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Albert Mohler: It’s wonderful to be here together at The Gospel Coalition 2019 and at this pre-conference. And it’s wonderful on this Lord’s Day evening, to gather together, to think as Christians about parenting in a turbulent time. You know, we use that phrase or we look at this title for the pre-conference and frankly, turbulent, if anything, looks to be an understatement.
We’re living in a time of such disequilibrium, such massive social and cultural change, that it’s hard even to take a measure of what it’s like to be in the vortex of all of this. And parents are in a particularly vulnerable position in this vortex.
I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, he said, “Quite honestly, the smartest thing I never did was write a book on parenting until I’d raised my kids.” That’s probably true in any age. But it’s amazing how quickly the situations around us, the context changes so utterly.
And the challenge of being a faithful Christian parent and faithful Christian churches, and raising children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, it’s very challenging. It’s not to say that as you look at the Bible, there’s ever been really a time when it wasn’t challenging. And when I have Christian parents say to me, “I don’t know how in the world we’re supposed to raise children in a time like this,” I say, “Well, how about when you had to take them into Canaan?”
As you see the experience of Israel taking its children into Canaan, they were taking them into a land marked by child sacrifice, and a land in which the idolatry was so blatantly sexualized that it would make Hollywood, if this is imaginable, look tame by comparison.
Or imagine saying that to Christians in Rome in the 1st century, or in the several centuries that followed. What would it be like to have to send your 15-year-old out into a city where he was going to have to pass cult prostitution and other things just on the way?
Canaan, Rome, Indianapolis, you really can draw something of a straight line. The problem is for us, that we had been lulled into a complacency as Christians into thinking that we were on this holiday from history.
We thought we are in Canaan and we are in Rome, we’re somewhere else, when all of a sudden we wake up, and we’re in Canaan. I mean, before Israel took possession of the land, maybe a little bit after too, but we’re definitely in Rome. And we need to think together about what it means to raise children as a church in these times.
And the key assignment to me is as a church, it’s assigned to me to speak on, it takes a church within the context of the challenge of parenting.
And I have to say right up front, that the greater thing than parenting is grandparenting. And I heard that before, but boy do I know it now. And it’s only because of how important I think this is and this conference in the next few days, that I’m not at home because in one of the cruel turns of timing in my life, my grandchildren were arriving at my house as I left to come here.
But I want to tell you that if anything has changed my perspective on the world over the last several years, it really is being a grandparent. If nothing else, recognizing even as we see it in a biblical frame, that my concern for time has been lengthened by my grandchildren.
I’m passionately, personally concerned, not so much with the world that they will know, but with the church that they will know. The world seems very much outside my control, our control, but the church is our responsibility.
This title, “It takes a Church,” of course, it harkens back to 1996, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s book, It Takes a Village, and she went on to say, “It takes a village to raise a child.” And that became one of the most controversial books of the 1990s, one of those Hallmark events in the cultural controversies of our time.
Because by the time you get to the mid-1990s, in the United States, the cultural and political left and the cultural and political right, had come to almost equal and opposite understandings of the challenge of the family and of raising children. The lesson learned by the left, very, very much articulated by Hillary Clinton, who at that time represented, not at all the far left, what we might call the center-left, in this regard.
The left and the center-left had to come to the conclusion that modernity had rendered the family so vulnerable, and had so fractured society. And driven by many, frankly, ideological causes to which the left was committed, that the only way that the functions of the family could be salvaged is if they were to be taken over largely by the government.
And so if you look at the book, It Takes a Village, it was largely an argument for an expansive government taking on the responsibilities that had previously been assigned to the family and even authority that had previously been assigned specifically to parents. Now, as I said, it’s an equal and opposite understanding of the fact that by the time you get to 1990s, conservatives and liberals have completely different understandings.
The right conservativism in the United States had come to the conclusion that the ideological subversion of such realities as feminism and the sexual revolution, expressive individualism, the hyper-sexualized culture, and the rise of the therapeutic state, and the expansive powers of government had weakened the family.
