Your Family Is the Frontlines
Three Ways to Recover the Christian Home
The coronavirus pandemic has turned life upside down for most of the world. People are faced with stark challenges when it comes to how to keep working at their jobs, how to continue to participate in their churches, and even how to get along with their family life.
Before the pandemic, it was common to hear of the need to recover family life. The typical American family spent only a few fleeting hours together, usually in preparation for or recovery from the activities that took up the majority of their time, whether at school or at work. The “home” was a landing pad. A place to rest in between essential services. But now families have been forced together, as society as a whole has been told to “go home.” But do we know what to do once we’re there?
The reason that people don’t know what to do at home is basically the same reason that family life appears unappealing to many. It’s the same reason that people marry later, have fewer kids, and are more likely to divorce. It’s not just about personal sins or carelessness, though those have their place. The bigger reality is that the social structure of the modern world is built this way, built against families. In the face of all this, it’s no wonder that families strain and break and that young people have second thoughts about starting families of their own. The family is a square peg in the world’s round hole.
But now here we are, all at home. Might a global pandemic be just the occasion Christians have needed to get serious about recovering the home?
Recovering a Christian Home?
As soon as we attempt to tackle this question in any kind of detail, we will be faced with a number of visceral reactions: “Are you saying all Christians have to get married? Aren’t you just trying to bring back the 1950s? This is lifestyle legalism!” And many people also will simply be fed up with their forced home experience and be ready to get back to normal. A few distinctions, then, are in order.
This issue is not a matter of salvation, strictly speaking. Man is justified by faith alone, and that faith is itself a miraculous gift from the Spirit, whose motion is like the wind (John 3:8). There are no techniques that can harness this saving grace, and Christians are called to be faithful to Christ under all manner of trials, tribulations, and less-than-ideal social norms.
It’s also true that not all Christians are called to marriage. Christianity has never said that marriage was a requirement for all believers, and it has indeed reserved a place of honor for those who are called to singleness in order to uniquely assist in the planting of churches and the evangelization of the world (1 Corinthians 7:38).
Having said that, however, we should have no difficulty in stating that exceptional situations and callings are exceptional. By definition, they are not the norm. The Bible is very clear that marriage is the ordinary calling for humans. “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). “God settles the solitary in a home” (Psalm 68:6).
Family as an Ordinary Calling
The Scriptures consistently use marriage and childbearing as a symbol for blessedness (Psalm 113:9; 128:3–4). The Old Testament begins with its archetypal picture of humanity as man and wife. The New Testament concludes with a symbolic wedding feast. Thus, while marriage and family are not essential features of Christian salvation, they are the ordinary features of creational anthropology and sanctified elements of the Christian community.
Even more than this, the Bible points to the family as the first school of spiritual training. Deuteronomy 6:7–8 instructs parents to make the things of God the ordinary topic of conversation and daily life. Ephesians 6:1–4 instructs parents and children to relate to one another “in the Lord,” with the appropriate obedience and training that accords with each station. Thus, while it is not the case that Christian parents can control their children’s spiritual destiny, they are still instruments God uses for ordinary discipleship.
Christians are right to hold out marriage and family as an ordinary calling. It is good for Christians to promote the family. And it is appropriate for ministers and teachers to address contemporary challenges to the family and offer tools and concepts for overcoming these challenges and helping the family flourish. So yes, Christians should recover the home, and in doing so as Christians, they should make the Christian home a center of productivity for both body and soul. And in the days of this virus, they have the natural opportunity. How can they get started?
1. Make Your Home
This first step might sound a little too obvious, but fewer Americans are getting married than in previous generations, and the ones who do get married get married later in life. Particularly in metropolitan areas, young adults put off marriage because of cultural and economic burdens.
This leads to the predictable moral problems. The Westminster Larger Catechism, after all, includes “undue delay of marriage” in its list of sins forbidden by the seventh commandment (see question 139). Then there are the systemic social problems. Fewer and later marriages lead to fewer births. Childbearing is often seen as a burden rather than a blessing, and any pregnancy after 35 is considered to be “high risk.” Birth rates are falling in every developed country, including the United States. In retrospect, “normal” looks pretty weird.
