This is the sentence element that forms the subject which was assigned to me by the Men’s League to speak on. In treating this subject, it is well that I set out with defining terms. The primary meaning of the word home is village, that is, the place where one resides. Thus the word home is the signification of one’s dwelling house; the house in which one resides, the place or country in which one dwells. The home is the place to which one resorts when retreating from the world. But the word stands for much more than one’s dwelling house, if by house is meant merely the material structure in which one resides. The word denotes also all that pertains to that structure. In the vocabulary of a married man with a family it stands for his wife and children, for the life which he in conjunction with them leads within the confines of the family’s dwelling place, thus for his fellowship with his wife and children, in a word for the sum and total of all those actions and relations that constitute family life. Now this life may be one sanctified by the grace of Christ and thus consecrated to God. If so, the word home in the mind of a family man is associated with all that is truly good and lovely, and his home is to him the dearest and the loveliest spot on earth, the one place where he most desires to be. On the other hand the dwelling-house of the family may be the precinct of strife and contention and discord. It may be, in a word, a veritable house of trouble. If so, the life of the family is a most wretched one and then the word home in the mind of the family man is associated with all that is mean and wretched. To such a man the (home is a place to be shunned.
The other term to be defined is the word disintegration. The word is a compound of the preposition dis and integrate. Now dis, denotes separation, a parting from, while integer is from the Latin integer, untouched, whole, entire, and thus denotes a complete entity. A tree, composed, as it is, of trunk, root and branches, is a complete entity, integer; likewise the human body. So, to disintegrate is to separate into parts; to break up the cohesion of. A human body that breaks up into its parts disintegrates. Now since the verb disintegration has this meaning, it is better to speak not of the disintegration but of the destruction of the home, that is, of the life of the family and of the disintegration of the family. The family can disintegrate and when it does its life, is destroyed. So I must speak either on the subject of the causes of the destruction of the home or on the subject of the disintegration of the family. Which will it be? I need not choose here. For, as I see it, the family and its life cannot be separated, Family-life is the family in its functioning. So, to speak on either of these subjects is to speak on them both. Yet I announce of my subject:
The causes of the disintegration of the Christian Family
Now it is not possible, to be sure, for a truly Christian family to disintegrate essentially. Yet, also a Christian family deteriorates in its conscious life into a house divided against itself, when its members are unspiritual. Fact is, that it is only the Christian family that can, (relatively) disintegrate. This will be made plain in the sequence.
In tracing the causes of the disintegration of the Christian family, I must set out with the question, “What is the family? The family is not a machine but a body, an organism. It is a being of which the parts (members) partake of a common life of which the body is the seat. Let us shed some light on this proposition. A tree, to illustrate, is such a being; likewise the human body and also the family. The tree, its trunk and branches, partake of a common life of which the trunk is the seat. Hence, the branches are the outgrowth of the trunk and partake of its life. The evidence of this is that, if the branch is separated from its trunk, not the trunk but the branch perishes for lack of life. The branches therefore must abide in the trunk that they perish not. As to the family, the branches of this organism—the sons and daughters in the home—are the offspring of the parents and in their embryo state partake of a common life of which the parent-mother is the seat. However, of all natural organisms, the family is the highest in the scale. Thus unlike the branches of a tree, the child is separated from its parent-mother at birth and thereupon ceases to draw from her its life. Yet the parents remain bound to their children and the children to their parents by psycho-physical ties—the ties of love, filial from the side of the child and parental from the side of the parents. The family, then, is an organism but it is not, like the body of Christ, a heavenly entity. Consider that the true church, too, is an organism. Its members partake of a common life of which Christ is the seat and channel and Christ’s God the creative source. Said Christ to His people, “I am the vine and ye are the branches. Without me ye can do nothing.” Unlike the offspring of the earthy parent-mother, believers abide in Christ after their spiritual birth and thus continue everlastingly to draw from Him their life and entire existence. But the church is a body, heavenly. Its members are born of Christ’s God, come forth out of His creative will as new, that is, heavenly creatures. And the tie that binds them to Christ, the true vine, is not one of blood but of a living faith, the essence of which is a love that springs from the life of regeneration. The family, on the other hand, is an earthy organism; it is earthy as Adam, the father of the human race, was earthy even in the state of integrity. More must be said. The family is now sinfully earthy, totally depraved, dead through trespasses and sin. The parents are this. And the children they bear are as corrupt as they. Of the first parent of the human race, we read in the Confession, “Man after the fall begat children in his own likeness. A corrupt stock produced a corrupt offspring.” This applies to all parents. It means that the family, as it is by nature, cannot in the spiritual sense disintegrate; composed, as it is, of members dead in sin, it is in a state of disintegration. The members of a family with a Ife unsanctified by grace are in the heart of their dispositions evilly disposed also toward one another. There is, to be sure, what the Scriptures call a natural love. It is there, between husband and wife, parents and children, brothers and sisters. But this love, too, has been wholly corrupted by sin. It is not therefore a love in which the members of the family can be truly one. The truth of this statement is borne out by the history that the human race has made and is today making. Only the members of a family that is truly Christian are united. Thus a Christian family is one whose life has been sanctified by the blood of Christ. It is a family whose members are children of grace.
