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A Response to "The Church-Integrated Family"

G. I. Williamson

[Signers: Ralph Pontier, Sam Allison, Archibald Allison, Leonard Coppes, and Thomas Tyson]

The Rev. Matthew Kingsbury's article, "The Church-Integrated Family," takes aim at the "Family-Integrated Church Movement" and at those who see the sole purpose of marriage as bearing children. Although he is right to recognize such trends as dangerous, the arguments he puts forward in opposition are not always sound.

Mr. Kingsbury says the "main purpose" of marriage "is to symbolize the relationship between Christ and his church," and adds that this "primary and exemplary purpose is more central to the institution of marriage than childbearing" (par. 3). He also claims that "no text in Scripture teaches that bearing children is a universal purpose of marriage." He admits that God gave the "dominion mandate" to the first married couple (Adam and Eve), but insists that he did not do this "because they were a married couple, but because they were the married couple—that is, all mankind." From this, Mr. Kingsbury deduces the thought that this mandate was not for Adam and Eve as a married couple, but only for the human race as a whole. We find this conclusion unwarranted for the simple reason that it was clearly for both: for Adam and Eve as the first married couple, and for all of their descendants too. If Adam and Eve had not taken this mandate as an expression of God's will for them as individuals, there never would have been a human race.

The Marriage Service form approved by the OPC says, "The purpose of marriage is the enrichment of the lives of those who enter into this estate, the propagation of the race, and the extension of Christ's church to the glory of the covenant God." The form in use in the URC uses almost the same words, but changes the order. It says: "The purpose of marriage is the propagation of the human race, the furtherance of the kingdom of God, and the enrichment of the lives of those entering this state." From this it would appear that while faithful Reformed churches have recognized that God has more than one purpose in marriage, they have not seen any one of these to be ranked above the others. Neither have they ever expressed the thought that those who marry can pick and choose only one (or two) of these, as all three are required. Further, marriage does not have the purpose of symbolizing the relationship between Christ and the church. Marriage was instituted before the fall. Ephesians 5 says that the relationship of Christ and the church teaches us about marriage.

Now it is indeed true that because of mankind's fall into sin, the mandate to bear children cannot always be obeyed by everyone. Children who die before they reach a marriageable age and couples afflicted with infertility cannot "be fruitful and multiply." Although extraordinary intervention may enable infertile couples to be fruitful, they may judge that they have good reason not to seek this. Some adult Christian believers also have a right to choose not to marry (J. Gresham Machen made this choice because the one woman that he admittedly desired to marry was a Unitarian.) Married couples may also, in certain circumstances, use artificial means to avoid pregnancy, for example, if a pregnancy would seriously endanger the life of the mother. But there is nothing in the Bible that gives any married couple who have the God-given ability to be fruitful and multiply the right to willfully abdicate their responsibility to do what God told them to do when he spoke to Adam and Eve, both as individuals and as representative heads of the whole human race.

It is true, as Mr. Kingsbury says, that "the Bible does not teach that God instituted marriage for the sole, or main, purpose of bearing children." It is, however, one of the clearly revealed purposes of marriage. That is why Adam and Eve themselves proceeded to have children. They understood that they did not have a right to pick and choose between the various purposes stated in the dominion mandate (Gen. 1:28). In the words of John Murray, the creation ordinances of the procreation of offspring, replenishing the earth, subduing the earth, dominion over the creatures, labor, the weekly Sabbath, and marriage complement and interpenetrate one another. For example, the procreation of offspring "was not merely for the purpose of filling the earth with people, but also for the purpose of subduing the earth and its resources, and of exercising dominion over the fish of the sea, the fowl of the air, and everything that moves upon the face of the earth."[1]

Mr. Kingsbury believes that if the dominion mandate applied to all, we would all have to be dedicated to "agricultural activity." Although not all are called to exercise dominion over the fish of the sea by being fisherman, yet we are called upon to affirm their exercise of dominion over the fish by eating the fish that they catch. Likewise we participate in dominion over the earth when we consume the food raised by farmers and have children who grow up to have dominion over some aspect of God's creation. The Lord's command to have dominion over creation does not apply exclusively to agriculture, but applies to every area of life. The Lord's command does not forbid the division of labor which is a result of God giving people different abilities, interests, and opportunities.

We are as much opposed as Mr. Kingsbury is to what he describes as the "Family Integrated Church Movement." In our pastoral ministry we too have encountered the tendency of some Christians today to exalt the family above the church. But we cannot agree that "[w]ith all its particularities, the family is just like every other sort of Christian relationship: an opportunity for mutual exhortation and encouragement." No, the family—like the church and the state—is a distinctive institution ordained by God with some rights that are not to be trampled upon by either the state or the church. The emergence of the "house church" movement in Communist China is a reminder that there is something else that is just as wrong as a "Family Integrated Church Movement." That something is the attempt by the state to deny the God-given rights, authority, and duties of churches (as well as families) to resist interference in functioning as properly regulated by the infallible Word of God. It is also our conviction that the infallible Word of God says it is the duty of fertile married couples to be fruitful and multiply.

It is undoubtedly true that some families have tried to restrict legitimate church authority by claiming undue (even plenary) authority for parents (the father in particular). We have even seen this in some instances in which the only church is thought to be the family itself. This must be firmly rejected! But there is also such a thing as wrongly separating children from their parents when they come in the door of a church. Parents have every right to expect—and even to demand—that the teaching their children receive in their church is faithful to the official doctrinal standards that the officers of their church have vowed to uphold. If the situation arises—and it certainly has arisen in many instances—in which that teaching is not faithful to those standards, it is entirely proper for parents to do whatever is necessary to protect their children. All delegated authority is limited, including that of the officers of the church.

Endnote

[1] John Murray, Principles of Conduct (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1957), 27.

G. I. Williamson, a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, is now retired but still active in part-time ministerial work in the Presbytery of the Dakotas of the OPC and Cornerstone United Reformed Church in Sanborn, Iowa. He was editor of Ordained Servant from its inception in 1992 through 2005. Ordained Servant Online, January 2011.

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