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One approach to Christianity can be called 'relational' to differentiate it from organizational, systems, or mechanical Christianity. Today it is not uncommon for Christians to see their religious life in terms of their relationship to a church system. They often view this relationship in terms of what the system requires, what criteria they have to meet, and what doctrines they have to accept.
In contrast, the New Testament describes a Christian life more in terms of our relationship with God (through Christ Jesus) and with each other. Today we can think of the manager of an organizational business enterprise as the one who establishes the rules and measures the performance of the employees. All too often church leaders follow this business model of administration. A more biblical model of a leader is an older and wiser Christian who can shepherd through teaching and teaches using persuasion as an older brother in Christ.
The word 'brother' is representative of the familial terms (mother, brother, father, sister, children, parents) which are used in the bible as illustrative of our Christian relationships. In order to understand the biblical use of these relational terms, we need to try to understand what they meant at the time they were written and not so much use our current understanding. For example, today a 'brother' may be thought of fondly as the guy with whom we shared a residence and went on vacations with in our youth. However, it is likely that a brother had his own friends, classes, interests, and activities. If one’s brother had his own room, it was likely that you had a closer relationship with the person who sat next to you in school than your brother.
A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. - Proverbs 17:17
The relationship one had with his brother in ancient times was much closer than one typically has today. In a world with no police, unemployment insurance, medical insurance, or welfare, your family was the only resource to sustain your life. Without TV, movies, video games, or cell phones, the activities, interests, and concerns of family members represented that with which time was invested. The biblical use of the word 'brother' carries with it a much deeper relationship than someone today who is remembered fondly when a Christmas or birthday card is sent.
One example of this decrease in familial experience can be seen in the observations of a man of the WWII generation. He spoke condescendingly of his parents generation, seeing them as somewhat provincial, saying that for them, their friends were their siblings and cousins. Whereas for his generation, he was more a 'citizen of the world'. The man did not understand that as a CEO of a major corporation his 'friendship' was sought for the advantages it could produce and that his personal investment in global relationships diverted his attention from and impoverished his own family.
To better understand what Christianity was supposed to have been, we need to first understand what has happened to families in general so that when we use familial terms we may better be able to approximate their original meaning. However, even before a fundamental look at familial relationships, we need to consider the influences of the natural world and the environment it establishes for families.
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