Theology of Family

What is a theology of the Family?  The study of what a family is, and how a family interacts, as created and sustained and defined by God.  If you are just now finding this series on theology, you may want to visit here, and here.  

We are created by God for relationship, which begins in family–though also including fellowship and friendship within community, so do not misunderstand me–I am not saying “only” family.    Everything God was doing in the OT pointed to Christ and the work of redemption and reconciliation He would accomplish, and all the realities that would be summed up in Him.  So too with family.  We still enjoy family now, but in light of His work in creating His Family, the Church (the one new man, comprised of Jew and Gentile, Ephesians 2:11-end).  Every family derives its name from God; that is, Church, every local church is part of His One Church, His family at large.  Take a moment to read through Ephesians 3:4-21 noting that it is not written to an individual, but to the church family at Ephesus; and by virtue of it being Scripture, The Holy Spirit will give discernment on how it applies to usplural, not merely as individuals.   

The blessing we find in His Family includes our many spiritual [meaning, of the Holy Spirit] siblings and spiritual mothers and fathers, and spiritual sons and daughters.  But for a moment, let’s walk through a brief study of the temporal family as created by God.  

We live in family now, trusting that what Jesus said about heaven will be glorious–here we marry and are given in marriage, there we will not.  We enjoy this temporal blessing!  We do not dare call the marriage bed defiled (Hebrews 13) but rejoice in His good gift of marriage and family.  We do not consider marriage a sacrament, nor do we require procreation as proof of anything. 

If you misunderstand, or allow culture to redefine family, or the importance of family–you will also misunderstand ‘self’ and God’s redemptive purposes, and what it is to be adopted into His family, and your identity as a member of His family…

How It Began…

In the beginning, God created; and in Genesis when we read of His creating man, God says it is not good to be alone.  First and foremost, the two sexes are created in God’s image, and so glorify Him.  But further, in the sacred marriage union they glorify Him.  Family begins by marriage.  Marriage includes attraction, love, devotion, service, honoring and respecting and preferring, helping, co-laboring, camaraderie, friendship…  Within a marriage those parts of our inner and outer man that we keep clothed from the outside world are laid bare and shared and cherished and honored and protected.  

Togetherness, not being alone, a union of two-become-one. 

And Jesus affirms that God’s purpose did not change, not with the fall, and not because of time passing or cultures changing.  As it was in the beginning, so it remains–God intends for families to form as one man and one woman in a monogamous marriage union live life together.   

Sidenote:  I have been asked often about what my husband and I do for date night.  This generation is focused on “events” and intentionality that can be calculated in dollars.  This is culturally driven, not Scripturally driven.  I was so refreshed to hear Sinclair B. Ferguson state (years ago, in a talk given at a Ligonier conference, I listened online) that when asked what he and his wife “do” for date night–he stated that he just likes to “be” with his wife, enjoying her presence, her company, her friendship.  My husband and I share this vision, of being able to enjoy one another, intentionally, without cultural mandates of $$$ and dressing up and…we do a lot of “at home” time together, and enjoy our memories of our back patio or our cozy living room. 

Marriage so often leads to…procreation.  Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.  No caution is ever given by our Creator that perhaps there could be  too many human beings on earth.  He is Providential over all births, all deaths.  His Providence is active, not passive. We are fruitful and exercise wisdom in caring and nurturing and training and raising up the next generations, yet without letting fear drive us towards the world’s agenda that perhaps we should kill off (euthenasia, assisted suicide, or enabling Bill Gates and his cronies’ ideas of how to control population) some.  Research proves that there are not too many people on earth–read more about that data in the first few chapters  here.   

Marriage in a fallen world does not always lead to children, nothing works perfectly–and much that has happened in history impacts our ability to procreate.  Our bodies are not perfect.  We should neither throw caution to the wind and cease caring about proper nutrition, mobility, exercise etc so that we can possibly procreate–nor should we swing with the pendulum to play god in creating babies in other ways and then choosing some while discarding the ones that don’t turn out right, or that seem superfluous, or that don’t have the physical features we prefer (see here and read further here

Westminster Confession teaching on Marriage

When families include children, we have the obligation to raise them according to God’s revealed plan.  No mystery here, but also we must not turn proverbs into promises.  As reformed Christians, we know that children are a heritage from the LORD, a gift, born into the covenant community, though not as communing members; given to us that we would nurture those children in His love and training and admonition.    

It is then our responsibility as parents to teach our children why God created us, what purpose our lives have, and how to live to His glory, and in His glory, rather than for some lesser glory.   Teach responsibility, and how to work, and that their work matters. It is not the government school’s job to teach finances, time management, how to interact in politics and other worldly spheres, nutrition, vocation, purpose… Parents, this is our job!  We must carry it out without (Eph 6:4; Col 3:20-21) being frustrated or frustrating.  We do not water things down, nor do we expect too much; line by line we raise them up!  We view them as the LORD’s, and not our own, for we do not possess them.    

