The Christian Family (General Conference Mennonite Church, 1962)
The Christian Family (GCMC, 1962)
- What is a Christian Family?
- Marriage relationships
- Parent-Child Relations
- The Church and the Family
- Context of the Statement
We recognize the family as the basic unit of society and the most important institution for spiritual development and community strength. The family is a primary part of God's creation for the purpose of procreation, training, fellowship, and love. The family, however, is not an end in itself. It is responsible to God and exists for the fulfillment of His purposes in the world.
Today the divine intentions of the family are being threatened through the increased tensions and problems of our complex world. Our rapid pace of living, communication media, the automobile, population shifts, social pressures, immorality, and much of the world's philosophy of love and marriage, have all had their tremendous impact upon family living today.
The home must be strengthened. What Christianity is to accomplish it can do best through the family. What the family must do, it cannot do without Christ and the church. It is only when the family fulfills its highest function and is truly Christian that it will rise above difficulties and overcome the present threats to the home. The church is therefore being called upon to help the family.
What Is a Christian Family?
The Christian family is one in which members are committed to Jesus Christ and seek to let Him live through them in every relationship. Daily living in an atmosphere of Christian love and Christlikeness is what makes the family truly Christian.
The Christian family finds growth in Christian character through accepting the responsibility for worship and instruction for the development of the spiritual life of each member. It grows through daily Bible reading, prayer, conversation on spiritual matters, and the singing of hymns in the home (Deuteronomy 6:6-9; Colossians 3:16, 17; 1 Corinthians 10:31) . It grows through the sharing in discussion of family attitudes, practices, and problems. It grows through a sincere effort to overcome selfishness, tempers, jealousy, criticism, nagging, complaining, lust, and quarreling. It grows through thanksgiving and gratitude to God and through daily seeking of strength and God's will. In joys, sorrows, and bereavement, the family looks to God in faith, love, and hope. The Christian family is, therefore, the family living and sharing under God.
1. The Sanctity of Marriage. Marriage is divinely instituted by God and sanctified by Jesus Christ. In Christian marriage one man and one woman publicly and before God make their vows to live together in mutual love till death separates them. Divorce, therefore, is contrary to the will of God. "Whom God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Matthew 19:6, 8; Mark 10:8, 9). Nevertheless, the church stands ready to minister to such persons whose marriages fail as it does to people who fail in other areas.
Man was created for a much higher level of existence than animals, inasmuch as he was created for communion with God. According to the Bible, sex life implies obligations and demands discipline and restraint. When it is misused, it necessitates the admission of guilt and the asking of forgiveness. The creation story indicates how completely husband and wife belong to each other and how necessary is an openness and mutual trust in the free sharing of life's experiences with one another for the fellowship God intended for them (Genesis 2:21-25). This fellowship is symbolized and nourished by the sexual union. Inherent in this wonderful relationship is a sacredness and a sanctity that need to be held in fear and trembling. This is part of God's wonderful creation, but He is glorified in this only in marriage.
Because man is a sinner, problems will arise also within the marriage relationship. The church stands ready to help couples facing marriage difficulties in sympathetic understanding, meaningful counsel, and brotherly sharing.
2. Preparation for Marriage. Because successful marriage does not happen without effort, and because it is important that two individuals make adequate adjustments for a lifelong union-to become "one flesh"-and because of the divine intent and sanctity of marriage, there must be adequate preparation for it. The best preparation comes from the example of parents who have a wholesome attitude toward each other. The church and the home, however, need to deal frankly with all the problems that are involved here and to give instruction to persons of all ages on establishing a Christian home and on the meaning of love and marriage. In order to do this, children should be taught reverently before adolescence the facts concerning the origin of life. Courses of instruction for young people on courtship and marriage should be provided through the church fellowship. Adequate marriage counseling for engaged couples should be given by ministers. Young married couples are also encouraged to have group discussion on home building and child training.
3. Mixed Marriages. Religious convictions should be a strong tie in marriage. Young people need to take this into careful consideration even in courtship and especially before considering engagement to anyone of a different religious background--for example, Catholic, Jewish, or non-Christian. They are urged to discuss this problem with their minister before it is too late. The church has a responsibility of discussing with all young people the likelihood of failure of such mixed marriages.
4. Christian Parenthood. Marriage is participation in God's continued creation through the procreation of children. At the beginning of human history God commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and to fill the earth. We believe that every life that comes into the world must be considered as a wonderful gift of God and should be accepted and loved and cared for to the fullest by the parents. Christian parenthood is a blessed opportunity and a solemn responsibility.
It is normal to have children in marriage, but parents are not obligated to have as many children as would be possible. Parenthood should always be responsibly undertaken. Circumstances such as physical or mental health or finances may cause parents to postpone or limit the procreation of children. Family planning may be practiced in good Christian conscience for this may well fulfill rather than violate the will of God. Having children should, however, always be accepted with joy and anticipation. It is a venture of faith and confidence in the goodness and mercy of God and should rise above matters of cost and convenience. We do not regard as evil the methods of family planning approved by the medical profession. Abortion or any method that destroys human life is a sin and cannot be condoned as a method of family limitation.
Love as described in First Corinthians 13 must be the underlying principle in the home and in all its relationships. All discipline and parental authority should be exercised in love and for the purpose of building Christian character.
Parents are the first teachers and from their example come the greatest learning experiences for children and teenagers. As our youth face the complex problems and temptations and opportunities of our day, there is a greater need for parents to guide children and to help them evaluate and make Christian choices (1 Thessalonians 5: 21, 22) . Parents must have a faith that is real. They need to interpret their faith in language and living that their children can understand. A spirit of family togetherness in worship, work, recreation, and hobbies is encouraged.
The Church and the Family
The church and the family need each other. Parents and church leaders are encouraged to meet for better Christian education and for more home preparation in the work of the church. Parents should read with children the lesson material provided by the Sunday school. Local churches should attempt to provide study classes and discussion groups for meeting the many family problems of our day.
Because of the changing role of the family and the critical conditions of the times, and because of the utmost importance of the family in God's creation for both the church and society, we call upon every member congregation to do all in its power to strengthen our homes. We call upon all our homes to be worthy of the name Christian.
Context of the Statement
The statement was presented by the Board of Education and Publication of the General Conference Mennonite Church. The actual text was developed by the Board's Committee on Education in Church, Home and Community. The six-member committee included one Canadian, Henry Poettcker, of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
The statement passed with little discussion; the only comment questioned inclusion of the sentence on abortion (last sentence in Christian parenthood section) because of the complicated issues in specific cases. The statement was circulated along with study questions and a bibliography to local congregations for discussion.
Minutes 1962, General Conference Mennonite Church. Newton, Kan. : The Conference, 1962: 8, 10, 27-29.
"The Christian family." The Mennonite 77 (May 29, 1962): 355-359.
"Conference at Bethlehem." The Mennonite 77 (August 28, 1962): 551.