Relationship vs. Purpose: How the Church Destroys the Christian Family

Years ago, an American Reformed missionary in Europe complained to me that in the church he had planted, there was only one family.

“Well,” I said, “why don’t you encourage the single ones to marry.”

“It wouldn’t work,” he replied grimly, “they are mostly women. They don’t need my encouragement. But there are no men available. Men sometimes would come to the meetings but they don’t stay for long. And the few men we have are not interested in marriage.”

I can think of only one solution to a problem in the church: the pastor should preach the Biblical solution to it. “May be you should start preaching and teaching on the family. Thus you will encourage the men to marry, and have families and children, and become responsible adults.”

“I do,” he said. “I preach and teach on the family all the time. I teach on the relationships between husbands and wives, between parents and children, I preach on what a wonderful gift the family is, I preach on how God blesses families.”

“Hmmm,” I said, “the relationships stuff will attract and encourage mostly women. But what about what attracts the men? Do you preach and teach purpose, what the family is created for? Do you teach the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth, have many children and through them take over the culture? Do you teach and preach on the educational function and purpose of the family; teaching the children in the Lord? Do you teach them the purpose of the family as God’s institution for economic decisions and action? Do you teach them on the fathers as protectors and conquerors? Do you teach them on the function of the family as a welfare agency, the only institution ordained by God to take care of the poor and the needy?”

In our conversation, it turned out he didn’t teach those things. He was a little uncomfortable to talk about the issue of having children given the fact that Europe was overpopulated anyway and given the lower incomes of most people, having many children would place a heavy burden on the young parents. Talking about having children, he said, was not a popular topic in Europe. The economic function of the family: he wasn’t sure about that one because he was never taught that in the seminary; and besides, it is part of the “general equity” stuff, not of the Gospel, and he wasn’t supposed to preach anything but the Gospel. Concerning the education, they had great public schools in Europe so that that burden could be taken off the backs of the parents so that they could focus on the spiritual things of the Gospel; besides, the only viable alternative was homeschooling, and he was concerned whether homeschooled children could later find jobs in the European economy. He couldn’t take on the responsibility of giving advice to parents which later may prove impractical. “Protectors and conquerors” wasn’t clear to him, after all we are not trying to impose a Christian dictatorship, we are only concerned about the salvation of these souls, and Europe had very low crime rate anyway. And welfare? Same thing: Europe has a wonderful social system, no need to worry about the poor, the government is doing a perfectly good job there.

“I believe,” he said, “that we shouldn’t try to scare people with legalistic requirements about what they should do as families. We first need to show them the beauty of the family as a relationship; a place where people find God’s love and comfort, and where God comes to take care of them as their loving Father. When we do that, and we have families, then we will be able to teach them further about their obligations.”

In other words, he took away all the reasons why the family should exist in the first place, and then try to recreate it without purpose and meaning.

And then he wonders that men are not excited by such picture of the family and are not coming to his church; and those that are in, are not excited about having families. His explanation was that the men in that nation are very immature, and that’s why they do not fall for his view of the family.

He never even stopped to consider my words: That such talk about relationships, beauty, comfort, being cared for, etc., may be exciting for women but not so exciting for men. I bet he never even thought about the fact that there may be a direct correlation between his priorities and his preaching in relation to the family, and the gender ratio in his church.

Men are created different than women. And man’s priorities, deep in his very being, are very different from the woman’s priorities. The woman was created to be a helper; therefore her very being – irrespective of what the feminists say – would be focused on relationships. In the context of the family, the focus of the wife will inevitably be the inner workings of the family, the organization, the time-schedules, the relationships, the comfort and rest that the home provides for its members. A woman doesn’t need special courses in interpersonal relationships to be able to recognize emotions and deep feelings like love, hate, or indifference. She can understand the nuances of behavior and read through them better than her husband; that’s why she is placed over the home, a “house-despot,” as the Bible calls her, because that’s her realm, her sphere of sovereignty. A woman can understand people better than a man, because she has that ability from the beginning; she knows when someone is satisfied, or restless, or tired, or anxious, or in need of comfort.

This is not to say that men are not supposed to be mindful of relationships, and love, and comfort, and feelings. But by the reality of the created nature of the man and the woman, a man can and must learn from and trust his wife in these areas. It is her realm, her sphere of rule. It is not unnatural that Paul compares his care for his converts to the care of a nursing mother (1 Thess. 2:7); and God Himself compares His love to us to the love of a nursing mother. There is something women have and know that men do not have nor know. And that something defines them, and also determines what their priorities and interests would be. A woman knows the issue of relationship better than a man, and she is naturally attracted to a church where relationship is preached and taught.

But what about a man? Does he have the same natural interests and priorities?

