Christians must engage in the spiritual battle over God’s design for marriage and family

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God created the institution of marriage and, by extension, family as a reflection of His plan to rescue humanity from the clutches of sin and despair….No half-hearted, watered-down defense of God’s design for the family will do.

James Black

“Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man separate,” Christ proclaimed in Mark 10:9.

In this day and age, where the body of Christ is engaged in a constant state of spiritual warfare against the forces of secularism, there is perhaps no institution that Christians must fight to defend for the sake of the next generation than the family. The cultural establishment has shifted the Overton window so far to the left that many today no longer see the family as essential or even important, to the point where it is considered an “act of rebellion to get married, start a family, and raise children in the way of the Lord,” according to Scott Roberts, a Christian author and podcast creator residing in Canada.

Additionally, the lack of boldness and conviction missing from many church leaders hasn’t helped. A study from Barna showed that as many as half of the nation’s pastors are worried about speaking up about critically important issues to today’s culture, including those pertaining to God’s design for marriage and family.

Originally, Christianity itself changed the status of women in the context of marriage, as husbands were charged to denounce sexually immoral behavior and uplift women as being sacred in the eyes of God and honoring their worth and dignity by serving them just as Christ did for the Church. Today, however, through debunked works, such as Friedrich Engels’ “The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State,” many today have been deceived into believing that marriage is predicated upon the “open or concealed domestic slavery of the wife” and that the nuclear family and private property were creations of the ruling classes designed to “oppress women by passing on private wealth to men.” Engels also worked with Karl Marx on “The German Ideology,” wherein they both wrote, “The abolition of the family is self-evident.” 

Engels, Marx, and their adherents who adopted and put their ideas into practice, along with other forces, including the feminist movement and the introduction of social welfare programs that disincentivized two-parent families, have had a devastating impact on marriage rates. In 1946, just after the end of World War II,  there were 16.4 marriages per 1,000 people in the U.S.. In 2018, the number had fallen to 6.4 marriages per 1,000 people, a nearly 300 percent decline, and in 2019, it fell again to 6.1 per 1,000.

Sally Curtin, a statistician at the National Center for Health Statistics, said that today’s marriage rate is at its “lowest since the federal government began keeping data in 1867, (and) it is still dropping.” Additionally, several studies reveal that the average age when married couples have their first child has risen from 21 to 26 for women and 27 to 31 for men, showing that many Americans are not only delaying marriage, but also starting a family.

God created the institution of marriage and, by extension, family as a reflection of His plan to rescue humanity from the clutches of sin and despair. Ephesians 5:25 proclaims, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her,” reminding us all that God’s design for the family has servant leadership at its core.

C.S. Lewis expounds on this reality in The Four Loves, “The husband is the head of the wife just in so far as he is to her what Christ is to the church, and (to) give his life for her. This headship, then, is most fully embodied not in the husband we should all wish to be but in him whose marriage is most like a crucifixion; whose wife receives most and gives least.”

As part of the arc of redemption, children are also a sign of God’s favor and blessing. This is clearly stated in Psalm 127: 3-5: “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.” Thus, not only are children a blessing from God but an essential part of His plan to keep families strong.

As Pope John Paul II stated: “The family is the first setting of evangelization, the place where the good news of Christ is first received, and then, in simple yet profound ways, handed on from generation to generation.”

Unfortunately, modern feminists, secularists, and those adhering to regime theology have sought to twist or eliminate God’s design for marriage and family in the name of “convenience” and “self-empowerment.” Conservative activist Phyllis Schafly once observed that feminism is “all about power for the female left, (and) they are really in a fight with human nature. It is unfortunate that colleges guide women to a career path that has no space for men, marriage, and children. I think (people) should plot a life that will give them the joy of marriage and children.”

The growing unwillingness of church leaders to speak truth to a culture increasingly devoid of the Gospel has further fueled rampant misunderstandings regarding God’s design for the family. These feminist stereotypes are so woven into society, including the Church, that they are difficult to argue against or even recognize. The prevalence of these destructive ideologies is due in part to the modern-day reluctance of church leaders to defend the Gospel adequately. Is this what you meant: But church leaders must overcome this reticence by providing consistent application of a Biblical worldview across the spectrum of cultural issues, even when those issues are popular with the current generation or controversial.

