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The Challenges of Family Life

When we come to faith in Christ, many of us hope that the practice of living out the faith will be a simple one. After all, the bottom line to Christian living is to fear God and keep His commandments (Ecc. 12:13). However, since our sinful natures have to be acknowledged by us and renewed by the Holy Spirit, we must work to become separated unto God-to become holy. Eventually, we come to understand that the process of our sanctification does not happen on auto-pilot, but must be lived out in a deliberate, self-conscious manner, without relying on gimmicks or simplistic formulas.

Andrea G. Schwartz
  • Andrea G. Schwartz,
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When we come to faith in Christ, many of us hope that the practice of living out the faith will be a simple one. After all, the bottom line to Christian living is to fear God and keep His commandments (Ecc. 12:13). However, since our sinful natures have to be acknowledged by us and renewed by the Holy Spirit, we must work to become separated unto God -- to become holy. Eventually, we come to understand that the process of our sanctification does not happen on auto-pilot, but must be lived out in a deliberate, self-conscious manner, without relying on gimmicks or simplistic formulas.

I recall the first time this was driven home to me. I was new to the faith and I was being discipled by a somewhat overbearing woman who made it seem as though all I had to do was memorize enough Bible verses and I would be safe from problems and trouble.

One day I decided to walk, rather than drive, from my apartment to the grocery store across the street. This turned out to be a bad idea because I purchased more than I could easily carry. I exited the store with two paper grocery bags full of ingredients for our spaghetti dinner. As I was approaching the home-stretch, my arms got weary and I became concerned that either my arms or the bags were going to give out. So, applying what had been drilled into me, I repeated with confidence, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Immediately, and I mean immediately, one grocery bag gave out and splatterings of spaghetti sauce, complete with glass fragments, were everywhere!  "But," I said to myself, "I thought I could call upon the name of the Lord and be safe!"

My understanding of the faith has matured and deepened since that excursion. I now understand that God is not impressed with my incantations or a help-on-demand attitude. Living out the faith in the course of day-to-day living is not something we can do mindlessly, nor can we assume because we are in the Family of God, we get a free pass, exempting us from working out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12).

I have discovered in the course of raising a family myself and witnessing others do so, that often we look for a formula -- a sure-fire method -- to produce good, respectable children who will become good, respectable adults. We take verses such as "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it," (Prov. 22:6) to mean that all we need to do is institute a plan of Bible memorization, catechism instruction, Biblically-sound textbooks, and all will be well. We incorrectly assume that since we have embraced a "correct" theology that family life can go on auto-pilot. Then, when problems arise (which they will), so, too, does disillusionment and despair.

The answer to these difficulties is not to abandon the Scriptures or to conclude that because child-rearing involves sinful people raising sinful people it is best to remain childless. Rather, we should reaffirm that since the family is God's primary institution in society, we must embrace the full-orbed faith if our families are to impact the culture for the Crown Rights of Jesus Christ. Family life is not an end unto itself, but the primary vehicle to further the Kingdom of God on earth.

Big Families Start as Small Ones

A new family begins when a man and a woman commit to a covenantal relationship in marriage. How these two people structure their relationship will have everything to do with how they embrace and welcome the addition of new members.1 A Biblically orthodox pattern of living needs to be established. Spending time with families with older children from one's own extended family or, in their absence, members of the church family, will help provide realistic expectations when the first child arrives on the scene.

The single most important aspect of preparing for family expansion is to concentrate on learning, understanding and applying the law of God. By incorporating the ultimate Standard of life into one's thinking (economically, socially, nutritionally, etc.), instead of "making it up as you go along," parents can be confident that their decisions and practices aren't arbitrary and will receive blessings from God.

Investing time with a first-born is essential to this process. Too many mothers think leaving their child's early years in the hands of paid providers (no matter how good they may be) is an acceptable choice. When a woman's first child arrives on the scene, along with the normal care and nurturing which is true for all children, an additional emphasis needs to be given as this first child will end up being a defacto leader to younger brothers and sisters. The patterns that are established with a first child, who will be the first to reach maturity, are important because any younger children will use this older sibling as a litmus test for what is "really" allowed as opposed to what are the "stated" rules and regulations of the household.

