A Call to Preserve Biblical Family Values
by Pastor Alson Ebanks
My task this evening is to underscore the theological basis for family values. To this end, I will limit myself to two objectives. First, I must of necessity call the Christian community back to an all-out commitment to follow the Bible as the authoritative source of those values that contribute to the emotional, physical, spiritual and social well-being of individuals and nations.
Secondly, I hope to give you the basic theological framework that supports biblical family values. If I succeed in this, then you will take away three fundamental truths: One, that God’s initial creation of human beings as male and female is foundational to a proper view of what constitutes marriage and family.
Two, the truth that what we call “the Fall” is at the root of every type of dysfunction we encounter individually and socially—including sexual identity issues and moral failures of all sorts.
Three, that God has graciously provided by His Word and His Son both principles for living up to his standards and the power to live up to them.
The purpose of this rally, and the events that will flow out from this place and this event, is that of strengthening or rebuilding the foundations of our Caymanian society. The Psalmist David asks this question in Psalm 11, verse three, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”1 That is a most appropriate question, and it speaks to why we must consider this subject of preserving values for a better tomorrow. Because values are the foundations for individual, family and national conduct. And healthy values are the foundations for healthy individuals, families and nations.
Values determine what laws our legislators make, how our courts interpret those laws, and how you and I determine what is right or wrong for us ethically and morally. Values determine our choices and actions, and all actions have consequences for individuals and societies—either beneficial or detrimental.
In a nutshell, we (the leaders and the people) determine how strong the overall structure of a nation is by how strong the foundation is—and values form that foundation. So, what can the righteous do when the foundations of Caymanian society are being jack-hammered away? For one thing, we can’t do nothing. We must act to strengthen these foundations.
To strengthen these foundations, it will take us all working together. So, this call to preserve and promote biblical family values is really to people traveling in two parallel lanes, so to speak. In the first lane the travelers are Christians, and the call is for us to live authentic, God-honouring lives, so that by example we are able to transform our culture to one in which the majority follows biblical family values.
For let’s be honest: we have a problem; we must confess here and now that many church members and attenders are in reality “lukewarm” in their commitment to biblical family values. I say that because when we consider that as a country we have such a high number of churches for the size of our population, and then we look at the signs of moral decline, we can only conclude that the church is failing as an agent of preservation and illumination—salt and light.
Consider, as examples, the growing problem of children born outside of marriage, the high rate of divorce, the many (including professing Christians) who engage in pre-marital sex as if it were the norm; the many who are in bondage to pornography, and then there is the insidious problem of child abuse. All of these examples are symptoms of the need for a revival of biblical family values across the length and breath of Caymanian society. If the future is now, then the future—our children—are in mortal danger.
But we also extend this call to preserve and promote biblical family values to those in the second lane, so to speak: those who do not attend church; nor do they consider themselves to be Christians. Yet, as people with a working moral compass, they have seen how practical and useful it is for families and societies as a whole to use biblical guidelines for morality and family values.
So let us not be too narrow in our analysis of the problems facing us. The very public agenda to re-define marriage, family and sexual morality is but one of the dangers facing the Caymanian family. Another very real danger is that our children are targets for the sex trade, pedophilia and child abuse. We must stand as one people and speak with one voice against all these attacks on the family. And we must do it now—because when it comes to our children, the future is now!
Businesses and non-governmental organisations talk about applying best practices to their operations. The Christian traditions that were regarded by our parents and grand-parents as the last and best word on what is right and wrong in how people treat each other, what a normal family should look like, and how we approach human sexuality were rooted and grounded in the understanding that the Bible is the Word of God, and whatever else they may have understood that to mean, one thing was for certain, and that was that it was right.
It was right in the sense that if one actually applied its principles and standards as a basis for living, the end result—the consequence—was healthy. Both for the individual and for the society as a whole. It provided guidance for best practices.
