The Bible and the Family
“The Bible and the Family” is, in substance, an address given by Ronald Hogan, Business Counsellor, at the conference for brethren held at Guelph, Ontario, in June 1969. It is provocative and merits serious consideration by all whether they agree with every detail or otherwise.
I would like to read with you one Old Testament text and one New Testament text. The first is in Deuteronomy 32:46, “And Moses said unto them, Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe to do, all the words of this law. For it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life.” The second is in Ephesians 6:4, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” The word nurture is elsewhere translated discipline. We are therefore to bring our children up as disciples of the Lord, which implies as learners and followers of the Lord. This is to me, as a Christian father, a divine injunction.
I am happy, my brethren, that the Word of God, according to Hebrews 4, is “quick and powerful”, or “living and operative,” as J. N. Darby translates those words. Being not dead, but alive, it is contemporary. Being both alive and operative, it is relevant. It not only exists, but it applies. Moreover, it is also sharper than any two-edged sword and is a discerner (“Kritikos,” more precisely critic or judge) of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Fulfilling therefore the function of “judge,” it is authoritative. So these verses from Hebrews 4 clearly convey the message that the Word of God is both relevant and authoritative, even in 1970. Furthermore, this is the consistent testimony of many Scriptures, such as, “For ever, O Lord, Thy Word is settled in Heaven” (Ps. 119:89); “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35); “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63).
Now six times over in the Gospel of Matthew our Lord Jesus Christ answered His questioners with this formula: “Have ye not read?,” thus referring back in each case to Old Testament passages to establish the divine answer to the question that was being put to Him. On one occasion, in Matthew 19:4, it is quoted in reference to the family, “Have ye not read, that He which made them at the beginning, made them male and female, and said, for this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?” And then follows that classic pronouncement: “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” But I draw attention to this text to show that when there were those who would cavil and question and seek to catch our Lord in some moment of vulnerability (as they never could), He, with the words: “Have ye not read?”, refers them back to a writing fifteen hundreds years old about an event four thousand years ago. In effect, His answer still remains just as valid today, two thousand years later. It is both relevant and authoritative because it is the living and penetrating Word of God.
May I suggest that there is, in the Scriptures, another formula that God has revealed, composed of two elements that He has joined together, which may not be put asunder by a Christian father except to his subsequent grief and loss. I have reference to the Scriptural expression: “thou and thy house”. I am thankful that, some 35 years ago, before my children began to arrive, by the grace of God I was led to lay hold on the wonderful promise, that sure and certain inspired statement, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved and thy house” (Acts 16:31). I firmly believe that promise today. Not only so, but as I review the tenor of Scripture teaching from Genesis to Revelation, I am the more convinced of the relevancy and authority of that faithful appeal to Christian fathers. As I am now addressing a large number of Christian fathers, and others who may become such by and by, I feel constrained to emphasize how vital it is to understand the teaching of the Word of God touching the spiritual blessing of our households.
When the Lord said to Noah in Genesis 7:1, “Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before Me in this generation”, He laid down a cardinal principle. It is that God identifies a household with its head. Being thus joined together, may we take heed not to put asunder. Joshua spoke for his house boldly and confidently, before all the gathered people, when he said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15). However, although many Scriptures attest to this glorious principle, I suspect that it is not held in highest esteem or practical observance in many Christian families today.
I submit that there need not be a “generation gap” in a Christian household in 1970. There should be, on the contrary, a divinely ordained accord, because the family is the fundamental unit of society. “God setteth the solitary in families” (Ps. 68:6), and vests in each head thereof the prerogative and responsibility to rule his household for Him. But such a rule can be exercised only through the Word of God, because it must not be autocractic arbitrary, or vacillating. Far be the thought that it savour of legal or whimsical mandates and dicta. However, for a household to be ruled for God, the father must accept and act upon his ordained place of honour and responsibility within the family context.
I wonder if we really understand this. Are we tuned to the wavelength of Ephesians 6:4, “Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath”. Nothing that we do as parents in the home should be merely to please ourselves. Nothing that we decree, nothing that we allow, nothing that we sponsor, should be with reference only to our personal and natural preferences. On the contrary, the will of God should be the goal of domestic government, and the Word of God is the reservoir of such knowledge and instruction.
Preventively, we are not to provoke our children to wrath but, constructively, we are exhorted to bring them up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord. Moreover my beloved brethren, a Christian father is entitled, even before his children are born, to be in the exercise Godward of this particular confidence. The Lord said concerning Abraham, before Isaac arrived on the scene, and before Keturah’s children were in view, “I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord.” Now, is not that a remarkable text! Abraham “will command his children and his household after him”, followed by that before-the-fact assurance, “and they shall keep the way of the Lord”.
And so we are given a divine commission, with no option, to bring our children up as disciples of the Lord. But I have detected, down through the years, a tendency in certain quarters (which is of course subconscious rather than premeditated) to do just the opposite. I have an inner conviction that this tendency treats the children as though they are not entitled to share the commonwealth of spiritual privileges that the father and mother possess. They are rather lectured from their earliest days that they are lost and hell-bound, on their way to hopeless, eternal perdition. If they are taken to Assembly meetings, quite often they are consigned to a back row, often with a “no man’s land” between their chairs and the chairs of their parents. What a pity! What are we doing with these children which God gives us to bring up for Him? We are in effect saying to them; “You have no part nor lot in this matter; we are on our way to Canaan, but you are in Egypt and you are going to stay in Egypt until you are old enough to make the decision which you are too young to make right now.” We thus encourage them to feel that they are not involved with us in our spiritual activities or able to participate in any way, shape or form.
I suggest, in the light of God’s revelation, that such a posture is not in accordance with His thoughts. And when I say this, beloved, I am not saying that our children do not require new birth. I am not for a moment suggesting that they do not need to be redeemed. But this is God’s work! Our work is to bring them in the discipline and admonition of the Lord. Our work is to take them to Assembly meetings, and to seat them beside us, thus encouraging them to feel that what we are enjoying and entering into is open to them to enter into and enjoy.
As to the home, we talk a good deal about a family altar? And what do we really mean? A family altar is certainly not a place. A family altar is certainly not an event. I suggest that a family altar is a climate. The atmosphere of the home should be such that the children instinctively know that the father and mother are bent upon honouring and glorifying God, and that what is of paramount authority in the home is the Word of God. If a question is raised, if a decision must be made, where should the appeal be directed? Certainly not to the native wisdom of the father, but to the Word of God. And if this is clearly held, and practised, what a tremendous movement would result within our Christian households! How many Bibles have you got in your home? Have you a Bible in every room? What is of evidential centrality in your particular house? I suggest that it would not be too much to put a Bible in every room, including the bathroom or bathrooms, as the case may be. I suggest further that whatever you allow into your house should be with reference to what impact it will have upon the children growing up therein. If the television set is deleterious, in your opinion, in relation to this bringing up of the children in the discipline and admonition of the Lord, you might well dispense with it. On the other hand, if a piano or organ is going to encourage them to sing hymns and to play spiritual songs, influencing them to make melody in their hearts to the Lord, perhaps your resources should be expended in that form of investment.