I have spent a lot of time here railing against what I have called the Church’s Nuclear Family Idol. What I’m realizing is that there are a lot of people in certain corners of the church that are railing against that idol but in a different way. Therefore I feel the need to clarify two things – 1. What I’m speaking against and what I’m not and 2. What is the rightful place of the nuclear family in the church.
Let’s tackle number one first.
I’m NOT suggesting any of the following:
- That God did not intend for most people to live in a nuclear family.
- That God did not ordain and set up the nuclear family.
- That the church should not help support the God ordained nuclear family or extended family
- That the church should not encourage and support those not called to Celibacy for the Kingdom
- That marriage and family are not a way that God helps us become sanctified.
What I’m pushing back against is the mentality, practice and/or actual theology that:
- Assumes the only way to holiness is marriage and family
- Only allows for people who live in that context to be leaders in the church
- Assumes that anyone who is not married is not able to be a full adult or participant
- Teaches that procreation is the way that the Kingdom is advanced
- Creates false prejudices against those who are not married
- Leaves those who are not married feeling on the outside or that the church family is not for them.
- Treats the nuclear family as the goal, rather than the picture of the Kingdom that it actually is.
I think the church in general is confused, including a lot of well meaning church leaders. Most of this comes from constantly reacting to what is going on, living in fear of culture in one form or another, and a lack of overall theology of marriage and celibacy.
I believe that we have allowed the sexual revolution and “culture wars” to lead and then we spend all of our time reacting to it. So for example, all of a sudden in the late 20th century the divorce rate skyrocketed. There are of course many reasons for this. But rather than lead, the church instead reacts to each part of it. That cycle continues now. Some are still fighting and some are changing what they believe. Neither are super helpful.
This is why I’ve been suggesting that instead we need to better understand our historical biblical theology of celibacy, marriage and family. We need to understand and then lead out of that truth. No matter what the culture does.
What then is the theology of the nuclear family. Why does it matter? Let me tackle that with a very brief overview.
First, as I’ve written in the past, both marriage and family are pictures that point to the Kingdom. Marriage is a picture that points to the relationship between Jesus and the Church. This is all throughout the scriptures. The family is a picture that points to the body of Christ – the Church. They are of course imperfect pictures because we are imperfect, but that is the idea.
Marriage is a picture of love, intimacy, and a sacrificial covenant love.
The nuclear family is set up to be a picture of the church. In a sense it is a domestic church. What do I mean by that?
It should be a community of love, faith and grace. It is meant to be place where children learn the Christian life. It is where we first learn to interact with other people. You learn to respond to authority, how to interact with brothers and sisters, to work with others, how to forgive (pretty much on a continual basis) and in general how to love. It should be the place that you first hear the gospel proclaimed. It is one picture of creation, love, authority, and faith.
In other words the nuclear family is good. It should be supported by the Church. We should indeed be helping people walk in the context of marriage (including getting married) and family. In fact, I’d even advocate that the Church needs to help people understand how to operate their families in a way that reflects the Church and helps families accomplish the ideals listed above. How we do all of that is a part of our witness. It is a part of our overall evangelization to the world around us.
It is not however the goal. It is also not the only way into the Kingdom. When we set up marriage and family as the way to holiness or the way that the Kingdom advances we are wrong. If we see it as a part of the Church family that is good. If we see it as the Church family itself that is bad.