Thursday, December 13, 2007

Building a Culture of Faithfulness (Part 14)

The Way of Life of Redeemed Humanity Must Be Our Practice

The ramifications of our faith touch every area of life. As we seek to work out what it means to live with Jesus as our Lord, we must keep an eschatological perspective (Matt 6:33; 1 Cor 7:31). This must also be coupled with humility (Psalm 90; Eccl 1:2; 12:13-14), trusting the Lord to accomplish his purposes (Ps 127:1), for there is much we do not know and cannot control about culture. In areas of life where we have clear revelation, we must pursue obedience boldly and uncompromisingly. When ethical issues are on the line, we must always promote righteousness based on God’s revelation and Christ’s lordship. In areas where we do not have as much special revelation, we would be wise to pursue change through building new and better ways of living, rather than through legislation or heavy handed demolition of existing structures. Furthermore, we must always remember that our goal is not to preserve “Western culture” or any other culture, per se. It is to follow Jesus Christ as Lord of all of life.

This perspective will do a couple things for us. First, it will help to keep us from overblowing the significance of the various particular expressions of culture that we interact with every day. Christians sometimes get fixated upon particular, isolated expressions of our current culture and make it into a battle ground as if this one thing could wreck Christianity forever. Not only is this terribly reductionistic, it has no support biblically, historically, or philosophically. While we must be alert to the impact of various cultural phenomena, we must keep it all in perspective.

Yet in addition to this, we should recognize that as we follow Jesus Christ as Lord of all of life, it will necessarily bring us into conflict with the ethos of contemporary pop culture. Ken Myers perceptively wrote, “Christian concern about popular culture should be as much about the sensibilities it encourages as about its content…. [P]opular culture’s greatest influence is in the way it shapes how we think and feel….”[i] In previous generations, following Christ as Lord of life may have brought us into conflict with high culture and its pretensions. But it is my opinion that high culture has eradicated itself from most American’s minds, and pop culture is our chief concern. Marcel Danesi has said that pop culture is culture by the people and for the people.[ii] I believe this description actually points to ideology – pop culture is driven by pagan ideas of human autonomy. This is not to say that everything pop culture produces is sinful, just as not everything Aristotle wrote was wrong. It is also not to say that we cannot appropriate or use aspects of pop culture, though we must use them from a thoroughly Christian position. But it is to say that we must perceive the fundamental irreconcilability of Christianity and pop culture as a mode of thought and feeling.

Living Faithfully in the Family

Biblically, a natural family is one man and one woman in a covenant relationship for life. The purpose of this relationship is (1) to rule the earth together for God, which necessarily means that husbands and wives must (2) reproduce God’s image bearers and disciple them in the Lord. As they do that, they are (3) to rejoice in one another as God’s good gift. By doing all of this, they will ultimately (4) reflect the relationship of Jesus and his followers.

Faithful family living is both productive and reproductive (Gen 1:28). The natural family should operate as one economic and sexual unit. Western society has largely forgotten that the husband-wife team should be one economic, productive unit, but this function is inherent in God’s plan for human kind to exercise dominion over the earth. The old terms for the skills needed to make a productive household were “husbandry” and “housewifery.” These skills are still critical today, even if in different forms. Fathers should train up their sons with the skills needed to provide for and lead their families. Mothers should pass on to their daughters the wisdom of being skillful helpers to their husbands and able keepers of the home.[iii] The family should be an economic team and the foremost unit for providing for its members personal needs.[iv] Grandparents’ needs should be met through the family (1 Tim 5:3-16). Christian families should reject a welfare mindset (1 Thess 4:11-12). This requires a multi-generational economic perspective.

The family should also be a reproductive unit. Marriage always entails the sexual union of a man and a woman, and a divinely intended result of this union is children (Mal 2:15). Christians must welcome children as gifts from God and reject the self-imposed sterility of contemporary Western societies. Christians must especially reject any and all forms of abortions and potential abortifacients. The children God gives are then to be brought up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.[v]

Faithful family living must include family worship. Matthew Henry said, “If therefore our houses be houses of the Lord, we shall for that reason love home, reckoning our daily devotion the sweetest of our daily delights; and our family-worship the most valuable of our family-comforts…. A church in the house will be a good legacy, nay, it will be a good inheritance, to be left to your children after you.” He also said, “Here the reformation must begin.”[vi]

Faithful family living will include family government and order. God has designed the family unit so that each member of the family has covenant rights and responsibilities. The husband is the covenantal head of the home who is responsible to lead the family and to care for his wife and train up his children (Eph 5:25-33; 6:4). He should cast a vision for the direction of the family. He should protect and provide for his family. The wife is the complement of her husband who is to help her husband accomplish their purpose as a family, primarily in the areas of bearing children and keeping the household (Eph 5:22-24; 1 Tim 2:15; 5:14). The children are to be obedient to their parents so that they will learn wisdom and become the next generation of faithful people (Eph 6:1-3; Prov 22:6).

Family government is the foundation for all social order. The pattern of complementarity between men and women should be reflected at all levels in society. Both men and women have vital and indispensable roles within the home, church, and society. Yet we must not confuse the distinctions between these roles. God has worked male headship and female submission into the foundations of society, so that it permeates and influences the whole of it. For example, if a woman was elected to public office, her husband would, in a biblical view, actually have been placed into a position of public authority, for he is her covenant head. It is a sign of God’s judgment to have women ruling in society (Isa 3:12). Likewise in the church, the leadership roles are reserved to men (1 Tim 2:11-12).

