There are not two churches, the church of men and the church of women, just as there are not Jew and Gentile, slave and free, etc. Of course we have made countless divisions among ourselves. However these are merely illusions. I don’t mean that they don’t exist or don’t matter. What I mean is that Christ has only one body. We he looks, he sees only one church. Sure, he knows all about our divisions and denominations. Yet to Him there is only one church which is comprised of those who are following him through the Spirit.
For whatever reason, we seem to like to divide. We have youth group, children’s church, a singles group, young single adults, divorcees, young married couples, older married couples, etc., etc. It often seems that one of these lines is drawn between men and women. There is no doubt that there are some common, typical differences between men and women (beyond just the physical). Yet I feel that many times the difference are made to be more than what they are or need to be, as if we can’t relate across the gender line. Some people seem to feel that only minimal interaction is possible or proper (unless married or heading in that direction).
The new testament repeatedly refers to the followers of Christ as “brothers and sisters”. I don’t believe this was just a nice, “fluffy” phrase used to make old ladies feel sentimental, but which had no real substance. I believe that this phrase was used because it best described their relationships, or at least was how they were to view their fellow believers. In 1 Timothy 5:1-2, Paul instructs Timothy to treat the members of the church as family. The same instruction applies to the rest of us as well.
We are not always close to our biological family for various reasons. However, ideally, how would we properly treat the members of our family? This can be a guide for how we treat the other members of our church. (Note: while the size of extended family can vary, I’m betting most people aren’t close to hundreds of family members. In most cases, I’m guessing at most the number would be closer to 50. When I refer to church, I am thinking of the community of people you following Christ along with, not necessarily the place you go on Sunday with potentially hundreds or thousands of people.) Would we encourage our biological brother or sister? Would we compliment them and tell them we love them? Might we spend time with them? Might we give them a hug, a gift, or otherwise do things to show them we love and care about them? Should we perhaps treat other people in our church this way (even if the are a member of the opposite sex)?
First of all, I grant that this would not work in many churches, because the members of those churches aren’t that close. If you’re not close to someone, acting as though you are can be awkward at best, and perhaps completely inappropriate. For around 1700 years “church” has been more of a ritual service observed. If this is what church is believed to be about (“just here for God”), then relationships with others in the congregation are optional and peripheral—they just aren’t important. However in my book, the fellowship of those who are following Christ is an essential part of being “in Christ”. The idea is that we should become close to a community of believers who are living the life of Christ together.
In this latter scenario, treating others as members of the same family is completely appropriate. In fact, we are members of the same family. If we have been “born of the Spirit”, we have new life, the life of God, inside us. Therefore we are family with those who also share this life.
Treating members of the opposite sex as family is complicated by our culture’s extremely vague courtship process, as well as the lack of strong family and friend relationships. Because of the relatively weak relationships in our culture and emphasized greatly by the media, we look to the romantic couple as the hope of finding one fulfilling, close relationship in life. Add to this the fact that the courtship process is often begun by very vague interaction, which looks much similar to a friendship. The result is that any interaction between members of the opposite sex which could be friendship or familial expression of closeness is infused with “romantic” intent and assumed to be “romantic” in nature. This is a barrier to the expression of love and community between the members of the church, but it is one we should strive to overcome. (In order to improve in this area, the means of initiating courtship may likely need to be reimagined and clarified.)
Typically, because expressions of love are infused with “romantic” intent, there is concern in Christian groups that this will lead to inappropriate interaction. According to the bible, sexual interaction outside of marriage is inappropriate. However many groups have made inappropriate, by proxy, most any interaction between genders. Certainly and clearly there are things which are appropriate and inappropriate between a brother and sister. Likewise, there are things which are appropriate and inappropriate between male and female members of the church. I am simply arguing that we’ve often drawn the line in a way that considers as inappropriate the loving of the opposite sex as a sibling as we’re instructed to do.