Science in Christian Perspective
The Biblically-Oriented Family: A Reassessment
C. ARCHIE JOHNSTON
The California Behavioral Science Institute
Long Beach, California
KIRK E. LOWERY
First Baptist Church
Long Beach, California
N. JEAN LOWERY
Long Beach, California
From: JASA 32 (March1980): 28-33.
What Are the Biblical Roles in the Family?
The sociologist Zetterberg (1965) wanted to pursue sociological theory as systematically organized, law-like propositions about society and social life. Nye and Berardo (1966) in their work on family analysis state they were unable to find or formulate a family theory, which had law-like propositions. They view the individual as maturing through his important social contacts with others, the family having the earliest and greatest influence on the personality (cf. Lcary, 1957; Laing, 1972; and Mead and Heyman, 1965). Thus the family is not seen as a static institution, but one that is malleable, for these writers view the individuals, institutions and society itself as flexible because they are capable of growing to include new stimuli. The family does not exist as a group because of its comradeship, but its solidarity is based upon the degree of interdependence of the roles played by family members.
A quite different viewpoint is expressed by many Christian writers. Bonhoeffer (1967) believed that marriage is a divinely-ordered institution of dignity and power. A couple's love is a private possession, but the condition of their marriage is a concern of the public and society. A similar view of marriage was espoused nearly a century ago byThiersch (Christenson, 1970), who advocated the claim of the wife for the fidelity of her husband. He is perhaps the earliest proponent of equality in a marriage based upon the biblical concept of the fellow-heirship of the husband and wife.
Christenson (1970) is concerned that the roles of which Nye and Berardo (1966) speak have been seriously weakened. His basic principle is: "cultivate the family's relationship with Christ." There are two steps to be taken to fulfill this principle. First is the establishment of the order of the home as Cod originally required it to be administrated. Christ is to be the head of the husband in authority and reponsibility. The husband is to function in the same role using Christ as an example in the proper use of authority and responsibility, lie is also accountable to Christ for the proper functioning of his family. The wife has authority and responsibility over the children primarily (in partnership with the husband) and is accountable to the husband in the way she orders and cares for the household. The children are to be obedient to their parents. The second step in Christenson's principle is to practice the presence of Jesus." It is:
... the adventure of sensitizing ourselves to the invisible presence of Jesus in the home-developing our capacity for spiritual perception -learunig the practical 'says in which we may intensify our awareness of His way and His will for our family.
He insists that any deviation in the family from the Divine Order will cause conflict and disharmony and an eventual breakdown of the family structure. The only cure will he a return of that family to the Divine Order.
Hocking (1969) and Seifert (1972, 1973) have specified in detail how they understand the Scriptures to define the roles of the husband and the wife. The husband is to love his wife, meaning he is to provide for her every need and to sacrifice his own personal wants, comforts and needs, if necessary. lie is to love his wife "as Christ loved the Church" (Ephesians 5:25). Similarly, loving his wife implies that he become a provider, protector, teacher, ruler (i.e., an administrator), a leader (one who breaks new ground), and a priest (one who is concerned with the spiritual welfare of the family).
These pastors believe that, according to Ephesians 5, the role of the wife is to be encouraging, loving, submissive, stable and attractive. The emphasis is upon the submissiveness of the wife, for Scripture speaks of the wife submitting to her husband "in everything."
Roberts (1975) agrees with Hocking (1969) and Christenson (1970) that there are definite priorities to he used by every individual Christian, and, more importantly, every husband of a Christian home to make decisions and conduct the affairs of the family, which follow a certain descending order: (1) his relationship to Cod and Jesus Christ, (2) his relationship to his family, (3) his relationship to other believers of the Body of Christ (I Corinthians 12), (4) his responsibility to non-believers, and (5) the husband's responsibility to his vocation or profession.
Roberts (1975) and Toffler (1970) object to the belief of Nyc and Berardo (1966) that the family is merely growing to include new stimuli. They assert that the world is undergoing rapid change which causes them to fear the disintegration of the family, and with it the extinction of society as we know it. In addition, Roberts (1975) believes that every available sign indicates that the home is disappearing as an effective educational and stabilizing force. If biblical principles are not taught to families in the matter of how to function in a home as Cod intended, then the end draws near for the entire system.