If young people simply go along with cultural trends and pressures, they will frequently be discouraged from marrying and told that the ordinary journey toward getting married is unattractive and unrewarding. Church leaders therefore will need to actively encourage marriage.
We can do this by teaching on the value and virtue of marriage. God gave a basic mandate to the whole human race to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). The epistle to the Hebrews says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all” (Hebrews 13:4). Most Christians should want to get married, and they should make marriage a cornerstone rather than a capstone of their adult life.
But beyond simply praising marriage and the family, we also have to reframe the way family “fits” in our life. We need to unite the concept of family with the concept of the home. The home is not simply the place where the family sleeps and recharges for its real work “out there.” Rather, the home should be the center of the family’s work, a center of productive activity and social cultivation. A productive home will be a helpful corrective against the lonely and isolated home many are now experiencing, and it will be a corrective to the experience of cabin fever, where one feels like they are stuck at home rather than truly living their life.
2. Make Your Home Productive
So what does it mean to make your home productive? Allan C. Carlson has written a number of books on the family. One of his most important ones is From Cottage to Work Station: The Family’s Search for Social Harmony in the Industrial Age. Carlson explains how the industrial revolution changed the ordinary role of the home. Instead of working and living in essentially the same place, alongside mostly the same people, many began to leave their homes in order to go to their work.
Over time, the home became emptied of nearly all of its meaningful activities. The home came to be seen as less and less important for social productivity. Eventually, the family suffered the same fate.
Along similar lines, Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family argues that much of what we call “technology” does not actually help us to become more productive at our work but rather does our work for us and convinces us to spend the newfound free time in more passive and consumptive work. While claiming to help us become more efficient, this sort of technology actually trains us to do little or nothing at all, and whatever we do with this technology, we tend to do it by ourselves, away from others. We consume, and we consume alone.
Both Carlson and Crouch offer the same advice for combating these problems. We must, they argue, turn our homes into centers of productivity. We need to take ownership over our tools and our technology, and we need to do stuff that matters with our families. We need productive households.
Implementing this vision will look different for different families. Here are a few suggestions to consider.
One of the most common social effects of the pandemic has been working from home. Not everyone can do this, but a lot more people have been able to do it, even if in a cramped and limited way, than we might have expected. One wonders how many people will return “to the workplace” and how many will simply stay put after the lockdowns are over. Indeed, some people may lose their jobs entirely and have to begin again, with new visions and directions.
While not possible for everyone, and not without its challenges, working from home brings one obvious advantage: it unites work and home in the most basic way. When you work from home, you literally pursue your vocation in and around your family and place of living. And methods of working from home can differ. They can range from the old family farm to freelance writing to online telecommuting to Zoom cubicles.
Education options have changed along similar lines, and the effect of these days likely will linger long after America reopens its economy. Many schools will choose not to return to campus for some time. Many will not survive the impact of the changes and simply close up for good. This will require new ways of schooling, and again, here we have an opportunity.
Homeschooling is the obvious new normal. Even students in public schools are schooling from home right now. But we should be careful about this fact. Crisis schooling is not the same as homeschooling. A typical homeschool experience begins months before the school year starts, as the parents plan ahead with a curriculum and a plan for a routine. Most homeschoolers do not normally stay at home the whole time, and many meet with other families and groups for select classes and extracurricular activities. Corona-schooling is not normal for anyone.
But the forced experience of homeschooling may give some families a taste for being together more during the week, and they may be surprised at how well they like it, once they get over the shock. Indeed, homeschooling is a significant way of making a productive home, as it will unite parents and children in the cultivation of the mind and the virtues.
Once on-campus schooling options return, Christian families should not simply rush back to the old normal. The key principles of home productivity should stick with them. Christian schools can be a good option in this regard if they can tighten their relationship with the local community and the families who attend. Parental participation should be encouraged, especially in extracurricular activities, sports, and the recreational culture of the school.
