At the church I attend, we often refer to one another as "brothers and sisters in Christ." We also use the term "Church Family" regularly. When I was growing up, I distinctly remember that the typical term used was "Church Body." I still hear the term "Church Body" used here and there, in our church and in others. However, there seems to be a growing use of the term "Church Family" lately. Maybe I'm imagining the greater frequency of this term, but I honestly don't remember its regular use in my childhood or adolescence.
I wonder if this is due to some of the family brokenness seen in the world today.
I wonder if divorce, distant parents, and siblings who never interact has people looking elsewhere for family.
I wonder if the Church implicitly saw this desire and moved to meet the need for a familial bond, thus using the term "Church Family" with more frequency.
It's a good term for the Church to use.
But how much does the Church actually act as a family?
For many of us, especially in the Western world, people in churches are friendly toward one another, but certainly don't live as family with one another. Many of us simply check in with one another once a week. We don't know about the struggles and joys that our fellow church members experience during the week--the difficulty with the co-worker, the night terrors, the delicious meal on Friday evening, the drawing the child made on Tuesday, the afternoon spent cleaning out the basement, the depression, the illness, the wonderful silent walk together through the woods, the situation with the bully at school, and the trip to the grocery store. We might share some of these stories, but we haven't lived them with one another.
We aren't able to see into a person's soul in the way family is able to do so. If I'm depressed, my wife knows it. If my brother or sister is going through something difficult, I can tell.
The same is not necessarily true for two church attenders.
So what would it take for a church to function as a true church family?
In these chapters, Tim Otto points out that the "biblical family" was not the same as our modern conception of a "family"--a house with two parents and a few kids. It included dozens of people in a small village together. This kind of family was necessarily, because many people were needed to grow food, raise livestock, and work together in the family business. Elderly parents needed care.
Today, though, we have cars. There are elderly care facilities. People can find their own jobs and buy their own food at a store that has it all laid out neatly for them. The practical need for a large family village is no more. The task for modern families, therefore, is reduced to the emotional bond. And if that emotional bond is lacking, things like divorce will follow. There's no longer a practical reason to stay together.
Otto lays out this issue with the modern family in order to make a point: true family requires practical self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice for the good of neighbor is something to which Jesus calls his people, and as the family of God, we need to act in self-sacrificial ways for the good of one another. This requires closeness over a long period of time, and it also requires doing acts of service for one another. As Otto says:
"Maybe loving as Jesus loved isn't in spectacular acts such as hanging on a cross, but in serving one another by washing the pile of dishes in the sink and cleaning the toilet. Yes, Jesus asks for radical self sacrifice, but he often expresses this in small things. Perhaps in the daily tasks of living with one another, bearing with one another over the long haul."
What if the Church was like this? What if church members knew one another well, because they were with one another through the highs and lows. What if church members did small acts of love for one another regularly--not merely when they were asked, but because they know themselves to be family?
Maybe that's what it means to be "brothers and sisters in Christ."