The Bible Does Not Teach Christians to “Focus On The Family” – The Idolization of Family by American Christians (article)
(Link): Idolizing the Family by Gary L. Almy
by Gary L. Almy
God created the family for His purposes and for our good. I am now in my thirtieth year of marriage to one wife; I will be forever grateful to my parents; they gave me the first birth, without which the second is certainly not possible; they cared for me; they fed, clothed, and educated me. Moreover, the Lord commands that I honor them. I am thankful to God for making me the father of five children and for what He taught me through that experience. Yes, God created the family, but as with any good thing created by God, it can become an idol.
I contend here that the Christian church in America today has made an idol of the family. Idolatry can be defined as the act of making a created thing an object of worship. It is no light matter to place any creature in the place of the Creator. Idolatry always takes the gifts of God and attempts to use them specifically to achieve what we want, i.e., to use them for our own comfort and/or power. Take the word “idol” and look up the verses listed under it in your concordance; this will show you how very seriously God views the matter of idolatry. It is not as though we have not been warned. We have and the warnings are heavy. Why is it such an important issue to our Creator-Redeemer? God simply says in Exodus 20:5, “for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God.”
Lest you doubt that something as lovely as family could ever be used by godless men for selfish purposes, consider the following from the bulletin insert entitled “The Church Around the World,” June 1999:
“James Dobson’s radio commentaries on the family are broadcast in China. Ai Jai is sanctioned by China’s Bureau of Radio and Television. Dobson, or Dr. Du as he is known in Chinese, is heard on more than four hundred facilities. The stations make up China National Radio, the government network. The government has asked Focus on the Family for permission to run the printed form regularly in the Beijing daily newspaper.”
The same Communist government tortures, imprisons, and places in slave labor those who bear real witness to Christ. In fact, this same bulletin has the following news:
“Hong Kong Christians are being pressured to stop ministering in mainland China. A magazine in Hong Kong that published articles detailing persecution of unregistered churches was closed, and leaders of a large evangelical church in Hong Kong were refused entry into the mainland recently. Three other Hong Kong churches said that mainland officials asked them to stop working in China” (“The Church Around the World,” July, 1999).
Is this government going to sponsor any genuine Christian message, any offense of the cross? Focusing on the family comes from the world, and the world loves it–as does the godless government of Communist China. The world loves the idea of the family, but hates the real Christian message. Don’t forget that fertility rites and worship of ancestors permeate paganism. Such things should have no part in real Christianity.
All of Scripture agrees with David in Psalm 119:112 in saying, “I have inclined mine heart to perform thy statutes alway, even unto the end.” Nowhere are we told in God’s revealed Word to focus on the family.
In fact, there has been no highway quite as broad anywhere for the Freudian heresy as the road that opens when the church makes marriage and family the focus and reason for existence, both for the individual and for the church itself. Look at church bulletins, letterheads, and general outreach if you think I am extreme in accusing the modern church of doing this.
Maranatha Bible and Missionary Conference is a Christian retreat center on Lake Michigan founded 70 years ago for the purpose of preaching the Gospel and teaching the Word of God while giving missionaries a place to rest while raising their support. Moody Week is held there every summer; Frances and Edith Schaeffer spent their honeymoon there. For sixty years, the sign at the entrance of the road entering the grounds read: “Maranatha, the Lord is coming!” That has been replaced with “Maranatha, where the Family comes first!”
But, don’t single out the Executive Director at Maranatha for blame. This philosophy is everywhere within the church. It may not always be quite so blatantly stated, but increasingly the pride of the evangelical church is the fact that the family does come first.
In many Bible churches, something called Summerfest has replaced what was called Vacation Bible School and/or Revival Meetings. Previously the Word of God would have been taught and preached, but now at Summerfest the main speaker is nearly always a family therapist, and the ministries there are described as being to “the family.”
With the focus away from Scripture and placed on the family, many false teachings have been mingled with the Word of God. It is under the guise of marriage and family therapy that so many of the false teachers are entering our churches. Viewing marriage and family as an ultimate priority, as an end in itself, has allowed Christian radio and Christian bookstores to be taken over by the psychology industry.
Missionary and pastoral candidates today are less screened on their understanding of Scripture and their ability to put forth that gospel which Paul said “is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Romans 1:16). They are more screened on their position on what might be called, in today’s parlance, “family values.” Many pastors are far more concerned about the appearance of their wife and children than they are about the Law and the Gospel. Many missionary candidates are more concerned as to whether their children will be placed in a boarding school at any time while on the field than they are concerned for the message they are supposedly taking to the foreign field.
This emphasis on the family is relatively new. Not all things new and different are unbiblical. However, we all need to think seriously about this. At the very least, recognize that this elevation of the family has never been seen in the church before. Is it a wonderful new discovery or has it come entirely from the world and is it thus one more sign of apostasy?
What does Scripture say about the centrality of the family? You will search the book of Acts in vain for even one example of Paul, Peter, John, Philip, Stephen, or any of the evangelists preaching on the family.
There is simply no record, not one example, of marriage and family being used as a topic for outreach. There is actually very little specific instruction in all of Scripture regarding family beyond the admonitions: husbands, love your wives; wives, submit to your husbands; children, obey your parents; fathers, bring your children up “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” and provide for family members (Eph. 5:22,25: 6:1,4: 1 Tim. 5:8). If we are to comment accurately on the subject, we have to say that Scripture places family in a remarkably different perspective than the church does today.