The family, I said, was an organism. And an organism was defined as an entity composed of parts partaking of a common life. This is not all to be said. In an organism each member has its God-appointed place and function; and the functioning of each member is essential to the well-being and even the existence of the organism. So it is with the family. In the family the child has its own place and function; and likewise the parent-father and the parent-mother. The child’s place in the family is precisely that of child, son, daughter. And the child’s calling is to function in its appointed place as child. But the God-appointed legal head of the child, (children, sons and daughters J are the parents. For the command reads, “Honor thy father and thy mother.” Yet the family has but one head, as the woman is included in the man. And to her also he stands in the relation of head. The word head, then, is the term that denotes the father’s position in the family. And in this place he, as aided by the parent-mother, must function according as God has ordained, namely, as head, that is, as ruler, trainer, educator, of the child. This is his right, duty, and privilege. But this right he had not of himself. It is a right with which parents have been vested by God by virtue of their having instrumentality brought the child into being. This right to rule and to train the child constitutes the parental authority.
Wherein precisely does the functioning of the child—and I speak now not merely of the very young child but also of the grown-up son and daughter in the home—wherein does the functioning of the child consist? In honoring father and mother. What is it to honor?
In general it is to acknowledge a being to be what he is as God’s creature and to give expression to this acknowledgement by word and deed. Thus to honor God is to acknowledge Him to be what He is, namely, God and none else. It is further to give expression to this acknowledgement by word of mouth. To do so is to praise Him. And to give expression to this acknowledgement by deed is to hear His voice and do His words by walking in the way of His commands.
So when the son (daughter) honors father and mother, he acknowledges them to be to him what they actually, according to the divine ordinance, are, namely, his parents, thus the persons who instrumentally brought him into being and who were therefore vested from on high with the right to rule and to train him. The son honors his parents further when under the impulse of love of God he gives expression to this acknowledgement by his crying “father” and “mother,” by his reverently and in love addressing them and referring to them as father and mother. The son who refers to his father as “the old man” is ill-disposed toward his father and dishonors him by word of mouth. But the son shall also honor his parents by deed, which he does through his obeying father and mother. Now to obey means to hear. The son obeys his father and mother through his hearkening unto their voice, doing their words, receiving their instruction and counsel.
It ought to be plain now what are the chief causes of the disintegration of the family. The family disintegrates when its members in their carnality refuse to know their God-appointed place in it and refuse to function in that place as God has ordained. The family is in a state of disintegration when the son is not obeying, hearing and is thus risen up in rebellion against his parents. But the son must hear. He commits a great sin if he does not. For, in the words of the apostle, “there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” Also the parental power, authority, right of rule, is, as was said, of God. For there is no power but of God. “Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.” Rom. 13:1, 2.
The family disintegrates further when the father (mother) refuses to know his God-appointed place in the family or when he refuses to function in that place as God wills.
So the fault of the family’s disintegrating may lie with the children or with the parents or with both.
