I’m going to shoot right out of the gate by asking a hard (and probably even bold) question.
What is your view of family?
I ask because I’m becoming more and more persuaded that a person’s view of family is a real barometer to their view of the church.
Why? Because the church is people. And those people are family.
What’s more, those people are influenced by cultural trends . . . and personal experience.
So, if the church is family and someone holds a negative view of family, won’t that affect their view of the church?
A comment in one of my social feeds got me thinking. I’ve pasted their reply to a quote posted for response: “‘Blood is thicker than water.’ Why? Just because someone is family doesn’t mean you owe them anything. Not a hug, not a hello, nothing. At the end of the day, those closest to you can bring the most harm. Whether it’s physically, mentally, emotionally, sexually, whatever. You pick your family and they pick you back. Period!” It seems to me that this person’s experience left an indelible impression upon their view of family.
A woman once told me that because she had a bad experience with her dad, she finds it hard to trust God as Father. When I combine just these two comments, I form an opinion that those who’ve had dysfunctional families might struggle trusting the church as the family of God.
Augustine’s observation rings true in this regard: “It is often the case that a man who had had experience of a bad doctor is afraid to trust himself even to a good one.”
If a child has experienced neglect or abandonment, or if they’ve had a parent who wasn’t reliably committed to family, might that carry over and make it difficult for them to commit to a church? Or are they possibly at greater risk of leaving it all together? Trevin Wax queried, “If families are easily entered and exited, why not churches also?” In an article he wrote earlier this year on the matter, Trevin posed the important question, “How does the decline of the family alter the way we understand the church?”
It is within family that we initially learn how the relational world works. Which likely explains why the Bible uses familial metaphors. It’s something we can relate to . . . understand. But, if I come from a broken family, will I rightly understand how familial relationships should function?
Can a culture riddled with divorce hold right views on covenant?
I wrestled with these same questions personally when I was studying the family of God for my next Bible study. Because I experienced divorce and came from a broken and dysfunctional home, I held distorted views of familial relationships. I understand how hard it can be to trust relationally. And the cynicism toward the church because of it. I am also realistic in the knowledge that the church is flawed—because it is made up of flawed people. I am painfully aware that people have been wounded, deeply wounded, by the church and have vowed to never return. It’s quite understandable. Unfortunate and detrimental, but understandable. But that pain is used as a weapon to destroy and divide. Because the church is a sacred place where the broken find healing . . . within family. It is where people learn to love and to be loved. It is an instrument for redemption—which God is also redeeming.
The state of family is a heart-breaking tragedy. And there is no heart more broken over it than God’s. But He created family. He understands its design, purpose, and beauty better than anyone. It, too, is an instrument of redemption. For God brought about His plan through the many familial twists and turns recorded in the Old Testament. Think of the sin-wracked siblings of Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Rachel and Leah, Joseph and Judah. Or the treacherously flawed parent-child relationships of Abraham and Ishmael or David and Absalom. In spite of sinful humans’ involvement, God still brought about His plan of redemption through family—which certainly lends hope for the outcome of the Lord’s church-family.
As we explore the family of God in the weeks and months ahead, let’s start here—with an honest assessment. So, in closing, I’ll pose the question again—because I believe it’s relevant to our time: Does a person’s view of family affect their view of the church? Does their understanding then become a catalyst in their church involvement?
Really think on it. Further consider how it shapes your understanding.
Let those answers inform prayer. And make us more faithful members, better at church-family life.