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Family Foundations: Defining Family (Part 2 of 3)

By Bryn S. Elliott

(If you haven’t already, make sure to check out Part 1 in this series: Family Foundations: What Is A Biblical Model of Family)

“Family is the foundational institution of society ordained by God. It is constituted by marriage and is composed of persons related to one another by marriage, blood or adoption.” Source

The definition of “family” has been increasingly fluid through the modernization and secularization of the western world. To understand why family looks the way it does today, it is important that we understand where we came from and how family structures have changed over the centuries. 

Before the industrial revolution (which began in 1760), the family institution looked vastly different. Families were much closer and relied heavily on all members for their welfare. Work was done within a family, and households were autonomous economic units. Family businesses were common where you would see husband and wife working side by side on farms, dairies, small shops, etc. The couple’s children all had important roles to play. Children as young as three or four years old helped with simple chores and eventually joined their parents in the family business. What’s more, parents were both available and deeply involved in the lives and upbringing of their children. [Nancy Pearcey and Phillip E. Johnson, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from It’s Cultural Captivity]

When Everything Changed 

The industrial revolution changed the physical location of work from the home to factories and other forms of waged labor. The importance of the family unit drastically changed alongside the ongoing cultural and economic changes. Men and women took on value for their individual productivity. Days were spent apart, rather than together. Children became more of an inconvenience, rather than an integral and valued part of a shared family endeavor. 

With this drastic shift of society, people wanted to protect certain positive values and ideals such as love, morality, religion, and self-sacrifice. To do this, laws were passed to limit women and children from working in an attempt to protect the last vestiges of the healthy, traditional family unit. Sadly, these laws created a divide between the public sphere of work and finance, and the public sphere of home and family. The general idea lawmakers promoted was that the home was meant to be a refuge, a place where men could rest and disconnect from the stress of work. Men lived autonomous, self-interested lives apart from their wives and children. Household enterprises were almost completely wiped out and replaced. Women were relegated to housekeeping and childcare, which left many women feeling unfilled and without a sense of purpose or shared vision. These changes sowed the seeds of the modern family. [Pearcey and Johnson] 

Family Today

Today, marriage continues to be redefined by people’s desires, passion, and lust. People choose to get married based solely on feelings or desires for their own personal satisfaction and gain. Many believe a modern marriage can take place between two people of any gender. Some even believe that marriage between people and robots will be legal within a few decades. There are no guidelines, structures, covenants or moral standards involved. Rather, a modern marriage is whatever you want it to look like with some tax write-offs. Marriage is whatever people want it to be. 

In America 50% of marriages end in divorce. Source People in the west get divorced for many different reasons including:

  • Falling out of love;
  • Conflict;
  • Selfishness;
  • Promiscuity;
  • Discontent; and
  • A desire to be single again. 

The increase in divorce shows how rapidly marriage has decreased in value. Children are often seen as burdens, expensive, and disruptive to their parent’s life and success. If a couple chooses to have children, it’s often for personal or self-serving reasons. Having a child may even serve as an attempt to fix a broken relationship. Many children are born out of wedlock because celibacy is, for the most part, an unknown value. This has produced countless children born into environments that are far from able to provide a healthy childhood environment.  

Children are a Blessing

It’s clear that the biblical definition of family no longer carries the weight it used to. “Family” means something very different today than God intended. 

God is very clear that children are blessings. A biblical family provides children with safety, stability, a place to develop their values and character, as well as experiencing God’s love through their parents to understand how to love God and others. The Bible is clear on its strong views against divorce. Parents have a God-given responsibility and authority to teach their children God’s ways and how to survive in the world. Family is where the next generation is raised, shaped, and sent out into the world. 

I hope my words challenge each one of us to humbly pursue a biblical definition of family. Doing so will change us, our marriages, our children, and ultimately, our community. We’ll see the good fruit of healthy children able to handle challenges and staying true to their God-given identities. We’ll see beautiful marriages with steadfast adults determined to put God’s will before their own. Partnerships between Godly spouses and their children will birth Kingdom companies that will shift culture and point millions to Jesus.

God bless!

Questions for Reflection:

  • What is your understanding of marriage? Does a biblical definition of marriage challenge your beliefs? 
  • How have you been impacted by healthy or unhealthy marriages?  
  • What steps can you take to point your marriage/family back to Jesus and the biblical model designed by God? 
  • If you are unmarried, how can you prepare for a biblical marriage and family?

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