This child (boy or girl) is to be groomed to assist the mother as more children are added to the family. One of the ways to bring about a unified family is to establish with older children the duties and responsibilities attendant with their position within the family. Birth order may seem accidental to them, but God has a distinct purpose in how He configures families. Making a point to deputize the older children apprentices them for the time they will manage a household of their own. It also gives them an accurate picture of where their loyalties should lie.

The Eyes of the Children Are upon You

It is not uncommon in Christian homeschooling circles to see large families with seven, even ten children. Psalm 127 makes it clear that children are an inheritance from the Lord and a man is blessed with a quiver-full. But that doesn't mean that there aren't problems and situations that are unique to families with many children.

Since the world currently doesn't view children as the blessings they are, big families are often ridiculed and criticized as being irresponsible and careless in an already over-populated world. When it is pointed out that most of these families are self-supporting and not relying on government assistance, the argument is raised that the mother cannot possibly give each child the love and attention it needs. This is a ridiculous argument from a society that has no problem with murdering babies in the womb, or shipping their little ones off to day care, and then to public school (complete with before- and after-school care). Why should anyone believe that these critics have any idea of what nurture, love and discipleship entail?

Large families have the unique opportunity to impart to their youngest members the understanding that they are part of a larger entity while remaining a unique individual with duties and responsibilities in both roles. This involves understanding what according to Rushdoony is a basic question of philosophy-the One and the Many: 

Is unity or plurality, the one or the many, the basic fact of life, the ultimate truth about being? If unity is the reality, and the basic nature of reality, then oneness and unity must gain priority over individualism, particulars, or the many. If the many, or plurality, best describes ultimate reality, then the unit cannot gain priority over the many; then state, church, and society are subordinate to the will of the citizen, the believer, and of man in particular. If the one is ultimate, then individuals are sacrificed to the group. If the many be ultimate, then unity is sacrificed to the will of many, and anarchy prevails.2

It is much harder to live successfully as a spoiled brat when a child is one among many in a family. This does not mean that the children in large families are all carbon-copies of their parents or each other. Each comes to the family with a sinful nature that needs to be acknowledged and addressed. As Biblical standards are conveyed to each new member, each unique individual is trained in the ways of God and given the chance to learn how to interact peaceably with others.

Large families do have particular issues and problems that aren't faced by smaller families. For example, it is not uncommon for older children to be approaching adulthood as new members are being added to the family. If the parents have not prepared themselves to deal with the new circumstances older children will experience and face, family growing-pains can be debilitating.

Mom may be dealing with the nursing and diaper stage (a stage she is familiar with) just as older ones are learning to drive, finding employment, or attending college (a stage which she isn't familiar with as a parent, but only previously as a daughter). In a fragmented society with extended family often too far away to assist the mother as her older ones are ready to spread their wings, the mother may experience overload and find it difficult to keep juggling all her responsibilities.3

Conflicts arise that require revisiting lessons that were the hallmark of the Christian education at the core of their homeschool. Parents should welcome these opportunities to re-establish Biblical guidelines for themselves and their older children as such tensions arise. This process is played out in front of an attentive audience in large families. Most parents realize that how they deal with these realities will become precedent-setting as the younger children grow. The parents' desire to do things in an orthodox, Biblical manner is enhanced by the knowledge that the younger ones are paying close attention to how their parents are handling the matter.

Those who thought that their "formula" would prevent problems realize that their families are not immune to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. They discover that the world, the flesh, and the devil are factors that need to be acknowledged and dealt with. It isn't that the parents have failed; it is just that the time of testing has arrived.

I am not making a case for small families. Small families do not mean fewer problems. These problems will arise regardless of family size. But large families have to work these problems out in front of many younger siblings. This is all the more reason for parents to be grounded with Biblical solutions.

It Takes a Family to Raise a Family

The foolish humanistic mantra that it takes a village to raise a family has a kernel of truth. Mom and dad cannot tackle this task successfully on their own, for the task is overwhelming without assistance. Instead of a village, it takes a family to raise a family. That is why the Biblical model is the trustee family.4

A Biblical trustee family is a generational model that is concerned with the health, education, and welfare of its members in all aspects of life. Far from the atomistic model of just the parents and their children, all members of this extended family have a vested interest in the health and well-being of each other. The trustee family has a stake in how children are raised. This is a foreign concept in a day where the prevailing secular model is that young people "do their time" in the family environment until they can leave home and create a life for themselves. This is a recipe for moral failure and future economic woes for the "grown" child, and feeds our statist system by weakening the family. R. J. Rushdoony comments:

Atomistic individualism, because it denies all power to the supernatural, and rebels against the family, claims for itself both sovereignty and power. But, because the atomistic individual is anarchistic only with reference to God's law, and family law, his need for a framework of reference is concentrated on men at large-collective man, the state. The state becomes his "resonance box," his stage. Atomistic man calls the totalitarian state into existence as his source of morality, religion, sovereignty, and power. The atomistic individualism of every era, whether in antiquity, the Renaissance, or in the twentieth century, has called into being the omnivorous power of the state as its destroyer, for social atomism is inescapably suicidal. By affirming the totally immanent one, the individual, it creates the greater concentration of immanence and oneness, the totalitarian state.5

Raising and rearing children is an investment in effort, time, and financial resources. Biblically speaking, the investment of feeding, clothing, sheltering, training and educating offspring should bring a better return than heartache and separation. This is where the trustee model is so important to embrace. Family life is not an end unto itself; it is the foundational means by which the Kingdom of God is pursued. That is the reason that when deciding upon a spouse, you must understand you are not just marrying a person, you are marrying a family. The question must be:  Is it a covenantal family that will provide the necessary support (spiritually, emotionally, and physically), and also shares the desire to see God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven?

Where a family chooses to live should take into consideration the kind of familial support that will be available, be it their own family or the family of God. Making use of grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends with older children are all a plus if the people who help share the burden share your perspective on the Faith and its practice.

Clearing the Hurdles

You cannot ultimately determine whether or not your children's names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life, but you can inculcate in them the realities of living according to God's Word and the resultant blessings and curses that will follow from their decisions. Parents should focus their attention on preparing their children for the days of testing, using church life, academic pursuits, the arts, sports, and other activities as the milieu in which these lessons are taught.

Having a vibrant understanding of how the law of God applies across various disciplines and issues will prepare them to address the challenges their future children will face as they expand their circle outside of family life. When the inevitable "butting heads" occurs, it is wise to make use of the extended family (both biological and the family of God) to act as buffers to assist in unjamming the loggerheads. It is not a "given" that there will be generational conflict. This is a humanistic device intended to weaken the family, the culture, and set the stage for tyranny.

There is a formula that works in families, but it cannot be reduced to isolated Bible verses or wholesome curriculum choices. Raising a family is a top-down transmittal of Biblical law (orthodoxy and orthopraxy) and will have a resultant, positive impact in a humanistic culture. Rushdoony explains:

Meanwhile, the economic, political, religious, ecological, and educational crises of the modern world are increasing. Every age has its problems, and many eras have had more difficult problems than the modern age, but the test is the ability of a culture to cope with its problems. The modern age has lost even one of the most elementary abilities of any culture, namely, the ability to discipline its children and maintain its authority. Without this elementary ability, a culture is very soon dead. The modern age gives every evidence of approaching death. This is a cause, not for dismay, but for hope. The death of modernity makes possible the birth of a new culture, and such an event is always, however turbulent, an exciting and challenging venture. The dying culture loses its will to live. A new culture, grounded in a new faith, restores that will to live even under very adverse circumstances.6

Rushdoony's optimism is not ill-founded. As Christians continue to have large families and concentrate their efforts on establishing a realistic approach to transmitting the faith to their children, we will see strongholds being pulled down and the vain imaginations of those who hate the Lord cast aside (2 Cor. 10:4). Now that is a formula for success!


1. For example: by learning to live within the means of the husband's income, the wife prepares herself to not have to be in the workplace and remain the mainstay in the rearing of her children. This will put the family on a better footing.

2. R. J. Rushdoony, The One and the Many (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, [1971] 2007), 2.

3. Depending on the age of the mother, she also may be in the midst of peri-menopause, the years preceding menopause. If she has not given ample attention to her health and well-being, an adrenal-depleted mother can have additional pressures when her older children are spreading their wings. This is another good reason for mothers to delegate, delegate, delegate when it comes to running their households. The Proverbs 31 woman is not a slave, but an efficient, godly manager who "looks well to the ways of her household," without being its slave.

4. See my book The Biblical Trustee Family (Vallecito, CA: Chalcedon/Ross House Books, 2010) and various articles by R. J. Rushdoony on the subject. Go to and do a search on "trustee family."

5. R. J. Rushdoony, The One and the Many, 249.

6. Ibid. 389-90.