But the temptation on the right, and I’m speaking as a conservative who’s in basic agreement with the conservatives, that’s why I just have to add to that two things. And that would be, number one, that conservatives failed to understand that the rise of this massive consumer dynamic had also created a tremendous amount of disequilibrium. So even as it really was the ideology, I mean, you have to remember that the subversion of the family was made official policy, for instance, by the totalitarian ideologies of the 20th century, especially in the Soviet Union and in China. And then you had the rise of the modern ideologies of feminism and much of the social revolution.
I can remember Gloria Steinem saying that woman needs a man, meaning a husband, like a fish needs a bicycle. Or you could also look at other figures such as Betty Friedan saying that marriage in the family represent a domestic concentration camp.
And so the left had turned its subversion on the family. . . . The Right had a second problem which was nostalgia. Nostalgia, not so much for the family, well thought out, in its natural form, but for the family as it had existed, especially in the late 19th and early 20th century.
This was the conversation about the nuclear family. And I can remember as a kid hearing about the nuclear family. I grew up in the nuclear age. Some of the earliest memories of my life are associated with, not so much the Cuban Missile Crisis, I was kind of playing with blocks at that time, but with the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis growing up in Florida surrounded by, you know, constant air cover over Florida.
I thought I knew what nuclear meant. When I heard about the nuclear family, I didn’t think I wanted to be a part of one. But this was nuclear as in nucleus. The understanding that the family was the nuclear cell at the center of society. The better word is natural family. And the left turned its ire on the nuclear family, the husband and the wife, the mother and the father, and their children saying that that was repressive.
The right held on to it as nostalgia in kind of a 1950s picture, without understanding that the natural family, unlike the nuclear family was actually tied to an extensive structure, most importantly, of an extended family, but also a larger community of meaning. The family was vulnerable by the time we get to the 1990s.
And thus, “It takes a family,” said, Hillary Clinton. “No, it doesn’t,” said many others. “It takes a mom and a dad.” And then you have the whole situation, you realize in the modern age, the family had become fragile. There are and were millions of children growing up without both a mother and a father, and this was before that picture began to be totally transformed by the revolution in morality, same-sex marriage, and even the reproductive revolution.
So here we are, displaced by totalitarian ideology, expressive individualism, and economic disequilibrium. The family is more fragile than ever before and parenting, in that context, is just a lot more complicated. What about a biblical theology in the midst of this?
We’re Christ people. We’re going to look to the Scripture, not so much to the spirits of the age, certainly not to the contemporary controversies merely to get our grounding. What about biblical theology? Well, that’s where we find that marriage is, if you’re looking at the center, in the orders of creation, as you’re looking for the center of human social life, it begins with, “Therefore, a man shall leave his mother and father, and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh, and then be fruitful, and multiply and fill the earth.”
And very quickly, in the orders of creation, you see marriage and you see family, you see parenting honored. And then after creation comes covenant as we’re thinking about a biblical theology, especially looking to the Old Testament, here comes covenant. And when the law is given as a part of the covenant, the “Here comes the command to honor father and mother in order that you may live long in the land which has been promised to you.”
And by the way, we tend to read that as rugged, American individualists. As in if we honor that commandment, we get to live long in the land. Remember this is written to a covenant people and it’s written to a plural people. If indeed this honor is shown in Israel, then Israel will live long in the land that was promised to them. When you see this very command repeated by Paul in Ephesians 6, he reminds that it was the first commandment given with a promise.
Now, we also tend to read it merely as, “Children, obey your parents.” Well, that’s elsewhere in Scripture also made very clear: the role of parents, the authority of parents, the responsibility of parents to raise children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. “Honor your mother and father” is actually more than just “Obey your parents.”
It’s not primarily a commandment given to children, it is that Israel would honor mothers and fathers, and that means patrimony and matrimony. And you see the household codes also in the Old Testament making this very clear. And you see parents given a responsibility under God’s covenant.
