After you have a child, you begin to look at the world, entertainment, television, community, family, all sorts of things in a totally different perspective. At least I have. I noticed the other day in flipping TV stations that the ABC Family channel has a new slogan: A New Kind of Family. Maybe it’s not a new slogan, I don’t know. Regardless, it seems to me as if they are marketing to the millions of viewers who live in what our culture calls “non-traditional” or “progressive” families. Unfortunately now in this day in age, we live in a society of these kinds of families that are totally dysfunctional, where priorities are all askew, parents divorce and remarry like they are in middle school dating relationships, people in their teens, 20’s, and 30’s are having kids out of wedlock intentionally (and unintentionally through promiscuity), and what the culture calls a “traditional” family is now the minority. I myself grew up in a highly dysfunctional home. My wife did as well. We are still feeling the effects of that dysfunction to this day. Yet Christ has been gracious to reverse a majority of the damage through His power alone and continues to sustain us. All that to say, the individualistic tendencies within our culture are now getting the best of us. The very fact that ABC Family would go this route in their marketing points to this sad reality: their main tool for bringing in viewers is to make shows targeting this breakdown in the family unit, because that is now the majority of people in this country.
Our culture now not only views marriage in a distorted way, but is presenting this distorted viewpoint as what is normal. That is kind of frightening to me. God created us male and female and instituted a covenant marriage relationship between the two sexes as what is fitting and normal. Families just don’t work in the way God intended them to work unless they are structured in this manner. Any other ordering of a family unit is trying to perfectly fit a square peg in a round hole. Sure, people can make you think what they want by presenting their disordered family as something that is normal and as something that is “working,” much in the same way you can force the square peg into the round hole, but forcing it in still doesn’t make the square peg a perfect fit because the corners will get stripped off of the peg.
ABC Family is an example of the media presenting this distortion as normal, acceptable, because clearly their target audience is no longer the traditional family, but the new, progressive family. They feel that is the norm now, otherwise, wouldn’t they still be marketing to the traditional family? But the reality is families are dying from the inside out and this has adverse effects on the culture. Mothers’ and fathers’ lack of commitment to each other and their family’s, and their lack of God-honoring actions are ripping lives and relationships apart, particularly their children’s lives, whose relationships with their (married, not divorced) parents are necessary for proper mental, social, and most importantly, spiritual development. Living in a covenant marriage “’til death do us part” with one man and one woman is not just a preference for how we want our family’s to be, but rather it is the way God Himself designed it and sovereignly set forth as the way it should and must be. And not only is this so, but it is the only logically functional way for it to work in our lives. Any other way is a distortion of the picture a family was meant to point to: the reality of Christ and His bride, the church, whom He has purchased with His own blood.
What the culture calls traditional in regard to family is in reality that which God has instituted from the beginning and it has not changed, even with the winds of individualism sweeping our land and what our narcissistic Western culture sovereignly deems as right and true. Though we are more technologically enabled and knowledgeable than those from our not so distant past, and though there are some ways of doing things that can be changed and restructured for the better as a result of these advances, the truth and reality of marriage is not something that needs redefining or restructuring. God made it that way for a reason and to go against His design is to go against God Himself in rebellion against His Creator rights. In addition, God has so structured communities in His own design, using the family unit to constitute the group, that it is detrimental for our society to accept this new type of family as the norm. To do so will ultimately be our demise.
God-instituted families are the only kind of family structure that will truly work. Our culture calls the new kind of family progressive as if to distinguish it from a traditional family, as if it were just a matter of preference, like a flavor of ice cream or something. Yet, these new kinds of families will not work because God created things in such a way so that if the components of the family unit are disordered or taken out, things just naturally will inevitably fall apart. And I’m not just talking about gay marriage, though that is definitely a component of what I’m talking about. More specifically, I’m talking about the most common family disordering that is rampant among us: divorce and remarriage. Or as Al Mohler calls it, the “Divorce Industrial Complex.”
This disordering of the family unit and the rampant adultery that plagues our society wreaks havoc in all kinds of ways. It obviously breaks things down the family. But this breakdown works its way out into the society at large. It starts in small communities. Then it moves out further and further into the society, in all its different realms and facets. Most children now (this makes me honestly want to weep) do not know what a God-honoring marriage looks like now as they only know what a broken home looks like. A God-honoring marriage is foreign to most people now. This has tremendous effects on our culture. Just look at it now. We are a people who desperately need the Gospel once again; we need missions not just around the world, but here in our neighborhoods, down the street, at work, in the library, downtown! But this missions work starts in the family first and works its way outward by witnessing to the power of the Gospel not just with our words but our actions in relation to those that are dearest to us.
Divorce and remarriage has wreaked havoc in my life, my wife’s life, as well as countless numbers of you reading this. I realize that many of you have been through divorces, either children of a divorce or the divorcer/divorcee. I also know that many of you are remarried after your divorce. For those of you who were complicit in a divorce or are remarried after a divorce, I am not here to condemn you, for these things are between you and the Lord. That is not my job and I step out of His way in this. I do know that there is great mercy, love, grace, and kindness in Christ, if you will turn and embrace Him.
