“He calls everyone brother, it’s so weird.”
“I hardly know her and she calls me brother.”
“I find it so weird that he calls people brother, we’re not American.”
I’d never heard a man call another man brother in real life until a good few years after God brought my family into the Reformed church. It was something that gangsters or monks did, not normal people. Admittedly I had a couple of friends who I referred to in sibling terms but only because we were so close that the only thing stopping us from being family was DNA.
To call a stranger, or even an acquaintance brother was very bizarre though and perhaps just a little creepy.It suggested a closeness, a familiarity, and a bond which simply couldn’t exist unless you knew and trusted them very well.
It’s not a done thing in Scotland anyway. People are mates, they are rarely brother so it can sound unfamiliar (or perhaps too familiar) to our ears. The reactions above are common enough.
I’m not sure that this is ok in the Church.
Let’s be honest, we don’t call each other brother in the Scottish Church half the time because he’s not my brother if he doesn’t preach in a dark suit. He’s not my brother who sings those dreadful contemporary songs (bring back the Tyranny of the Nine!). He is not my brother who insists on making women wear hats and long skirts in church.
The list goes on and grows in importance from these secondary issues of (largely) conscience, escalating to issues of doctrine. He’s not my brother because he believes too strongly in Baptism or church membership, or not strongly enough in Presbyterianism.
Oh my brothers, we love to bicker and to question one another’s salvation.
Let it be clear that I absolutely do not believe in ecumenism. I read an article recently that a friend shared from Premier Christianity (you can read it here) which claimed that we shouldn’t let lesser issues like marriage, sexuality, practice of the gifts of the Spirit, and church governance divide us. It vexed me considerably because it was unadulterated nonsense. No, the Church should not (in fact cannot) be divided on some of these issues but the sheep can and should be divided from the goats for the sake of the health of the Church. What I am trying to say is that we need to be more balanced, wise, and gracious in what we consider to be important issues and be clear whether they are truly important issues or whether they are mere matters of conscience.
I am writing to encourage you, in this dark and desperate nation, to try to cultivate a mindset which sees other believers as brothers. At first it may seem a little strange and you might draw back from the trendy American hipster pastors calling each other bro stereotype but I would like to suggest that it is in fact a healthy and natural thing to do to call your fellow believers brother.
Brothers in Arms
We don’t use enough war imagery in the church. We like races and victories and crowns and light overcoming darkness and new birth and plants but where we talk about kingdoms it sounds more like the Cold War than the World Wars.
We don’t talk to Them and try not to react when They antagonise us. We also do our best to turn Their operatives over to our side and to sabotage each others’ plans. But we don’t se the Christian life as a bloody battlefield. We don’t talk about buckling our armour on day after day and wielding our swords in skirmish after skirmish. Not as much as maybe we should.
When you have your back against the wall, it is so much easier to find strength to fight when you are standing shoulder to shoulder with others on your side. There is no guarantee that you will come out alive but that doesn’t seem as terrifying when your fellow soldiers are standing with you, fighting with you and fighting for you.
Believe it or not, I really try to be positive about the state of the church. You can see that from some of my other posts (like this one and this one) but it’s also important to be realistic (see my previous post) and realistically we are in a bad place.
Many local churches feel backed into corners, wondering if they are alone in this seemingly losing battle. On a more personal level, individuals in our churches are struggling constantly with doubt, various forms of temptation, guilt, secret sin, grief, and hardships that happen just because life is hard and that’s how it is. And they’re wondering if they’re alone in the fight.
The Christian life is a war zone and when churches or individuals find themselves cornered or wounded, they desperately need someone to come alongside them and say I’m with you brother, we’re in this together.
That’s what it means to be brothers in arms. You aren’t just fighting for the same side, you are fighting for one another.
You cannot guess how encouraging it can be to hear someone call you brother or sister. It may seem like a casual remark but it can encourage struggling believers more than you know.
When someone is down for whatever reason, when they feel like their ability to stand firm is wearing dangerously thin and they are feeling utterly alone against the world, sometimes all they need to begin the road back up into hope is for someone to stand with them.
Brothers by Adoption
If God is your Father, if you own him as such, it stands to reason that other believers are your siblings. You’re adopted into the same family.
This has glorious implications. Earlier in 2016 I was at a conference down south and it filled me with joy because as I looked out over the dining room I saw two groups. The first was a church/choir weekend away comprised entirely of Nigerians. The second was the motley crew to which I belonged. Of the nationalities I recall we had English, Scottish, American, Burmese, Indian, German, Hungarian, Austrian, Polish, Nigerian, and Mexican. That is to say nothing of financial or social status or upbringing. Our local churches are the same.
What is it that brings us together? What is it that causes an Indian man, a Burmese man, a Nigerian man, and an American to share their lives together, to work together, to encourage one another in their faith?
It is because they are brothers and if it weren’t for skin colour and accent you wouldn’t know they weren’t related. They have the same Father and so they treat one another as siblings. It is natural, then that they call one another brother not in a stiff, formal manner nor in the casual street sense but with a warmth, affection, and delight that speaks more of friendship than formality.
We have been adopted into the same family and so there is nothing strange about owning our kin. If anything, it can serve to remind us of the bond we have in Christ.
Brothers in Blood
This bond runs thicker than water. The water of baptism is the outward sign but we are sealed by the atoning blood of Christ and that never changes.
If we have repented and been saved by grace through faith then we are not just part of the same family but the same body, the Church. We have received sonship through the sacrifice of Christ and that blood runs thicker than DNA.
It is not strange to call one another brother when we share the same inheritance. With this in mind, issues around whether a man wears a tie or not when he preaches pale into insignificance. There’s no need to lock the swing park on Sundays to make sure that the children observe the Sabbath. Whether guitars and pianos accompany our hymns or psalms shouldn’t divide us.
We are brothers. We need to remember that. It’s not a trendy yet cringe worthy greeting between pastors that still wear skinny jeans at forty. It’s not a stiff, formal secret code to acknowledge that you are the same brand of legalist as I. It is a recognition of our identity in Christ and an invitation to put aside our petty squabbles and start acting like family to the glory and pleasure of our good Father.
These are dark days but they are made lighter by the fact that we are brothers, brothers in arms, brother by adoption, and brothers by the blood of our Saviour.
It’s not weird. It’s not trendy. It is, dear brothers, the truth.