How can we make concern for family life an integral part of the Church’s endeavors on earth? Let’s start by looking at the birth of the Church at Pentecost. Peter clearly stated, “the promise (is) for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:39) As numbers of believers grew “they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” (Acts 2:46, 47) Households became discipleship centers. (Acts 12:12ff; 16:33ff) Matters within family life became topics covered in the Apostles’ writings. The Gospel message was declared for young and old, and its acceptance travelled along many cultural realities, including the family.
For decades the church was made up of small clusters of family units learning together, worshiping together, and suffering together. They functioned without the burden of owning large properties, often ready to move on, often pushed out by persecution. Gradually the realities of what we call ‘the extended family’ shifted and as century followed century the church became an institution making sharp distinctions between clergy and laity.
Eventually distinct divisions of ministry by age grouping developed as it is today. Even so, the family remained the preferred vehicle for nurturing the very young and honoring the aged. Today, across religious entities and irrespective of spiritual practices, the most common definition of family remains a portrait of parents with children, repeated over and over again.
Tragically, however, millions of children, worldwide, are stripped of the protection of family life today. Family structure is so often the first to go when war, famine, evil designs of all kinds are unleashed upon a community. Measures less than ideal must be put into place to rescue children in such circumstances until the balance of generational faithfulness can be restored, for it is difficult to find any culture on earth that does not acknowledge the importance of family life. Even if not always God-honoring, families provide stability and continuity, and isolating young children from their parents, or parent substitutes, does not readily develop God-honoring faith communities.
Our Heavenly Father continues to make clear His desire that a church be built on families strong in faith with parents who are authentic in their nurturing and training of the “next” generation. May we bravely challenge any strategy which does not honor God’s “Gardening practices.” (Genesis 1:27-31) As we faithfully reach out to individuals, old and young, let us carefully note the context of relationships and seek to work within these, not against them.
We can honor and pray for those who seek to raise up a bulwark against the evil that prevails, that so often seeks to destroy the weak and defenseless. In our recruiting and equipping of those who will advance God’s global Kingdom, we can deliberately include the very young and the elderly in our strategies. We can acknowledge God’s mighty purposes to enable His followers everywhere to tell the next generation…and the next…of His mighty deeds. “God’s Kingdom is an everlasting Kingdom and His dominion endures through all generations!” (from Psalm 145:13.)
We’ll continue this topic next time with some practical insight into how churches can protect and equip families for godly living.