Building The Generations

In the last few hours of His earthly ministry, Jesus’ compassion towards His followers reaches out once again to sooth their troubled minds and hearts.  Time and time again throughout His ministry here on earth He had tried to prepare His disciples for His departure, His ascension, His going back to the Father and the Father sending another Comforter, but for some reason, it just didn’t sink in, they just didn’t get it (Acts 1:11).

Even after He says it again, there remains more confusion, and more questions.  He indicates, “and where I go you know, and the way you know,” (John 14:4). Oops, yet another inquiry from Thomas, who says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, and how can we know the way?” (John 14:5).  So emphatically, yet in classic consoler style Jesus is direct as He answers, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6).

For centuries, defective Christology worldwide has attempted to tamper, to alter and to contaminate this all-important truth about Jesus, Jesus the God man, Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Immanuel, Jesus the Messiah. Subtle as they may think they are, oh yes He is “a” way, and even, “sure He is one of the ways,” and after all remember, “all roads lead to Rome,” these attempts all fall short of the promise for those who put their trust in Christ.

Those what have received Him as Lord and Redeemer have received the gift of eternal life, and He is the ticket, the only ticket, the only flight available, the “only way.” When Jesus says He is the “way,” He really means the one and only way. There is no other way, there is no other path, there is no other alternative, or access to God the Father. That is it, done, finished, and stubborn as it sounds; Jesus is the only way to God.

When we look at the Christian life, and not just the gift of eternal life in our heavenly home, the question might be, is He just the way to heaven, or when He says He is the way, does He also mean He is the way to life, or even, that He is the way of life, or the way of living. He suggests in Matthew 7:23, 24, that following Him is not just an exit strategy, but an actual path, a path or way that is chosen from other paths and other ways. “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in my it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

The writer of Hebrews sheds even more light on this sense of a way as more than just a way to heaven when he writes, “…by a new and living way which he consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh” (Hebrews 10:20).  So, we must conclude, it is a difficult way and a different way. It is the way to heaven, our hope is built on nothing less than that truth, but it is also a way to life, and a way to living.

Followers of the Way

In the Acts of the Apostles, the early followers of Jesus were known as, “people of the Way,” (Hebrews 9:2), “Way” even being capitalized a couple of times in Acts to indicate and enhance its obvious distinctive (Acts 18:25; 19:9, 23; 24:14, 22). This way of life lived by these earliest followers of Jesus “the way,” was so evident that Saul (Paul) was able to spot them, find them and arrest them because of their reputation of living this unmistakable way of life, it was so obvious and so distinctive that this way of life or way of living set them apart from all others, Acts 9:2.

The call to be a Christian is to live the Christian life, or a Christian lifestyle and not only our cherished prize of eternal life in a prepared place for us in eternity (John 14:2). It is a designed way for us to live in preparation for our place in our Father’s House.  As someone once said, “before he gets us to heaven, He wants to get heaven in us.” “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

I know we are going to heaven, and regardless of your definitive eschatology, we will all eventually get there. The problem is, why not sooner? I admit I have a pretty weird sense of humor, or lack thereof, and have often wondered way God didn’t choose to kill us as soon as we received Christ as Savior. I had this picture of the evangelist with a loaded 44 magnum, saying, “If you would like to receive Christ and go to heaven, please come forward.” And as soon as we confessed that we believed that Jesus died and rose again for our sins that the evangelist or preacher pulled the trigger, quickly shipping us into eternity with God. Think about it, not a bad idea? No discipleship, no tithing, no nursery duty, no inter-church conflicts, no forgiving your brother, no church clean up days. What a deal? Instant conversion, instant inheritance, instant passage, that includes an immediate exit into the plans and purposes of God for us in our heavenly home.

But no, we have actually been called to live the Christian life in two dirty places, the flesh and the world, and are even surrounded by three constant enemies, the world, the flesh and the devil. God has a plan that we walk with Him on this earth, live in community with other followers while we are here and live in such a way as to impact and influence others to follow Christ as well.

Christianity is a way of life, never intended to be equated solely with the routinization of ecclesiastical rules nor the passed along creeds of historic religious organizations, but was designed to be a distinct way in which believers, followers of Christ, were empowered by the Holy Spirit to actually live differently while here on earth before we ever get to heaven.

The Family Way

Well, let’s figure it out. Less this way seem nebulous, metaphysical or just mystically weird, what if God did not hesitate to outline throughout His Word from the very beginning, what this way of living, or way life was like. God created two institutions, first the family and then the church. And as infatuated as we are about the church, long before God created church, He created a way in which people would live, the family. They would live in families through the generations. He gave families ample guidelines, principles, values, and distinctives. As you keep reading in both Old and New Testaments these characteristics get reinforced that these family and generational guidelines are actually prototypical of how the church was later to function. Not only are we were to live in families, but also in His family, the family of God, the community of faith, the church. We are called to live in a certain way as families that follow God, and a certain way as communities of families for generations through what we call the church.

