Christians should champion and defend the family because it serves as foundation for all civic institutions. At this juncture, Christians find great commonality with the advocates of natural law who assert that the family is the foundational building block of society. A quick scan of the Scriptures reveals that the family existed before any other human institution. Adam and Eve walked about the Garden of Eden, petting animals thousands of years before Paul started sailing around the Mediterranean planting churches. Similarly, the philosopher John Locke believed couples mated and formed families long before tribes, cities, and nations began to dot the English countryside. Both worldviews proclaim that the family is the most basic, simple, or natural societal unit. To quote the great Puritan Pastor, Richard Baxter, “The Life of religion, and the welfare and glory of both the Church and the State, depend much on family government and duty.” The family sets the trajectory for both all of society. When family units break down, the church descends into chaos and society falls into anarchy.
Following this thinking many in the church have assumed that the church was birthed out of the family. But while this line of thinking aligns with the naturalistic understanding of the universe, it proves incongruent with narratives of creation, fall, and redemption found in the Scriptures. Christians need to reexamine the purpose of the family in light of the church.
The Fall Reshaped the Family
When God created Adam and Eve, he did not stick them on a desert island. He placed them in the garden of Eden in community with God, indicating that God sustained the family through tabernacling with them. The creation mandate to be fruitful and multiple was a mandate to bring all the earth under the glorious and full rule of God. Adam and Eve were not expanding human society apart from God. They were expanding the tabernacle to encompass the whole earth. In short, they were to turn the globe into a grand church, a grand garden.
Sadly, the first couple never fulfilled their mission. They listened to the snake and plunged the world into death. The effects of Adam and Eve’s sin radical altered every aspect of the natural order from economics to gardening. As expected, the family unit fell under the corruption. In Genesis 3:16, God tells Eve, ““I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.” Redemption could not be found through genetics, marriage, and procreation. A new family was needed.
The Spiritual Family
Jesus came as the new Adam to be the first born of many brothers and sisters. He created a spiritual family that called men and women to be “born again” by the spirit through faith (Jn. 3:7). In Mark 3:35, Jesus defines the spiritual family according to belief proclaiming that, “whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” This exchange proves more than permissible This new family picks up the creation mandate of the first Adam. The new Adam has commissioned his new family, the church, “to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:16).” In the church, the new spiritual family once again resides in community with God for the purpose of glorifying him through kingdom expansion. The keys to God’s kingdom have been given to the church.
The Family Church Relationship
The nuclear family still remains the important foundational block of human society. From the family arise culture, society, and government. Civil society cannot exist without mom, dad, Jimmy, and Sally.
The institution also works in tandem with the church to support spiritual flourishing. A faithful marriage provides both the husband and the wife countless opportunities to experience God’s sanctifying power as they learn to love one another. Children remain a blessing from the Lord providing couples with social connections and economic security.
The fruits of marriage also facilitate evangelism. To perpetuate the gospel, Christians need to reach children. Procreation, adoption, and foster care all beautifully facilitate the great commission through family framework. The goals of the Christian family align with the mission of the church, and the mission of the church should align with the goals of the family.
Lastly, the family serves as a good gauge of the a culture’s health. When families descended into relational chaos, both society and the church should take note for the gospel is not going forward and chaos stands ready to invade our culture (Micah 7:6).
The Limits of the Nuclear Family
But for all of its benefits, the biological family cannot rightfully claim to be the foundation of the church. Though the family and the church support each other, Jesus is the bedrock of the church. A wife can come to faith apart from her husband and a husband apart from his wife. The arrival of children also does not instinctively produce faith in either the parents or the children as seen in the legacies of Cain and Nimrod. Salvation comes through the preached Word administered by the local church in coordination with the sacraments. As Baxter noted, the church through the ministry of the pastor upholds “the world, to save it from the curse of God and to perfect the creation, to attain the ends of Christ death 112).” The church supports and redeems souls.
Thus, Paul can encourage singles “to remain single, as I am (1 Cor. 7:7).” Both the married couple and the single adult can glorify God through worship and love of neighbor. Moreover, in the new heavens and the new earth, family structures will pass away. But our identity in Christ will remain. The church sustains the family which in turn helps to sustain both the church and the culture.
The new covenant established by Christ’s death and resurrection has fundamentally altered the definition of God’s people. The family of God is no longer defined by biology. It is defined by the Spirit. The church is the bride of Christ. We should not neglect the local church for our families. Rather, we should locate our families in the church, hoping to guide them all into Jesus’s family. The garden came first and then Adam and Eve.
To fix society, we must advocate for health churches, which in-turn will produce healthy families that produce healthy churches and healthy societies. In other words, those who are Christians must recognize and teach that the Christians understanding of family differs from the natural law view of family.