If we were to identify the front lines of the cultural war in the United States of America today, we would have to say that the battlefield where the fiercest fighting is taking place is that of the family. Prominent in the upcoming presidential elections are questions as to where each candidate stands on the issues of marriage and abortion.
At no other time in the life of our country has the family been under such strident attack by those who stand in defiant opposition to God's truth. In the courtrooms of our nation a battle is being waged to redefine what a family is, what a marriage is and ultimately what society will look like in the coming years. While the jury is still out, it does not appear that we, as Bible believing Christians are winning the war. Activist courts and radical activists are pushing an agenda which would legalize same sex marriage and thus open the door for things like polygamy and a host of other deviations from God's standard for the family. It is to that end that we, of all people, need a clear and unadulterated biblical view of what God says the family is supposed to be. If we are not clear as to what God says the family is to be we will not be able to define it to the world in which we are to be salt and light.
Article 18 of the Baptist Faith and Message provides that definition for us. Entitled, "The Family," article 18 states
Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. It is God's unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and His Church and to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel of sexual expression according to biblical standards and the means for procreation of the human race.
The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God's image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to His people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the leadership of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.
Children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord. Parents are to demonstrate to their children God's pattern for marriage. Parents are to teach their children spiritual and moral values and to lead them, through consistent lifestyle example and loving discipline, to make choices based on biblical truth. Children are to honor and obey their parents."
Consider four things with me this morning where the family is concerned: First, the foundations of the family, secondly the definition and sanctity of marriage, third the function of the family and finally our response to God's truth this morning.
I. The foundations of the family
Throughout history it has not usually been necessary for Christians to include the definition of the family in their confessional statements, this was due, in part, to the fact that Christians were generally united on what the family was and western societies were sufficiently influenced by the Christian worldview that there was a generally agreed upon understanding that a family consisted of those who were married, related by blood or by adoption.
The first paragraph of our doctrinal statement says, "God has ordained the family as the foundational institution of human society. It is composed of persons related to one another by marriage, blood or adoption."
Efforts in recent years to redefine the family are but further evidence of how far our culture has drifted from its Judeo-Christian roots. It is to that end that we have now found it necessary to formally define the family.
While modern understandings of what a family is are often driven by the ever changing vicissitudes of society, which means it can be redefined depending upon the prevailing mores of the time, as Christians we have a fixed understanding, given to us in God's revelation.
In Genesis 2:23-24 the scripture says, "The man said: this one, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called woman for she was taken from man. This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh."
It is worth noting that God gave us this understanding before the fall, in part because in His foreknowledge He knew how far man would sink in his depravity.
In the confused and contentious times in which we live, the definition of what the family is seems to constantly be changing. While we as Christians understand that, because of sin, many families are not what God intends them to be and that in spite of this, His love and His grace is to be extended to all people, regardless of where they may find themselves, we cannot redefine the family simply because so many families fail to meet up to God's standard.
Our confessional statement affirms that God's intention for the family begins with the marriage of one man and one woman and is extended to their children, whether they be by blood or by adoption. This family unit was designed by God to be the foundational institution in all of human society and to reflect His glory in the world.
It has been properly asserted that the family is not a laboratory for social experiment, but an arena in which God's glory is shown to the world in the right ordering of human relationships.
But in as much as the family is founded upon marriage, we need to see exactly what the scripture says about marriage.
II. The definition and sanctity of marriage
Our confessional statement affirms that "Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. It is God's unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and His Church and to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel of sexual expression according to biblical standards and the means for procreation of the human race."
In Hebrews 13:4 God says, "Marriage must be respected by all and the marriage bed kept undefiled because God will judge immoral people and adulterers."
Regardless of how much the enemies of the faith would like to deny it, deeply ingrained within the human psyche is the understanding that marriage is an institution ordained by God, between one man and one woman that is intended to last a lifetime and that it is a relationship which is to be held in sanctity.
Nowhere can this truth be better seen that in, of all places, California, where voters are facing off against activists courts. On March 7, 2000 California voters overwhelmingly passed proposition 22 which stated that, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." But on May 15th of this year, the California Supreme Court ruled, by a vote of 4-3 that same sex marriages must be legalized and recognized in the state. Thus, by a stroke of the pen, the activist court set aside the will of the people and struck down proposition 22. This fall, California voters will once again assert their right to govern themselves when they vote on proposition 8, which will return the definition of marriage to what it was under proposition 22. Furthermore, proposition 8 would fix it for good by amending the state's constitution.