What my missionary friend never realized is that the family was not created to be first relationships and then everything else. The family was created to be an institution, and that institution has a purpose and function in God’s order for the things: to expand the dominion of God’s people over the whole world (Gen. 1:27-28). The purpose and function were first given to the man, and he is supposed to be the chief carrier and executive of that function. And just as the woman was uniquely designed and gifted to discern and understand the issues of relationships, the man was uniquely designed and gifted to fulfill the purpose of taking dominion over the earth. The father’s and the husband’s position of the man is not primarily focused on relationships – that’s what he was given a wife for. That responsibility is given to man to ensure that his family fulfills its purpose in the plan of God in conquering the earth. Man’s very being is outward-oriented, not inward-oriented. His interests would be in work and war, not in feelings and relationships. While women also have their part in business (Prov. 31) and war (Judges 4), by creation ordinance it is man’s realm and sphere of responsibility and authority.

And therefore a church that preaches only relationships and no purpose, will tend to attract mostly women, not men. And when the family is preached as mostly relationships but the purpose and the functions of the family are not preached, men influenced by that preaching won’t be interested in having families. That’s just the created nature of things.

The missionary, of course, is not to be blamed. He is only a product – and a victim – of a generation-long lapse of the American church in general. For the last 50 years – if not for longer – the church has adopted a mushy ideology that demotes Christianity down to emotional, shallow excitement. The Dominion Mandate to man to build a civilization that exhibits the glory of God – the “City on a Hill” motive of our forefathers – has been thrown out. Christianity now is all about “relationship with Jesus.” Even in the Reformed circles and by Reformed theologians, this immature and truncated view of Christianity is emphasized and preached. Relationship over purpose, is the essence of what is preached from the pulpits and taught in the seminaries today.

This approach, by necessity, and by the nature of things, will not bring too many men in the churches; and the men it brings in, will be immature and confused about their true calling in life. Eventually, those who have preserved some of their masculinity, will leave the churches and go to the world in search of purpose for their lives, in search of ground to work on and conquer, simply because the church doesn’t present to them such a ground. Sometime ago I wrote an article, “The Demographics of Irrelevance,” where I pointed to the problem of many young women and virtually no young men in many churches, including where the majority of the families are homeschoolers. I wrote it two years ago. Things haven’t changed. The churches – and Reformed churches too – keep preaching “relationship with Jesus.” Some Reformed preachers insist on calling the Bible “baby talk,” and then burst in emotional gush about how great Jesus is in catering to our baby needs. Christianity is boiled down to irrelevance and immaturity; there is no clear call for battle, for changing the course of history and for building a Christian world and culture. And young men keep leaving the churches in droves. When there is no male message in the churches, few males will stay. It is that simple.

The Bible has little to say about a “relationship with Jesus.” In fact, Jesus Himself speaks about a personal relationship between Him and His disciples only in two places, and He gives a very simple explanation of what a personal relationship with Him is: obedience to His will. In Matt. 12:46-50 He explains how one gets to be a member of Jesus’s family: “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” And then again, in John 15:14, “You are My friends if you do what I command you.” There is no special theology of “personal relationship with Jesus” in the Bible; that personal relationship is very simple: do what He commands. It is not based on emotions or feelings. It is based on the self-conscious commitment to do what He commands.

But what He commands is given in the whole Bible. And it starts with the Dominion Mandate for man and his family to fill the earth, and subdue it. And this means that there is purpose and calling to man as a father and husband to work, fight, educate, care, build, lay foundations, protect, conquer, establish. There is a purpose to man’s life. And that purpose is matched by the inclination in the heart of man to do these things. A man’s heart is thrilled by the possibility to work and conquer. And when the family is presented to him not as an institution of dominion – that is, an institution for work and conquering – but only as a place for “relationships,” he won’t get excited about it. He will leave the church and find another place to work and conquer.

Ironically, despite of the resurgence of the interest in the Christian family in the last decades, the churches have failed to produce Christian families. Like the missionary above, many churches in the US have seen the same – or increased – divorce rate, irresponsible fathers and husbands, children who leave the faith, and young women who can’t find Christian husbands. Only talking about the family is not enough; what must be preached is the purpose of the family in the plan of God. Real, masculine men are produced when there is a meaning in life that transcends their own little souls and their families. Men obsessed with relationships and emotions are not really masculine. That some Reformed preachers are trying to restore masculinity by resorting to obscenities or other provocative behavior on the stage only shows desperation; but it also betrays a deep ignorance about the Biblical definition of man. Rough talk does not a man make; purpose and meaning does.

Because the Dominion Mandate to man is not preached, the purpose of the family is lacking from the preaching and teaching from our church pulpits. The family as created and ordained by God can not be defined outside of the Dominion Covenant. The family has no purpose unless man has a purpose to work and conquer. When the totality of Christianity is limited to individual salvation – and therefore the task of filling and subduing the earth is denied – then the purpose of the family becomes only a side issue. If the Gospel is limited to personal salvation, there is no clear function for the family. If man is not encouraged to conquer, he doesn’t need the only institution that can help him conquer.

