The Evangelical Herald
Friends or Brethren?
In today's hectic and complex world, the need to have warm, loving, interpersonal relationships has been recognized by most social scientists as a prime need for the well-being of man and woman. Whereas most people find themselves in a concerted and perhaps frantic effort to meet this need through social avenues, God has designed that His children be part of a universal, loving family. This family arrangement gives them a sense of complete oneness with others of "like precious faith" by means of their individual status as sons and daughters of the Most High.
Yes, most Christians would agree wholeheartedly with the foregoing "theological truth", but alas, do we as Christians in a practical, everyday reality demonstrate that we really believe this? Are we Christians finding unity of love and companionship in the churches or are we looking elsewhere to supplement or even replace the church's fellowship role? Could it be that in today's increasingly social awareness atmosphere, the Christian church has lost her role as the prime channel of fellowship for the followers of Christ?
In order to get a grasp as to what is going on in our churches today, let us follow a typical imaginary church member's relationship with his church throughout one week. We first catch him as he enters the Sunday morning worship service and is greeted by one or two handshakes and a "how are you -- glad to see you" salutations by appointed greeters. He may even be asked to sign the visitors' registration book, although he has been attending for at least a couple of years. Without a word, he is ushered to a pew amidst people he is sure he has seen Sunday after Sunday for two years, yet he does not know their names. After a polite smile, he is ready to worship "in the fellowship of believers".
During the service at the minister's instruction (if the minister is concerned about having a friendly church), he will again be greeted with a few handshakes and "how are you -- glad to see you" salutations from those nearby. If he was lucky, his neighbor may have told him his name; but amidst all the chatter he probably wasn't able to catch it. Oh well, it really doesn't matter much, after this "say hello to your neighbor" period, they will probably forget they ever saw each other.
After the service, if his church has "fellowship with refreshments time around the coffee pot", he will be afforded a really great time of fellowship. Seeing that our worshipper is blessed with a great outgoing personality, he joins a small circle of men in a stimulating conversation. Well, after five or ten minute of talking about the weather, sports, or the latest recreational outing, it is time to leave the "church friends" and go home to begin his normal activities with his "normal" relatives and friends. The rest of the week he probably will not see or hear from any other member of the church, unless he is fortunate that his church has a midweek Bible study. Here again he will be greeted by his most "intimate church friends" with a few handshakes and "how are you -- glad to see you" salutations. And again he will be afforded the opportunity to engaged in a most exciting conversation of trivia: sports and the weather.
Perhaps this is an over-exaggeration, but I believe you get the point -- there just isn't enough meaningful relationships within our congregations. What a contrast the New Testament church presents to us!
The Early Church
There were no such shallow relationships in the early church. Those who had joined themselves to the body of Christ had given their all in order to belong to a "chosen generation". As members of the family of God, they exercised an "unfeigned love for the brethren". They had an attitude that if necessary they would "lay down" their "lives for the brethren". They had obtained a "like precious faith", "broke bread together from house to house", and they had a "singleness of heart". In writing to the church in Thessalonica, Paul expresses the affection of one who has been separated from those he loves by writing "We .. endeavor to see you with great desire."
What has brought this decay in relationships within the Christian church? Was the early church guided by some inner basic concepts that have been lost by today's church? In the first century church, there was no such concept as "I must get to know him before I can love him". It was not necessary to seek out within the congregation those personalities that conformed to ones own personality in order to fellowship with each other. It was not necessary to seek out those with "like interests" to befriend them. It was not necessary to seek out those persons on our social or professional level in order to have meaningful conversations. If we could travel back in time to the early church, we would sense that the overall principal of relationships was that there was "no respect of persons" in their mist. There was only one requirement to enter into the joy of meaningful relationships between the believers: a spiritual rebirth through Jesus Christ into the family of God. There was joy in heaven and a welcome into the fellowship from the Lord's church for those who repented of their sins and were baptized into a new life of discipleship.
The Word Brethren
As we read scriptures related to the fellowship of believers, we are struck with one word, or its derivatives, that is used repeatedly to describe their relationship. It is a word that in our English language describes better then any other word an intimate relationship between members within a family. That word is "brethren". Salutations such as "beloved brethren", "beloved brother", or "your brother" are common in New Testament writings. Yet this is one word that more and more is lacking in our present believers' jargon. Rather, we use such words as church friend, church member, church acquaintance, or we address each other by our earthly titles to describe our relationship to each other.
Try as I may, I can not find a better word than brother or sister to indicate another believer's position and relationship to me within God's family. Coming from a large family has taught me of the commitment, devotion and deep love brothers and sisters have for each other. We have a common bond -- we share genetic traits -- we have the same father and mother. This is a natural and beautiful gift that our Creator has given us. What better analogy could have God chosen to illustrate the relationship that his spiritual children should have towards each other? How much more intimacy and love is conveyed when we hear a believer say "my brother" or "brother John" rather than "my friend" or "Mr. Doe" when addressing another believer.
Binding Cords of Relationships
It is true that the outward manner in which we address a person does not alter the inward sincere feeling that we have for that person. Maybe it was because of this that the use of "brother" or "sister" became to be associated with a hypocritical connotation so that it was dropped from our Christian vocabulary. More important, are we guilty of not only dropping the word from our vocabulary, but also losing the essence of its qualitative nature?
To the early church, the term brethren conveyed four aspects of relationship to each other: 1) a common father 2) a common sacrifice 3) unity in purpose and 4) family loyalty. The church of Jesus Christ, those spiritually begotten children of God, today must recognize that indeed we have a common, loving Father. He is not only my father, but He is "our Father, who art in heaven". We belong to the household of faith regardless of our past or present social position in this world system. We belong to the household of faith regardless of our racial or cultural background. Whoever returns to my Father's house and submits to His love and will, is my brother, she is my sister.
The fellowship of Christian believers today must have a common sacrifice. Together, we have accepted the one sacrifice that redeems us and have taken up the cross to follow Jesus. Together, we have willingly sacrificed the old man to put on a new man created unto good works. Together, we have died to self and have been resurrected to sit in heavenly places with our redeemer. Together, we have come to know our Father's love and goodness. Together, we have covenant to walk in the narrow way that leads to life. He or she that has come with me into the waters of this sacrificial baptism, he is my brother, she is my sister.
The members of Christ body must be united in purpose and goal. Those outside of Christ are doing their own thing as they strive after illusive material possessions, fame, power, or a humanly created paradise. But we, the family of God, must not lose sight that together we are the light of the world. We must be true to this light; together, we must be instruments that God can use to liberate men from error, sin and death. Together, we must work to bring all men to life everlasting in our Father's kingdom. He or she that has joined me in this divine work, in this fight against Satan's kingdom, he is my brother, she is my sister.
The church of God must be loyal to their heavenly Father's family. Together, we must edify and strengthen the family bond by holy living to bring honor to our Father's name. When Satan's forces strike an individual family member, together we must help, support, and love him with all of our Father's resources. When our family's name is belittled or mocked, together, we must stand up and witness of our Father's truth and character. He or she who is willing to put himself or herself in the firing line for our Father's family honor, he is my brother, she is my sister.
It is true, we are the family of God. There is no higher calling then to be called into His family. There is no higher priority in life then to develop relationships in this family that bring honor and glory to our Father. There is no greater work on earth than to work to bring others into this family. There is no greater institution or organization which a Christian can belong to. My brother and my sister in Christ, what an honor to belong to God's family.