[Editor's Note: The following excerpt is part two in a series taken from chapter 13 of the recently released god, marriage, and family: rebuilding the biblical foundation, second edition by Andreas Köstenberger with David W. Jones, © 2010 Crossway Books]


Read part 1 here, part 3 here.



In light of the survey of the biblical teaching on marriage and family in this book and of the brief survey of the nature of the church above, we return to the all-important question: What are the respective roles of the church and of the family, and how do the two relate to each other? We turn first to the church. The church is said in the New Testament to have a variety of roles.10 First, it is called "a pillar and buttress of the truth" (1 Timothy 1:15). In a godless culture, it stands as a witness to God's revelation of truth and to God's redemption in Christ. Unlike the church, which is composed only of the regenerate, marriage, while divinely instituted in the beginning, is entered by regenerate and unregenerate alike. For this reason marriage and family as such cannot serve as sufficient vehicles of God's truth. It is the church, not the family, that is therefore primarily charged with preaching the gospel to a lost world and to fulfill the Great Commission.

Second, the church is called to worship God and to evangelize and to disciple the nations (Matthew 28:16). The eleven received this commission as representatives of the church, having (temporarily) left their natural family ties, which signified that following Jesus took absolute priority even over kinship relations. They received the Great Commission first and foremost as representatives of the nascent church, not as heads of families. Likewise, in Acts, Paul and Peter, Barnabas and Silas, and the other protagonists of the early church's mission are shown to engage in gospel preaching in their function as ministers of the gospel apart from their familial roles. In fact, several of them, including Paul and Timothy, were in all probability unmarried. Even in cases where those engaging in evangelistic preaching were married, marriage and family commitments were in some ways viewed not as the preferred vehicle or context but as a burden or necessary encumbrance in this life (see esp. 1 Corinthians 7:32), and the roles of preacher/church planter and father/head of household were distinct. When Paul targeted entire households in Acts (the familiar examples include Cornelius, Lydia, the Philippian jailer, and Crispus; see Acts 10:24; Acts 16:15, Acts 16:31; Acts 18:8), therefore, it was in all likelihood not because he held to a "family of families" ecclesiology but because he addressed himself primarily to the heads of household in his cultural surroundings in view of their influence on the other members of their household.11 This continues to be a very viable strategy today in many contexts, though it should be viewed primarily in terms of evangelistic method rather than as theologically normative or as the only biblical way to organize or evangelize. In terms of discipleship, too, it is the role of the church to disciple the nations (Matthew 28:19). Believing parents have an important role to play, but this does not alter the fact that it is the church that was given the charge to disciple individuals and to teach them to obey all that the Lord Jesus Christ commanded them to do (Matthew 28:20).