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Saturday, April 23, 2011

"Family" ≠ "Christian"

So here's something that peeves me.

I think it was when I was a kid in the 80's that the word "family" got to be more and more popular in Christian circles.  Most likely some of the impetus came from the radio program (later ministry/political action juggernaut) Focus on the Family, which was accurately named, because the program consisted of child psychologist Dr. James Dobson Focusing on the Family.  But then the word "family" started showing up more and more places.  You started hearing churches refer to themselves as "a family church" (meaning what exactly?).  At some point (I don't know when) a retail chain called Family Christian Stores emerged.  And eventually it became routine for "family" to be used as sort of a fuzzy synonym for "Christian" (specifically "Evangelical") in Christian branding in the hopes (I guess) that it would feel socially nice and improve the Evangelical image.  So you had "family [i.e., conservative Christian] values," "family [i.e., Christian] radio," the American Family (i.e., politically super-conservative Christian) Association, and so on.  (Feel free to use the comments section to list examples that I missed.)

I hate it when the term "family" is used as a synonym for "Christian."  Hate it, hate it, hate it.

One reason that I hate it is that the word "Christian" puts Christ front and center.  Nothing else should be in his place.

But another reason is that family isn't good.

Well, I should clarify that.  Family is an essential feature of the human race, which God created in his image and called good.  So family, as God created it, is good.  And substitutions or innovations in family, as God created it, which the human race has toyed with since Lamech took two wives, aren't good and in fact are ultimately devastating.

But family, just like the rest of human nature, was perverted by our fall into sin.  So family is just as good as human beings are.  It's also just as sick, depraved, and vicious as human beings are.  And I'm not just talking about extreme cases of child abuse or domestic violence.  I'm talking about ordinary families' ordinary interactions, because this is exactly what the Bible describes.

I was reminded of this again because a number of us in my church are going through Beth Moore's study The Patriarchs together, which examines Genesis 12-50, in which the main characters are Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, and in which much (probably most) of the drama concerns their interactions with their wives, siblings, relatives, and slaves.  It had been quite a while since I had gone through Genesis, and it was jarring once again how grossly sick and messed up this family (as Christians, our family) was.  And yet, much of the time the stuff they do is not all that far-fetched; you've probably seen some of it in your own family and in families that you know well.

So when we use the word "family," let's be clear about exactly what family is.  Family is not by itself virtuous.  Family is under a curse because of sin and desperately needs to be redeemed.  And let's not delude ourselves into thinking that our churches will be stronger if we can just attract families into them.  The families that we attract are the very ones that need the transformative grace of God in order to be pleasing to him, and if they resist that grace then they have the potential to bring an entire church down.  And let's finally remember that the family that Jesus really cared about consists of those who "hear the word of God and do it" (Luke 8:21), a family united by his blood alone with God as its Father.

The Church mustn't view family in any other sense than the way the Bible views it.  Our failure to do so provides a safe haven for idolatry—the worship of our families, our kids, our marriages, our elders—and all manner of wickedness that idolatry gives birth to.

So please, I'm begging you, use "family" when you mean "family" as the Bible describes it.  Use "Christian" when you mean "Christian."  And don't mix them up.

1 comment:

  1. My former employer went in the opposite direction, changing their name from Zondervan Family Bookstores to just Family Bookstores (when they split from Zondervan) to Family Christian Stores. They realized that the word "family" didn't convey what they were looking to convey, and they needed to actually use the C-word.