A way of life, or maybe even as Henri Nouwen titled his classic book in 1981, “The Way of the Heart.” This view of following God as a way of life, as opposed to simply a way to pretend to act a certain way within an institutional setting for a few hours a week, becomes not only the way an individual lives, but also to emulate those qualities from generation to generation and from Christian community to Christian community.

New Testament Terminology Indicates A Family Way

Look at the nomenclature, the terminology, and the language. God doesn’t hesitate to be called Father, and even husband in the Scriptures, Matthew 6:9 and Jeremiah 3:14. Jesus does not hesitate to call us His brother in Hebrews 2:11. We live in a “son-household,” as members of a “son-family, Hebrews 3:6. Perhaps one of the most famous New Testament passages on the marriage relationship is found in Ephesians 5:22, 23, with Paul pointing to the startling conclusion in 5:32, that the picture, or metaphor, or model being addressed here is actually not just about a man and a women in holy matrimony, but about Christ and His Church.

Paul uses tender familial parenting language as he describes his own apostolic/pastoral ministry in I Thessalonians 2:7 – 12, when he describes his actions of that of being, “a nursing mother,” and a “father with his children.”

Howard Snyder in his book, “The Problem of Wineskins,” states, “Marriage and family are the basic personality-forming institutions God has given us, and they must function hand in hand with the church. A great need today is to rethink the family on the basis of the Biblical understanding of the body of Christ.”

We are not talking here about the family as Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, or Ward and June Cleaver, or Ma and Pa Walton, we are talking about what God, the creator of the family and the church has to say about how we are to live by His very specific selection of family terminology and language.

The Old Testament Opens and Closes With Family Generations

When our Creator God prepared the world, He crowned His creation by forming Adam and Eve, and placing them together on the new earth as our first family. God seemed to be making it clear that His purpose in the world was to be revealed through the family, and perpetuated as these values or characteristics would be passed along through the generations of more families.

The Abrahamic Promise (the fountainhead of God’s gracious plan) begins with the generations, to Abraham and his seed (his descendants), Genesis 12:2, 3, “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” God’s plan was to build a family of people who would pass the “way” to ongoing generations, Genesis 15:1 – 6; 22:16 – 18. Even His divine choice of Abraham was predicated by what God knew about Abraham and his ability to charge his children. “I have chosen him that he might charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord,” Genesis 18:19. His propensity to pass the covenant onto to succeeding generations was criteria for being chosen as the covenant progenitor.

The emphasis on the family generations is consistent throughout the entire Old Testament, from the commands of Psalm 78:5 – 7, “For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should make known to their children; That the generation to come might know them, the children who would be born, that they may arise and declare them to their children, that they may set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments; and that they may not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that did not set its heart aright, and whose spirit was not faithful to God.”

The Old Testament even closes with a warning about the generations. Malachi 4:6, “He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of children their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”

And with Malachi, the Old Testament curtain is rung down with a final message about what God ultimately desires, Malachi 2:15, “He seeks godly offspring…”

The Focus on Family Generations is Also Consistent Under the New Covenant

The promise of salvation is thrown out to a man and his entire family (“oikos”) in Acts 16:31. The promise of sanctifying power is placed within marriage and family relationships in I Corinthians 7:14. Parents, especially fathers are assigned the responsibility of bringing up the children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, Ephesians 6:4. In fact, it is the parents as the natural leaders within the family generations that are the primary authorities and not other surrogate spiritual leaders.

According to I Peter 3:1 – 6, even an unbelieving husband is the primary authority to a believing wife and not a surrogate leader. With I Timothy 5:3 – 16, indicating that the case of the widow conclusively shows the centrality of family generations.

Church then is a fellowship of believers in Jesus, represented by a family of families. The essence of the church is that family units living through tested family realities with home life as their center become the essential exhibit of relationships that the church is to mirror to the world.

The family being the primary unit of culture, with fathers and mothers as the natural leaders and is also the central venue through which God’s redemptive purpose of the full revelation of Himself is to be passed along posthumously to each embryonic generation. The plan of God is to build the generations.

Gary Goodell is a former evangelist, pastor, college dean and instructor involved in ministry stuff for almost 50 years. He and his wife Jane live in San Diego, California USA and he is a father of two and grandfather of seven. As an author and consultant he is an itinerant mentor working with the international church planting movement known as Third Day Churches, that he and some friends founded in 2001. Third Day Churches now involves leadership and ministries in over 20 nations.

His two books, “Permission Granted To Do Church Differently in the 21st Century,” and “Where Would Jesus Lead?” are both available online.