There is biblical evidence that rebellious man tends to take even the family created by God for our blessing and to turn it into an object of worship. Beginning with Genesis 3 we see how family relationship apparently took precedence over the known will of God. It was not because Adam was deceived that he ate the forbidden fruit: “Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression” (1 Timothy 2: 14). We should at least consider that Adam ate because he placed the marriage partner God had created from his rib into a position higher than he placed God.
The Moabites and the Ammonites were consistent enemies of God’s chosen nation doing all they could to destroy the nation of Israel. The nations of Moab and Ammon owed their very existence to idolatry of the family. “And the firstborn said unto the younger,. . . Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father” (Genesis 19:31,32).
All of Genesis 22 is a fearsome, but truly wonderful story of God’s understanding of our tendency to take what has been given us by Him and to turn it into an object of worship. He knows it will thus demand an allegiance above that of the Giver. God said to Abraham, “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:2). There is no uncertainty regarding what this test was all about. God said to Abraham, “Because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice” (Gen. 22:16-18).
Another clear example of choosing family over obedience to God is found in Numbers 14. After the miraculous plagues on Egypt, including the death of the firstborn, God led his people out of bondage, parted the Red Sea, fed them with quail and manna through the wilderness, and brought water out of the rock in the desert. Could anyone left with any capacity for observation and reason doubt His mercy or question His plan? Yet, when finally ready to enter the Promised Land, with Caleb urging them to go up and take possession of it, what did the people say? “Wherefore hath the LORD brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey?” (Num. 14:3). Concern for family was more important to them than obeying the clear will of God.
And lest one might think I’m reading too much into this, let’s review God’s response to this:
“How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur against me?. . . Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness: and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me, doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised. But as for you, your carcases, they shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness” (Num. 14:27-33).
Scripture is clear that placing anything—however beautiful, however precious, however acceptable to our sentimental society—placing anything before God and obedience to Him is considered to be unfaithfulness to God, and He will deal with it accordingly.
In Judges 6 God told Gideon to “throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove that is by it: and build an altar unto the LORD thy God” (Judges 6:25,26). Scripture records that Gideon obeyed the Lord, but “because he feared his father’s household,” he did it at night rather than during the day (Judges 6:27).
I will not go further through Scripture since this should be enough to show that the New Testament verses on the subject of family are not some out-of-place, strange teaching. Jesus knows our flesh; He created it. He knows we need to be warned that if mother, father, sister, or brother is more important than He is, we are not worthy of Him. The New Testament consistently gives the same message as does the Old.
“Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things. as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers” (1 Peter 1: 18).
“For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me”(Matthew 10:35-37).
“While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:46-50).
Since family is completely absent from any examples or instruction for evangelism, since love and/or fear of family is shown in Scripture to be capable of pulling this fallen flesh toward disobedience, and since the New Testament warns us clearly about the danger of placing family before God, then why has the church moved the family into a position central to its evangelism today?
It is my impression that this idolatrous elevation of the family began to show itself in America during the nineteenth century. It did not come via the church; the problem lies in the fact that the church seems not to have recognized it for the dangerous sentimentalism that it was, and did not hold up the clear light of Scripture against it. The visible church appears to have been so weakened by so-called “higher criticism” out of the German universities that Darwin, Freud, and Romanticism all entered with little more than a whimper here and there.
Tragically, much of the church seemed to welcome these ideas pretending that they added a dimension to the faith grievously missing for nearly 2000 years. It is as if the Truth did not matter nearly as much as some sort of religious experience. Thus the church left reality for sentimentality and mysticism. America continues to this day in its attempt to cover rebellious materialism and the elevation of man with sentimentality (defined as the production of emotion for its own sake).
But perhaps we could still wonder if idolatry might be too harsh a term for the position in which we have placed the family. After all, does not idolatry have to do with ugly totem poles, gruesome masks, and dances around fires, as seen on the anthropology shows on public television? Something so beautiful as family could never really be an idol! Or could it?
Consider the following contrast. By the 1940’s, Protestant rural America rarely sang that grand old hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” and instead sang their 4-H song around the campfires:
My home must have a high tree
Above its garden gate
My home must have a garden
Where little dreamings wait.
And every heart that enters
Will hear its music there.
And find a simple beauty
That everyone may share.
The idolatry of the family we know today began to flower with the Romanticism of the nineteenth century. It sounded so beautiful, but it was devoid of Truth.
It has developed into a rotting fruit, a society riddled with pregnancies out of wedlock, with abortion and fertility clinics, with divorce and so-called domestic violence having become routine, with some fertilized eggs flushed down drains while others are frozen and often becoming the object of lawsuits, and with so many embryos implanted in one uterus that we are killing several babies and calling it “selective embryo reduction” (scientific terminology hiding the horror).
Never have so many children killed heir parents and never have so many parents killed their children. We are so confused that the courts are filled with children who have called the hot-line to accuse their parents of abuse and with parents turning their children over to the state for care via some psychiatric diagnosis. Singing the 4-H home song may have produced tear-filled eyes for the moment, but it has not produced homes with high trees and little dreamings waiting.
When the family takes precedence and becomes the center of focus, it is idolatry. God’s gracious creation of the family is a blessing when God is loved, honored, and obeyed first and foremost. Indeed, “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it” (Ps. 127:1).
Gary L. Almy, M.D., January-February 2000
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