Family Forever 1.
Apart from the impact of my own family of origin my greatest griefs in life have been experienced in the Church. So when the Spirit started to challenge me recently to turn away from “them and us” thinking about our local congregation this was very difficult to hear. Such thinking contradicts the basic unit in which God has placed us all, family. I was deeply challenged on a pastoral visit to one of the older members of the local congregation as he kept referring to “our family up the hill”. We are all both pleasantly and painfully aware that once you’re in a family that’s it! All humans intuitively understand that family bonds are not restricted by space and time and a true family has no place for an inner or outer circle. The challenge of fully embracing the Church as my family has issued in the following reflections.
The bonds of self-giving love we see in natural families owe their origin to the love the Father, Son and Spirit share for one another (1 John 4:8). Central to this love is the way the Father and Son know each other. Jesus emphasised this mutual knowledge by teaching, “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”” (John 10:14-15). The “knowing” of Father and Son is one of deep personal intimacy. In praying about this knowing I received a picture that helps communicate how the Father and Son fully love what they see in each another. If two mirrors are aligned together at their base at an angle of 45 degrees each mirror sees itself reflected in the other. The Father perfectly sees himself in the Son, and absolutely loves what he sees, just as the Son perfectly sees and loves himself in the Father. From eternity the mirror of each of their lives has been flawlessly aligned in the Holy Spirit. This picture relates to a deep experience I recorded last year in Cambodia:
Praying in my filthy street in Phnom Penh it was if I could see in the Spirit what the Father saw when he looked at the cross, I could see that he did not look at the cross so much as look through the cross, through the absolute purity of heart (cf. Matt 5:8) of the sacrificial Son dying for the world. What he saw was himself, he saw the fullness of his own glory perfectly imaged without any defect, distortion, corruption or stain.
Made as God’s children in his image and glory when we see ourselves as we truly are in the divine likeness we will fully love ourselves in God (Isa 43:6-7 cf. 1 John 3:2). The place where such self-recognition occurs is the Church as the Body of Christ. Christ’s presence in his Body is the mirror in which we see ourselves as the Father sees us. To see and love who we are as God sees and loves us in the Church presents an enormous challenge.
In declaring, ““My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”” (Luke 8:21) Jesus made it clear that his deepest bonds of affection were with the community of God, and not with his family of origin. He confirmed this as a priority for all believers by saying, “““If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”” (Luke 14:26).
Referring back to our mirror image, the Holy Spirit is always working to align the Church with Christ her head so that in him we may behold our true glory (Eph 5:23-27). “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18). In our individualistic world it is easy to miss that this is a corporate image. Similarly, the call of “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry” is a call to assist the Spirit in his work of community alignment. For the word translated “equip” bears the sense of aligning broken bones so that they may heal (Eph 4:13). A truly aligned Body will be full of mutual love, acceptance and nurture; a mature Body heals itself, “the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.” (Col 2:19). The way to such maturity lies through our brokenness.
A Broken Body
You can only be and love who you are in God when you see yourself where God sees you, in the Body of Christ. Over the years I have experienced in the Church many cases of conflict, abuse, depression, anxiety, envy, lying, bitterness, divorce and suicide, these are all symptoms of our identity confusion as to who we are as a family. Whilst many parts of the Church stress victory, overcoming and success it is our very brokenness that holds the key to the release of our self-healing properties as Church; “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16), “the body…builds itself up in love” (Eph 4:16). When shame at sin blocks confession and paralyses the growth of the Church we know that our love is not mature. For this there is only one remedy, love revealed in suffering.
Paul speaks of “my sufferings for your sake, filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:24), and “what I am suffering for you” (Eph 3:12). By this he makes it clear that he is willing to die for the sake of his brothers and sisters in Christ. This is the true love we all need to share if we are to see ourselves as God sees us in the Body. When a commitment to suffer for others fills the Church the Holy Spirit is bringing about the most powerful alignment. As his aligning Jesus with the Father’s will to die for others led to resurrection power, so our Spirit-led laying down our lives for each other will manifest God’s glory amongst us (Eph 3:12; Heb 9:14). “Us” is the family of God. The lesson is clear, as Jesus painfully gave his life for the Church so must we.
The countless natural families are mortal, the one eternal family has God as Father through Jesus in the Spirit’s power (Eph 4:4-6; Heb 2:10-11). As we see our family identity mirrored in God’s life we as Church will begin to live out the reality that the bonds between us as brothers and sisters in Christ are more powerful than the bonds of natural blood relation (John 1:12-13). Here on earth only the community of the Church can provide unconditional love and nurture for its members from the cradle to the grave (cf. Matt 5:46). When the bonds of love in Church-as-family are more powerful than the broken bonds of dysfunctional family ties then the people of God will be visibly healed. To fulfil this vision the Lord is calling forth spiritual fathers/mothers who will image a leadership in suffering for the flock that others may imitate (Phil 3:17; 1 Thess 1:5-7). Such genuine shared sacrificial love will hold great persuasive power in leading many Australians into the family of God, and we will send out many missionaries ready to sacrifice themselves for parts of the Body yet unborn. The release of this vision awaits a restoration of the Word; the subject of my next teaching.