So, here’s your Thursday pop quiz. What is the most common picture of the church in the New Testament? Body? Building? Bride? None of the above. The most common image used to describe the communities that arose as people responded to the good news of Jesus and as the Holy Spirit poured out new life was, wait for it, “adelphoi”. This means “brothers and sisters”, an image utilized over 200 times. The church is a community of siblings. When we read in some translations “brothers”, or “brethren” we must understand that this was a non-gendered term used to include both male and female. Think about Hebrew 2:10,11, for example, where the benefits of salvation are offered to all alike and where the language of son and brother includes all.
This powerful metaphor, used by New Testament authors to describe the gathered community of Jesus’ followers, must be the primary lens through which we are to view one another. This picture ought to shape our engagement with, and expectations of church. We are to see each other as siblings; a people of common heritage, a community with similar stories, united by the same Father.
So, as we head towards Sunday think about this picture.
- If we see the church as a community of siblings stuck together with one another because we each know forgiveness in Jesus and adoption by our heavenly Father, what actions and attitudes follow?
What practices could you personally commit to which would build and strengthen sibling relationships?
- Just as in our biological relationships we are bound to our spiritual siblings whether we like it or not we do not choose our Christian relations based on what is cool, panders to our taste, or provides for our needs.
A community of brothers and sisters is a fellowship of “one-anothers” a people who share in mutual love, service, and care. It is not a hierarchy of providers and consumers, suppliers of spiritual services, and clients. We are all in this together from oldest to youngest, strongest to weakest we have equal value in God’s household. When a fellow believer visits you, prays for you, or when you care for someone, or encourage another then church has happened.
Cultivating Christian community as siblings is no picnic. Paul continually calls the church away from mingling around social groupings with which we are more comfortable. He demands that Jesus’ followers in Galatia push beyond traditional gender, social, and ethnic divides and recognize they are all one in Christ (Galatians 3). The whole New Testament speaks of the challenge of forming communities of mutual respect, love, and accountability as old dividing walls of ethnicities, political perspectives, social status, and financial wellbeing are dismantled as we each submit to Christ.
This takes intentional effort. A lot of this heavy lifting happened around the meal table in the early church. The table was not simply a place to invite people who can reciprocate our invitation but to reach out and connect with siblings who are just that bit different.
So, a simple but profound place to begin to build real church is to consider: who am I inviting to dinner?