by Gene Edward Veith, Jr
Christians, in particular, have been concerned with the state of the family, both their own and those in the broader culture. Christians have a basis for marriage and child raising that secularists do not have. Some are saying that, given the cultural forces that are undermining the family, Christians should just pursue their own family values. Why should the state have laws regulating families at all? If the culture wants to encourage serial polygamy or same-sex marriage or out-of-wedlock births, let it. In the meantime, the church will bless lifelong marriages in which two parents will raise healthy, well-adjusted children. The church will be the place of strong families. Individuals who yearn for a rich family life will come to the church, which will thrive as an attractive counterculture in the midst of the larger cultural collapse.
Still, we Christians must confess that we too have problems with marriage, parenthood, singleness, and sex. What plagues and confuses the culture often plagues and confuses us, also. We need to recover, both in theory and in practice, the Biblical estate of the family.
How This Book Is Different
Many Christian books on the family offer psychological advice, practical tips, moral judgments, and pious exhortations. Much Christian discourse on the subject is preoccupied with the overriding concerns of obedience, whether of the wife or of the child, or self-fulfillment, whether through one’s marriage or through one’s children. Such books risk unintentionally emulating the culture in reducing marriage and parenting to the exercise of power and the pursuit of personal subjective satisfaction, both of which can be poisonous to marriage, as well as to parenting and even to being a child.
Moral exhortations, too, can have little effect if they demand external behavior without changing the heart, something only the gospel of Christ can do. But even urging couples to “put Christ in your marriage” does not always help. What does that mean, exactly, and how can this be done? And doesn’t the Bible teach that Christ is already in marriage? Perhaps what we need is to discern his presence, his actions, and his self-sacrifice.
In the Middle Ages, marriage and parenthood were often treated as nothing more than a concession to the weakness of the flesh and the necessity of procreation. Those who wished to achieve full spiritual perfection would take vows of celibacy—rejecting marriage, sex, and parenthood—to enter a “holy order” in the monastery or the cloister. To be sure, marriage was a sacrament, but it was not a calling. The Latinate word for calling, “vocation” was reserved for God’s summons into the religious orders, into being a priest or a monk or a nun.
Martin Luther, however, as he was recovering the gospel and the Word of God, insisted that all of life in the world is a realm for Christian service and that our everyday activities in the workplace, the culture, the church, and especially the family are vocations from God. Luther specifically described the family as a “holy order,” a special realm of Christian love.10
But what we can learn from the Reformation is that the solution to our family problems will not be a matter of more laws, more rules to live by, or more principles for successful living. The major contribution of the Reformation was to place the gospel of Jesus Christ—justification by grace through faith in the atoning work of Christ—at the center of every facet of Christian teaching and every facet of the Christian life, including the family. And the key to making that application and renewing contemporary families is the doctrine of vocation.
10. “Table of Duties,” Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1986), 35.
Taken from Family Vocation: God’s Calling in Marriage, Parenting, and Childhood by Gene Edward Veith Jr. and Mary J. Moerbe copyright ©2012. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187.