Think of Deuteronomy 6 about teaching children the meaning of these laws and these statutes, and these commands in your rising up and in your sitting down, your going out and your coming in, just all the time. The parents are the teachers of our children. We are to ensure that our children are taught the things of God. In an Old Testament, covenantal theology, children are to be raised to be obedient to parents because that is a sign of Israel’s obedience unto the Lord.
Children are to be welcomed as image bearers, according to the orders of creation and are to be welcomed as glad responsibilities, an unmitigated gift by God’s people. Parents are to be honored both by children, yes, but also by God’s covenant people, the responsibility of parents to be honored.
Biblical theology: looking at the New Testament, we see a continuation of those very structures of the orders of creation and of the covenant commands. And we see, for instance, that we have Joseph and Mary being faithful even to those covenant commands, even to the law, even to the presentation of Jesus in the temple.
And so it’s a very conventional picture in the New Testament. Continuing that covenant picture from the Old Testament is very conventional, except, of course, where it isn’t. It’s not conventional when we are talking about the conception of Jesus. It’s not conventional in many other ways. Jesus honors his mother and father.
But when they go looking for him in the temple, he reminds them that he is about his father’s business. And so looking just to Jesus, we see some disequilibrium. We see the conventional continued as it will be, by the way, in the household codes of the New Testament. And we can look at Ephesians 6, Titus 2, these marvelous passages that remind us of the responsibility of parents and the responsibility of children.
And I love the theme in Titus 2 because it’s given to the church. The church is to be made up of young men honoring older men, older men fulfilling their responsibility, younger men fulfilling their responsibility. And then I love that part where, because the family, all of a sudden emerges where you might not have been looking for it, when we are told that older women are to minister to younger women and younger women are to learn from older women.
And amongst the lessons that the older women are to help younger women to know is how to love their husbands and their children, how to love their children. Christians understand that it does take a church. It takes a church. We who understand that the family of faith is the only greater allegiance on Earth to the family, rightly defined as the natural family.
The Bible honors that natural family indeed. It is the very nucleus of civilization, and parenting within that context is honored magnificently. But the family of faith is held up as an even greater family, in which no one, by God’s grace, no one in the church is left out of that family.
Jesus himself in his earthly ministry, he said things such as, “He who is not willing to leave brother and sister, and mother and father, and children is not worthy of the kingdom.” But he also said, “No one who leaves mother and father, brother and sister or children or lands will be without blessing,” will be left lacking.
And so it’s conventional. And it’s so conventional that the family is taken for granted. The role of parents is taken for granted. And by the way, it’s brought over by Paul, not only to the Jewish Christians who knew the old covenant and knew how God honored parents, but also to Gentile converts, to both the Jew and the Greek.
The apostle Paul addresses those holiness codes and those family household codes that are to be the sign of where God’s new covenant people are found. We honor the family, honor parents, not as much as Israel did, but even more than Israel did. But it’s also put in the context of which there’s the new, which means the ultimate family, however, is not our earthly family as much as that family is honored, as much as the family is continued and affirmed as Jesus himself did in Matthew 19, even right down to marriage.
“Did you not know that from the beginning it was God’s plan, one man, one woman?” And then you see the church so quickly continuing the pattern of reproduction and multiplication, and filling the earth, and then you see the responsibility that to Israel is given in Deuteronomy 6.
It’s honored also in the New Testament, parents teaching children, raising them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. But the new covenant people are required to have new covenant Christians. So just in conclusion, because the time is short, I want you to think about just a few things with me.
Number one, it takes a church to make a Christian. Before you get to parents, we actually don’t believe that there is any healthy Christianity. We don’t believe there’s any real Christianity apart from the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. But in practical terms, we don’t believe that health can be demonstrated in any Christian life apart from the congregation, apart from the church, apart from the ordinary means of grace, apart from the fellowship of the saints, apart from the operation of a church as Christ people, living out faithfulness and obedience to Christ together.
We don’t believe that’s possible even for a Christian. It takes a church to make a Christian. And if so, it certainly takes a church to sustain marriage. In a world in which marriage has been so destabilized, it takes a church to sustain marriage. We may be the last place on earth where there is a comprehensive affirmation of marriage as God’s purpose and plan as Jesus said in Matthew 19 from the beginning.
