As the Church (capital C), we have spent a lot of time creating metaphors for the relationships that comprise the Church. One of the most popular is “the family of God.” It even has a theme song!
It is not an unbiblical idea. Paul used the metaphor of a family many times, doesn’t he? Actually, he doesn’t.
Ok, you don’t believe me. I understand. Go grab your Strong’s Concordance and look it up. I’ll be here when you get back.
Paul does make references to families and households as components of the church; and he even refers to the church as “the faithful household” [Galatians 6:10] and “the household of God” [Ephesians 2:19; 1 Timothy 3:15]. But he never calls the Church “the family of God.” It simply isn’t there.
A household is not the same thing as a traditional American family. In fact, the two have little in common. In America, and in most of the western world, we have a perception of what a family is. We think of the Cleaver family – a hard-working but patient father, a home-making, cookie baking mother and their 2.5 biological children. We assume that this is the family God must have meant to start. It is perfect – ideal really. But it only exists in fiction; and generations were dashed by the expectation that family life (and church for that matter) would be like an episode of Leave It to Beaver or Ozzy and Harriet.
In contrast to our flawed ideal of the family, God sees us as his household. What is a household? The Greek word is oikos, and it literally means “house.” But in the ancient world, a house was more than just a place with walls where you lived with their kids until they went to college. A house could be quite elaborate, sometimes extending over an entire village.
For example, Bethlehem is “the house of bread” in Hebrew, and in the early Iron Age, it was populated by the family of Jesse, a ruling clan of the tribe of Judah. The book of Ruth establishes Jesse’s house as this pre-eminent, ruling clan. Late on, when David wishes to drink the water of the wells of Bethlehem [2 Samuel 23:13-18], he is not only longing for his home. Bethlehem was his “house”, it was his father’s city and the seat of power for his family.
The same idea continued in Jesus’ day, when he told his disciples: “In my father’s house, there are many mansions.” [John 14:2] The word translated as mansions in the King James Version is often re-translated as rooms in modern versions on the argument that a house cannot contain many mansions. But the house of a king or a grand seigneur is much larger than a single, walled building. It is his domain. So, it is not incorrect to translate the Greek word monē as mansions because God the Father’s house is not a single place but a kingdom.
Of course the biggest difference between a traditional family and a household is that a household is not homogenous. Everyone is not of the same stock or persuasion. It is a large, extended family of people who may or may not be related, all united under a single master of the house. In families, we avoid disagreement to keep the peace. In a household, the disagreement is welcomed because it strengthens the whole. Honesty is truly required. We cannot afford to sugar coat the truth.
Households have greater potential for problems because they are not bound by genetics or pressure. But they also have greater potential – both internally and externally.