Saturday, March 3, 2018
The Church and the Family
Eph. 6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—this is the first commandment with a promise: 3 “so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.”
Eph. 6:4 And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Following Paul’s instructions about mutuality in the church and marital relationships , he provides an injunction regarding children. Responsibilities in a Christian family reach all the way down to the youngest members. This life in Christ and in the church is to radically alter the way in which relationships develop within the Christian community.
If the church models mutual submission, then it's not difficult to see this reflected in marriage and families. God is present in Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit in believers, and therefore there is to be mutual reverence for God who is in each member. Obedience is to be seen in children, both to their biological and their spiritual parents. This submission, or obedience is to be done in all things that are not contrary to the will of God.
The promise connected to command is found engraved on the tablets which Moses received from the hand of God. Exodus 20:12 says ““Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” This honor is due to parents who are walking with the Lord, and who share the portion of the spiritual inheritance with their children. They never oppress their children, nor do they treat them as slaves. The source of this life comes from followers of Jesus Christ who are committed to a life in the Spirit which spills over into ordinary, every-day life. When spiritual motives are nurtured, the effects are seen in the physical life.
Opportunities for secular education abound, but parents must take responsibility for the spiritual education and discipline of their children. Intentionality in the study of the word of God will have a current and eternal impact. Parents should lead their children to become diligent learners. Discipline must come from a heart that reflects the love of God. This will guide a child’s development, and also direct them into an understanding of the character of God.
The church becomes an incubator for discipleship and this is revealed in many facets of life. This includes marriage and family. Paul certainly understands that not everyone will be married, and not everyone will be a parent. At the same time, the church becomes, for many people, a family in which one can be nurtured and developed as a follower of Christ. That’s why the concept of mutual submission is so valuable. All of this begins with the individual believer who understands that their spiritual life should be developed in community. It is in that community that everyone begins to practice mutual submission. This, then, should be reflected in the lives of those who are married, and in the ways that children are raised.
It is extremely common for children to come from a myriad of hybrid family situations and connections. For the church to only focus on the nuclear family may not be the most responsible way to be engaged in ministry. At the same time, it is not an excuse to ignore the commands of the Old Testament, nor the Apostle Paul.
The church should be a place where principles in discipleship, which lead to parenting, are taught. If we make the choice to become parents, then we have a responsibility to try and raise our children well. Before we become too frustrated with our children, maybe we ought to examine whether we are modeling the Christian life before them! Does our discipline reflect the same discipline that Christ would show us? Children don’t need their parents to be their friends, they need them to parent. Giving guidance and direction to a child is the responsibility of a parent. Letting children have their own way and, in essence, become the ones in charge, will only lead to greater frustration, both for the child, and the parents. Children need parents to parent, and to be actively engaged in their lives, and providing boundaries. At the same time, as children mature, they need to be guided into good decision making.
While we have many single-parent homes, there is a great need for fathers to be engaged in their children’s lives. Far too many fathers are “checking out.” Recently, Dr. Kyle Pruett, a child psychiatrist and clinical professor of child psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, spoke up about the value of having fathers. He identified a number of factors which change in the life of a child when a father is engaged. The child with a father, step-father, or male figure who is engaged is less likely to be a criminal, will wait to become engaged sexually, will do better in school, and stay longer in a job as an adult. This is what science is telling us! It also seems to back up what the Bible tells us about parenting as a spiritual discipline. When the church, as a community of faith, fails to see parenting as a part of their responsibility the children will suffer. This journey of discipleship will touch upon every facet of life. We are stronger when we are a community that is journeying toward Christlikeness. When we reflect the Image, both individually and corporately, there will be a distinctive and positive effect upon the lives of the children within our sphere of influence.
But what if we have no children in our church? I would suggest that such a church ought to embrace the responsibility of ministering to all generations, even if they aren't naturally present. A church without children, can embrace ministry to families who are in desperate need of mentors and spiritual guides. This could be a channel of grace through which God could revive a church. What if the senior adults provided a parents night out by spending time with the children of those in the community? Or, offered parenting classes over the weekend — while also providing childcare? Even when there are no children in the church, the church can embrace her responsibility in providing discipleship and spiritual discipline for every generation. When we only focus on those who are currently present in a church, we may just miss the opportunity for the wholistic ministry Paul defines.
The church is family, and helps to shape family. She simply has to live into the calling which God has laid out before her.
Lord, thank you for the children that have been placed into our care, and those who will come in the future. Please, help us to embrace this ministry in all that we do. Amen.