- I John your brother...vs 9
Whenever we engage these kinds of conversations, we are stuck between biblical accuracy and cultural acceptability. In our quest to walk through that fine line, we find much joy in John's language found in Revelation. His love for the 7 churches is clear and apparent. He does not feel the need to impose his role as apostle on them. Rather in true Johannine humility, he uses this language as he appeals to relational rather than positional authority. John is very comfortable to describe himself as brother, but this was a word forged in reality not a religious title.
The temptation to default to business, pragmatic or religious models are avoided. John is building a family. Every word he writes in his gospel, his epistles and here in the apocalypse, builds strong healthy relationships modeling the very image of family.
This is more than:
- membership of an organization,
- association in a network,
- co-laborer on assignment,
- friendships without mission.
The word John uses here “adelphos” - from which we get ‘philadelphia’ - brotherly love, the community possessed of this relation [It is fun to consider the letter to the church in Philadelphia]
What the bible speaks of is more than just ‘being mates hanging together’. Each of the more known apostles, uses this term to describe their understanding of their evolving story.
Peter: “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God” 1 Peter 2:17
“By Silvanus, a faithful brother, as I regard him... 1 Pet 5:12
Paul: “Tychicus will tell you of my activities. He is a beloved brother and a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord” Col 4:7
“Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss” 1 Thess 5:26
This was NOT a religious term. It is the family framework that leeks into every page of the text.
There is a deeper call that is laid out here. This is more than,
- membership of an organization, or denomination whereby loyalty to the tradition is the highest value;
- a network whereby the system provides the safety of connectedness as the highest glue;
- mateship whereby all things are incorporated or rejected not based on truth but on maintaining the friendship as the highest value;
- a movement if left to its own energy can produce forward mobility - the highest value is mobility but not the long term relationships.
The group that John is addressing has experienced the most dastardly of tribulation and persecutions. There is something weighty that is forged under these circumstances that deepen 'men' walking together.
“Communitas ... happens in situations where individuals are driven to find each other through a common experience of ordeal, humbling, transition and marginalization. It involves intense feelings of social togetherness and belonging brought about by having to rely on each other in order to survive...communitas describe the dynamics of the Christian community inspired to overcome their instincts to ‘huddle and cuddle’ and to instead form themselves around a common mission that calls them onto a dangerous journey to unknown places - a mission that calls the church to shake off its collective securities and to plunge into the world of action, where its members will experience disorientation and marginalization but also where they encounter God and one another in a new way” Alan Hirsch
I want to be part of this kind of "brotherhood".
- It is loaded with a togetherness that is forged through challenge;
- It is a depth of relationship that is a high value, like the Ozzie ‘digger’, the bonds soldiers form under fire, combat and death;
- It is clearly of divine authorship, God bringing us together, a knitting of hearts that withstand tough and combative circumstances;
- It is comfortable with uncertainty;
- It is fashioned by collaborative engagement;
- It has leadership in plurality, just like a family;
- It is parental in its model, seeking to raise up 'children' to “leave home”;
- It is strong, robust and radical,
- It holds true to the big picture and these family relationships do not separate over non eternity pieces,
- It empowers each church on her own unique story - not requiring all to conform into a single image, DNA yes, conformity no - just as each of our children carry our DNA but we do not require conformity;
- It produces authentic joy and friendship with the desired accountability...
- It is in for the long haul - that is what biblical family is, that is what biblical family does.
There is no desire in our hearts to build another way. That does not mean that others are wrong and we are right. Rather, it helps us define our distinctives, framing our story in a way that we see in the text and by the way we are wired - seeing life through the lenses of family.