Perhaps most intriguing of all are the various hybrid school models which combine elements of both homeschooling and conventional day-schooling to allow students to work from home part of the week and then attend a school with professional teachers and administrators other parts of the week. Tuition costs are typically lower than normal private schools, and the family is deeply integrated into the school experience. This may be a growing option in the post-pandemic educational landscape.
Meals and Recreation
Many people will not be able to restructure their employment or schooling in such dramatic ways. And even while we’re all at home, the mere fact of being here won’t do all the necessary work. There are still important basic activities that can make the home more productive. Start simple: eat at home. We are being forced to do this now, but this is actually a great practice to retain after the pandemic ends. Eating at home is economically advantageous and typically healthier. Learn to cook, invest in the basics of a kitchen, and eat with your family around a table.
And don’t eat only with your family. When we have the opportunity again, extend Christian hospitality by feasting with others. Invite friends, church members, and even members of your neighborhood over for meals. Before long, your house will be a buzzing center of human society, and it gives Christians an excellent opportunity to show hospitality.
Other ordinary productive activities are things like gardening, building, crafting, and making art and music. Reviving the practice of folk singing is a great way to bring an activity that is fun to your family. Young children especially enjoy singing, as it allows them to make a little noise. If members of your family can learn a few instruments to assist the singing, you’ve added one more layer of productivity. When parents enjoy making music with their children, they also impart some of their passions to their children.
3. Make Your Home Church-Friendly
The routines mentioned above won’t produce Christian results on their own. Distinctively Christian graces must be added to the family’s routine, and that means always prioritizing spiritual things. This starts with the church. But while you might expect an article like this to call for family-friendly churches, the reality is that we need church-friendly families.
This means a few things. The first and most basic is that Christians must indeed go to church. They must apply the fourth commandment on a weekly basis, and they must not “[neglect] to meet together” (Hebrews 10:25). A Christian family that does not go to church is a contradiction in terms. Many of us are experiencing digital church at the moment, and this experience has caused us to long to return to the gathered assembly once again. “My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord” (Psalm 84:2).
But Christian families don’t exercise their spirituality only at church. They should also have regular family worship. Christians should have intentional and focused religious time at home with their families (Deuteronomy 6:7–9). Further, in the Old Testament, God commanded daily sacrifices from the priests (Exodus 29:38; Numbers 28:3). With the dawning of the new covenant, all believers are priests, and thus we are commanded to offer the sacrifice of praise through our lips (Hebrews 13:15).
Believers are commanded to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–17), and even to address one another with “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:19). Family worship is also a natural time for a father to teach his family spiritual things in a concentrated manner. Making it a regular routine is the easiest way to make sure that it happens, and putting family worship time into the ordinary rhythm of your day is an excellent way to exert spiritual authority over your schedule. It is a form of consecrating your time.
Where to Begin
Family worship does not need to be complicated, and it shouldn’t be seen as a chore. The parents need to model true faith and living piety when they worship at home, and they should seek to emphasize the reading of the Scripture, the singing of God’s praises, and times of prayer.
When the children are young, this time should be relatively short. Five minutes is a long time for toddlers. As the children age, things can be extended some, but the benefit of daily family worship is knowing that you will have another opportunity tomorrow. You don’t have to fit everything in to each time. And remember, family worship is not first and foremost about your family and all of its various needs. Family worship is about your family worshiping God. So keep that the main focus. Glorify God by enjoying him together.
In all of this, the Christian family will learn to just be a Christian family. As all the members come to really believe what they say and hear, the home will be characterized by a constant Christ-filled aroma. Parents will teach their children to believe and not to doubt, and the whole family will order their affairs toward the glory of God. This should not be a temporary measure during emergency times, but a lasting vision for the Christian life, to reclaim the home, build the home, and consecrate the home to our master, Jesus Christ.