Fortunately, Scripture once again is very clear, revealing that family and career are not mutually exclusive. 1 Timothy 5:8 teaches us, “If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is even worse than an unbeliever.” This Biblical directive implies that pursuing God’s vocational calling and leading by serving others in the context of marriage and family, a direct reflection of God’s redemptive plan for the world, do not exist separately from one another.

Those who believe it is necessary to delay marriage in order to pursue a career should be aware of the fact that a healthy marriage and a vibrant career can both exist at the same time. In contrast, there are benefits for not delaying marriage, as those who delay marriage may engage in cohabiting, where unmarried romantic partners live together in order to “test drive” the relationship before deciding to get married. For example, a recent study conducted by the U.S. National Survey of Family Growth (NFSG) found that women who married younger, between 22 and 30, without cohabitating with their spouse, had some of the lowest divorce rates. Additionally, the results of this study shows that those who marry younger avoid accumulating unhealthy relationship baggage that can adversely affect a marriage, as well as validating a part of God’s crucial intention for relationships, which is that couples remain physically pure before marriage.

Furthermore, by delaying marriage, people also delay its benefits. Martin Luther and his wife, a runaway nun named Katherine Von Bora, began to view marriage “as a school of character, whereby God uses the hardships of daily family life to sanctify us.” This process of sanctification was especially evident in the raising of children, as the Luthers encountered many opportunities to grow and develop patience, reflecting just how patient God is with His people when we have gone astray from where Christ intended us to be. Furthermore, Martin and Katie were able to point out one another’s flaws in ways that friends and acquaintances wouldn’t, helping them both mature and improve. Ultimately, marriage requires two people to depend on one another in ways that force an individual to think and live in an unselfish manner, as it did in the life of the Luthers, showing how God’s design for marriage is yet another way He molds us into His image.

Now, not everyone is necessarily called to marriage. This was certainly true with men like Pope John Paul II, who answered the call to a life of celibacy and singleness to serve God and ultimately helped end the scourge of communism in eastern Europe. But we also see it through the work of noteworthy women throughout history. These include Corrie Ten Boom, who sheltered refugees inside her home in the Netherlands during the Nazi occupation of World War II and served God by risking her life for the safety and well-being of others. Additionally, English missionary Mildred Cable worked for 20 years in China’s Shanxi Province, investing in the education of women and girls and working against practices like foot-binding and female infanticide. In the early 20th century, Florence Nightingale reformed the practice of nursing, designing hospitals, helping to fight famine with irrigation, and campaigning against laws that victimized women. All three of these women had unique shared life experiences: They never married, but whether they actively chose this status or circumstances merited it, they used their singleness only for God’s glory, not for themselves.

At the same time, the Apostle Paul’s charge to believers in 1 Corinthians 7 seems to imply that a life of singleness is not for everyone, and marriage is still a beautiful calling that God intends for many of His children to enjoy within the framework of His will for their lives.

“But God demonstrates His own love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” Romans 5:8 boldly proclaims. Just the same, by participating in God’s design for marriage and family, we are reflecting an element of His design for redemption by embodying servant leadership and loving one another, recognizing that we are unworthy, yet still we love because Christ first loved us. 

Outside of a unique directive from God to pursue a calling of singleness, there is no substitute for God’s design for marriage and family, and it is something to be celebrated as an act of grace from Christ.

The stakes couldn’t be higher both for today’s families and the next generation of believers, and Christians must take it upon them as their duty to boldly advocate and proclaim God’s design for marriage and family. Society today continues to deteriorate today because the idea of family has been reduced to merely an option people can select if it is convenient for them, rather than a necessity that is a crucial part of God’s plan for the redemption of humanity. The only way believers can overcome the counterfeit view of marriage and family advocated by secularists and feminists is by speaking courageously and without fear of cultural backlash, applying the Gospel to our understanding of marriage and family — rather than relying on our own insight, which will lead to us going astray from the truth as so many of us have already done.

No half-hearted, watered-down defense of God’s design for the family will do. Believers must be all in or not at all, because the spiritual health of the next generation couldn’t be more important.