Do You Rate Your Family Too High? Are the priorities of God, family, and job the right ones? by Ben Patterson
by B Patterson.
No one has a higher view of the family than the Mormons. Central to their doctrine of God is the conviction that he is literally a father and a husband, and he has given birth to many spirit children. God is himself the offspring of divine parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents, ad infinitum.
For this reason, Mormons believe family life to be the supreme expression of their faith. To be married, procreate, and parent is to be engaged in the activity of God himself. Mormon bumper stickers which read “Families Are Forever” are taken as literal truth. The family embodies the purpose and meaning of both this life and the next.
The evangelical [Christian] market is now experiencing a glut of books, seminars, films, and magazine articles on the subject of the family and how to enhance it. If that phenomenon is a reliable indicator, and I think it is, then we seem to be emulating our Mormon antagonists.
Increasingly, evangelical Christians are being encouraged to live as though they believed the family to be the chief focus of Christian living. We are becoming the victims of a disease my friend calls “creeping Mormonism.”
Case in point: I’ve lost track of the number of times my parishioners have told me of a decision they have made on the basis of the following priorities:
“Those are the Big Three,” they smile and say. “Keep those straight and you’ll keep your life straight before God.”
I can’t argue with number one, but I do have questions about numbers two and three, especially | number two. My most urgent question is “Where does the church fit into this scheme?” The New Testament has much to say about the church and little to say about the family.
What it does have to say about the family is always in relation to the church-“God’s household,” the “family of believers” (Ephesians 2:19; Galatians 6:10). The most prominent New Testament passage that deals with the family is in Ephesians 5:22 through 6:4.
There Paul’s instructions follow a lengthy discussion of church life keynoted by the command for the Ephesians to bear “with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit, to the end that the church may be built up” (4:2-3, 12). The subject of the family arises much later as illustrative of one of the several ways that unity and love in the church should manifest themselves.
As Don Williams points out in his book The Apostle Paul and Women in the Church, the New Testament order is to see family life as flowing out of the life of the church, not vice versa. The church doesn’t need the family, the family needs the church. The family must be planted firmly in the soil of a vital Christian community to bear the fruit it was meant to bear.
The current focus on the family continually misses this crucial point. The most sacrosanct reason that can now be given for turning down a position of service in the church is that “It would take away time I need to give to my family.” Say that, and the discussion is over, the question is laid to rest, and mouths are shut.
Another question I have is “Where does the world fit into this order of priorities?” More than once the command to go into all the world and make disciples has put a strain on family life. So has the call to be hospitable to strangers, visit the sick, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked.
But today, Christians can avoid those problematic areas of discipleship in the name of sustaining the family life. It is becoming increasingly easy to justify extravagant expenditures on vacations, recreational vehicles, land home improvements because it helps to build up the family.
The truth of the matter is that the family has become a convenient excuse for turning our backs on other people. We want to be left alone to cultivate our own little patch of ground, and we baptize that desire by appealing to an alleged God-ordained set of priorities. There is nothing distinctly Christian about a strong family. Buddhists have them, secular humanists have them, and, I presume, even the Mafia has them.
I also have a question about where single people fit into all of this. Nearly one-third of our population will be single by 1987 [by 2013, that figure has gone up to 44% – that is, 44% of Americans over the age of 18 are single]. If churches reflect this demographic in the least, a substantial number of Christians will find themselves outside the most acceptable arena for discipleship. Many do now.
Granted, that figure of one-third single should be some cause for alarm, since it appears that more and more people are single for bad or tragic reasons: divorce, fear, selfishness, and inability to commit. Nevertheless, the avenues for the pursuit of holiness must be broadened in the minds of evangelicals to include the single. After all, God’s supreme will for us all is holiness, not matrimony. Marriage was made for people, not people for marriage.
My last question is “How does the family itself fit in with all of this?” How well is it doing in the number two spot, just below God? Can it bear the weight of responsibility and expectation placed upon it?
I think the family, especially the nuclear family, would do a lot better if it were nudged down the list a bit, or at least connected more strongly to a larger community-the church. We tend to read into the Bible’s statements on the family a lot of twentieth-century assumptions.
The biblical family was large, with a father, mother, sons, daughters, grandparents, other kinsmen, and aliens or sojourners. Marriage itself was a convenant between two families, not just two people.
In other words, a lot more people were intimately involved in the arrangement than usually are today. Jesus indicated that becoming a Christian would increase the number of people involved a hundredfold (Matthew 19 29).
We expect too much of our families. They need help. It is true that the family is a God-ordained institution. It is true that the family remains the best way the world has yet seen to produce civilized human beings.
But it can’t do it well without the extended family of the household of God. If anything, the family needs to be saved from itself, at least as it is now being conceived of in the minds of many evangelicals.
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