When the Church Was a Family: Rediscovering the Vision of Jesus

When the Church Was a Family: Recapturing Jesus’ Vision by Joseph H. Hellerman (2009) is a scholarly book that seeks to present (in a popular way) that the early church functioned as a family and that Christians today should capture that same vision.

In my 2008 book, Reimagining Church, I devote an entire chapter to church as family. I point out biblically that the dominant image of the Church in the New Testament is the family (as opposed to body, wife, home, etc.).

I don’t know if Hellerman read my book before writing his (since it came out a year later), but his book confirms many of my points in this book.

The sad reality is that the majority of Christians are stuck in an institutional form of church. Therefore, many of them will attack anything that resembles what the first century church looked like, because it is so foreign to them. And depending on the position they hold, some will feel threatened by such books.

Hellerman’s book is no exception. It was ransacked without mercy.

And I don’t even think it’s that radical. (It’s “low power” compared to other books written on church restoration.)

Be that as it may, books that feature the expression of the church in the first century are often viciously distorted and ransacked. Even if they are “tamed” in their proposals.

Ultimately, the early ekklesia of God saw themselves as family.

Hellerman shows how the community’s relationship to Jesus took precedence over the individual and offers insight into the meaning of the metaphor ‘brothers and sisters’.

Although I don’t believe this is just a mental metaphor, but rather a living reality, as all true followers of Jesus are born from above and have a different form of life in our minds. .

This life – the very life of God – is what makes us a family. This is what makes us children of God and brothers and sisters (who share the same life).

You may not agree with all of the author’s conclusions, but he does a good job presenting his case. And this does not at all justify the attacks of uninformed readers.

This is from the publisher:

“Spiritual formation occurs primarily in the context of community. But as the modern cultural norm of what social scientists call “radical American individualism” expands, many Christians are becoming lax in their relational responsibility to the church. Faith threatens to become an “I” concern and not “we”, “my God” and not “our God”.

When the Church Was a Family reminds believers of first-century wisdom, examining the early Christian church from a sociohistorical perspective and applying the findings to the evangelical church in America today.

With confidence, author Joseph Hellerman intentionally writes to traditional church leaders and emerging church visionaries, believing that what is detailed here about Jesus’ original vision for an authentic Christian community will deeply satisfy the relational aspirations of two audiences.

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