Family instruction is a vital component of faithful family living. Christians must recover the lost purpose of learning and the lost tools of learning,[vii] pursuing not merely accumulation of “facts” and technical training, but primarily wisdom (Prov 1:7). Education is ultimately so that we can know God. He has revealed himself to us, and as we develop the skills of learning we will be enabled to glorify and enjoy him. Education must take into account the fundamental realities of humanity. (1) We are made in the image of God; therefore, we can genuinely learn. We are not merely biological machines which are programmed to act or think in certain ways. (2) We are also sinners; therefore, learning to think rightly does not come naturally to us. Children need the disciplined training and instruction of the Lord, for naturally they are fools. We should do away with the myth of adolescence along with the faulty educational structure that supports it and bring our whole families to produce God-honoring accomplishments.

One crucial component of faithful family living is serving in and through the local church. The family and the church should not be operating with opposing agendas. Too often a false dichotomy develops between family life and church life. A family which is centered on Christ is going to have the mission of the church as the center of gravity in its life. A family cannot fulfill God’s calling on their lives without being involved in a local church. On the other hand, a church which is striving to build a culture of faithfulness will not attempt to take over the functions of the family, nor will it adopt individualistic models of ministry which inhibit faithful family living by refusing to recognize the covenantal unity of the family.

Not to be neglected in this discussion is the faithful single Christian. A Christian may be single because he or she never married (Matt 19:11-12; 1 Cor 7:17, 38), has been widowed (1 Cor 7:8; 1 Tim 5:3-16), or has been through a divorce (1 Cor 7:10-16). God expects most men and women to marry and bear children, but God has special opportunities of service for the faithful Christian whom he calls to live without a spouse (Matt 19:12; 1 Cor 7:17, 34). Opportunities abound to serve the Lord in and through the body of Christ. In fact, the single Christian can dedicate himself more intensively to the gospel ministry than a married person can. Living a chaste life of character, purity, and joy, serving others and not self, with a focus on God is a powerful testimony in our hedonistic society.



[i] All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1989), xiii.

[ii] Popular Culture: Introductory Perspectives (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), 4. Of course, Danesi means this as a descriptive phrase, not as a theological analysis. But I am arguing that as an accurate description, it points us to the ideological underpinnings.

[iii] In her recent work Keeping House (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007), Margaret Kim Peterson points out compellingly that the labor of keeping a home is a fundamental way that Christians can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and shelter the homeless (Matt 25:34-40). The financial contribution of homemaking to the family and to society cannot be overestimated and should not be overlooked. Unfortunately, in our cash/credit oriented society, this contribution is rarely considered. One Australian economist has estimated that the “gross household product” of his nation is nearly equal to all market production (Duncan Ironmonger, “Counting Outputs, Capital Inputs and Caring Labor: Estimating Gross Household Product,” Feminist Studies 2 (1996), 37-64, cited by Allan Carlson, “Two Becoming One Flesh,” 21-22). Yet I would also add that wives’ contribution of keeping house goes far beyond anything that can be measured in dollars and cents. In fact, it helps to keep us from viewing life in barren economic categories and keeps the moral, personal, spiritual dimension in everything.

[iv] There appears to be a historical correlation between a loss of productivity in the home and an increase of divorce. See note 12 above. There are many ways that households can become productive again, some of them as simple as making and eating meals together. A very good means is home schooling. Also, families who break the cycle of debt with a multi-generational financial perspective could free their family members from having to rely on creditors or insurance companies, not to mention the government. I believe this will become increasingly important for practical and ethical reasons in the future in our society, for it is always true that the one who pays the bills calls the shots. For more on this, see below under civic virtues.

[v] Incidentally, this is a factor in the propagation of Christianity. Part of the reason Christianity grew and spread in the Roman Empire was that Christians had more children than the pagans (cf. Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996], 115-128). Philip Longman actually predicts that the same thing will happen as the result of our current demographic decline (“Falling Human Fertility and the Future of the Family,” accessed 2 August 2007, available from http://www.worldcongress.org/wcf4.spkrs/wcf4.longman.htm). Not only does marriage and childbearing spread Christianity through producing more people, it also tends to draw existing people into Christianity. Sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox has noted that people, especially men, are much more likely to be involved religiously when they are married with children (“As the Family Goes,” First Things [May 2007], available at http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=5491).

[vi] Cited in Donald Whitney, Family Worship in the Bible, in History & in Your Home (Shepherdsville, KY: Center for Biblical Spirituality, 2005), 11.

[vii] Two highly recommended essays in this regard are John Milton, “Of Education” (available at http://www.dartmouth.edu/~milton/reading_room/of_education/) and Dorothy Sayers, “The Lost Tools of Learning” (reprinted as appendix A in Douglas Wilson, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning [Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991] and widely available on the internet). Becoming educated is not a matter of getting degrees or diplomas from a school. Going to college does not necessarily make one educated, and Christians should not rely upon this cultural right of passage in and of itself to produce mature and wise young adults. Young people should have acquired the tools of learning and a healthy foundation of wisdom long before they think about going to college.

Next week: Living Faithfully in the Community

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