Redeemer is a church in Chorlton, Manchester. We are a gospel formed family on mission. So what does “family” mean?
Talking about family can come with a lot of baggage. A family is supposed to be a place of openness, of love, of nurture, but many of us have not experienced family this way. No family is perfect, but many families are broken. That means it’s especially important to define what God’s family looks like.
We choose to use the word “family” instead of some other words like organisation or club because the Bible teaches that the closest analogy of the Christian community is one of a family.(1) We are brothers and sisters. Even more surprising: we are brothers and sisters to Christ Himself.(2)
Being a family is different than a club. A club is a voluntary group of people organised around a hobby. God’s family is made up of people changed by Jesus, with deep commitments toward each other. Being a family is also different from something like an internet service provider, where we seek to just be consumers and not want to give ourselves at all. Clubs and service providers are fine in themselves, but they are never enough to be real family.
A family is a group of people who are bound together not because they like each other, but because their identity originates from the same place. They share DNA. They also grow up together, and as they grow are nurtured into maturity. They do this together, a family is larger than the sum of its parts. A family is supposed to be what gives us the feeling of home: contentment, satisfaction, love, peace.
So the church is a family: our identity originates from the same place, God Himself. We may not all be best friends, we may not even like every single person, but we are linked together in a way that is not only good for us, but good for others.
So what does this actually mean, to be a family together? Spiritually speaking, it means our closest relationships here on earth are with our fellow believers. It may not always feel close and everyone who follows Jesus will not be best friends, but, spiritually speaking, these are the people of whom we have the closest ties. That’s because the Holy Spirit binds us together through what Jesus has done. [Link to Jesus’ life, death, resurrection]. The spiritual family transcends all other relational connections in this world, even physical family itself.
Practically speaking that means we are not to live in anger or bitterness towards each other, we are not to be judgmental, we are to speak up when we think we’ve been wronged and ask forgiveness when we do wrong to others. We are to be patient with each other, ready to help at a moment’s notice, able to lovingly challenge when we’re in the wrong. We are to encourage one other by speaking the Word to each other, bear each other’s burdens, laugh together, weep together, eat together. We lean on each other when talking to others about Jesus, and are always looking for opportunities to bring others in this family.
This doesn’t always look grand on the outside (even though it is grand). It looks like watching each other’s children, giving a lift to someone without a car, picking up groceries for each other, eating meals together (ok, eating many meals together), going to the pub to talk about life, being generous with our money when someone is in need, being generous with our time when someone just needs a listening ear. You don’t have to worry about asking others for help (no matter how mundane) when they’re family, and you can be honest with people in your family because you know you don’t have to worry about rejection.
Not many people get to experience earthly families in this way, but this is how God’s family is called to and described. Maybe it does look grand after all.