Puritan Emphasis on the Importance of the Family

Earlier I posed the question: “what is the Church to do in these momentous times?”  (If you want to read that post first as the context to this post, click here.)  In that post, I suggested that we look to the last great movement in the church to fundamentally impact the world–the Puritans–for some ideas.  How did the Puritans set about the change their world for the glory of God?

Not surprisingly, given their dedication to the Bible, the Puritans believed that one of the keys to seeing real reformation and transformation in the church, the commonwealth, and indeed all of society was strong, godly families.  Leland Ryken writes this in his book on the Puritans called World Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were: “They believed that the family was the foundational unit of a godly society. ‘Such as families are,’ wrote James Fitch, ‘such at last the church and the commonwealth must be.’ William Gouge characterized the family as ‘a school wherein the first principles and grounds of government and subjection are learned,’ while someone else called the family ‘a true image of the commonwealth . . . .  All will be well with the commonwealth where families are properly regulated (74).’”

John Witte in The Reformation of Rights: Law, Religion, and Human Rights in Early Modern Calvinism describes Johannes Althusius’ view of the importance of the family: “The marital household is the bedrock of law, politics, and society, Althusius believed.  It provides society with the first and best example of authority and discipline, of love and support, care and nurture of the bodies and souls of its members. It is the first school of justice and mercy, piety and charity, virtue and citizenship (186).” (Althusius was a German-born, Dutch-Calvinist legal scholar living on the continent at approximately the same time Puritanism was becoming important in England.  He is regarded by some as one of the greatest political and legal thinkers that the Reformation produced.)

Thus, agreeing with the Puritans, I often say that as the family goes so necessarily goes the church and the nation.  The family was the first social institution created by the Lord, and it is clearly foundational to the others.  Strong, godly families make strong, godly churches and strong, godly nations.  The opposite is of course equally true.

In my opinion this fact has contributed to the general failure of fundamentalism.  Fundamentalism did produce some good for the Church and the nation in general.  However, now some half a century or so into it, it is becoming obvious that it has not, for all of its efforts, impacted America or the American Church in a pervasive way.  The Church is in decline in a America, and, politically speaking, we have little more than two conservative Catholic Supreme Court Justices to show for years of essentially Protestant political activity.  Further, Millenials are completely turned off by the legalism that they perceive in fundamentalism such that it has actually contributed to the departure of the next generation.  Much more could be said on this topic, both positive and negative.  Perhaps it would be worth its own post at some point.

But, for now, back to the point.  Fundamentalism was very concerned about the state of the nation, but, honestly, had very little to say of the state of the family.   In fact, in most instances, the fundamentalists tended to just adopt a slightly sanitized version of the world’s view of how the family should operate.  This is to get the cart before the horse.  According to the Puritans, and I think according to the Bible as well, reformation in the family is a prerequisite to true reformation in the Church and the commonwealth.  Thus, my opinion is that fundamentalism was not wrong for its political activity and energy but rather for its failure to apply that same energy and activity to bringing all areas of life under the Lordship of Christ.

Thus, in answer to the questions posed by my earlier post, I think it is time that God’s people be called back to God’s vision for the family.   It is time for pastors, preachers, and the Church as a whole to boldly hold forth and live out God’s counter-cultural view of how the family should operate.  This takes courage.  In our rebellious and debauched society it is controversial just to read many Bible passages on the family and the role of men and women.  If you don’t believe me, just take a look at Titus 2:3-5 or 1 Corinthians 3:8-9 sometime.  Do we really believe that God’s way is best?  Do we trust Him enough to try it?  Do we trust Him enough to declare it to be normative, proscriptive, and best for everyone, everywhere, for all time?  If the answer is no, then we shouldn’t expect to see a powerful work of the Spirit in our times regardless of our programs, efforts, and activities.