Manifesto of Liberty and Responsibility in Christian Families
by Virginia Knowles
Each person, male or female, young or old, is uniquely created by God and as such, possesses inherent personal dignity. With this God-given dignity comes both liberty of conscience and responsibility in interacting with others. As Christians, we are called to live in grace and understanding with each other, not controlling others with manipulation or legalism.
There is only one mediator between God and man: Jesus Christ, who laid his life down in humble sacrifice. Though we are to encourage and teach one another according to Scripture, none of us serves as the intermediary between God and anyone else. Each of us is responsible directly before God.
As Christian parents, we are called to train our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Our goal should be to continually equip and empower them so that they are not dependent upon us but upon God. This includes modeling for them how to rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance in life decisions. As our children reach their teen and young adult years, our role gradually transitions into coaching and encouraging rather than directing or commanding. Adults are called to respect and honor their parents, but not to obey them.
Men and women are equal in dignity and worth in the sight of God, even though there are different emphases in their roles and responsibilities at various seasons in their lives. Husbands and wives, along with the rest of the body of Christ, are called to mutual submission and respect out of reverence for God. A wife, though specially called to follow her husband’s leadership of the family, still has complete liberty of conscience and responsibility before God for her own thoughts, speech, and behavior. She is not in any way required to go against that, even at her husband’s insistence. A husband’s leadership should be that of a servant, not a tyrant. He is called to live with his wife in an understanding way as a co-heir in Christ, carefully considering her concerns and counsel, rather than lording it over her.
A young woman should be given the opportunities to obtain marketable job skills and college education so that she can support herself during her years of singleness or assist her husband in providing income for the family as may be necessary. A young man, likewise, should become proficient enough in household tasks so that he can run his own home during his years of singleness, and assist his wife in this as may be necessary. Parents launch both their sons and daughters toward adulthood by encouraging a responsive personal relationship with God, teaching practical life skills, releasing them to learn from other mentors and teachers, and equipping them to make their own reasonable choices.
Marriage is to be entered into by two spiritually and emotionally responsible adults, and is to be based on mutual respect, affection, and attraction. During the years before marriage, it is wise for young people to seek the guidance and support of their parents and other trustworthy counselors. However, the final decisions must be made by the people who are planning to get married. If they haven’t established enough healthy independence to do that, then they aren’t sufficiently prepared to be married at all. After a couple marries, there needs to be an appropriate “leaving and cleaving” from their parents so that the new family can be established. While new couples are wise to ask for advice, their parents should not pressure married children to conform to their own expectations.
Each parent is responsible before God for the decisions they make on behalf of their own children. We are called to study the whole counsel of Scripture, devote ourselves to prayer, and listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit for our families. Each family is different, so we must grant one another the liberty to make decisions as seems best, within the reasonable limits of law.
The choice to educate children at home, in a private school, in a public school, or in any combination of these, is one for the parents to make with the guidance of God, based on their evaluation on what would be appropriate for each one. Likewise, in a church, the decision to have their children participate in an available nursery, Sunday School, or youth group belongs to the parents. Children’s ministry can be an honorable and edifying pursuit in the life of a church, not necessarily an abdication of parental responsibility. Family-integrated church can also be a tool for unity and discipleship, but is not a Biblical mandate.
Each child is a precious gift from God. As parents, we do not own our children, but we are stewards on their behalf. We are called to cherish and lovingly train them, not to abuse them emotionally, physically or spiritually. Their perception of God as a Heavenly Father is largely shaped by their relationship with us as their earthly parents. We can not reflect God’s character if we are harsh, demanding, tyrannical, manipulative, selfish, self-righteous, inconsistent, dismissive, or overly concerned with personal reputation. We must learn to model parenthood that is gentle, respectable, respectful, patient, humble, sacrificial, firm, equipping, encouraging, and faithful.
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:14-21