The fault lies with the parent-father when he fails to take his divinely appointed place in the family to function as the family’s head in that place. Then the family is without a head to rule it and each member is doing that which is right in his own eyes and without fail, what is wrong in the eyes of some or all of the other members. The result obtained is endless dispute, bickering, violent and bitter quarreling, in a word, a family divided against itself. Such a family was the people of Israel during the period of the judges. At that time the nation was being torn by internal dissensions and destroyed by civil war. And the reason, as given by the sacred writer, was that everyone was doing that which was right in his own eyes and this on account of there being no king in Israel. Let me quote this passage found at Judges 21:25: “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” So when headless, the family is certain to go astray, as then it is without a head to rule, lead, guide, counsel and instruct it and by this guidance and instruction to lead its life in the proper channels. Further, if the parent-father fails to function as head of his family, one of the other members eventually will. And that member is certain to be the son or daughter—now no longer a babe, but a young man or young girl—with the loudest mouth, the sharpest tongue, the strongest will and perhaps the most violent temper,—a child therefore to whose every whim the others are instantly ready to cater, even the parent-father—for he is a weakling—just to keep peace in the family. All this son (daughter) does is to raise his eyebrows, and lo and behold, all the rest stand at attention, ready to hear his orders and to do his (or her) bidding. And he rules with an iron hand. Now this certainly is a nice state of affairs! And it is the parent-father’s fault. This father should take home to his heart what king Solomon—the wisest of all men—says, “Woe to thee, 0 Land, when thy king is a child” (Eccl. 10:16b).
Further. The fault of the family^ disintegrating lies with the parent-father, when, though functioning as the family’s head, he is willingly ignorant of this: that the child, though his child, is God’s creature, and this by reason of the fact that the parents are merely instrumental in bringing the child into being and that thus the child’s creator is God and not the parents. Woe unto the child whose parent-father is willingly unmindful of this and who thus, in functioning as the child’s head, acts from the contrary principle,—from the principle, namely, that the child is his creature. Woe unto the child with a parent-father addicted to this view. For such a father does with his child as he wills instead of as God wills. Now what man wills is always without exception corrupt, so that what is being imposed upon the child is the corrupt will of a mere man. I affirm therefore, that, though God places the child under the jurisdiction and in the care of the parents for them to rule and to train the child,—the child is and remains God’s creature, His absolute possession and He its sovereign Creator. The parent possesses the child merely as a trust, thus in the same sense that a banker possesses a man’s money, namely, as a deposit. How could God so give as to cease to be the absolute owner of what He gives if the creature lives and moves and has his being in God! The parent-father who sets himself up as absolute owner over his child is a thief. Is not the banker who runs off with the depositor’s money a thief even before civil law? By nature we are all thieves. What God places in our hands as a trust, we insist on holding as things of which we are absolute owners, and thus as things to be spent not in the service of God but in the service of self, of the lust of the flesh, of Baal. And this explains our holding on to these things so tenaciously. It also explains our sinful reaction, our murmurings and rebellions, when God, in spite of what we do to better our hold on these things, forcibly takes them from us. But let us return to the child. That child is God’s creature. Hence, the will to be imposed upon it is His will as revealed in the Scriptures. But this cannot mean that the parent-father, in his attempt to induce the child to obey him, should introduce his ordinances for the child, the sons and daughters of his household, by the declaration, “Thus saith the Lord.” Let me make my meaning clear. At 1 Peter 2:13 we read, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. . . .” The apostle here speaks of the ordinances of the civil magistrate. Such ordinances are rules of action established by the authority of the civil magistrate for the insurance and promotion of order among the people that reside under his jurisdiction. Such ordinances are essential to the well-being of the body-politic, and to every organism or body thus also to the family. It is only the family with a well-ordered life that can endure. Hence, the parent-father makes ordinances for the family, for the sons and daughters of his household. He rules, to illustrate, that his small children shall be in bed by eight o’clock in the evening and that all shall rise at seven in the morning and be at the breakfast table at half past seven. He rules further that when his children of high-school age go out for an evening they shall make it a point to be home at eleven o’clock. These are some of his ordinances. Should now