Timmons (1973) suggests four principles to which the believer must be committed in order to have a successful family life: (1) a commitment to the Lord, resolving to yield every area of one's life and marriage to the Designer of the family; (2) a commitment to completeness, viewing one's mate, especially his or her weaknesses, as Cod's provision to make him a more mature individual and reflect Christ's character; (3) a commitment to responsibility, where the husband and wife resolve to fulfill their responsibilities given to them by Cod in the Scriptures, putting one another before business, ministry, home or children; (4) a commitment to communication which involves being willing to bless one's mate and activity, loving them especially when the other has offended him or her.
This same writer also addresses the question of the wife's submission to the husband in great detail by comparing the example of Christ's submission to that of a successful wife. The common characteristics he finds are: (1) they both submit totally and give up all their rights (Ephesians 5:22-24; John 5:19; Luke 22:42); (2) they seek to glorify their "head," the one in supreme authority over them (1 Corinthians 11:7); (3) they both trust their "head" even when they do not understand the basis for their "head's" decisions (1 Peter 3:5; Luke 22:42; Matthew 11: 26); (4) they live to love and please their "head" (Titus 2:4; Proverbs 31:12; John 5:19-20); (5) they become totally identified with the role of their "head" (Matthew 19:5; John 17:21).
While Timmons (1973) does believe that the wife should submit to the husband in everything, he is one of the few to warn about the boundary of total submission. His principle is "total submission without personal sin." He feels the wife should question herself regarding the needs in her husband's life motivating the request. She should then suggest a way of meeting that basic need without resorting to violation of Scripture. She should trust God as Sarah did, for God may want to intervene and demonstrate his power (I Peter 3:5-6). He also insists that the "conscience" (Isaiah 44:20; II Timothy 3:5; II Peter 3:16) and doing what you "feel the Lord leading you to do" (Numbers 30:6-16) are unreliable guides for behavior. But in the final analysis when the husband asks his wife to disobey Scripture, she should decline to do so. Gothard (1969) espouses a view similar to Timmnons'.
Recently there has been a reaction in some evangelical circles to the "traditional" position regarding the biblical roles in the family. Scanzoni and Hardesty (1974) believe that the roles of "male domination," social positions decreed by birth, were rejected by Christ, and, indeed, was one of His goals in His teaching (Bube, 1976). They believe that He rejected the traditional roles of women, and never exhorted women to be good wives and mothers. They believe Christ to have been "gentle, meek, generally unassertive." Regarding the biblical roles, they feel that Christ is the ultimate example for both men and women and we are not to seek cultural definitions of male and female roles.
These two writers conclude that marriage is a partnership, that the New Testament writers were really for the abandonment of culturally defined roles in the home, but they did not insist that social change must he immediate. They feel that the wife is not bound by the Christ-Church analogy of Ephesians 5, and that to say that women should he submissive because otherwise the analogy would break down is the same as advocating the continuance of slavery, for it is a goad illustration of what it means to he a bond-slave of Jesus Christ. They firmly insist that the roles of the family commonly understood by Christians to he biblical promote the depersonalization and dehumanization of not only the wife, but all Christians.
In concluding this discussion, we find ourselves with the following questions: What are the biblical roles in the family? How are these roles to be culturally defined today? Does the common understanding of these roles conform to the biblical imperatives? Do the biblical family roles really function to accomplish their stated goals?
The present writers have addressed themselves to some aspects of these questions. It is their hope that from their research some direction for further resolution of this controversy may be given. Further, an attempt has been made to empirically observe the religious community in an objective manner. The authors believe such an attempt is long overdue. Clear thinking is needed if Christian concerns are to make constructive impact upon society.
It is the present researchers' desire to test the theories postulated by several writers (Hocking, 1969; Christenson, 1970; Zetterberg, 1965; Nyc and Berardo, 1966; and Roberts, 1975). There will be two hypotheses tested: (1) if a family knows and fulfills priorities according to the biblical order relating to the home and family, then there should be observable, measurable, and significant behavioral differences between the non-biblical and churchgoing families as compared with the biblically-oriented families; (2) if the first hypothesis is tested positively, then Zetterberg's (1965) and Nyc and Berardo's (1966) assertion regarding the study and lack of law-like propositions in the area of the family is, in part, nullified. In addition, the authors above (Hocking, Christenson, and Roberts) and the present researchers would have, in fact, discovered some law-like propositions relating to the family.
Family: This is the universally accepted nuclear human biological family consisting of legally married parents (male and female) and their one or more natural or adopted children.
Christian/Believer/Born-Again: All those who "accept" or receive Jesus Christ as their Savior and their Lord become children of Cud and receive eternal life; thus, a person "who lives together with Jesus Christ" (Christenson, 1970).
