It seems that as our culture has become more and more self-focused and me-oriented, that the church has not been far behind. Books have been written on how we’re losing generations Y and Z, how inwardly -focused churches (make me comfortable, I pay your salary) are more and more the norm as opposed to externally focused (concerned with lost souls outside the congregation).
But perhaps this isn’t as new a phenomenon as we think. In a book first published several years ago, Joseph A. Hellerman addresses the issue of change in how the Church functions. When the Church Was a Family (B&H Academic, 2009) looks at the structure of the earliest churches described in the New Testament and compares it to the Church of today. Do not read into this something that I don’t intend to say, Hellerman is not slamming the modern church, rather pointing out the shift and offering suggestions for how things can be done in a way that honors God.
One of the first things that he points out is that society as a whole has changed, and a Christian culture has also changed. About 2000 years ago, there was a strong sense of family first. An example he gives is marriages. Years ago marriages were often arranged, and the young couple may or may not agree with their parents’ choice, but it was understood that sacrifices might have to made for the good of the family as a whole. Try telling your teen aged son or daughter today that they will be getting married in a few weeks—to someone they have never met. Yes, times have changed.
The local church served as that family. Conflicts were resolved within the church and when someone was in need, the church helped out. Today it seems like we turn to other places for the assistance we (members of a congregation) used to be able to get from the (local) church. We’ve given up family in favor of doing it on our own.
The culture was as it was, and then along came Jesus, followed by Paul, and they worked at setting an upside-down world right-side-up. Next Hellerman introduces us to the Church in the Roman world, places salvation in the context of community and offers suggestions for life together, decision making, and leadership in the family of God. And those things look a lot different in God's family than they do in a secular setting.
Charts and diagrams throughout help the reader with some of Hellerman’s points. And the one on page 94 points out the subtle differences in where we place our allegiances.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review.