Ever since Cain and Abel, people have bemoaned the decline in the quality of family life. But there is no doubt that the family is currently undergoing unusual stress. One unmistakable sign of this is the divorce rate, rising sharply almost everywhere. There is now one divorce for every two marriages each year in the United States. (Only Sweden has a worse ratio, but many other nations aren’t far behind.) Just fifteen years ago the rate was one divorce for four marriages. Why the doubling?
Among the contributing factors are easier state laws on divorce, increasing social acceptance of divorced persons, and higher-paying jobs for women. Of course, in earlier years there may well have been as many unhappy marriages as now. The current divorce rate may be a public reflection of longstanding marital discontent.
Christians know that marriage was instituted by God, and that it is not going to disappear while mankind is on earth. The general public, too, contrary to the impression that a visible minority gives, is still committed to marrying and having children. Divorced persons usually are willing to give marriage another try.
But belief in the rightness and persistence of marriage does not guarantee the enjoying of life together with one’s spouse and children. What can Christians do to improve family life? Certain emphases recurred throughout last month’s Continental Congress on the Family (see News, November 7 issue, page 62). Here are six to ponder and, perchance, to implement.
First, recognize that being a good husband or wife and a good parent takes time and effort. If God has given you a spouse and children, then he expects you to spend the time and effort necessary to have a good family life. If you are too busy for your family, then you are busier than God wants you to be, and you need to rearrange your priorities.
Second, ministers must not only teach about the family but, if they are married, provide good models of what Christian families ought to be like. The minister who repeatedly puts his duties to his congregation above his duties to spouse or children is acting contrary to the will of God. A corollary of this is that the congregation must accept the need for the minister to put his family first and establish guidelines for both church and minister to follow.
Third, if you think that raising children is chiefly the woman’s responsibility, rid yourself of that notion. The Scriptures recognize that women may spend more time with young children, but they everywhere indicate that fathers are at least equally responsible with mothers for parenting. The world is not surprised when male business and political leaders leave to their wives all domestic responsibilities, but this ought not to happen among Christians.
Fourth, think straight about parent-child conflict, the “generation gap,” and “adolescent rebellion.” Such concepts are useful, but the condition they describe is not inevitable. In the family as God has ordained it, there is harmony, not rebellion. “Adolescent rebellion” was a rare offense in Old Testament times; the rebel, after due process, was to be stoned to death (Deut. 21:18–21).
Fifth, take seriously the biblical teaching that we are not yet what we shall be. “Nobody’s perfect” is often wrongly used as an excuse for avoiding responsibility for one’s behavior. It is nevertheless true. Husbands and wives, parents and children, need to be forgiving of each other. Parents should not try to pretend that they never make mistakes. When they wrong their children, they should apologize to them. Eventually children find out about parental inconsistency and misbehavior anyway. They are much better prepared for it if they have seen the biblical teachings on confession and forgiveness in action.
Sixth, do not yield to the world’s view of authority, which vacillates between anarchy and despotism. Many Christians complain about the weakening of authority in our time. It is more likely that the patterns of authoritarianism are shifting. Most of the world’s people live under dictatorships or near-dictatorships with few signs of rebelliousness. The number of people in the relatively free countries who submit to or encourage authoritarian religious, political, economic, and labor leaders is disquieting, to say the least. God’s pattern of authority for man was demonstrated by our Lord Jesus Christ: servant leadership, not tyrant leadership. The duty of husbands is to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, not to crack a whip to compel submission.
God instituted the family for man’s good and for his enjoyment. If we are to clean up the mess we have made in our families, we must implement, consistently and energetically, God’s principles in his power.