Biblically-Oriented Family (BOF): Members of this family follow the headship of the fatherhusband, adhering to the "chain of command" or "Divine Order" concepts, and are Christians who daily "live together with Jesus Christ." They are strongly and consistently biblically oriented and evangelical, attending church three (3) or more times a month.
Church-Going Family (CGF): This is a family who attends church three (3) or more times a month, yet does not indicate on the questionnaire that they follow the biblical principles of the family, such as the headship of the father-husband, the hierarchy of family administration as promulgated by Hocking (1969), Christenson (1970), Cothard (1969), et. al. However, it is important to see
that this group considers itself to he "born-again" believers in Christ, theologically speaking.
Non-Biblically-Oriented Family (NBOF): The term is applied to a family who attends church three (3) or fewer times annually, and by definition is not "Christian." Members of this family may question the existence of Cod and the authority of the Bible. While not ready to name themselves agnostic or atheistic, they are by culture and family tradition church-goers on high holy Days. This family, to the outside observer, has no distinguishing characteristics from the mainstream of the families of their culture, even though a profession of faith may have been made at one time or another. Therefore this sample group will include not only "unbelievers" who snake no profession of faith, but also those who are believers in the strict theological sense of the term hot have not followed through in any way on that commitment.
Divine Order/Chain of Command/Divine Priorities:
When a family follows the biblical pattern for its behavior, that family magnifies and exalts the excellencies of God. Roberts (1975) calls this biblical pattern "Divine Priorities," whereas Christenson (1970) terms this belief in the authority in relationships between various family members "Divine Order." Bill Gothard (1969) of the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts and Tim 'l'immnns (1973) of Christian Family Life call this the "Chain of Command."
Design of the Study
The Questionnaire, Administration and Scoring. A
questionnaire was created by the investigators and administered by them or a trained assistant to both the husbands and wives in each of the three population groups, or six subgroups of husbands and wives. The questionnaire contained eighty-eight items on a weighted Likert-type (1-5) scale. The total possible score to be obtained on this instrument ranged from eightyeight (lxSS), indicating that the items showed little or no relationship or did not apply to the individual husband or wife, to a score of 440 (5x88), indicating a strong relationship between the items and that individual. Therefore, the higher the score, the greater the conformity of behavior to the principles commonly taught by Hocking (1969), Timmons (1973), Cothard (1969) et. al.
The Demographic Data-Gathering Questionnaire. A second questionnaire containing forty-seven items was developed to gather demographic data (age, race, savings, times divorced) since it was believed that these data may he used to demonstrate family unity and stability, thereby offering further support for the hypotheses being tested.
The three population groups, or six subgroups, were composed of mainly white, legally. married males and females who had one or more natural or adopted children. The sample was gathered from many evangelical (Baptist, Brethren, Free Methodist, etc.) churches and secular college campuses, libraries, parks, social groups, and other gatherings within the greater Los Angeles and Orange County areas. The first two groups (NBOF,
CGF) were the control groups for this study because of the expectation set up by the first hypothesis. Thus, in the first of these two groups named (NBOF) there were sixteen couples (n32) who were legally married and have had one or more children. For the second group (CGF) there were twenty couples (n=40). For both groups (n72), there was a total of thirty-six husbands and thirty-six wives. The biblically-oriented group, which became the sample group, had thirty-one couples (n62) who were legally married with at least one child. The total subjects employed in this study were three populations of couples (u134) distributed throughout six subgroups of husbands and wives. The authors obtained random
samples drawn from their respective populations and
then matched these groups to create a matched-group design (Kolstoe, 1969), carefully controlling for age, ethnic background, religious preference, education, income and other variables as reported by the respondents.
Main Questionnaire Results
On the eighty-eight items the total scores for the husbands and wives of the NBOF were 4124 and 4394 respectively. For the CCF they were 5434 and 5861, and for the husbands and wives of the BOF, 9946 and 10,073, respectively. The means, total mean, and score ranges for 134 subjects were:
Sample Score Husbands' Wives'
Size Ranges Mean Mean
NBOF 32 198-359 258 275 CCF 40 236-369 272 293 BOF 62 279-380 321 325
Total Mean: 290 Total Sample: 134
'these data suggest that the differences between the means, for many of the groups, would be significant. Therefore, the F-ratio was employed, allowing one source of variance to reflect the variation within samples and a second source of variation between the different groups. The differences among the group means was found to he significant.