Yes, the local church has a role to play in discipleship, but discipleship too begins in the home.  Theology is meant to be conversational, among family, friends, with teachers and mentors, etc.  The Scriptures (especially Deuteronomy, and the Epistles) make it plain that as parents, we are theologians raising theologians.

Children grow up…

And get married!  Leaving father and mother they are joined to their spouse.  In the West this means a complete break, a brand new family unit.  In the middle-east, and Asia, and Africa, this means family growth.  Both have wisdom for us to glean, let your convictions be guided by Scripture, not merely on the traditions of a particular culture.  

I enjoy sweet conversations with my growing children around what the Westminster Confession summarizes concerning marriage.  Do not let your children grow up without knowing the purpose of marriage, and the Scriptures that inform our understanding.  (See here, chapter 24) 

Like a father 

1 Thess. 2:11 just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, 12 so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. 

We teach our children the basics, like how to walk, to eat, to use a cup and a fork and a spoon; to use the bathroom rather than a diaper; to clean up, to form sentences, to put on shoes…. As they grow, our lessons grow deeper and we “exhort and encourage and implore” them to walk in God’s ways, in a manner worthy of Him.  This must be done without emphasizing mere behaviour modification.  We teach them all along that God is inviting us to abide in Him, to be rooted and grounded in His love, in His truth, in His steadfastness, and to seek Him and believe Him, and to live life coram Deo–before the face of God

Family roles

Man and Woman marry; they are equal in dignity and in image bearing; yet not completely similar in design or abilities or function.  This is not negative!  Too often we covet what the other sex has or can do; we deny the other sex the opportunity to live in those abilities, or we deny ourselves the opportunity to flourish in God’s design.  It took years for me to appreciate my role as helper, life-giver.  It took even more time to appreciate that men and women can both have spiritual gifts, and that it is good that they are used in different ways.  I was one of those who could not read certain portions of the New Testament rightly, because I approached the text with “that’s not fair!” clouding my view.  

“She was just like him, made in his likeness.  Not identical to him, but like him.  I think that’s one of the things that Paul meant when he said, you may remember, in 1 Cor 11: 7 that man is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.  Now he’s not demeaning women here as though only men are made as God’s image.  No Genesis teaches us that male and female are made as God’s image.  But he’s saying that just as God made Adam to reflect Him as His image and likeness and therefore to be an expression of His glory.  All that is true of a woman within the special relationship between Adam and Eve.  She reflected him, just as in Adam God reflected His glory, God showed how marvelous He was by making this man as his image, so just as far as Adam was concerned Eve was his glory; she was the one who showed his dignity to him.  …the first romance, and all romance since then; the man saw the woman and he knew that in this woman’s friendship he would find glory.”   “that’s why the church in which male and female are one in Christ is such a glorious place to be!”

From Sinclair B. Ferguson, Things Unseen, Tuesday 4/9/24 (listen on Spotify)

Children are taught, and as they learn they work alongside, and eventually also share valuable insights.  We must not idealize childhood and pamper them, and keep them back from work, and align our schedules with culturally acceptable ‘childhood recreational dreams.’ Children thrive as part of a family, but not as the family idol.

Generational Families

Psalm 145:4-5, 7 One generation shall praise Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts.  On the glorious splendor of Your majesty and on Your wonderful works, I will meditate…they shall eagerly utter the memory of Your abundant goodness and I will shout joyfully of Your righteousness.

Living in a post-genesis 3 world, families are marred by sin, by our sin nature.  In Christ, we learn to walk wisely through difficult family situations.  We learn to forgive, to extend mercy.  Where there is no trauma or abuse or abandonment to walk away from, the Spirit will lead us to care for family, to fellowship as a large generational family; but never to choose family over God’s clear leading.  God has called many to leave hometowns and family hubs in order to serve as missionaries, church planters, or to move for various vocational reasons.  These transitions are rarely easy, but following God’s leading is always good.   

But, to leave and cleave, while also continuing to care for and enjoy fellowship with extended family members seems normative in other cultures, even if not here in the West.  When discussing who should care for the Christian widows in the early church, it is clear that if the widow has children, they care for her financially  rather than the church.  To leave and cleave does not mean to cut off all ties.

Whether child, parent, young or old, a family enjoys the daily company of fellow image-bearers, appreciating His workmanship in each other.  As you consider the purpose of family, God’s design and Providence over family, and whether He still values family, spend some time meditating on Ephesians 5-6; Colossians 3; Deuteronomy 6 & 11; 2 Timothy 1:5, 3:14-17.