Book Of The Year, Topic Of The Year
In this International Women’s Year, the first book on feminism from an evangelical perspective, All We’re Meant to Be by Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty, garnered fifty-five votes to place first in Eternity magazine’s annual “book of the year” survey. The Philadelphia-based monthly polls 150 evangelical leaders to find the top twenty-five significant books, books that evangelicals need to read. Paul Jewett’s Man as Male and Female, a theological study of feminism, placed fourth. (Second and third places went to George Ladd’s A Theology of the New Testament and The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by J. D. Douglas.) The voting reflects the Church’s growing concern over the place and role of women. Both books deserve careful study, even by those who disagree with the conclusions. We congratulate the authors and commend their books to our readers.
With the passing of Arnold Toynbee (1889–1975) the intellectual world has lost the second of its two great historical synthesists. The first, Oswald Spengler (1880–1936), published his pessimistic, prophetic Decline of the West in the aftermath of World War I, in the bitter atmosphere of the debacle of Hohenzollern Germany and Hapsburg Austria-Hungary. Spengler believed that societies, cultures, and civilizations go through a life cycle like that of organic beings, and that Western Christendom had entered irrevocably into the stage of senescence and decline. Adolf Hitler predictably rejected Spengler’s vision. He thought to reverse it with the establishment of his Thousand-Year Reich, but instead he only hastened the deterioration.
The difference between Spengler’s Decline of the West and Toynbee’s even more comprehensive and much larger magnum opus, A Study of History, reflects the difference in orientation between defeated Germans and the victorious, liberal political and intellectual world of the Anglo-American nations after World War II; their destiny did not seem so inextricably attached to the bleak future of “the old Continent” where Christianity had developed into Christendom. Toynbee’s work was based more on uniquely comprehensive observation and extrapolation from that observation, less on the consequent working out of a philosophical-organic theory derived from history. And Toynbee, unlike Spengler, showed a strong religious orientation, that, at least during a considerable period, he expressed in terms of Christian symbols and beliefs.
Regrettably, while Toynbee did not share Spengler’s cultural pessimism, he saw hope for the future not in a working out of the purposes of a sovereign God but in a new synthesis of several political and religious heritages in a coming world state and culture. The specific content of the Christian faith would thus be lost in a blend of the insights of the world’s great religions.
But there can be no rational coalescence of the biblical vision of a personal God and a meaningful Creation with the impersonal, sometimes even nihilistic vision of philosophical Hinduism and mahayana Buddhism that Toynbee so admired. We therefore must regretfully acknowledge that Toynbee “resolved” the tension between Eastern religions and biblical theism based on God’s authoritative self-disclosure in revelation by in effect rejecting that revelation, reducing it to the level of a cultural insight no different in principle from other visions of the human spirit.
Toynbee is more congenial to Christians, with their sense of the primacy of spiritual values and the meaningfulness of the religious dimension of life, than to Marxist materialists. Yet we have to recognize, for all that, that his vision of world history, and especially of its development from the present to the future, is a relativistic, this-wordly vision. It has no place for a self-disclosing, sovereign God as attested in Scripture. Nor has it room for a wrapping-up of history and the eschatological consummation of all things in the return of Christ.
Toynbee’s work is at once an impressive testimony both to the religious depth of the human spirit and the panorama of meaning that can, with sufficient insight, be detected in the jumble of world history, and to man’s inability to find true solutions apart from openness and submission to revelation in the Word of God. As we honor Toynbee’s achievement, we may hope that his personal relationship to God was at the end not that of his monumental opus but that of a youth dream, in which he saw himself holding a crucifix and heard a voice say, “Cling and wait.”
The Moribund Alliance
Evangelicals have been active in the leadership of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches for much of its hundred-year history. The ancestor of the current organization was founded in 1875 in London with the unwieldy name, “The Alliance of Reformed Churches Throughout the World Holding the Presbyterian System.”
It was a pioneering group, the first of the international confessional organizations. Although the full name and the shortened popular version (“World Presbyterian Alliance”) seemed to emphasize a particular polity, doctrine was the major emphasis. Churches admitted to membership held to the supreme authority of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and had a creed in harmony with the consensus of the Reformed denominations.