Significance of Results
What significance max' be drawn from these results? Development of a model which Icons itself to the observation and measurement of significant behavioral differences between the nonbiblically-oriented and churchgoing fausilies (NBOF' and CCF) as compared with the biblicallyoriented family (130F), and as postulated by the first hypothesis, was supported and demonstrated. llegarnling the second hypothesis, there was some indication that the BOF does in fact have law-like Isropositioos contained within the applied system; therefore, it is guardedly supported and demonstrated.
The differences between the different groups is believed to he attributed to the application (BOF) or nonapplication (CCF and NBOF) of biblical principles to their lives. Another important factor is their belief in and conversion to Jesus Christ ((C1" and BOF).
There was, however, one interesting difference found in comparing the means between the CGF husbands and CCF wives. This is perhaps not so strange when it is seen that the scores for the husbands in the group were 5434, and for the wives 5861, yielding a difference of 427. An explanation for this difference can he found in the apparent desire of the wives of the CGF group to apply those behaviors which are associated with biblically-oriented principles to their lives; that is, wives were
striving to practice biblically-oriented principles, while their husbands tended not to make this application. This
striving, no doubt, makes for some interesting behavior within the homes of the CCF group.
What meaning can be concluded from these data and their obtained results? Unequivocally, God created the family, and lie can make it work (i'imusons, 1973). The evidence presented tends to support this concept, for those who practiced the biblically-oriented principles (BOF) have scores higher than the other two groups (NBOF and CGF). however, other questions have been generated by this study. Flow is the biblically-oriented family working? I low are these principles being applied in relationslups, roles, and the family group process? What is the effect of the application of biblical principles, as they are now being employed, by family members on family members who are evangelical Christians? How do these principles stand the test of time,' Or, do they seemingly cause psychopathology?
Unexpected Demographic Observations For the
If the BOF is doing what pastors and Christian teachers claim, then the BOF should be generally free from systems disequdibrimo. Keeping in mind that the BOF group is composed of those who so designate themselves, consider the following:
(1) 47% of the sixty-eight BOF couples refused to answer the investigators questions because they involved sexual behavior and role behavior questions.
(2) 50% of the husbands' spouses worked (wives).
(3) 11% of the BOF children liviog at house had beeonse known to the juvenile authorities since their parents' conversion.
(4) 8 of the BOF sample had served time iii jail/prison since their conversion.
(5) 11% did not know if their children used alcohol or drugs.
(6) 45% of the BOF used alcohol since their conversion, but none admitted use of drugs or narcotics-not even for "medical" purposes.
(7) In rating their marriage, the worst description was "somewhat happy" by 13%. None were "very unhappy."
(8) 11% thought about suicide.
(9) 16% were under the care of a mental health professional. 84% failed to respond to this question.
(10) When asked what activities the BOF engaged in as a family, 2% (1 wife) said they did T.V. viewing. 98% missed the question.
(11) 50% believed in abortion in some cases.
(12) 3% responded to the child born from an unwanted pregnancy with less love or some form of rejection.
(13) 39% of the BOF believed God controlled the purse strings of the family.
The present investigators believe these are indices of some biblically-oriented families which are not working. Personal honesty seems to be a real factor in this denial of reality process as Stanley F. Lindquest of the LinkCare Foundation (1976) suggests.
Perhaps another reason for this discrepancy between theory and result can be found in the matter of cnrnrnunication. While much teaching occurs in the evangelical Christian community, the present study raises the question as to whether many biblically-oriented families translate this teaching into considered behavior, seeking a consistent application of those principles.
We suggest that the church and misapplications of the concepts of the BOF are harboring and causing psychopathology. Indeed, clinical interviews and general observations of the BOF by the authors raise questions as to whether, in some eases, biblical principles are used as excuses to violate those same principles. The principle of voluntary submission to authority ("wives, submit to your husbands") used in exclusion of the balancing love for those under authority ("husbands, love your wives") is specifically in mind here.
The authors are not suggesting the abandonment of the BOF concepts. If Cod did make the family, and these concepts, lie can make them work. But the writers are suggesting that we be honest enough to see how it is working and change what needs to he changed. Perhaps there is a need to really hear what Seanxoni and Hardesty (1975) are saying: .
