Obviously, the nuclear family should be a priority for local churches. But, sometimes people play the family card in excusing themselves from a deep commitment to the local church.
This is yet another area where balance is needed. Remember: the New Testament vision for relationships within the body is that of brother and sister. Christians are to devote themselves to sharing life together (Acts 2:42ff). Do you relate to your local church like they are brothers and sisters?
When, for instance, was the last time you invited some of your “brothers” and “sisters” over for a “family dinner?
Mike Wittmer recently explained (see here) why he is going to use the book, Exploring Ecclesiology: An Evangelical and Ecumenical Introduction , by Brad Harper and Paul Louis Metzer as required reading in a seminary course. I ordered it. So far, I have been very impressed. One of the points I appreciate is how, Harper and Metzger warn against the dangers of placing too much emphasis on the nuclear family:
When the church places undue emphasis on the individual nuclear family, it tends to disregard the church as the ultimate family. As a result, it also tends to disregard the single person or the single parent raising a family. However, when we see the church as God’s family, and ourselves as a part of that family, we realize that our spouses and our children, orphans and widows in their distress, and those who visit our fellowship, are members of our family.
This reality was brought home to one of us when he and his family shared in a Sunday worship celebration with a Jordanian and Egyptian congregation in Oregon. After the service, to our surprise, the people invited everyone over—including us as their guests – - to one of their houses to celebrate the birthday of one of their church members. It was such a profound experience. The individual family was part of a larger family, and we were welcomed into the fellowship as part of their family too.
We experienced more intimate conversation with these people we hardly knew that one afternoon than what we normally experience in our own local fellowship of believers. Perhaps one reason is that in the dominant culture we tend to treat one another and our respective families as individuals and individual nuclear units, for identity is ultimately defined in individual terms. Not so for those from Middle Eastern and Asian cultures. Of course, we do not mean to suggest that there are no problematic features in those cultures. All too often, there is insufficient regard for the individual in these cultures. However, our trinitarian faith call us to affirm the one and the many, for God is triune.
It is important for us to emphasize that members of our church families are members of our nuclear families, and that our nuclear families are part of this larger family. This would keep us from separating and prioritizing family over church, or vise versa. One of the Jordanian women at the birthday party told us that she had served on the church staff of a largely Caucasian congregation for several years. She was amazed how often people used their nuclear families as a means to the end of not getting involved in church life. In contrast to that either/or perspective, these Middle Eastern Christians were building biological or blood-related family while building Christian community. Exploring Ecclesiology, by Harper and Metzger, pp. 42-43.