The alliance performed many valuable services, especially in helping indigenous churches on mission fields. It was a strong advocate of religious freedom for the tiny evangelical minorities of many nations. It stimulated scholarship in a variety of ways, particularly by encouraging translators and publishers of Calvin’s works. It restored and maintained Geneva’s simple and beautiful Calvin Auditorium, where the Reformer taught his early-morning Bible lessons.
But over the years its emphasis has shifted. In 1970 the alliance merged with the International Congregational Council. The resulting organization was christened the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (Presbyterian and Congregational). The constitution adopted in 1970 provides for acceptance of “united churches” even though some of them have episcopal forms of government.
Doctrine is covered in very broad terms in the merger document. This accommodates the fact that many of the member denominations have long since cut loose from their Calvinistic (and evangelical) theological moorings. Leaders of some of the churches go to great lengths to explain that their identification as “Reformed” does not tie them to a certain view of Scripture or anything else.
Having neither a polity nor a doctrine to promote in common, the denominations that support the WARC have good reason to question its value. Perhaps the decision to cancel a planned 1977 general council was a good one. Maybe a better idea would be to bury the alliance at the ripe age of one hundred. Its vital signs have grown too weak to sustain life.
A Popping Good Idea
People sitting around Central Illinois fireplaces eating popcorn on cold nights this winter may partake with special satisfaction. It will be special if the kernels they pop are those grown this past season by a group of Eureka College students known as the Gleaners. These concerned students asked area farmers to let them grow popcorn on marginal land that the owners would not be cultivating. After the crop was harvested last month, the collegians (and other volunteers) planned a big husking bee and then a sale of the corn to area families. The proceeds were earmarked to send relief to the world’s hungry.
This project, using student labor and normally wasted land, is only one of the ideas of the Gleaners. Starting in 1974, a group asked area farmers to let them follow the giant mechanical harvesters, picking up the grain missed by the machines. Last year they collected about 500 bushels of corn that would otherwise have been wasted. They expect five times as much this season.
What they are doing is not new, of course; gleaning was practiced in Old Testament times, (see Leviticus 19:9, 10). What is new is harvesting the “leftovers” for the benefit of others. The Gleaners at Eureka (and those at other colleges who have adopted the idea this year) are not feeding themselves with the grain they pick up; they are working for the less fortunate.
It’s an idea that merits copying by Christians in all agriculturally rich lands.
Giving Thanks And Waiting
The Thanksgiving celebration festival started by America’s Christian forebears stems from the Old Testament Scriptures. It is an event that all believers in God around the world should keep, at the time of year determined by their harvest season.
God commanded the Jews to keep three national feasts: Tabernacles, Passover, Pentecost. The feast of Tabernacles was also called the feast of Ingathering (Exod. 34:22). It took place after the harvest and vintage had been gathered in. All males were obligated to attend, and the first and eighth days were celebrated by holy convocations.
Tabernacles was a family feast. Every family camped out in a booth made of tree branches, “that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Lev. 23:43). The feast was to be remembered perpetually and with thanksgiving. “You shall rejoice in your feast … because the LORD your God will bless you in all you produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.” (Deut. 16:14, 15).
For people in the Northern Hemisphere, the harvest is over. God has blessed. There is food for another year for most of them. It is fitting for all believers to set aside at least one day to give thanks to God for his provision. On that day they should remember the millions who have not enjoyed the fruits of a good harvest and who have no prospects for doing so. All of us are dependent upon God’s mercy and his bounty. We are all one harvest away from want and even starvation. The richest person in the world cannot buy food when there is none.
Thanksgiving has a future reference as well as a past one. By giving thanks to God for what he has done, we not only express gratitude for today’s food; we also express our confidence that he who made the fields bring forth their fruit this past year will, in mercy, provide for us in the year to come. So we pray: “For thy past mercies we give thanks, O God, and for thy mercies in the year ahead we wait with patient expectation, for thy mercies are new and fresh every morning”.
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