Jump directly to the content
Why Did Early Christians Emphasize Church as Family?

Why Did Early Christians Emphasize Church as Family?

Spiritual formation happens best with others, and family is the best example of Christian community

The group, not the individual, took priority in a believer's life.

The early Christians in Acts and in the first centuries of Christianity had a markedly different perspective on how "church" works than do we modern-day, individualistic readers. Jesus' early followers were convinced that the group came first—that I as an individual will become
all God wants me to be only when I begin to view my goals, desires, and relational needs as secondary to what God is doing through his people, the local church. The group, not the individual, took priority in a believer's life.

Consider, for example, the teachings of Cyprian (bishop of Carthage, circa 250) about the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9–13; Luke 11:2–4): "We do not say: 'My Father, who art in heaven,' nor 'Give me this day my bread,' nor does each one ask that only his debt be forgiven him and that he be led not into temptation and that he be delivered from evil from himself alone. Our prayer is public and common, and when we pray, we pray not for one but for the whole people, because we, the whole people, are one."

Early Christian communities, moreover, represented a specific kind of group: they functioned as a family. Kinship language (brother, sister, Father, child, inheritance) permeates the New Testament. Family is the dominant metaphor for the church in the writings of the church
fathers. Spiritual formation occurs primarily in the context of community. If we're really serious about spiritual formation, then we must become really serious about creating church communities that act like real families.

Joseph H. Hellerman is a professor of New Testament language and literature at Talbot School of Theology and is copastor at Oceanside Christian Fellowship in El Segundo, California. His books include The Ancient Church as Family, Jesus and the People of God, and
When the Church Was a Family.

Sign up for TCW's free e-newsletter, Lifework with Diane Paddison, for biweekly updates and encouragement for women who desire to pursue God through their calling and career.
From Issue:
Today's Christian Woman, 2014, July Week 3
Posted July 16, 2014

also in this issue

July Week 3
Why One Dad Is Best

Why One Dad Is Best

There's a lot to be said for a single, steadfast presence
Why I Don't Have Kids . . . Yet

Why I Don't Have Kids . . . Yet

3 reasons I've held off so far
How You Can Help Adopting Families

How You Can Help Adopting Families

Adoption expert Sharen Ford talks about the ministry of adoptive families and how the church can support them.
Grandparenting Is Risky

Grandparenting Is Risky

Why we sign up for it anyway


More For Women
Her Meneutics


The Christianity Today  women's site provides news and analysis for evangelical women