Families of Faith
No matter what stage of life we are in, or what we have been through or will face down the road, we exist against the background of culture. Our parents, our children, our homes, our families, even our church—all are impacted by the culture in which they exist, and greatly, too. Though other factors were at play, the change of the Sabbath to Sunday was a powerful example of how the culture of the time, powerfully and negatively, influenced the church. Every time we drive by a church and see a sign for Sunday services, we are given a stark reminder of just how far-reaching the power of culture can be.
Christian families confront cultural challenges all the time. Sometimes the cultural influences can be good; most times, though, the influence is negative.
The great news is that the power of the gospel gives us light, comfort, and strength to deal with the challenges that culture can bring. This week we will look at how we can be “families of faith” as we seek to “become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15, NKJV).
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, June 15.
As the gospel circles the globe, Christians encounter different cultures and practices, many of which pertain to family and social relationships. One of the great questions for Christian missionaries is in regard to how they should relate to various cultural norms about many things, including family relationships they might personally find uncomfortable.
Christ’s death was for the sins of every human being everywhere. Many people simply do not know this great truth yet. To bring this news with an invitation to respond is the evangelistic mission of Christians. Because God shows no partiality, Christians are called to treat everyone with respect and integrity, giving them a chance to embrace the good news that is for them, as well.
Though every culture mirrors the fallen condition of the people within it, cultures also may have beliefs that are compatible with Scripture, even useful to the cause of the gospel. The value placed upon close relationships in family and community in many parts of the world is an example. Christians can uphold and strengthen that which is good and in keeping with biblical principles.
At the same time, God’s truth must not be compromised. Church history sadly shows that compromise and accommodation to cultures has yielded a patchwork of pseudo-Christian beliefs posing as authentic Christianity. Satan claims to be the god of this world and happily spreads confusion, but Jesus has redeemed this world, and His Spirit guides His followers into all truth (John 16:13).
Though they might come in various configurations, families are the building blocks of society; thus, many distinct cultural traits of various societies are directly tied to family. For instance, in one ancient culture it was deemed a man’s responsibility to eat the corpses of his dead parents; in another, a man who wanted a bride had to bring her father a dowry of shrunken heads from a rival tribe. Even in modern times, ideas relating to children, courtship, divorce, marriage, parents, and so forth vary widely. As we spread our message to these various cultures, we have to learn how to relate to them in ways that, while not compromising our beliefs, don’t cause unnecessary problems. At the same time, and closer to home, we have to be very aware of just what cultural influences impact our families.
None of us live in a vacuum; all of us and our families are impacted by the culture in which we live. Our responsibility as Christians is to exist within our culture the best we can, keeping that which is in harmony with our faith, while shunning, as much as possible, that which conflicts with it.
Change is an inescapable, unsettling occurrence in families, regardless of whatever culture they live in. Some change is related to predictable passage through the life cycle. Often change is unpredictable, such as deaths, disasters, war, illnesses, family moves, or career failures. Many families face economic and social changes in their communities and countries. Other changes are directly related to the culture.
With change comes the experience of loss and the anxiety of uncertainty as to one’s immediate future. Depending on a family’s ability to adjust to changes, these experiences can propel people to new levels of growth and appreciation for spiritual things, or they can lead to stress and anxiety. Satan exploits the disruption changes bring, hoping to introduce doubt and distrust in God. The promises of God’s Word, the resources of family and friends, and the assurance that their lives were in God’s hands helped many heroes and heroines of faith cope successfully with momentous life upheaval.
Studies of how values and beliefs in organizations such as churches are transmitted to subsequent generations show that the founders have very high levels of commitment to the beliefs. They were the ones who first championed them. Within a generation or two, many lose sight of the principles behind the values. They may go along with the organization— but often from habit. In subsequent generations, habits tend to crystallize into traditions. The founders’ passion is no longer present.
A common approach to transmitting values through long generations of Christianity has been for older ones simply to tell the youth what they believe. Learning what one’s parents believe or what the church believes is not personal faith however. Being a Christian is more than belonging to an organization with a history and a dogma. True faith isn’t something genetic, isn’t something that is passed on naturally from one generation to another. Each one needs to know Christ for himself or herself. Parents can do only so much. The church as a whole, and parents in particular, need to do all they can to create an environment that will make young people want to make that right choice, but, in the end, a generation is saved or lost for the gospel one person at a time.
In his popular Bible paraphrase The Message, Eugene Peterson uses “message” wherever the biblical word for “gospel” appears. The good news about Jesus is truly the message still needed by the world today. Christian families are called to experience it together and to share it in whatever culture they live.
The earliest news the disciples ran everywhere with was of the resurrection of Jesus. Christian families today join a long line of runners proclaiming, “ ‘He is risen,’ ” as He said (Matt. 28:7, NKJV). The reality of His resurrection makes credible everything else Jesus said about Himself, about God and His love for sinners, about forgiveness, and about the assurance of eternal life by faith in Him.
Passionate about the gospel. Scripture gives glimpses of the gospel’s sweeping effect on the lives of Jesus’ early followers. They opened their homes for Bible study; they prayed and ate together, shared money and resources, and took care of each other. Whole households embraced the message. Were they suddenly flawless people? No. Were there some conflicts and discord among them? Yes. But somehow these followers of Christ were different. They acknowledged their needs for God and for each other. They put a priority on unity and harmony at home and at church, endeavoring to fulfill the Gethsemane prayer of Jesus (John 17:20–23). They witnessed to each other and to unbelievers with boldness, even putting their lives at risk for their beliefs.
So must it be for us. Even in the current age, jaundiced as it is toward godly things, people who are excited about something still get a hearing. The Spirit longs to fill human hearts with excitement about the gospel. When the good news really becomes as good in our hearts as it is within the Word, sharing will be spontaneous and unstoppable.
Further Thought: Ellen G. White, “In the Court of Babylon,” pp. 479–490, in Prophets and Kings; “Words of Caution,” pp. 324, 329; “No Respect of Persons With God,” pp. 330, 331, in Gospel Workers; “Rejoicing in the Lord,” pp. 115–126, in Steps to Christ.
No respect of persons with God. “The religion of Christ uplifts the receiver to a higher plane of thought and action, while at the same time it presents the whole human race as alike the objects of the love of God, being purchased by the sacrifice of His Son. At the feet of Jesus, the rich and the poor, the learned and the ignorant, meet together, with no thought of caste or worldly preeminence. All earthly distinctions are forgotten as we look upon Him whom our sins have pierced. The self-denial, the condescension, the infinite compassion of Him who was highly exalted in heaven, puts to shame human pride, self-esteem, and social caste. Pure, undefiled religion manifests its heaven-born principles in bringing into oneness all who are sanctified through the truth. All meet as blood-bought souls, alike dependent upon Him who has redeemed them to God.”—Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers, p. 330.