One of the most famous early Christian quotes (outside of the NT) is this:
He cannot have God as his Father who does not have the church for his Mother.
This was written by Cyprian in the third century AD (died 258). Here is the quotation in context:
The spouse of Christ cannot be adulterous; she is uncorrupted and pure. She knows one home; she guards with chaste modesty the sanctity of one couch. She keeps us for God. She appoints the sons whom she has born for the kingdom. Whoever is separated from the Church and is joined to an adulteress, is separated from the promises of the Church; nor can he who forsakes the Church of Christ attain to the rewards of Christ. He is a stranger; he is profane; he is an enemy. He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother. (Treatise on the Unity of the Church 6)
In this treatise, Cyprian is responding to people who had “lapsed” during a recent persecution.
I wonder if Cyprian missed something in this statement. Notice that Cyprian separates “church” from those who are part of the church. In fact, he says, “She [the church] keeps us for God.” Thus, there is a distinction here between the church and “us” – that is, those who are kept for God.
Cyprian also says, “She [the church] appoints the sons whom she has born for the kingdom.” Once again, we see a separation between the church and the ones who are part of the kingdom of God.
I don’t think we see this same type of distinction and separation in Scripture. Instead, in Scripture, we see that the people are the church. We are the ones who cannot be adulterous, who are uncorrupted, and who are pure. We are the ones who guard one another for God.
Thus, the church is not our mother – as if “the church” is some entity that is separate from us. Instead, we are the church. If we wanted to keep the family language, perhaps we could say something like this:
He cannot have God for his father who does not have the church for his brothers and sisters (siblings).
I think there is a danger in separating “the church” from those who are the church… from the people themselves. It is impossible to be adopted by God and not be part of God’s family. (Of course, being part of God’s family is not the same thing as being associated with a particular church organization.)