the children find them irksome and openly question their reasonableness, it would not do, to be sure, for the parent to silence this opposition by solemnly declaring, “So saith the Lord”, namely, that when you go out for an evening you shall be at home at eleven o’clock. Through his so declaring, the parent would be telling his children that his order to the effect that they be home at the time he specified is the very word of God. This, needless to say, it is not. However just and fair it may be, it is and remains an ordinance of man. Only when the parent imposes upon the son (daughter) a command that is literally contained in the Scriptures, only when he quotes to the child from Holy Writ, may be prefix to his mandate, warning, admonition, the declaration, “thus saith the Lord.” And the same must be said of the sermon. Being what it is, man’s exposition of the Word of God, it is, however sound, the word of man. It must therefore be tested by the Word. So except when, in commanding, exhorting, and admonishing their children, the parents quote from Holy Writ, they come to their children with the word of a man. But let there be no misunderstanding. The parental mandate to the effect that the son (daughter) be at home at a stated time is the word of man. Likewise the sermon. Yet there is a vast difference. The sermon is meant to be a portion of the Word of God explained, interpreted, and in the measure that it is this, it is binding upon man’s conscience. The parental mandate just cited is not the word explained. It is a mere ordinance of man. Now such parental ordinances of which some are much more important than others, must be just, fair and reasonable. Their sum and total must be permeated by principles of truth contained in the Scriptures. Parents must ever be on their guide against provoking their children to anger by mandates unjust, unduly severe, unnecessarily irksome. Let the father’s ordinances be as few in number as is feasible. Let his mandates be the weightier things of the law, and let the yoke under which he brings the child be the yoke of Christ.
Now it is to such ordinances—ordinances of man— that the apostle had reference when he said, “Submit yourself to every ordinance of man. . . .”
The word man in this exportation denotes all non- ecclesiastical authorities in the word, thus kings, governors and also parents. To every parental ordinance the son (daughter) shall submit. On what ground? On the ground that, having subjected the ordinance to his judgment, he finds it to be fair and just? Assuredly not. The child will, to be sure judge. Children very soon begin to do this. Being what they are, rational-moral beings, they cannot refrain from judging. And they also arrive at definite conclusions. But their deeming the parental mandate just is not the ground on which they submit to it. This ground is that the parents have been vested by God with the right to rule the child, the right to order and give direction to its life. If they had not this right, if they had it not of God, the child might flout them to their very face and do as he chose. And so absolute is this right of the parents to govern the child, that even if it could be shown that the parental mandate is unjust, the child would still have to submit. This thesis finds the clearest statement in Scripture, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentile but also to the froward.” The Greek word translated froward means perverse, unfair. Consider that the servant can submit himself to a perverse master only through his subjecting himself to this master’s perverse mandate. This stands to reason. Now the status of a son is not that of a servant. Yet he differs not from a servant in respect to the length to which he must go in obeying his parents.
But must not God be obeyed more than man? He must be. There can be no question about this. So if the parent places the child under a command that militates against the will of God as revealed in the Scriptures, the child is in duty bound to refuse to submit to it. If the parent, to illustrate, should command the child to steal or to blaspheme, the child would find itself under the necessity to refuse to submit. The child submits to the unjust command only when his doing so does not involve him in sin. The parent, to illustrate, orders the child to its room for two whole days on account of its having committed some minor offence. The punishment is way out of proportion to the offence. It is thus unjust. Yet the child would have to submit and could do so without doing wrong, as to remain in a room for such a length of time is not an act that as such is sin.
So are the parents then, as governors of their children, the appointees of God. They have right to govern their children; but this right is not of them. It is of God. The failure on the part of parents to make this plain to the child may be the cause of much of the flouting of parental authority. The child must be told what it is doing when it resists this authority through its disobedience, through its refusing to be lead, instructed by father and mother.
The exercise of the right to govern the child must conform to the child’s age. The grown-up son leaves his father and his mother and cleaves unto his wife. But the parents retain their legal authority over their children as long as they, the parents, live.
(We will shed some light on this last statement in an article to follow.)