Is the family more important than the church? Certainly family is a blessing from God, emphasized in Scripture, and is part of God’s ordinary covenantal way of working his grace in the world. Family is important for sure! And as many of our readers know, our culture has been attacking the traditional family unit and many Christians have started pro-family movements to combat these attacks. But this isn’t always as good as it sounds, since it’s possible to overemphasize the family.
“A certain pattern has played out many times through history: an established idea or institution comes under assault, and well-meaning people respond by doubling down their efforts to defend and support it; but they end up overreacting and hence emphasizing it so much that they lose proper perspective and neglect other ideas or institutions that may be just as or even more important.”
So writes David VanDrunen in an article called, “The First Family: Outside The Home.” He further argues,
“Family is clearly not the most important thing in Scripture. Our relationships to and within the church are ultimately more important than our family relationships.”
Here are his supporting points for that statement (I’ve edited and summarized them for length):
1) Our allegiance to God must always trump family loyalty if they’re in conflict. This point, of course, extends beyond family loyalty to every human loyalty. We must always ‘obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29; cf. Matt 10:35-38, Luke 9:59-62, 14:26). …Christians should unite with the body of believers and be faithful in their responsibilities to it, even if their families are staunchly opposed (Rom. 10:9-10, Acts 2:47, etc.).
2) Family relationships are temporal, relationships in the church are permanent. To put it another way, family relationships are natural and belong to this present age, while relationships in the church are eschatological and extend into the age to come. …God designed child-rearing as a task for this present world, a world not destined to last forever (Gen. 1:28; Gen 9:1, 7). Scripture also indicates that marriage itself only lasts for the duration of the earthly life (Rom 7:2, 1 Cor. 7:39). …Glorified saints will remain single, for they will neither marry nor be given in marriage (Lk 20:35). …On the other hand, joining the church of Jesus Christ (provided we do so sincerely) creates a permanent, everlasting relationship with Christ (Eph. 5:27). The New Testament says a lot about our union with other Christians, whom it calls our brothers and sisters, and who will remain our brothers and sisters in the new creation (e.g. Phil. 15-16).
3) Finally, …it might be more accurate to say that our natural family is ultimately not as important as our church family. There will be family in heaven, but not millions of discrete families, each with a husband and wife. There will be only one family in heaven, made up of millions of brothers and sisters – with Jesus as our husband (Eph 5:25-32) and brother (Heb. 2:11-12). Jesus said when he was on earth, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Lk 8:21 – see also Matt. 19:29). When we treat our church family as of even higher importance than our natural families, we testify to the grace of the gospel and our hope of everlasting life in the most intimate bond with all of our fellow believers.
And some concluding remarks:
“We should never make the family a substitute for the church. A home ‘church’ is not the same as the church Christ established, which gathers together Christians from many families under the authority of ministers, elders, and deacons. Family worship is wonderful, but it can’t take the place of the church’s corporate worship. …Some churches advertise themselves as ‘family friendly,’ but in so doing they make the church unfriendly to those without spouse or children. …Family friendly churches can send all sorts of messages to the unmarried that they really haven’t begun to live until they marry. …If a church turns family-friendly into unmarried- (or childless-) unfriendly, it’s done a disservice to those without spouse or children.”
Those are some great points – ones we need to keep in mind for sure. Christian churches need to be family friendly, but also single-friendly, widow-friendly, and those-without-kids-friendly, since Christ’s church is made up of all kinds of people, not just those in a natural, “traditional” family.
I recommend this entire article by David VanDrunen: “Family First” in Modern Reformation, volume 24, May/June 2015, p. 22-29.