Saturday, November 04, 2006

was Jesus anti-family?

I'm getting back to reading Bishop William Willimon's book Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry. This morning I read this thought provoking section in the chapter entitled "The Pastor as Teacher: Christian Formation."
I was speaking at a conference on Christianity and the family. I had the challenge of trying to think about the family in the manner that Jesus seemed to think. I noted that Jesus had minimal interaction with his own family and, when he did go home or encounter his mother, things usually went badly. He made his disciples by rescuing people from their families. His, "Follow me!" appears to have meant, "Leave your family." Then there is Paul, and most of us know how negative he was on marriage and family. Indeed, one of pagan Rome's most trenchant criticisms against early Christians was that they tore families apart, teaching children to be disrespectful of their parents, and wives not to submit to their husband, and nothing was more dear to pagan Romans than their families. Jesus was clear that he had come to turn father against son and mother against daughter (Mark 3). The gospel was a sword that severed families and broke the hearts of many parents (Matthew 10:34-39).

So when Christians say "family," what we mean is "church" - that gathering based not upon natural birth, or social class, or race, or the world's other ways of locating people. We are trying to be members of that family formed by the waters of baptism. Our family consists of those who have been made disciples by being baptized and taught. That is our idea of family. (220)
I wonder if James Dobson would agree with Willimon on this.


Keith Taylor said...


Who am I to question a UM Bishop? Especially since I have moved to North Alabama and when I find a local church, he will be my Bishop, but I don't think that the comments written here are necessarily true.

As Christ hung on the cross one of His last words that He spoke was to the Apostle John. He told John to take care of His mother, Mary. That is recorded in the Gospel and if shows great concern of the Lord to his earthly Mother. In contrast He didn't say anything about taking care of fellow believers or the church.

We know that Christ's half brother, James, was the Bishop of Jerusalem and was a Christian martyr. Just because the Bible doesn't spend a lot of time talking about Christ's family does not mean that Christ didn't have a serious relationship with them. Let's face it. Christ's life on earth lasted thirty three years. For that amount of time, the Gospels are relatively short.

As for St. Paul, Ephesians Chapter Five is one of my favorite chapters in the New Testament. It is certainly not anti-family.

Paul also tells Christians who are married to non-Christians that they are to remain married and not leave their spouses because by their faith, their non believing spouses and/or children may come to know Christ and be saved. Nothing anti-family there as well

God has ordained three institutions to rule in the affairs of mankind since the creation. These are (1) the family, (2) the church (I know it wasn't called that in OT times, but it was the same thing), and (3) the civil government. I see absolutely NOTHING in the Gospels, or the Epistles, or any other book of the Bible that says this is no longer true in our lives today.

Bill Byars said...

I've thought that Christ was speaking of priorities, rather than absolutes. In other words, I would tend to believe that He was placing the family in a position that was in submission to the work to be performed for God.

And I certainly agree that there is ample evidence in multiple places (and I would include Acts with family supporting mission efforts) about what constitutes a healthy family.

And Jesus had some pretty important things to accomplish and a fixed timeline within which to function, so I can see him having to be foreful with his family. And of course that can come across as mean or rude or dismissive. But I'm not buying that it was that at its heart.

Anyway, I really like the way you put it Keith. I especially like your mention of Jesus not saying anything about taking care of fellow believers or the church. I am always concerned when people speak from "negative" statements, or absent statements. We know that there is more not recorded than recorded. So beside the logic error of arguing from a negative, I shudder at the thought of formulating opinion from what has not been recorded....

Whew! All that to say thanks for the well-stated opinion. I think one of you should invite the Bishop to join us and help us understand his position! Couldn't hurt! Always hard to ask a book for points of clarification.

Mike Rayson said...

Dear Timothy...

If anyone does not provide for his relatives and immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever!


Paul (St)

Jason Woolever said...

ok. ok. i hear you all. but wouldn't you say there's at least some validity to his point?

Keith Taylor said...

Well Jason,

guess if ones family is totally, spiritually bankrupt and a father or mother tells a child or a child tells a parent to either chose them or chose Christ, then I reckon the point if valid. But a family that does such a thing is a corrupt family and is not right with the plan of God. Same with civil governments. Likewise,we are to yield to the authority of the civil government. But a government that makes us choose between God and country is a corrupt government. (nazism, communism, islamofacism for example). However a church can be equally corrupt. A church that instructs it's members to choose between it and a family or the lawful legal civil government is spiritually bankrupt and demonic in nature. (the Branch Davidians for example.)

After all of that, my point is that there are God ordained families, God ordained churches, and God ordained governments and they should all work in unison in the affairs of mankind. If any of the three are outside the plan of God, then the Bishop's arguement becomes a valid one. But, I don't think it is God's intention that when we become Christians we have to divorce ourselves completely from an infadel family. In fact, as I stated earlier, it may be that by a single Christian's illumination, an entire family of Godless infadels is saved. That certainly does not tear a family apart. I know that always doesn't happen, and the Christian may become separated from their family. Then the literal severing may take place. The Church may have to become the Christian's "family". But I don't think that is what Christ intended and I when I say "family" I don't mean the "church". Some of family members are part of the church. There are some church members that I love and relate to more than my own kin, but I don't believe Christ intened for my church to replace my family is a literal sense.

Holy Pirate said...

I think the NT view is not to reject family in favor of church, but to expand the pool of people to whom we are commit to show sacrificial love. I think Jesus' message was that we need to get beyond the "blood is thicker than water" thinking that sociobiology emphasizes and replace it with a Kingdom perspective that seeks right relationships with all.

Jason Woolever said...