Friday, March 22, 2013

The Jesus Kind of Family Part 2 - Oikos

In the last post, I introduced the idea that Jesus' brand of family is inclusive, hopeful, at the heart of God's mission, and even more fundamental than our own blood families.  Jesus' family comes in all shapes and sizes, but there is a word that describes where his family has historically found its source and equilibrium: oikos.

Oikos is a greek word that can just mean "house.But perhaps a fuller definition would be "household" or "extended family".  This was the basic unit of Greek society which included both blood family, slaves, land, and living quarters and extended into deep webs of relationships.  Paul and Peter both employ this fuller definition of oikos to describe what God's family is like.  We are his household and are being built together as living stones into a spiritual house.  That is a rich and beautiful image.

But don't confuse God's house with the American ideal of a house in a quiet neighborhood to raise a happy family.  This is not life in a gated community.  Oikos is messy, public, and has fuzzy boundaries.  People drift in and out of the margins while a consistent, committed core remains faithful to the Master.  Also, don't assume oikos means "house church".  I believe this to be too small of an idea and a misapplication of oikos.  Like the household of Cornelius, when God invades an oikos, the implications are far greater than what happens in the living room of your ranch home.

Oikos is both the context for the message of the Kingdom to be spread and the environment where the Kingdom flourishes and nourishes God's set-free-ones.  Everyone has "networks" of friends, neighbors, co-workers, classmates, or family members - the Potential Energy of mission if you will.  As people respond to the Holy Spirit and become followers of Jesus, that potential energy is converted into the Work of mission, where those followers are invited to join a new family - the oikos of God.

P.S.  In practical terms - and in my experience - groups of 40-60 people seem to be the optimal size for God's people to relate as an oikos.  Under 40 is too closed, causes stagnation, and makes entry into the group difficult.  Over 60 creates ministry challenges that are difficult to manage, diluted relationships, and unruly gatherings.  This is bound to be controversial and I certainly don't have all the answers, but there's something that seems right about this for Christians in the West.  Maybe we need to rethink what it means to be church around groups of 40-60 people who relate and share resources on a larger scale in a geographic area.  Just sayin'.