Yet I cannot escape the conviction that Jesus’ words on these matters are emphatically clear, even though a great majority of people inside and outside the church would seek to just ignore and suppress them. These truths don’t need any deep, Old/New Testament, theological, historical, hermeneutical, contextual analysis to understand. They are clear. And ignoring them does not make their truthfulness any less truthful. They are hard-edged truths (much in the same way hell or predestination are hard truths to accept) that took some working through. I realized families were bad off to a great degree, but did not realize how terribly marriage was esteemed in our culture until I was about to get married and had very wise counsel that guided both of us in our minds and hearts. The statistics shocked and really frightened me as to what I was getting into. I really started taking marriage more seriously than I ever had at that point. (To read more on this go here, thoughts on divorce and remarriage). Some of it was difficult because of the down-hill momentum against marriage in much of our culture that had infected our thinking. But what was difficult to work through has turned out to be a huge blessing in our lives together, by God’s grace and mercy in us.
Much of where we are now as a culture, as it pertains to the family, can be blamed on our cultures’ utopianistic worldview for how individuals should live in communities. It is believed by a great majority of people now that it is okay or normal to live in families that don’t have a father, or mother, or where they have two fathers, two mothers, an uncle, grandparents, or any other combination you can possible think of. Now, I don’t want to negate the fact that there are circumstances where a father or mother dies. That is not what I am talking about here. I’m talking about willful disobedience on the part of parents to what God has instituted in the covenant of marriage.
“‘Til death do us part” means what it says. I believe firmly this includes even if a spouse commits adultery against the other. That doesn’t mean it isn’t hard to deal with. But it does mean that a covenant was made and it should be upheld. Marriage is not a contract where there are stipulations that if not met it can be broken at will, but rather it is a covenant where the love is unfailing toward the other spouse, even in the midst of something so terrible and emotionally draining. Christ can heal all hurts and reverse the curse though, even when an offense on that scale has been committed against you. That is who we are to turn to, not the divorce lawyer.
However, much of this great problem in our society should also be blamed on the church (possibly a majority of the blame) and our lack of upholding the family as the ideal for what God intended as what will work in reality. And we do this not so much by the words we say, but by the way we live our lives. There is a lot of speak coming from the evangelical church about the family and how we should do things. But there is little action on our part in this regard. Before we point our fingers outward toward what others are doing, maybe we need to look inward and repent of our ways before the throne of God, in order to witness to the power of the Gospel, specifically in family life, that we may win this dying world for Christ.
Last time I checked (which was a few years ago), the divorce rate in the church was worse than the average divorce rate in the rest of society, at least according to Barna. Do you see a problem here? We claim to be the people of God, born anew, raised from the dead by the Spirit’s supernatural saving power in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, who (when we were pursuing nothing but sin) gave us a new heart, new affections, new abilities that we didn’t have before, all in order to do what is right in His eyes, to be pleasing to Him, albeit imperfectly. And yet in practice we live worse than the world we claim to have been redeemed from? I’m missing something here.
There is a giant disconnect in people’s minds between true saving faith and what results from a person born of the Spirit of God who now possesses that faith by God’s gracious act. It is a disconnect that points to a darker reality no one wants to consider: the fact that it is probable that many, many, many people in the church (yes, even Gospel-preaching churches) have not been born of the Spirit of God and live today as nominal Christians, or as Paul would say, who live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Being born again is not a political label you slap on yourself and claim at any given moment of your life when you so choose. Being born again is something that happens to you by the supernatural working of the Spirit of God in you, by His choice, on His timing, and it is something you will know has happened to you, for the inward testimony of the Spirit is better than all reason (Calvin, Institutes, Book I). God brings you to life from the dead, you don’t. Jesus made this clear in John 3.
This is what conversion is: being raised from the dead through the preaching of the Gospel by God’s power, in order that what results from God’s work in you is belief and faith in Christ, and that what results from this new life are works that are pleasing to God (namely because the works are no longer a duty that must be performed, but it is now your delight to do them, because of your newly regenerated nature). This understanding of salvation doesn’t jive with what I’m hearing statistically coming out of the church these days. God saves you and gives you the means to be saved: faith. To put it in theological terms, faith is not produced by our unregenerated human nature (Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals). It is God’s work in us, it is His gift to grant. And as a result of this faith, though you will stumble and fall, you do that which is pleasing to Him and will return to Him again and again, for you cannot help but do so.
To be saved, we need this change to happen in us by God’s work, in order that with our eyes opened we may see and believe; with our ears opened, we may hear and understand with a renewed mind; with our hearts transplanted by God’s Spirit, we may love Him with a love created in us first by the Love of Christ. Until this message is preached and until this is a reality in the hearts of professing Christians, from both preachers as well as lay people, we will continue to flounder in our witness to the Gospel in the way we live our lives. And more specifically toward my main point here, we will fail in our witness to the Gospel in family life. The Gospel, salvation, and it’s infallible results (because of God) in people’s lives must not be disconnected any longer. In fact, the Scriptures are clear that for one to continue in willful disobedience points to an absence of saving faith to begin with. And man does this relate to marriage.
The reversal and healing of our nation is going to begin only when we, the church, repent of our wicked ways, seek God’s mercy upon us, and in practice uphold God-instituted marriage as what He has intended for family and community life, for every generation. Godliness starts in the home. This was a point J.I. Packer told Mark Driscoll recently of something that needs to be recovered in our generation. I do not claim to have in any way mastered anything. In as much as I speak to those reading this, I speak to myself and my own heart, for I know that if God were to let me go, I could fall further than I would ever have sinfully wanted to or believed I could go. I know I am wicked beyond what I can imagine or conceive, for I see glimpses of it every day in my constant wandering heart. Yet in Christ, there is great mercy, and conquering power over sin, for the joy and reconciliation to God that is in Christ’s work is greater than anything in the world. He is the source of change in relation to marriage, and is the One from whom and through whom all blessing and ability to do any of these things comes. Without Christ, we can do nothing.