I recently read a book sent to me by a pastor who serves on the staff of Wheaton Bible Church, which is very near my home. The book, written by Dr. Rob Rienow, is titled Visionary Parenting: Capture a God-sized Vision for Your Family (Nashville: Randall House, 2009). It is a sober and extremely helpful call to parents to make their priorities line up with God’s Word. One of the simplest and most revealing discoveries I made in reading the early pages of Reinow’s fine book is in the words God gave to his covenant people regarding his desire for their allegiance and love.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep the words I am commanding you today in your heart (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).
Everyone who is familiar with this context knows that when Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment of all he quoted from this part of the law and said the greatest commandment was to love God and the second, which is like it, is to love your neighbor as yourself. But what I had forgotten (we do forget or miss the obvious if we are honest) was the very next verses in Deuteronomy 6. Here is what verse 6-9 say:
Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Reinow rightly says that we are clearly told to teach these commandments to our children in everything we say and do in our families and at all times. His entire book is a simple and helpful handbook on how he has personally sought to put this into practice. It is a practical read and every parent and grandparent could benefit from his insights. He wonders if most of what we do in youth ministry (as an example), and in the institutional church in general, works against this command. So do I. I am quite sure that much of what we do needs to be focused on this very idea we find in Moses. The church does not exist to remove the duty of Christian parents but to help them carry out their responsibilities to the covenant.
At the same time I wonder what part the local church has in actually helping this happen in a positive way. Given my desire for the unity of the church I cannot help but believe that the enemy of Christian unity not only divides families but churches and that these two are intimately related to each other. This is likely why Paul talks about the (so-called nuclear) family in only two places (Ephesians 5:21-6:4 and Colossians 3:18-21) in the New Testament. Jesus generally talks about the family as a hindrance to coming into his kingdom. This might amaze some readers who have taken a different track and turned the family in a way that is opposed to the church and thus made it idolatrous. (I saw this more clearly in India where following Christ often divides families!) Only when the church and the home are truly one (i.e. joined in common purpose and intent) will we overcome this dangerous dichotomy that is actually encouraged by most American churches.