And I don’t think we can underestimate the challenges that come to us in this age, in which it is so difficult to sustain marriage. But third, it takes a church to assist Christian families to flourish. It really does. And it’s because, even as sociologists noted, by the middle of the 20th century, all the natural supports of the family in society, natural might not be the best word, all the historic supports of the family, you know, parents in society, they began to be removed one by one.
And this means that parents found their role sometimes redefined by the law. As Peter and Brigitte Berger, the sociologist, said in the middle of the 20th century, “At the very least, parents in the last half of the 20th century, and certainly even more so today, parents find themselves surrounded by a coterie of authorities and experts all telling them how to raise their children.”
And now that would include not only all the experts who hold official titles in academia or government but also all of the experts in the larger society of entertainment and cultural production telling us exactly how we are to raise our children. It takes a church to assist Christian families to flourish. And this is the church in which no one is left out, in which everyone is a part of the family of Christ as represented in that congregation.
And thus, no one, even people who are not married, no one is separated from the marriage culture because of the understanding of God’s purpose in creation. But it’s not an us versus them. In the rightly ordered church, under the Lordship of Christ by the preaching of God’s Word, Christians are being informed, and no one is being left out. Marriage is being honored.
And the marriage bed is undefiled. But it is also a church in which there is a new family made possible and brought into existence only by Christ and only by the power of the Gospel. And it’s a power, it’s a family that will last forever In the church, and in a rightly ordered biblical congregation, you are a part of people who are your family and will be for eternity to be joined only by unnumbered others redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.
And fourth, it takes a church to support parents and parenthood. It does take a church. It takes a church made up of older and younger parents. It takes a church made up of multi-generational believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.
It requires a church ordered by the gospel, a church taught by Scripture, a church being led by the Spirit, a church made up of redeemed believers of different ages and as much different as you can have in the sameness of Christ in a congregation, learning together how to be more faithful.
The unmarried or the not-yet married, or the widows and widowers, learning how to be faithful and how to make others more faithful. Parents, older parents, younger parents, grandparents, about to be parents, learning how to be faithful and to help one another be more faithful, reminding ourselves that even as almost every church has in its historic worship and language, the children of parents in the church are first of all their children, but they are our children.
We are raising those children together. In a rightly-functioning church, college students act better because they know they’re being watched by six-year-olds and seven-year-olds. They may have left their little brothers and sisters and cousins when they left home to go to college, but because they are in a godly, rightly ordered church, committed to Christ and and taught by scripture, they are now older brothers and older sisters in a church.
They’re also sons and daughters in a church. And so is everyone else who comes into that church. There is no one without family, everybody. You know, the Bible makes very clear that faithfulness comes into the equation of teaching, not only to the one taught, but also to the teacher.
The teacher learns through teaching, as does the entire church. Older Christians helping younger parents to be more faithful parents are themselves more faithful by helping others to be more faithful. The church rightly ordered begins to call out faithfulness and it takes intense, unbelievable investment to raise children.
It takes more energy to raise children than to do almost anything else. We’re living in the midst of a society that is exhausted trying to figure out how to do this on its own terms. But if nowhere else, in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, there should be a picture of what it means to be aiming for eternity, living in this world because the Lord has left us here for a purpose, following the commands of God, honoring the orders of creation, being God’s new covenant people, where if people want to see what God’s purpose is in this world getting ready for the world to come, they watch Christian parents surrounded by the church of Lord Jesus Christ, raising children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
And something is going to have to explain that. And it turns out that that something is the power of Christ. And thus, the church, helping parents to be parents, the church taking responsibility to raise children in the New Covenant church, actually become to the world a great question mark that can be answered only by Christ.
This isn’t a responsibility given to the church. It’s a responsibility invested in Christ’s people. It’s a privilege beyond measure and never has it mattered more. In the truest sense, honoring all that’s revealed in God’s word, it takes a church and it always has, since Jesus said, “Upon this rock, I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
And it always will until he comes. To God’s glory, may it be so. Amen.