I recently read a post castigating Mark Driscoll for his thoughts about the relationship between the nuclear family – particulary his family because he is a pastor – and the church. Driscoll said:

“There is no office such as pastor’s wife or pastor’s children and I work very hard to ensure that our family remains our top priority over the church. Too many pastors put their ministry above their family and their wives and children get active in the church just so they can be close to their husband/daddy which is tragic. We have a normal fun family life and by God’s grace my wife and kids love Jesus, me and our church.”

I interpret Driscoll to mean that too many ministers sacrifice their families on the altar of ministry. The Scriptural reality set before the husband and father is that he is responsible for the sanctification of his wife through the washing of the water of the Word (Eph 5:25-29) as well serving as the primary discipler of his children (Deut 6:4-9).

However, this post accused Driscoll of “idolatry of the family”. Here is a summary of what he meant:

The problem with Driscoll’s statement is not just that its the standard conservative line, or that it is the battle cry of the Dobson’s and Robertson’s of contemporary evangelicalism.  The problem is rather the sort of moral universe that such comments presuppose.  Driscoll reifies the dominant notion that “natural” institutions like the family simply are the moral norm which have value in and of themselves merely by virtue of their existence.  The ethical vision of the New Testament, by contrast, is constituted by a radical interruption of all such “natural” conventions of morality and social life.  The scandal of the ethic of Jesus and the early church is precisely that all the commonly accepted priorities, allegiances, and social formations of this age are radically disrupted by the apocalyptic erruption of the advent of Christ in death and resurrection.

Is it unbiblical to suggest that the institution of the family has a place of centrality within the Scriptures? If marriage, and by virture of marriage, the family has been instituted by God, and if God appears to work within family groups within the Scriptures, isn’t there wisdom in guarding that sanctity of that institution?

Where I would agree with this post is the fact that the New Testament vision of the church does call for a “radical interruption of all such “natural” conventions of morality and social life.  The scandal of the ethic of Jesus and the early church is precisely that all the commonly accepted priorities, allegiances, and social formations of this age are radically disrupted by the apocalyptic erruption of the advent of Christ in death and resurrection.” While there is a radical interruption of the normal conventions, institutions and relationships of life, there isn’t a complete annihilation of these things. There is a clear call within Scripture to the kind of biblical community that strives for unity in the Gospel, the kind of unity where all dividing walls of hostitlity – racial, familial, gender, etc – are torn down for the sake of the image of Jesus being revealed within the community living together. But does this community come at the expense of the family, which is another institution clearly established by God within the Scriptures?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who had some clear and even radical views of biblical community, says:

Ever since Jesus called, there are no longer natural, historical, or experiential unmediated relationships for his disciples.  Christ the mediator stands between the son and the father, between husband and wife, between individual and nation, whether they can recognize him or not.  There is no way from us to other other than the path through Christ, his word, and our following him…

Again, I would affirm this rich statement by Bonhoeffer. But does this view of community and the mediatorial work of Jesus necessarily mean that protection, service to and discipleship of the nuclear family – clearly given to the husband by God – has been diminished by the call to live together with other saints? Could it mean that the role of husband and father is rather completed and fulfilled through the mediation of Jesus as he stands between us and the Holy Father? Our only hope for being the kind of husband and father than honors Jesus and the Gospel comes through the Gospel.

I don’t believe the Gospel demands that we forsake father, mother, sister, brother, son or daughter as long as these familial relationships do not hinder us from coming to Christ with radical, whole-hearted obedience to the demands of the Gospel. However, if they are a stumbling block to coming to Christ, they should be forsaken because whatever is forsaken for the sake of Jesus will be rewarded a hundred-fold in the Kingdom. Again, Bonhoeffer is helpful here.

“Those who left their fathers for Jesus’ sake will surely find new fathers in the community, they will find brothers and sisters; there are even fields and houses prepared for them.  Everyone enters discipleship alone, but no one remains alone in discipleship.  Those who dare to become single individuals trusting in the word are given the gift of church-community.  They find themselves again in a visible community of faith, which replaces a hundredfold what they lost.”  

All this to say that the criticism levied at Driscoll was probably unwarranted because I am not sure he was saying what he was accused of saying. However, we should always evaluate our commitment to our families in light of the Gospel of Jesus, and the Gospel should never be sacrificed for the sake of our families. The implications of this mean that the gospel community, otherwise known as the church, must take priority in our homes. This doesn’t mean the programs of the church as much as it means the organic relationships within the church which are meant to serve our sanctification as we seek to be conformed more and more to the image of Christ.

 

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