In antiquity, the family often had a major religious function, although of a false variety. Ancestor worship was common in many cultures and still survives in this century. The Biblical emphasis was covenantal: the family under God and His law by His sovereign grace.
In the Old Testament, we see that fathers had a priestly role, the duty to guide the family in worship, and in the sacrament of communion, the Passover. A son would ask, "What is the meaning of this that we do?" And the father as priest would then explain the meaning of the Passover and of God's salvation (Ex. 13:14 ff.). This, the central act of worship, was very strictly tied to the family. In the early church, while the Christian Passover was celebrated by the church, a chorus of boys would still ask the question, "What is the meaning of what we do?" In both the Hebrew family and the early church, the boys who asked the question were very young, perhaps about six years of age. But from their early years, they were expected to understand the meaning of salvation. In Scotland, after the Reformation, a central duty of church elders after a time came to be the visitation of all families in the congregation to question the children on their memorization and understanding of the Westminster Catechism. The family was the teacher, and the church verified the character of the teaching. The duty of the family was to teach the children the Faith. It was also the duty of the family to educate the children. Even as late as the establishment of the United States, a high percentage of the Founding Fathers were home schooled. Thus basic education in both the Bible and literacy and general learning were the routine duty of the family.
In Genesis 2:24 we are told that Adam and Eve were made "one flesh" by their union. This is plainly stated as a glorious religious fact. At the same time, from Abraham through Paul, we see that there must be a common faith: we are not to be unequally yoked to an unbeliever because marriage is a religious covenant. Both the physical and religious union are celebrated as godly facts. In the New Testament, the metaphor of marriage is applied to Christ and His church. While both sexuality and worship can be defiled, as created and intended by God, their purposes are glorious.
Thus the family comes into its own in every sphere as it serves God and lives by faith. Faith is our right relationship to God, and it is His gift to us. Faith is not simply believing, because the very devils in hell believe and tremble (Jas. 2:19). Faith is, according to Ephesians 2:8, "the gift of God." It is not our act of believing, "lest any man should boast," (Eph. 2:9), but a supernatural grace.
Thus, although the Christian family is a biological unit, it is, because it is redeemed by God's grace, more than a natural fact. It is a fact of grace.
Man's life is both personal and social, and, very clearly, life is most personal and social in the family. We are never more fully and obviously personal in all our being than in the family, and nowhere else is our sense of community, our socialization, greater. State school critics of home schooling insist that the home schooled miss out on socialization. This is an especially absurd claim because socialization in any healthy sense is best learned in the family. Moreover, when the family is the faith center, the personal and the social aspects of life are learned under grace.
One of the curses of school life in the years since the secular revolution has been the rise of gangs. Earlier in the century, if two boys disagreed and fought, other boys formed a circle around them and broke up the fight if one of the two fought unfairly. Now a disagreement can lead to a gang assault on one boy.
Gang activity is socialization, non-Christian socialization, and the major form of such activity in many areas. There is nothing good as such in socialization: it can be either good or bad, and in a non-Christian context, is normally bad. Its most common expressions in many non-Christian circles are gang activities and lawless sexuality. Non-Christian socialization leads to immorality and the depersonalization of life. We need to make clear to these humanistic champions of socializing the child that their method is precisely the problem we want to avoid.
At present, many churches are in crisis because too many members' children are in state schools and their characters have been shaped by Christ's enemies. Humanistic education denies that there is truth; it denies God. As one writer has stated it, citing Naum Gabo, "There is no such thing as absolute truth or falsity. Anything and everything can be both." 1 What is also being said is that there is no absolute meaning, if any meaning at all.
Grow or Die
Neither time nor man stand still. Our faith either grows or dies. We should not be surprised when artist Jean Dubuffet said, "I believe very much in the values of savagery; I mean, instinct, passion, mood, violence, madness."2 We see all around us a polarization taking place, and, as unbelief deepens, so too does faith. Erich Kahler spoke some years ago of "the outspoken attempt to produce incoherence,a veritable cult of incoherence of sheer senselessness and aimlessness."3
As against this, Christian faith is becoming more consistently Biblical, more coherent, and more directed. Whereas a generation ago, children simply grew up biologically without too much direction, more and more Christian families are providing a strong focus and objective. Their children are remarkable in their faith and goals.
We are in the early stages of one of history's most dramatic struggles and shifts. At one time, the church dominated civilization, but during most of history the state has been the commanding force. Now we see a growing cynicism directed at the state. Earlier, revolutions were viewed as the corrective, but they usually produced a more evil state. Now we are seeing a double movement. On the one hand, humanism seeks a world state, a new Tower of Babel. On the other hand, the family in Christ is decentralizing society by beginning with the education of its own children. The statists see the full extent of this threat and are attempting to destroy this movement. In this battle, the family is both gaining ground and is increasingly winning. God warned Zechariah against all who despise the day of small things (Zech. 4:10). To do so is to despise God's work among us.
1. James Johnson Sweeney, "Modern Art and Tradition," in Katherine S. Dreier, James Johnson Sweeny, Naum Gabo: Three Lectures on Modern Art (Port Washington, NY: Kennkat Press, 1949), 47.
2. Katherine Kuh, Break-Up, the Core of Modern Art (Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society, 1966), 32.
3. Erich Kahler, The Disintegration of Form (New York, NY: George Braziller, Inc., 1968), 96.