I will call that approach Christian pragmatism—pragmatism being a philosophy or outlook that evaluates beliefs of theories on the basis of the success of their practical application. So, consider with me the value of Christian pragmatism when applied to the biblical model of marriage and family. Consider this question: What social ills can you list that are the direct results of people following the biblical model of a man and woman in a faithful, loving, life-long married relationship, having children and raising them in a stable family unit—which is the picture that the Bible gives us for marriage and family? List them…if you can….
Let me take this question one step further. Can you think of any medical or social ills that are the direct results of people following biblical morality as applied to sex? What medical or social ills do you know that are the direct results of avoiding pre-marital sex, extra-marital sex, same-gender sex, incest, rape, pedophilia or bestiality?—all of which are prohibited or condemned in the Bible! I think you and I have reached the same conclusion. The answer is zero.
But if we flipped this picture around and looked at it from the reverse side, the
answer would be overwhelmingly different—for clearly the evidence available to all of us—just by casual observation—is that violating the biblical standards for marriage, family and sexual morality has contributed to a whole slew of social and medical ills.2 A safe conclusion? Following biblical family values results in physical, emotional, and social wellness.
These were the standards that guided our fore-parents here in Cayman. Now, don’t get me wrong. Not everyone did exactly what the Bible commanded; not everyone lived by biblical guidelines. There were some divorces. And there was adultery and fornication and incest; that is true. But none of these were thought to be normal or good for families or the society. In other words, the moral consensus of our fore-parents was based on biblical values, even if they lived up to these values imperfectly.
Going back even beyond our fore-parents, to the Bible itself, when we say that the basis for biblical family values is the Bible, we do not mean that these values are drawn from the way in which biblical characters lived up to these standards, for certainly none, with the exception of Jesus, did.
What we mean instead is that those values are clearly determined from all the evidence of Scripture—the commandments as well as the rebukes, corrections, instructions and commendations in both the Old and New Testaments. In this sense, then, the Bible is the basis for biblical family values.
As Christians, we agree with the self-assertion of the Bible is that it is the “word of God.” Therefore it makes its claims in the realm of absolutes. When it states standards and principles for conduct, they are stated as universal standards and principles—meaning that they apply to all persons in all cultures for all time.
But there are forces at work in our fast-changing society that oppose and undermine Bible-based family values. This means that it is inevitable that there will be cultural and ideological conflicts involving those who hold to the absolute standards of the Bible, and those who hold to a more relativistic and situational approach to the areas of interpersonal relationships, including sexual conduct and marriage.
So the necessity exists for us to again affirm the position that biblical values are the best values for creating a healthy society. And, in so doing, the first and most important affirmation is that the God who is revealed to us in the Bible exists. And He exists in nature and character just as described in the Bible. He is infinite, yet personal; just, yet loving. He is eternal; yet he lived subject to time in the person of Jesus Christ.
The second foundational affirmation is that the God of the Bible has acted to rescue us from the consequences of Sin. He has acted by providing through His Word principles for living up to his standards and through His Son the power to live up to them.
These two crucial points affirm that God exists, that He has acted to reveal himself to us through His Word, and to redeem us to himself through His Son.
These are the overarching principles on which we base biblical family values. But to be more specific, we need to answer the question, “Where does one start in developing a theological defence of biblical values pertaining to the family?” The answer is: We start at the very beginning—the book of Genesis—a very good place to start (to quote from The Sound of Music).
The Bible begins with these words, “In the beginning God.” These first four words in the book of Genesis are key to understanding God’s design for human families, and for understanding values that promote healthy families. It is significant that both Jesus and the apostles point us back to “in the beginning” as the basis for our understanding of human sexuality, the intimate relationship of marriage, and what a human family should look like in its un-spoilt and un-fractured state (Matt. 19:1-12, Mark 10:1-9, Eph. 5:21-33).
