A few people in the church starting to wake up to the fact that the cultural context has changed. Not only that but some are even beginning to see that they are part of the problem because of the ways they’ve handled that. I myself have admitted many times here that I’ve taught many things wrong through the years – and I was teaching it as a single person.
Now the majority of the church has yet to even roll over, let alone wake up. But it is encouraging to see some movement. Over a couple of blog posts I want to sort of encourage (read challenge, push, bother, implore) them to not just offer band aids or think that a few simple thoughts are going to solve this. If you are a pastor/elder/leader type person, you need to know that it’s going to be slower and more all encompassing than you think.
My fear for this discussion is that churches who are starting to see the problem of having family as an idol or not doing well with singles will only look to give simple answers that won’t actually unmask the deeper assumptions and mistakes that we have made and/or are making with this topic. Changing what we say won’t be enough. We have to go back and rethink the whole thing to have a chance.
As an example of this I want to respond to parts of an article written by Scott Sauls for Relevant. Let me be clear – I’m not coming at Scott. I don’t know him personally but know folks who do and I’ve heard only great things about him. I also want to give him a lot of credit for writing about this. He is obviously way ahead of the curve which is apparent in much of what he writes.
I’m simply using his post as a launching pad to challenge some of the things that I believe the leaders in his, and similar circles, seem to assume.
So let’s look at the first part today. While talking about the family Scott writes:
The Bible does have a lot to say about the significance of the family structure.
Family is the chief biblical metaphor to describe how God relates to us. God is our Father and we are His children. Jesus is husband and we are His Bride, the Church. “We are our Beloved’s, and our Beloved is ours,” says Solomon’s Song.
The marriage between a man and a woman, in the purest sense, is a pointer to and picture of the love between Christ and the Church. In our shared union with Christ, we are also sisters and brothers to each other.
God established three structures to advance His Kingdom and support the flourishing of societies and persons: the Church, government and the nuclear family. As the family goes, so goes a society.
But like any good thing, when family becomes the main thing, it can cause more harm than good.
It is true that the Bible does indeed have a lot to say about the significance of the family structure. This is true in the sense that there are many direct instructions for families and without doubt it is used as a picture of the Kingdom in many different ways.
I’m not sure that we can call the family the “chief” biblical metaphor for describing how God relates to us. It is certainly one of them. But, the problem here is that Jesus changes so much of what the family has to do with the Kingdom.
In the Old Testament, marriage and offspring were basically THE way that the kingdom was advanced. God chose the Israelites as His people. They were His family so to speak. They needed to continue the line from Abraham to Jesus. After all, this was the promise that God made to Abraham. His descendants (blood family) were to represent God to the world and advance the Kingdom. Basically if you think being single now is tough, being single in the Israelite family was by far worse. If you had no physical lineage, then you had no way to advance the Kingdom. You had no children in the Kingdom.
But that is not true after Jesus. Jesus throws open the Kingdom to everybody. Not only do you not have to be physically born into it, you CAN’T be physically born into it. You must be born again into it. What this means is that the nuclear family is NOT the way that the Kingdom advances. Read that again friends.
For a great message on this take some time and listen to what Hunter Beaumont has to say here. I was fortunate enough to hear him share a similar message a few months ago. His main point, as I took it, was that we must have a theology of singleness (and marriage frankly) that stems from this new idea that Jesus started. While important in many ways, the nuclear family is not the way that God’s family is built.
All this to say, that while the family is a metaphor for the way that God interacts with us, it is not the only one and certainly not the way that God is bringing in His Kingdom.
Setting aside whether the Song of Solomon is a metaphor or not (which is open for debate at the least) Scott is right to suggest that marriage is a picture of the love between Christ and the Church. I’ve said as much many times. However, it is not the only picture of the Kingdom. What gets left out is that the celibate life is also a picture of the the Kingdom. It is a picture of what it will look like in the end (which Scott mentions but doesn’t name). That is a picture of pure and total devotion between us and God. A person who is called to this is a demonstration of what is to come every bit as much as marriage.
The bottom line is that while the nuclear family is indeed a structure that God created and does indeed present a picture of the Kingdom, the Church family is THE picture and it trumps the nuclear family. The nuclear family is not the the structure that advances the Kingdom. The Church family is.
This is why focusing on the nuclear family is wrong. In fact, Jesus says that unless you love Him more than your family you are not worthy of the Kingdom. In my opinion simply saying as the family goes, there goes society, ultimately (even if unintentionally) leaves the unmarried out. It’s still focusing on the nuclear family. God’s family has to be the focus. As God’s family goes there goes the society.
This is not merely semantics. I wish it was, because that would be much easier. But this baseline, that the Church family must be the focus, is the only way to avoid the traps that Scott mentions at the end of the quote – that is making too much of the nuclear family.
What I’m suggesting here is not that we stop teaching on how a family should operate (we probably need more of this) or that we stop saying that the family or marriage is a picture of the Kingdom. But we need a sort of clean slate. In other words we need to repent of how we’ve idolized the nuclear family – not just offer excuses, justifications and rationalizations for it. We need to put God’s family first. Then, and really only then, can we begin to paint the whole picture and include everybody.