Proclamation always presupposes community. What are we saying when we say, “church?” When we invite others to “church” what exactly is it that are we offering people? A meeting, a club, some information station, a clinic, a lecture, an MLM, or a place to actually live with others? There is this continual pointing to the truth that God chose to create us to live in community. Community is where people have life in association with others, where people become responsible to one another, where people become responsible for one another.
And make no mistake; Jesus invited His followers into a different kind of community than the current flavor found in the religious infrastructure of His day. He addressed exclusive hierarchical tendencies and set His bar so high that there would be no limbo, “But you, do not be called Rabbi, for one is your teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren,” Matthew 23:8. Whatever anyone thinks, however anyone acts, whoever anyone is trying to be, first and foremost in the Community of Christ, “you are all brothers.”
The Term “Brother” Best Characterizes the Relationship Between Believers
A number of key terms are used in the Book of Acts for those who were followers of Christ. They were called believers, Acts 2:44, disciples, Acts 6:1; 11:26; 21:16, Christians, Acts 11:26; 26:28, followers of the “Way,” Acts 9:2; 19:9 23. But no word so frequently occurs as “brother,” from the first chapter in Acts 1:16, to the last in Acts 28:15. Again and again, followers of Jesus refer to each other as brothers. Paul uses the term “brethren” as he speaks to the church at least 130 times in his letters to the churches.
While the 120 are gathered in Jerusalem following Christ’s ascension, Peter, standing to address the entire group (men and women) calls them “brethren,” Acts 1:16. To call them “brethren,” was so natural, as we know they were even waiting for the “Promise of the Father,” Acts 1:4. They were given His word that He would send His Spirit upon them, so they now gathered for that fulfillment. Because they have one Father, they are all brethren in waiting.
Brothers Solve Problems
The church in Jerusalem would grow and grow, and with that growth would come expected logistical shifts and changes. They faced them together as brothers and each time God gave them solutions to the problems and challenges that surfaced. When the practical opportunity arose concerning care for the widows on the Hellenistic Jews in Jerusalem, Acts 6:1, the twelve apostles suggested a division of labor so that all necessary tasks could be adhered to. A group of the brothers would give themselves to prayer and the study of God’s Word, while another segment of the brethren would address the administrative tasks required to serve the practical need of the widows, Acts 6:3. The family of God had a job to do, but they were all brothers doing their portion, their share, based upon gifting, needs and callings.
Not only did the brotherly relationship bridge the clergy/laity gap in the early church, it also provided a definitive parity in which the idea of brotherhood brought both an equality and unity not seen in those days with a common tendency to draw attention to elite religious practices and posture. Isolation and distinction and faction and separation were now addressed by a brotherhood.
Even when problems grew in nature and difficulty, it was the leadership of the church gathered as brothers, in an atmosphere of brotherliness that addressed the challenges and experienced an unprecedented efficiency, Acts 15. So whether it was deacons feeding a neglected segment of the church, or the more complicated issue of circumcision and the inclusion of Gentile believer, it was brethren working together as brothers. They were not a group of dictators vying for absolute power, nor even a political structure paying deference to those above them on some non-existent organizational flow chart. In the great Council of Jerusalem, both Peter, Acts 15:7, and James, Acts 15:13, addressed the “brethren,” the brothers.
In the Book of Acts even major doctrinal decisions did not fall into the hands of some elite clergy class where class theologians imposed their will on the less tenured, less matriculated masses after the style of the Pharisees, but brothers who shared consensus and the consequences of their conclusions.
Brothers Have The Same Father
This concept of brothers seems actually almost automatic and the earliest believers were all Jews and brother with Abraham as their father, and now as believers whether Jew of gentiles we are all brothers because God is our Father. Abraham is the father of a race, a people, chosen by God to fulfill a specific mission on the earth, but his descendents are necessarily limited to the natural descendents of him, his children, and his grandchildren. However, the brotherhood of the church does not depend on the fatherhood of Abraham, but on the fatherhood of God, so all racial and ethic limitations have been blown. All men (and women), regardless of earthly ancestry are candidates for this brotherhood as God is their Father.
As we have all come to learn that racism is a sin problem and not a skin problem, it was God the Father that succeeded in getting the early brothers past this monumental upheaval. It is interesting as we give a closer look at the discussion in Jerusalem in Acts 15, that even before the issue of circumcision verse non-circumcision was settled, these early Gentile believers were already being called brothers. “And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved, Acts 15:1.
And the solution, penned in a letter later reads, “They wrote this letter by them: The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia,” Acts 15:23. How you approach someone is connected to how you see them, and how you see them is often connected to how you relate to them. So here we have both Jews and Gentiles, fellow believers in Jesus Christ, having God as their Father, addressing each other, regardless of family of origin as “brothers.”
Brothers Do Mission
As the church grew and expanded even the pattern of choosing, commissioning and sustaining ministry for mission is still revered in the context of brotherhood, Acts 15, 16, 17. “Timothy was well spoken of by the brethren at Lystra and Iconium,” Acts 16:2. Paul initially chose young Timothy to accompany him on his missionary journeys because he was highly recommended by the brothers who knew him best.
“Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of the Lord,” Acts 15:40. Another missionary journey begins not only with a brother but is launched by the blessing of brothers. And even when they got in trouble, the brothers protected them, and watched their backs, “The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea,” Acts 17:10.
It Is An Invitation to Brotherhood
When Paul recounts his own story of conversion, telling how the Lord Jesus had directed him to the town of Damascus when a devout Jewish believer named Ananias was sent to him by God, the amazing thing is, that here we have Sault the Persecutor greeted by Ananias as, “Brother, Saul,” Acts 22:13.
“Brother” in Acts is used primarily as a word of address, or what believers called each other. But obviously, it is more than that. It appears to be an outward designation representing an inner reality of the depth of their relationship in the family of God, and unlike other followers of religion in their day. As we have seen that the family if the church of God, we are now beginning to see as well that the church is the family of God, and that we are in word and in deed, truly “brothers.”
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.