Christians must honestly face the historical fact that the
church has erected many barriers-socially, legally, spiritoall> psychologically-against women's advancement. By propagating the notion that Cod ordained women to be passive and depenilent, lacking initiative and assertiveness, confined to kitchen and pew, the church has hampered growth and fostered low self-esteem in women. It has not challenged women to recognize their Codgiven gifts, encouraged them to folly use their talents, or helped them to gain a mature sense of personhood. In fact objective outside observers have concluded that "churches are one of the few important institutions that still elevate discrimination against women to the level of principle"
It is the conclusion of the writers that the application of biblical principles does make a difference. It is the conviction of the writers that careful analysis of how that application is accomplished must he made in order to avoid a dishonest and reality-denying family environtnent.
The Working Wife
One of the most hotly debated topics regarding the Christian home has been that of the working wife. Some Christian writers have made the assertion that the "wife's great realm of responsibility is her home .... There is no scriptural basis to justify a working wife."
What is the motivation of such a statement? We live in a society which is in social trauma due to the breakdown of family relationships. Anything which might indicate or help support that breakdown is vehemently avoided. If the wife is not at home, it is assumed that the relationships within the family, especially with the children, will break down.
There are a number of fallacies with this position. It assutnes that the breakdown of family relationships is due to a lack of "time" spent by the wife in the home. There is abundant evidence to even the observant layman that many homes break down where there is a wife at home. Obviously, the strength of family relationships is not a function only of quantity of contact between persons. Second, there is evidence for a working wife in Proverbs 31. Third, even if there were no evidence for the justification of a working wife, neither is there evidence against it.
A biblical family depends upon the quality of relationship, not the quantity of contact between persons. While contact is necessary, the type of interpersonal exchange is the operant factor. The crux of whether a working wife is a positive or negative factor in the family is a function of the motivation of the wife in working, Certainly the advocates of the "homemaker" wife are not opposed to the physical exertion of the woman required by the tasks in the home. But if the emotional focus of the wife is outside the home because of her feelings of unfulfilltttent and bitterness, then her role has broken down, even if she is not working. Admittedly, many women work outside the home because they desire to escape their problems and responsibilities, yet her employment is only the effect-not the cause-of the breakdown of relationships in the home. They were already in "systems disequilibrium." Conversely, if the emotional focus of the wife is toward the family and her fulfillment in that relationship, then whether she works or not makes little difference. Her physical exertion is pointed toward the family, no matter where she is.
It is admitted that if the wife works in a house where there are young children, then the time variable, even in the best of situations, becomes important. It is not an ideal situation. Yet even here the quality of relationship is central. If the children realize at an emotional level that their mother is leaving them to help support the family because of economic necessity, then it is our opinion that the children will not become emotionally disturbed, but will tend to be wellbalanced emotionally.
There will be problems and stress, but if the parents have good relationships with each other, then that stress will tend to draw the family together and not push them further apart. If the family does fall apart, then it is our contention that the cause lay not in the wife working, but in the poor quality of the relationships. The family would have broken down in any event.
The preceding is the result of general observations on the part of the researchers and the primary contention is that this position of some pastors and Christian writers against a working wife is too simplistic and superficial, since an adequate explanation could be given proving the opposite from the same evidence. Thus there is the necessity for research giving empirical data supporting one contention or the other.
The matter of Proverbs 31 is a sticky one. Various interpretations have been presented. It is felt that this passage of Scripture harmonizes with the position stated above. First, verses 11, 12, 20, 25, 27 and 28 indicate good relationships within the home. Obviously, the passage teaches that the wife is not to 'eat the bread of idleness" (31:27). There is evidence that the woman is to work hard. Further, verses 14, 16, 20 and 24 indicate that she operates in real estate, industry and trade outside the physical boundaries of the borne. Yet her emotional focus is towards the home (31:12,15,21,27).
One final issue is to be raised. Observations of the wives who do not work seem to fall into several categories: those who have little to do at home and withdraw into their own little world; those who have tnoeh to do in the home and either adapt arid find fulfillment or not; those who have little to tin in the home and find many coinmunity and church activities to occupy their time. The first category is pathological. The third category is functionally equivalent to the working mother.
The key to whether the working wife causes problems in the Christian home is rooted in her motivation for working. If material wealth is the highest ideal, will not the children at some level sense this and internalize a concept that money and a high standard of living is more valuable than themselves? And if the mother works out of economic necessity, will the children not receive the opposite impression?
The point to be made from the discussion above is not to justify any working wife. Such a position is not defensible biblically. But neither can one say without qualification that a working mother is not justified by the Scripture.
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