That marriage is understood to be a sacred trust is also evidently something most people understand, even if they don't abide by it. This can be seen in the public response to notable figures that have been caught being unfaithful to their spouse. In the last few weeks it was made public that Senator John Edwards was unfaithful to his wife, and this while she was battling cancer. The public backlash against Edwards was sufficient to demonstrate that Americans still believe that marriage was intended to be sacred.
As Christians we stand firm upon the conviction that marriage is to be between one man and one woman. Creation itself gives us this truth. God created one man and one woman. He did not create two men, nor did He create two women, nor did He create one man and four women. God made one man and one woman and this was His ideal for marriage.
It is also instructive to note that God instituted marriage, as the BF&M states, to be "the framework for intimate companionship, the channel of sexual expression according to biblical standards and the means for procreation of the human race."
God created sex as a means whereby a husband and a wife could deepen the intimacy of their relationship. It is a gift of God to be reserved for marriage alone with the express purpose of deepening their human relationship and as a means for furthering the human race.
The idea pervasive in our society, that sex is simply for physical pleasure, or can in anyway be separated from marriage are extra-biblical and rooted in the fallen nature of man, not in God's design for humanity.
This means that there any sex outside of marriage is a sin and should not even be mentioned among God's people. Cohabitation, or shaking up as it used to be called, is also a symptom of the ailing family in America. Neil Warren, writing in the June/July 2003 issue of Focus on the Family magazine notes that in 2000 more than 11 million unmarried single people in the United States were living together. And according to William Bennett, in his book, the Broken Hearth, more than half of all marriages today are preceded by a period of cohabitation. Which, according to sociologist Pamela J Smock, are very unstable. Smock says that "only about one in six cohabitations last at least three years and only one in ten last five years or more. And those who cohabit before marriage more seriously damage their chances for ever having a successful marriage. The chances of divorce for those who cohabit before marriage are more than twice what they are for couples without prior cohabitation. Clearly, God's directive for sex to be within and only within the bounds of marriage was given to help us, not to harm us.
Of course one of the other problems facing the family in America today is the plague of divorce which has ravaged untold households. In an interview last night with Senator John McCain, pastor Rick Warren asked him what his greatest personal moral failure was. Without hesitation he replied that it was the dissolution of his first marriage.
According to the 2000 census, released in May of 2001, the number of Americans living alone surpassed the number of married couples with children. During the last decade, the number of families headed by single mothers grew at a rate nearly five times that of families headed by a mother and a father. The census counted 5.5 million unmarried couples, up from 3.2 million in 1990. Commenting on the Census, the Washington Post noted that, "the statistics showed no reversal of a decade long national trend away from the historically dominant household, married couples with children."
The situation is even more serious when you consider that the divorce rate among professing Christians is no better, and in some instances worse than it is among non-Christians. As Christians, as those who have been born again, indwelt by God's Spirit and called to be salt and light to our culture, it should cause us great shame to realize that seem to be no better at keeping God's standard for marriage than the lost world around us.
God says that marriage is sacred. It is to be between one man and one woman for life. Sexual relationships are to be exclusively reserved for marriage and in Malachi God clearly says that He hates divorce.
One of the reasons Christians don't seem to be any better at their marriages than the lost world around them is that many Christians fail to follow God's instructions on how the family is to function.
Our confessional statement addresses this as well, and it is the third thing to which I would draw your attention this morning.
III. The function of the family
The Baptist Faith and Message says, "The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God's image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to His people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the leadership of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation."
The first sentence notes that the husband and the wife are of equal worth before God but goes on to say that while there is equality of worth, there is diversity of roles. Both the man and the woman are equal in God's sight. They are both created in God's image, they are both people for whom Jesus shed His blood, they are both capable of receiving new life in Christ and thus being filled with the Holy Spirit, but that does not mean they fulfill the same function within the family.
Now I want to warn you that what I am about to say here goes against the grain of our culture and will be profoundly politically incorrect. But just for the record, God has never been concerned about being politically incorrect, humanity, if they knew what was good for them, should be far more concerned about being biblically incorrect.
Ours is a culture which touts a philosophy known as egalitarianism. This viewpoint teaches that not only are men and woman of equal worth but that no distinction should be made in the roles they should fill. Thus those who teach egalitarianism in the church hold that women can and should be deacons and pastors. They say that all of the roles defined in scripture are merely constructs of Paul's dislike for women or that they were temporal restrictions based on the prevailing norms of first century culture.
Of course nothing could be further from the truth. As New Testament Christians who hold to a biblical view of manhood and womanhood, we believe that God gives us specific instruction as to how people are relate to one another in the family and there are unmistakable roles assigned to both the man and the woman in marriage and to children within the family as well.
