Within American Evangelical Christianity, there seems to be an over-elevation of the family. Take, for instance, the trend for Christian families to opt to cheer a family member on during an athletic game on Sundays over attending a church service for congregational worship.
Like many such issues, elevating the family is not a direct falsehood. As John Stott once wrote, “Every heresy is due to an overemphasis upon some truth, without allowing other truths to qualify and balance it.”
While the issues regarding family might not quite be a heresy (since they’re more practical than doctrinal), it’s definitely an example of how our convictions and prioritizing even something good and godly can become a false god, or an idol, in our hearts and lives.
As the first human institution, marriage and family are good. Even sexual relationships within marriage are “undefiled” (Hebrews 13:4). In Mark 7:10-13, Christ Himself criticizes the Pharisees for disregarding Mosaic law regarding caring for aging parents. Instead of using resources to fulfill their familial responsibilities, they were giving to religious purposes; according to the Lord, this irresponsible behavior was the cause of “making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered.”
1 Timothy 5:8 gives an even stronger admonition regarding responsibility to family: “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” This clear biblical elevation of the family makes family-oriented churches and other religious groups make sense; after all, they’re honoring and encouraging something God clearly values.
Perhaps one of the reasons the evangelical community has, in recent years and decades, emphasized marriage and the family is that our world has torn it to shreds. From abortion and all kinds of child abuse to abandonment of the biblical design for marriage, the family is far from healthy in our world, today.
Romans 1 describes the perversion of natural affections that will mark the end times, and we certainly seem to be living in that day. Phrases like “living in sin,” “whore,” and “bastard” have become far more taboo than the behaviors or lifestyles described by them; judging others seems to be the only sin we can commit, when it comes to “diversity” in sexual or moral life.
Certainly the family is under attack, and the church is fittingly rising up against the attacks.
Any such positive can easily overstep its bounds, though. The Enemy is subtle, and where he cannot get us to believe an out-and-out falsehood or put wicked desires on our heart’s thrones, he excels in putting something good in place of the Best; either way, he succeeds at getting our too-easily-idolatrous hearts to replace God.
While prioritizing family may not seem as self-serving as the rich young man of Matthew 18 who treasured wealth over God, it is still idolatry if it goes beyond its rightful place in our lives and in our hearts.
In Part 2, we’ll look at what God does say about our responsibilities toward family and its rightful place in our hearts and lives.