I am working on my thesis project for my D. Min. at Talbot Seminary and, guess what my topic is? Oikos. So, you can imagine the number of good books that allude to oikos in some way, shape or form have found their way into my lit. review. I thought I’d share one of my books. You can share one of yours either on future blogs or to my email. The project is for the Kingdom, so help me out!
Dr. Joe Hellerman was a Prof of my at Talbot years ago and has since written a very fascinating book entitled, When the Church Was a Family: Recapturing Jesus' Vision for Authentic Christian Community. One of his key findings is stated under the heading “I am my brother’s keeper.”
Strong-group people conceive of family quite differently than modern Americans. For people in world of Jesus and Paul, family consisted of those who were related by blood—the father’s blood. The bloodline, which marked family membership, traveled from generation to generation solely through male offspring. This is why anthropologists call these family systems patrilineal kinship groups.
Now this isn’t a surprise, is it? This is what the “begats” in Genesis, Matthew and Luke represent. But Dr. Hellerman goes on to build argument for the family relationship bond as being more like superglue, concluding that even marriage does little to change loyalty to one’s family. He states it plainly, “The closest relational bond in a given generation of people in the New Testament world was not the bond between husband and a wife. It was between the bond between siblings.”
I can almost hear you saying, “Thanks, John for this tidbit on the ancient family, I’m sure I’ll be able to use it somewhere? But how does this pertaining to oikos?” So glad you asked. I’m building momentum. Dr. Hellerman concludes that. . .
Sibling solidarity is of great significance for appreciating the community orientation of the New Testament church. Jesus established His followers as a faith family, and practical expressions of brotherhood soon came to epitomize what it meant for the early Christians to relate to one another as Jesus had intended. Whatever else they might have been, the first followers of Jesus were preeminently a society of surrogate siblings.
So, you that read this are my surrogate siblings and I am yours. We have chosen to leave the loyalty to the world (including our own families) to be joined to Jesus’ family. That’s what Jesus expected in His day when He said, “Come, follow Me” or “Be My disciple”(Matt. 14:26). Dr. Hellerman makes it crystal clear when he states, “The only reason you would leave one family group was to join another one.” “Jesus intentionally framed His movement in terms of family to emphasize the kind of uncompromising relational loyalty Jesus desired among His followers.”
The point is, those in our oikoses are our “potential surrogate siblings”, our potential brothers and sisters in Christ, potential members of God’s very own family. However, those He has placed in our lives to be a witness to currently have genuine loyalties to another family, the family of Satan. In Acts 13 Paul referred to a sorcerer at Paphos as “a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right.” In 2 Cor.4:4 Paul explains how Satan keeps his family together: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
Today as in Jesus’ day it’s a huge decision to leave family because it requires drastically altering one’s identity. We are experienced to recognize “sin barriers” and “spiritual blindness,” but do we appreciate the resistance of switching families and change identities? Again Paul helps us understand that those in our oikos can’t discern what is truth. “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” 1 Cor. 2:14. If switching families seems like foolishness, changing identities must seem ridiculous, unless of course the Spirit is at work.
This week I had the privilege of spending an hour with a neighbor, one of my oikos. Six months ago his wife died and he called on me several times to come and pray, even as she took her final breath. I’ll never forget the family standing around that deathbed having no hope, except that Mom had to be in a better place. Months later, my friend is still alone and sad, tied to his family and the sweet memories of his wife. As we talked, the Spirit gave me freedom to witness although nerves were raw and memories were vivid. But at the center of his universe he was blinded to anything but the lingering memories of his wife and family. It was clear to me that any part of my witness that was contrary to what he and his wife had valued together would naturally be met with resistance, which it was. In other words, he had no interest in joining God’s family, my family. For a moment, I must confess I felt rejected and critical of my effort. Yet representing my family, especially the Lord Jesus, was a privilege that my Father supernaturally and strategically orchestrated for me. By His Spirit He can indisputably transform this life, from darkness into light, from one family to another. So now as I interact with my neighbor the thought often comes to mind, “He’s only one decision away from becoming my brother” and I smile to think how God works in His family.
John Coddington, Upland, CA. Currently, I am not serving in ministry but am looking forward to the next assignment. firstname.lastname@example.org