Here, “in the beginning,” we see marriage as God designed it—a permanent, life-long, mutually satisfying relationship between one man and one woman, and we also see one central feature of what it means to be a family. It is found in this statement of Genesis 1:28, “Be fruitful and multiply.”3
In other words, marriage and family are not primarily vehicles for sexual gratification, although sexual intimacy does bring pleasure. Marriage and family are God’s design for the procreation and nurture of people made in the image of God—children. A God-designed marriage is therefore the only natural basis for a God-designed family.4 Children are not afterthoughts with God, and they cannot be disposable pawns or utilitarian objects with us. If we wish to have a healthy society, then children—unborn and born—must be central to our value system.
Here, “in the beginning,” is where we also look if we wish to understand how men should treat their wives, how women should treat their husbands, how parents should treat their children, and how children should treat their parents and each other— these are all embedded in the creation narrative of Genesis—the foundation for healthy families, and therefore healthy societies.
However, there is a third critical truth that we must bear in mind when we deal with the issue of morality and family values, and that is the biblical explanation of why things have gone so wrong both in the human person and our societies. This again leads us back to the beginning.
When we follow the narrative of Genesis, in chapters one and two there are two references to the creation of human beings, who are then in a state of innocence, or moral purity. But something catastrophic happens in Chapter three; to be precise, in verse 6 of that chapter.
Here we have the record of their disobedience to God, and what is called “the Fall.” At this point sin, with all of its far-reaching consequences, begins to define both human nature and the natural order as a whole. As Romans 8:20-21 states: For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.5
What does this all mean for us? It means that if we wish to know God’s intent for this world and for human society, we look at the original design, before the fall—before all creation found itself “in bondage to corruption”.
So referring to “in the beginning,” focusing on ‘the Fall,’ explains to us how human beings are morally wrong from birth, and explains the cause of divorce, adultery, fornication, incest, prostitution, alternative sexual practices and abortion, as well as how it is possible for this thing called “bondage to corruption” to produce people who are unsure of their sexual identity, or whose default preference for intimate companionship is someone of the same sex. In other words, the Fall negatively impacts us all both in terms of nature and nurture.
So, when someone says, “God made me this way,” as a defence for why they pursue a lifestyle that runs counter to biblical values, we can with confidence say that God is not to blame; sin is, and we are. But this also means that we cannot point people to the lower animals as a guide to sexual conduct, as some do, since all of creation has been corrupted by the Fall. And neither can we be so adamant in declaring whether persons are born with certain sexual inclinations or not, since the corrupting influence of sin affects the entire human being—physically, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually. (But see recent studies on sexuality and gender that refute claims of being born that way.6)
To reiterate, God’s plan and intent are clear about marriage and family. But sin and “the Fall” threw a wrench into the machinery of God’s perfect plan for families. Jesus makes these very points in Matthew 19, 3-8: 3And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” 4He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” 7
First, notice that Jesus makes reference to God’s intent and design as the primary explanation for what marriage is to be like. In verse 4 Jesus makes it clear that God created humans as two complementary sexual beings: male and female, and that male and female come together and become man and wife. He also explains why this original design has been corrupted. The phrase “your hardness of heart” was not just a reference to the condition of the Pharisees, but the word “your” is applied to all of fallen humanity—in contrast to the speaker, Jesus himself. We are all in that category of having hardness of heart, which is why God has given multiple commandments to us for moral guidance; and most importantly, why He sent Jesus to rescue us from the penalty and power of sin.
Thus, the design for marriage is found “in the beginning.” And inherent in that design are all the values that provide for healthy and vibrant societies. But with the advent of the Fall—sin entering as a principle of corruption into the world—God comes to us and reveals to us how we can honour that original design. He tells us in His word, the Bible, how to live and conduct our lives so that both individually and socially we may prosper and have relational, emotional, physical and
spiritual health. Such values as purity, faithfulness, responsibility, respect, and love are all found in the Bible. And they work. They are practical. As the Apostle Paul states in Romans 12: 2, the will of God is “good and acceptable and perfect.” 8
There is one other biblical value that we must highlight, and this we also find “in the beginning.” It is the value of compassion. This is not an afterthought, but actually central to what we mean by biblical family values. As the Genesis story tells us, after Adam and Eve sinned, they went and hid themselves from God, and tried to hide their nakedness by making for themselves coverings of fig leaves. God comes to them, but despite his huge disappointment with them, he shows compassion. He makes for them clothing of the skins of animals. 9 To do that means that he had to take the life of animals—to shed the first blood after the Fall—in order to provide covering for mankind.
