The Model Family
The Role & Character of the Family in Christianity
by Jean-Marc Berthoud
Some preliminary remarks are in order before entering into the heart of our subject. They will deal with the last term in our subtitle: “The role and character of the family in Christianity.”
What do we mean by “Christianity”? We must clearly distinguish between what can be called “historic Christianity” and, for want of a better expression, what we shall call “modern Christianity.” Whatever we have to say regarding the role of the family in Christianity will be in relation to the historic Christian faith and not to its modern counterfeit. Today, the latter all too often masquerades as the genuine article. The distinction to which we draw your attention is not the vertical (or denominational) differentiation between various branches of the Church (Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, or Evangelicalism) but a horizontal demarcation that cuts through each of these segments of the Christian faith. Within each Christian denomination, you will find both partisans of the historic Christian faith and proponents of its “modern” critical travesty. I shall be speaking of the genuine Christian faith, not of its travesty, of its apostasy.
Having put these preliminary remarks out of the way, we shall now turn to our theme: the role of the family in Christianity. The role the historic Christian faith assigns to the family cannot adequately be grasped without an understanding of its origin and character, its obligations, and its final end or purpose. We shall briefly deal with each of these aspects.
The Origin of the Family
Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, tells us that the family,1 like man himself, the stars, the earth, and the sea, and all that they contain, is a creature, that is, a social form directly created by God, and that its members—each and every one of us—are finally accountable to him for the way we treat this institution. The family thus bears the character of a permanent substantial form (like biological species or chemical elements) and as a result, like all created forms, cannot in the long run be destroyed by man.
This allows us to draw the following conclusions: The created family is constitutive of the human race and, even if it is today under dire attack, cannot be abolished; all men and women, by their very nature, belong to the family; and all human beings, irrespective of their religious (or irreligious) beliefs, can no more escape this divinely established framework than they can stop breathing, or refuse to use their digestive system, or reject the circulation of their blood.
This inescapable stability of the family explains our meeting here in Geneva, for what has brought us together is our common conviction of the foundational nature of the family, which, as a created institution, includes us all within the scope of its authority. What can comfort us in the battle we are all waging in defense of the created family is its indestructible character, as indestructible as the order of the universe itself. This shows us the utter futility of the efforts of those who seek to destroy it. They are, by the very nature God has given them, with every new generation, forced to reestablish the family. It is fitting for us to begin our considerations on the role of the family in Christianity by hearing, first, the witness of the Torah, particularly in the Book of Genesis, and then that of the Messiah himself, as faithfully reported by the apostolic witness of Mark on the divine origin and creational character of the family.
And the Lord God said, It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. . . . And Adam said: This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; and she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall be one flesh. (Gen. 2:18,21–24)
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them: Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. (Gen. 1:27–28)
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