We have indeed seen more and more talk about the family in the last decades. But because it is misguided in its priorities – relationship vs. purpose – the result is that it is actually destroying the family rather than building it. Both on the mission field, and in churches at home, we will see even more of what my missionary friend has experienced in his church. Unless, of course, our preachers, and teachers, and seminaries, take again the Dominion Mandate as the purpose for man and his family, and preach it.

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About Bojidar Marinov

A Reformed missionary to his native Bulgaria for over 10 years, Bojidar preaches and teaches doctrines of the Reformation and a comprehensive Biblical worldview. Having founded Bulgarian Reformation Ministries in 2001, he and his team have translated over 30,000 pages of Christian literature about the application of the Law of God in every area of man’s life and society, and published those translations online for free. He has been active in the formation of the Libertarian movement in Bulgaria, a co-founder of the Bulgarian Society for Individual Liberty and its first chairman. If you would like Bojidar to speak to your church, homeschool group or other organization, contact him through his website: http://www.bulgarianreformation.com/

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12 Responses to Relationship vs. Purpose: How the Church Destroys the Christian Family

  1. Marcia Yiapan November 29, 2012 at 12:58 am #

    Thanks for this thought-provoking essay. I have shared it with several, including my pastor.

  2. Trevlyn McCallum February 16, 2014 at 8:42 pm #

    Thank you for this excellent article.

  3. Say February 16, 2014 at 11:05 pm #

    Says you.

    • Prynwyd Gwaed February 16, 2014 at 11:49 pm #

      Someone in the comments field wrote “Says you.”

      I agree with this sentiment.

      However, I want to distance myself from that dismissive posture. I think this is a great article for a few reasons, not least of which is its thought provoking nature and soul searching call.

      I am perplexed by the author’s insistence that men are terrible at relationships and not interested in the relationship component of family. I have found that men are substantially better at managing and fostering relationships than women. I have also found that women are substantially better at understanding and reaching out to people through emotional nuance. Men do not understand the nuances of emotions. They get the large sweeping bulk of them, but have trouble discerning why the details matter or what they mean.

      But by and large, I think that much of these designations are purely subjective/cultural.

      To be honest, I think the culprit is materialism and the hyper liberal diatribe about overpopulation, scarcity, income, etc. Most people are taught that you shouldn’t have a child unless you’re 32 and have a professional career and a $50k salary. And you shouldn’t have a second child until you’ve climbed to $75k. And so on.

      Try telling that to the Virgin Mary. Or the Son of Man.

      We put hundreds of if-thens on the topic of children. We take birth control as a morally neutral fact of life. We talk about family planning as though the womb responds to our beck and call. We have some very historically alien ideas about the formation, function, structure and purpose of a family.

      • Mike March 18, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

        The author isn’t (in my opinion) saying that men are terrible at relationships – I cannot see that spelled out or insisted upon anywhere in the article. What is emphasized and redundant is that man’s role as the head and leader of the family is geared more towards the purpose of the family unit, while woman’s role as the helper is directly to deal with the relationships within the family unit to make sure it works properly.

  4. Bee September 7, 2015 at 6:36 am #

    Good article and very much needed. I wish I had heard sermons on purpose and family when I was a young man.

    “….and young women who can’t find Christian husbands.” This is also true for young men, especially those who wish to marry a virgin and marry young. Many of the young women in churches today don’t want to get married until they are 30 or 32. In their fertile 20’s they want to go to college, establish a career, and travel. Many of the single women in churches today are women with children from previous relationships.

  5. theasdgamer September 30, 2015 at 1:43 pm #

    How can anyone think that Europe is overpopulated?

    Good point about men wanting purpose (and mission).

    Women tend to be more confused by emotion and less logical because of emotion. Because of their split cortex, men are better able to avoid this confusion.

    Women today tend to be very sexually active. This needs to be considered when discussing the family.

    Gnosticism is taught in western culture. The flesh is evil. Pure spirit is good. The libido is an expression of the flesh; the libido is a base impulse. Men have libidos that are always on, while women’s libidos aren’t always on. Therefore, women are “more good” than men. This kind of thinking pervades western churches.

    The Song of Solomon opposes western Gnosticism. About 20% of men are in tune with the SoS and are attractive to women; the remainder tend to be unattractive to women *for sex*, though not necessarily for relationships. This divergence in the ranks of men needs to be considered when discussing the family.

  6. Living Liminal February 22, 2016 at 5:22 pm #

    “Do you teach the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth, have many children and through them take over the culture?”

    Sorry, but you lost me right there. I do not see anywhere in Jesus’s teaching that we are to “take over the culture”. We are called to love and serve others, and we are called to a Kingdom that is not of this world!

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