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The Family

Where did ‘family’ come from?

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There’s an unbroken line that connects you to Adam, the first human being. It’s a parental line that twists and turns geographically and socially as it unfolds through history, one generation at a time. My own line drifted east through the steppes of Russia, and was then transplanted by rickety boat to the East End of London. Other stories are less or more dramatic, but we all have one. And one thing connects us, we are all birthed into a family, even if it is a family of one, a lone mother carving out a precarious life in a hostile world.

God chose it this way. It was His way of populating the Earth. It may not be the most clean, tidy and pain-free way (ask any mother). From our perspective, it may not be the most financially efficient way (ask any father), but it’s the way that God chose. It goes right back to the Garden of Eden.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it ..." (Genesis 1:27-28)

Adam and Eve were fruitful, numbers were increased, setting the pattern for generations to come, until the whole earth was filled with people. They were the first married couple, bound together by covenant.

You ask, "Why?" It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. (Malachi 2:14)

Jesus confirmed the pattern.

"Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,'and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh' ? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." (Matthew 19:4-6).

So boy meets girl, they enter into covenant with each other, then have kids, who, in turn, meet someone else and keep the thing going. That’s the mechanism that God put into place for mankind to fill the earth. Celibate priests aren’t going to do the job and neither are alternative lifestyles, but that’s a can of worms best left sealed for now.

The institution of family is God’s building block for righteous living and we can trace this through the pages of the Bible.

Abraham, the father of our faith, had an extended family, including many that he had “acquired” in Haran, who had schlepped around with him in an ancient fleet of mobile homes. His son Isaac and grandson Jacob may have carved out their lives elsewhere geographically but they kept in touch. These extended families were called clans and, by the time we reach Moses and the wilderness experience, there were hundreds of them, divided into the twelve tribes of Israel, named after the sons of Jacob.

And the focus of these clans was not in the great gatherings, but in the simple family home. In fact wasn’t the Exodus itself, the great escape from Egypt, implemented on a family-by-family basis, with each household responsible for its own redemption, the first Passover?

On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn--both men and animals--and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. (Exodus 12:12-13)

At the head of these clans and extended families was the father of each household. Joshua, the leader who followed Moses, was one such head. He made it clear to the others, who really was the head of these family households.

But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD. (Joshua 24:15)

The family motif runs right through the Hebrew Scriptures and in that great prophetic statement in Zechariah 12, when the house of David and inhabitants of Jerusalem will mourn for the one they have pierced, it will be the clans, the families, of the land that will mourn.

The first Church, as we have seen, met in homes, family homes.

The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the LORD, and so does the church that meets at their house. (1 Corinthians 16:19).

Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 5:42)

When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. (Acts 12:12)

After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia's house where they met with the brothers and encouraged them. Then they left. (Acts 16:40)

They rushed to Jason's house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. (Acts 17:5)

Greet also the church that meets at their house. (Romans 16:5).

So did the second church and the third church etc., all the way to Constantine, when, as we read earlier, it all sadly changed. The Church was taken from the people and turned into a huge worldly corporation, with impressively constructed and ornately bejewelled branch offices, called churches and cathedrals, which were swiftly sanctioned as the only places where you could find God.

What was going on in folk’s homes at that point then? For family homes in the “Christian” world, the situation could perhaps be summarised by one word, Ichabod, “the glory has departed ...” The practice of your Christian faith is what you did outside of your home in the controlled environment that was the medieval church building. Most families now lived in poverty, in small sparse homes within small communities controlled by nobles, barons and ... bishops.

The glory had departed! But not totally ...

While the “Christian” was living in poverty, ignorance and subservience, kept in place by the promises of the “next world”, what of his Jewish neighbour?

For the next article in this series, click here.

For the previous article in this series, click here.

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