individual terms.  Not so for those from Middle Eastern and Asian cultures.  Of course, we do not mean to suggest that there are no problematic features in those cultures.  All too often, there is insufficient regard for the individual in these cultures.  However, our trinitarian faith call us to affirm the one and the many, for God is triune.

It is important for us to emphasize that members of our church families are members of our nuclear families, and that our nuclear families are part of this larger family.  This would keep us from separating and prioritizing family over church, or vise versa.  One of the Jordanian women at the birthday party told us that she had served on the church staff of a largely Caucasian congregation for several years.  She was amazed how often people used their nuclear families as a means to the end of not getting involved in church life.  In contrast to that either/or perspective, these Middle Eastern Christians were building biological or blood-related family while building Christian community.  Exploring Ecclesiology, by Harper and Metzger, pp. 42-43.

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5 responses to On the danger of excusing ourselves from church in the name of the family

  1. This is great.

    One of the dangers of getting this “close” with your church family is that you begin to see each others “warts” more closely, too. I think that point needs to be stressed alongside this pointing of making your church your primary family. I’ve seen too many people get close to other church members, realize they’re not perfect, and it becomes a problem!

    Instead, we need to make sure that our love for our family is covering a multitude of sins! (1 Peter 4)

  2. Good points, Chris. This reminded me when I taught an adult Sunday School class years ago going through 1 John. In a class filled with M.Div/D.Min types and many employees who worked at an org that emphasized a “focus on the family,” I made a comment that John insists we “focus on our spiritual family” as much as our biological family (1 Jn 2:7-11; 3:11-18, 23; 4:7-12, 19-21; 5:1-2). I got not a few wrinkled foreheads on that comment.

  3. Amen to this post.

    What strikes me most is the underlying principle that Christianity is a holistic, or total experience that encompasses not just certain days or activities but rather the whole of our existence. It’s not so much that we sacrifice our “nuclear family” for our “church family” but rather that there is no distinction between one area of our life and another. I think that there is great power in this kind of witness.

  4. A mother recently told me that over the years she has learned to distance herself from her adult child who has rejected Christianity. She is still broken and mourning over her adult child, but she is emotionally detached– not reliant on the child.

    While this is sad, I think it is (in part) what Jesus talked about when he said, “I did not come to bring peace but a sword. I have come to turn a man against his father…” The human family fades in significance to the eternal family bond, with fierce loyalty devoted to the firstborn–Christ.

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  1. Bound… together? 3 questions with Chris Brauns | Blogging Theologically - May 13, 2013

    […] We also need to consider how many times Scripture connects joy in the Christian life to our relationship with other believers. I spend a whole chapter on that point in Bound Together. The warning of Proverbs 18:1 must be heeded, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” Sharing life with other believers in your local church is foundational to joy. See also, On the Danger of Excusing Ourselves from Church in the Name of Family. […]