Wednesday, March 14, 2007

but don't ever take sides with anyone against the family again ... ever.

Today I was reading some comments by Al Mohler, president of SBTS, with regard to family activities eclipsing church life. They got me to put "pen to paper" some thoughts I've had for a while now.

In his post entitled, "The New Family Trump Card" -- Family Time vs. Church Time, Dr. Mohler speaks to families prioritizing extracurricular activities (e.g., sports) over church activities.
At the same time, when Christian parents take their kids to Little League games rather than worship on the Lord's Day, these parents teach their children that team sports are more important than the worship of God.

Every kid has a "thing" going on virtually all the time. That is the condition of life today, it seems. But when that "thing" keeps the child -- or the whole family -- away from church, we need to name that thing what it is . . . at best a snare, at worst an idol.
Dr. Mohler speaks of the activity becoming an idol, but I'm concerned it goes deeper.

He references an article in Leadership, "Shifting Family Values," wherein we read:
The increased emphasis on "family time," even at the expense of meaningful involvement in church life, is a sign of the times. It's one way Generations X and Y are making up for the hands-off, latch-key childrearing styles that characterized their Boomer parents: heavy investment in the kids, and everything else takes a back seat—including church.
I think that's it in a nutshell. In a reaction to what came before (a perceived minimization of the family), they really have an overreaction that prioritizes the physical family above the spiritual.

Jesus does the opposite, for spiritual ties should trump physical ties:
31And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you." 33And he answered them, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" 34And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother."
-Mark 3:31-35 (ESV)
This may sound counter-intuitive, but we learn in Matthew's account of the same interaction that the same day Jesus started telling the people parables.
50For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." 1That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.
-Matthew 12:50--13:1 (ESV)
In other words, He appears to have blown off His physical family to go do ministry and there's no indication in any of the accounts that Jesus stopped what He was doing to have a family conference.

I'm not saying people in general, nor clergy in particular, ought to blow off their families. They are to be good stewards of those with whom they have been entrusted. My point is that you will search high and low to find Jesus preaching the good news of the family instead of the good news of the kingdom. In other words, the family exists for the advancement of the kingdom (the church, the bride of Christ in the world). The church does not exist for the family.

While Mohler primarily speaks to church families not attending church services due to preoccupation with other activities , I think that is merely symptomatic. What concerns me is what I consider to be idolatry of the family. To put it another way, the individual family unit becomes the most important community for the average American professing Christian.

Hillary wrote that it takes a village to raise a child. Others have noted that it takes a church. Most American parents thinks the church is an ancillary supplemental component, not the crucial mechanism whereby sanctification occurs.

This is a disturbing trend, but just seems an extension of the American bastardization of the notion of priesthood of the believer. Instead of "just me and my Bible; I don't need anybody else" it becomes "Just our family and our Bible devotions; we don't need anybody else." While they might attend church, church is more of an elective than a core course in the Christian curriculum.

I intentionally try to minimize Providence Church programs to not be "enabling" parents where kids are concerned. I don't want families preoccupied with busyness to the point of not having healthy family relationships. I realize many churches are prone to go to extremes, having something multiple nights during the week whereby they expect full participation.

Our church only expects one night a week, but you'd be surprised how few make that. I realize many have many things going on, but most families make a much greater effort to get to the soccer game (on time) than to church (on time).

Yet, churches need to be family-friendly, as Mohler noted:
When "church time" is seen as a competitor to "family time," something is wrong at church. When family members hardly see each other at church activities, the congregation needs to take a quick inventory of its concept of ministry.
It's important to have family activities and fun things that build community. If church activities are too age-segregated, I can see how some would see church as non-conducive to family time. My response to that would be for the parents to get involved in the ministries in which their kids participate.

Just as I'd suggest a public school parent become a room parent, I'd suggest involvement in ministry. It demonstrates to the child the priority the parent puts on church by not only being there, but serving and investing his/her time.

I said all that to say this. The family is important, but God ordained the church as the primary entity for spreading His glory through the justification and sanctification of people. The human, physical family plays a role in that, not the other way around.



At 15 March, 2007 09:28, Blogger Lance said...

I feel your pain. Spring is here, and that means that some families in our churches will be hit-and-miss until late summer. Little league is not what it once was, as now kids are playing tons of games every weekend, starting Friday night and ending Sunday evening.
One Scripture I did not see you mention was Luke 14:26: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he CANNOT be my disciple."
Preaching on this recently, I noted that "hate" here has more to do with preference than disdain, therefore the applicatory question is, "Do I prefer my family over Christ?" How can any Christian in his right mind answer "no," when he/she places sports over worship? I think one of the chief applications in our day is exactly what you and Mohler have said--we are so concerned that our kids know we care about them that we can't stand to miss one game or one performance, because "my mom/dad never came to my games."
So, alas, the pendulum has swung the other way.
Dobson encourages us to "focus on the family." OK--which family? Our earthly one or our eternal one?
We'll watch "Chariots of Fire" and admire Eric Lidell's courage for not running on the Sabbath (NB: his conviction), yet we'll justify missing worship for several months for the sake of demonstrating "love" to our kids.
We applaud Chik-Fil-A for sacrificing great profit by closing its doors on Sunday, yet when the choice comes our way to sacrifice, we cower in the fear that somehow our kids won't love us if we require them to worship on Sunday, rather than work on their batting averages.
How is it loving to model to our kids that baseball/soccer/basketball, et. al is more important than fellowship, song, offering, Word and sacrament?
Is it no wonder that as many as 80% (conservative = 60%)of our kids are leaving the church when they leave our homes?
Perhaps the most loving thing we can do for our kids is for churched people to stand up to the sports leagues and demand that sports schedules take a backseat to worship, rather than vice versa. If they won't, Christian parents are faced with a choice: "Do I want my kid to be a great athlete or a faithful disciple?" You cannot serve both.

At 15 March, 2007 17:19, Blogger GUNNY said...

VERY nicely said, Lance.

Nice use of the Luke 14 love, as well as the final question: "Do I want my kid to be a great athlete or a faithful disciple?"

The answer to that may be discerned by how much time, money, and energy is put into each activity.

At 16 March, 2007 10:03, Blogger etoc said...

Eric-Thanks for the great post.

I agree with Mohler--this has become an idol. It may be an overcompensation for what came before (as you suggest), or it may be something more insidious--a convenient trump card that any Christian can wave and no one can argue with when they want to maintain their autonomy from the rest of the body. Personally, I fear that is the primary way this is being used.

You and Lance have made most of the essential key points about this. I guess I'd just add one. This may be another manifestation of the culture's shift away from Christendom.

It used to be (at least alledgedly in those golden days of yore) that you could be a Christian and view the culture's values and rhythms as largely hospitable to moving and being in this world as a Christian.

It was not always this way. The first believers were branded as atheists because of their beliefs that must reject the nearly limitless exapnding Pantheon of pagan deities. Their "strange" behavior became the source for speculation about cannabalism and incest. The surrounding culture was not hospitable to following Christ. You had to make drastically different choices. You had to be oddly out-of-step with the mainstream.

Perhaps we're back where we started and slow to recognize it, or reluctant to accept it. It's a lot more enjoyable--a lot less costly--to be a Christian totally at home in the prevailing culture. But if the culture shifts enough, maybe that's no longer possible.

At 31 March, 2007 23:38, Blogger GUNNY said...

Good points, CJC.

Me thinks the church has not adapted very well to a culture not as friendly to it.


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