This, as you have probably grasped, was a prequel to what would happen on Calvary, where Jesus would shed his blood in order for our sins to be forgiven. God demonstrated compassion for fallen, weak humans. Please understand this: compassion is not just an outward display of pity. Literally it means to feel the pain of another. Therefore it is a deep identification within with someone else’s pain that moves us into action to relieve that pain.
The compassion of God did not ignore sin (mankind’s rebellion against God), nor did it tolerate sin; but neither did it dismiss or trivialise the pain and inner struggle of the sinner. Instead it demonstrated a deep understanding of the feelings of helplessness that characterise our fallen human state, and it made provision for deliverance from sin—from its power, penalty and presence!
The cross, and the awful suffering of Christ on Calvary, is not only a demonstration of God’s immeasurable compassion for us, but it is a measure of how far-reaching and debilitating the power of sin is over humanity. There is no cheap or easy fix for sin. Only forgiveness and renewal through Jesus will fix the sin problem.
To model biblical family values, then, means that we must show loving compassion to those who struggle in every area of their lives, including persons who are conflicted about their sexual identity and those who struggle to control their sexual desires and fail to live up to God’s moral standards.
(And, by the way, sexual identity and sexual conduct are two separate issues; let’s not confuse them.) Compassion does not condemn, but attempts to help people find a way to deal with the shame and hurt of moral failure.
Compassion provides practical solutions to single parent families, abused spouses, neglected children, victims of sexual abuse and those in bondage to sexual sins. Compassion neither tolerates sin, nor overlooks the real needs that are at the root of every kind of moral failure. Rather, as the Scripture tells us, “Love covers a multitude of sins,” 10 just as God covered the nakedness of our first parents. So love finds a way to bring hope out of shame and failure.
And that love had its supreme demonstration when Jesus went to the cross on our behalf: the sinless one dying for sinners, the innocent one dying for the guilty. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” This verse, found in 2 Corinthians 5:21, follows verse 17, which tells us that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.” 11 This promise of newness says to us that God’s solution to the corrupting influences of sin fully addresses any and every issue created by the Fall—that change is possible through Christ!
Perhaps no Scripture says it better than 1 Corinthians 6:9-11: 9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 12
This passage of Scripture is clear and hard-hitting, isn’t it? But these words, “Such were some of you” is a declaration of hope! In Christ—in the power of the Gospel—there is hope for inner healing and transformation. There is hope for those who are conflicted in their sexual identity. There is hope for those who have violated God’s moral standards. There is hope for those in a difficult marriage. And there is hope for those who choose to live celibate as singles.
We church people must not only affirm this hope verbally, but we must do it in practice. Our examples of living authentic Christian lives—despite personal challenges and issues that we were born with, or came from how our families of origin impacted us—these examples will give hope to those outside of Christ that change is possible, that God’s grace is sufficient, and that it is manifestly practical to follow God’s will for family life as outlined for us in the Bible.
This message of hope is what I want us all to leave here with this evening: hope for personal change, and hope for a better future for our children and grand-children. Hope based on the fact that the God we serve is still in charge of this universe! Hope grounded in the fact that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Hope pulsating from the fact that Jesus is still building his church, and the gates of Hell will never prevail against it. And, finally, hope overflowing from the fact that God loves sinners—so much so that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him, will not perish, but have eternal life.
presented and published September 11, 2016
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9. Genesis 3.21
10. 1 Peter 4.8
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