I’m working on a doctorate degree which means I have to write a whole bunch and read even more. I looked back over some of the stuff and I’ve written, and I think it might be helpful to our church to read. So I’m going to take some selections from some of the papers I have written and share them with you. Aren’t you so lucky?
What I love about this degree is the practicality of it. I am getting a doctorate in the area of missions, and evangelism and church growth at the Billy Graham school at Southern Seminary. This program is so great because it makes me work on projects that help the ministry context I am currently serving in. One of my last papers was finding out the New Testament images of the church and writing on the ensuing implications. So, if you like reading this stuff, enjoy. If not, I will post some videos of random stuff this week too – so keep checking back!
Upon Peter’s correct response to Jesus’ inquiry concerning his identity, Jesus told the disciples that he would build his church in such a manner that nothing could overpower it. At this juncture and for a significant time following this incident, Jesus’ followers had not yet constructed any buildings in which to gather a community of believers. In fact, many Christ-followers in the first years of the church’s inception were unsure if separation from the Jewish religion was even necessary. In the middle of Christianity’s early days, the early church had not yet prescribed essentially what a church was theologically.
Through the teaching of the apostles in the New Testament, believers are to understand the church to be “the community of all true believers for all time.” The New Testament word for the “church” was ekklesia, which simply implied a group gathering or assembly. The word was not originally a religious term as much as it signified a group meeting together for a common purpose. The term is actually used 111 times in the New Testament. Seventy-three times it is specifically referring to the gathering of people, but never does it refer to a building.
As Christianity expanded geographically and exponentially, the writers of the New Testament began to use different inspired illustrations to describe the church. Through these different images, the church was able to better theologically grasp its identity and its purpose during its time upon the earth.
The New Testament contains numerous symbols for the church. Due to the pure number of differing images, it is important not to focus solely on one image and thereby regrettably neglecting the others. Jesus, Peter, Paul, John, and the author of Hebrews all used different images to describe the church’s identity. The church is illustrated by a bride, a family, a field, a temple, and also in many other different ways.
By illustrating the church through many different mediums, the New Testament authors were able to thoroughly present the church in a complete fashion. Paul wrote that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” If Christ loved the church enough to die for her and intends to grow this church during its tenure on earth, then it is imperative that believers truly understand the biblical descriptions of the church. To better understand the church’s function and complexion, one must look at the differing images in an attempt to fully comprehend all of the ensuing implications.
In this post, let’s look at what it means to be the family of God.
The Family of God
One of the most frequented descriptions of the church in the New Testament is that of the family of God. Due to the commonality and the applicability of this illustration, it is still one of the most frequently used terms by Christians to describe the community of believers. When Paul instructed Timothy concerning his growing congregation, Paul warned to sincerely and lovingly rebuke members of his congregation as if they were actual members of his very own family. Serving as their pastor, Paul especially urged Timothy to treat the elders just as he would his own mother or father.
At the head of this family of God, Paul clearly stated to the Ephesian church that God was the church’s true, constant father. Since the church’s kinship originates from each individual’s relationship with his or her father, Paul stated that believers are to treat one another as brothers and sisters. If a person associated his or herself with God, that person was also assuming a role as a member in God’s family. This role in the family was so important to Jesus that he rebuked the crowds for not taking it as seriously as they should. Jesus was adamant that his disciples understood that their “human kinship does not take priority over spiritual kinship.”
For the church to understand completely its role as the family of God, the implications drastically change the way the individual members respond to one another’s needs during times of crises. As a family, Christians are expected to behave like members of a loving home by further embracing actions in order to love one another better. A Christian can safely boast of a general concern for the needs at large presently in the world, but Jesus’ intention was for Christians to actually apply that love into others’ lives by practically meeting their needs. To associate with Christ’s complete, sacrificial love expressed on the cross, Jesus desired and expected his family to express themselves as a family by constantly and sacrificially providing for one another. As a family, a local church body is to constantly remind its members that to be called the family of God requires that each member is concerned about the needs and spiritual welfare of every other member.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.
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