Who is my brother? This question has been on my mind lately. Some comments from James in a few previous posts have prompted me to think a little more about this. Then a bulletin article came across my desk that basically said to those serving Jesus in denominations: “Sorry, but you’re going to hell. We’re happy to be going to heaven, though.” Almost word for word. I have to be honest … that spirit is so far from my Savior Jesus.
Who is my brother? What a simple question. We have no problem answering that in our physical families. Even stepbrothers and foster brothers are regarded as brothers. But it’s not a simple question, is it? Books have been written on this subject. Lectureships have centered around it. Ironically, churches have divided over it. And really, if we cannot answer this question definitively and simply I have to wonder if we know our Father. It seems to me that Fathers get to identify those who are the brothers in a family.
What do we mean by ‘brother’?
- A Saved Individual?
- A Church Goer?
- A person in my sect? This is someone who is a part of the Church of Christ that is most in line with my thinking on most matters.
- A baptized believer?
- A baptized believer but only the ones who were immersed in a Church of Christ by a Church of Christ preacher and who understood THE reason for baptism?
- A disciple of Jesus Christ?
A couple of things make sense to me:
- God knows who his children are. Those people are his children whether or not I recognize them or know them.
- Who is my brother? is a personal question … one that we answer for ourselves. I know how to answer that question for myself. My answer may not suit everyone. Some will think it’s too narrow, others too wide. But it is my answer.
- Whether or not I consider someone as “my brother” does not change their status in God’s eyes.
Who is my brother? I like the answer of Jesus.
“For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” Matthew 12:49.
In the simple statement of Jesus about the identity of his brothers is the seed of grace (for we are all falling short of doing God’s will), the seed of embracing those disciples who have devoted their life to obedience (obeying the will of my Father), and the seed of ecumenism (whoever).
As a sinner set free by the blood of Jesus, I want to be as inclusive as I can possibly be. I’m sure I won’t always get it right. So if I’m going to err along the way, I will err on the side of grace. I will be happy to embrace everyone I know who has devoted themselves to doing the will of the Father in heaven as my brother and sister and mother. Like me, they won’t get everything right either (even some very important things!).
Some of my brothers are too liberal for me, some are too conservative for me. Some do not teach the lost the exact same thing I teach the lost. The truth is, though, that they are not doing these things for me. They are doing them for the Father. It is not my job to judge the servant of another. I can, however, dialogue with them and share what I believe. I can serve the needy alongside them and cooperate in bringing lost people closer to faith in Christ. All people who want to do the will of God can make a big difference in this world by working together instead of fragmenting from each other.
As a leader in our church, I think I have the responsibility (under the oversight of the elders) to see to it that those who address our congregation do not lead us away from the principles that make us who we are. But that does not mean that we have nothing to learn from our brothers and sisters from other places (geographically and doctrinally). We should not feel that we must unloose our doctrinal convictions in order to regard other believers as brothers.
Maybe that raises more questions than it answers. It does set me free to love, and I think that is what Jesus calls us to do. And after all, when we ask that question ‘Who is my brother?’ … what are we asking? Aren’t we asking how we should treat other believers? It is never wrong to love, treat others with kindness, seek to understand their convictions, and to encourage them (and us) to continue to study and search for God. And when I accept someone as a brother, I think that’s about 90% of what I’m doing. I’m deciding to treat them as a brother.
Unfortunately many believers in my tribe believe that they are free to correct, condemn, and critique … but not to accept. When I receive John Waddey’s paper or the latest Spiritual Sword, I am reminded of my need to express love to those outside of our denomination. The hateful speech and divisive diatribes are disheartening. Many outside of the Churches of Christ are left with the impression that we really do believe that no one else has the promise of heaven. That reputation is hard to live down … and it will only be overcome by a lot of love … and treating others as brothers. I am reminded that Jesus saved his most expressive condemnation to the religious who believed in their own righteousness rather than the primary commands of loving God and loving others.
If God wants to do away with anyone on the day of Judgment, I won’t object. I will know that anyone who is rewarded with eternal life will stand as a saved individual only on the basis of the cleansing blood of Christ, the everlasting mercy and grace of the Father, and the imperfect trust that they had in God. On that day I would rather be found guilty of loving and accepting those weren’t my brothers after all, than rejecting those I should have embraced.
What do you think?