With respect to marriage we hold to a position known as Complementarianism. This states that when the husband and the wife fulfill their God given roles, they complement each other within the family. After all, God made woman to complete man, not to compete with Him. The scripture gives us instruction in Ephesians 5:22 and following.
The Bible says, "Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is head of the wife as also Christ is head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. Now as the church submits to Christ, so wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives just as also Christ love the church and gave Himself for her..."
The responsibilities are clear enough. Husbands are to love their wives sacrificially, putting their wife's wellbeing above and ahead of their own. They are to follow the example of Jesus Christ who loved us so much that even though He was God, He laid down all of His rights and gave Himself for us on the cross. This is how husbands are to love the wives.
Over the course of the years that I have been a pastor I have had various men come to me, complaining that their wives will not submit to them. Of course, one of the first questions I ask is about how they are loving their wife. More often than not I find that women are more willing to submit to a man whom they know loves them sacrificially than they are to a man who is selfish and is primarily looking out for his own interests.
That does not, however, change the fact that many Christian women have been more influenced by their culture than by their Creator. Quite frankly many Christian women are offended by the concept of submitting to their husbands because they have bought into the mindset of the culture rather than being obedient to the word of God. Read through the New Testament and you will find, over and over again, that God calls upon His daughters to submit to the leadership of their husbands. He does not say that this will always be easy, He does not say that your husband will always be right or will even have as clear of an insight into the situation as you may have. He simply calls wives to submit to their husbands, as unto the Lord.
Of course the greater responsibility lies on the husband, who, according to scripture, is to dwell with their wife in understanding, lest their prayers be hindered. Men, don't ever think that because God has placed you in charge of your family that you have a carte blanc to do whatever you please. Even as your family is under your authority, you are under God's authority and He will hold you accountable for how you treat your wife and your children.
Furthermore, our doctrinal statement affirms that from the moment of conception, children are a blessings and a heritage from the Lord. Nothing could be more relevant to our culture than this truth. Since Row vs. Wade was handed down, more than 40 million unborn children have been ripped from their mother's womb. Some of you may remember the interview with Rick Warren, that took place during the recent presidential elections where both Mr. Obama and Senator McCain were asked when life begins. Mr. Obama responded by saying that whether he was to answer scientifically or theologically, that it was above his pay grade to answer that question. Mr. McCain was unequivocal; he simply stated that life begins at conception. This is in keeping with what we believe the Bible teaches.
Furthermore, parents are called to teach their children God's truths, both in word and in deed.
And children, God has called you to be obedient to your parents. Ephesians 6:1 and following says, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, because this is right. Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life in the land. And fathers, don't stir up anger in your children. But bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord."
To honor your father and your mother means more than simply to obey them, it means to do it with the right attitude. Obedience is more than a willful act, it is a heart attitude. If you obey your parent's with a grudge, you will find no reward from God. To honor them means to speak to them respectfully and to defer to their judgment.
I have heard the way some young people talk to their parents and there is no way many of those children can truly say they are filled with the Sprit of God. Children, if you belong to Jesus, if His Spirit lives in you, you must submit yourselves to your parent's authority and obey them, and you must do it with the right attitude.
I know that everything in our culture runs contrary to this teaching but God has not called you to blend in to the culture, He has called you to be different from the culture, He has called you to be salt and light, to be a persevering influence on a decaying culture.
IV. Our response to God's truth about the family
As with all truth, God calls us not merely to hear it, but to do it, to employ His truth in our everyday lives.
As we contemplate how to put these truths in to application in our daily lives I would suggest three concrete actions.
A. Define it
We must know what God says and be careful to hold to God's definition of family in spite of how the world around us wants to redefine it.
B. Declare it
We are not to be silent, but to be vocal in speaking God's truth to the world in which He has placed us. There are many things we could declare to our culture, but if we fail to declare that thing wherein our culture deviates God's truth, then we have failed to be faithful as salt and light.
C. Demonstrate it
We must be careful to demonstrate to our world that our God is real, the evidence of which can be seen in our lives. When Christians fail to practice what they preach, when they fail to demonstrate what they declare, the world begins to ignore everything they say or stand for. The scripture tells us that we are to be salt and light in our world. In Luke 14:34 it says that salt is good. But salt that is no longer good is cast out. The word here to describe salt that is no longer good is Moraino. It literary means become foolish; it is the same root for our word moron. In other words, when we who have been saved by God, indwelt by His Spirit, entrusted with His truth and called to be a preservative agent in society become compromised and diluted to the degree that we lose our effectiveness, the world begins to think of us as fools.
What does your family look like this morning? How does your marriage measure up to God's standard?