I recently listened to an interview with Chris Wall, a producer of the animated adaptation of the creative Wingfeather fantasy saga. He was told that Netflix would not run his content, even though it is very well done, because it had a patriarchal structure. What did that mean? The story had a grandfather with a good relationship with his grandchildren. It also had children who lived together in a stable home. That was the problem. The streaming company was only into content with single mom’s or broken or alternative families. It also wanted work that hit alternate sexualities.
Given that our surrounding culture is taking an increasingly pagan path, it behooves us to clarify what the Bible says Christian families should look like. I am currently asking our church to do this, in order to provide us a vision to strive for as Christian families and to guide the church’s ministries in how they support those families.
Let me present here a kind of brief parenting 101. Let’s look at the most basic basics. We find that, in the Bible’s view, Christian parenting is quite gendered.
- Fathers –The New Testament emphasizes fathers in the “discipline and admonition” of children. As I recently highlighted, they are the ones charged (Ephesians 6:4, Colossians 3:21). The responsibility of fathers is so important here that Paul makes it a criterion of eldership (1Timothy 3:4-5, Titus 1:6). This is what makes parenting work right: dads taking the spiritual lead in the children’s education as Christians. The Father’s relationship to the child is key for the child to live (Proverbs 4:1-4). In fact, the last verse in the Old Testament promises that the influence of Christ will reverse the trend of the fall to separate the children’s hearts from their fathers’ (Malachi 4:6). But they cannot do it alone…
- Mothers –The woman of the family is the divine help. We say “divine” because the word describing woman in her creation (Genesis 2:18) is later used for God in a show of His power. Her devotion to God creates a spiritual energy as she supports the father’s program with her gifting. This will look different in different families. But she partners with the father in her teaching of the children (Proverbs 1:8, Proverbs 10:1). In fact, it is like she is clothed with the sun, so her wisdom lights the way (Proverbs 31:26). Thus the children similarly honor and heed her (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16, Proverbs 15:20, Proverbs 19:26, Proverbs 20:20, Proverbs 30:17). This is because God has brought this woman to a particular family to make essential contribution to the children’s spiritual development. It doesn’t take a village. It takes a collaborating couple.
- Children –The job of the kids in a Christian household is to honor their parents (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16). This means, when they are young, obeying their parents (Colossians 3:20). As they age, it means paying attention to their parents (Proverbs 23:22-25). To honor someone is to give weight, to make him or her weighty. This thrust of Scriptural instruction means that the child’s relationship to the parents, even early on, is determinative of the quality of their lives (Ephesians 6:2-3, Proverbs 22:6). They need to know this.
- The Church –There are other people in our children’s lives and the church can provide a vital role in cultivating these relationships. The most valuable of these relationships is the older-with-the-younger. For, cross-generational interaction is crucial to the edification of the church (Leviticus 19:32, Proverbs 4:10, 20, Titus 2:2-7).
In light of these truths, it would be wise for a church to be asking:
- How can we inspire and equip the fathers and mothers of families to their God-given task of raising their children?
- How can we cooperate with the Holy Spirit to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers? Can we prevent the segregation of our youth from their families, which began in the church in the 1930s, and which the marketing creation of a youth demographic intensified?
- How can we help our youth to see themselves as adults-to-be? Rather than promoting a herd mentality, can we promote cross-generational interaction within the church? How can we harness the latent power of Christian testimony in the congregation for our youth?
If we aim to serve our families well and preserve the lives of the next generation, these would be helpful questions to answer.
It is not as if a child cannot be raised by a single parent or in non-father-mother contexts. Sometimes it is necessary. Single parents can be the heroes of some excruciating situations or disordered families. But any caring parent, no matter how competent, finds that parenting takes you beyond your abilities. It is, at times, even with the best players, an impossible task. For this formidable job, God is telling us what works.
I would hope that any parent who cares about how things are going to turn out will listen.