"In April of 1942, Westminster Theological Seminary hosted “The Christian World Order Conference,” just a few short months after the United States had officially entered World War II. It was a time of great uncertainty in the world. The goal of the conference was to contrast a biblical view of the world with fascism, communism, and nationalism, which had taken root in Europe, Asia, and beyond. It was a conference dedicated to applying the riches of the Reformed theological tradition to public societal issues.
The conference’s success was evidence of a need for wider distribution of this content. The Presbyterian Guardian, a newspaper founded by J. Gresham Machen, and loosely affiliated with Westminster and the OPC, published nine articles in a series under the heading “The Christian in the 20th Century World” with the same goal as the conference. The content of these articles is striking and, in many ways, as relevant to the 21st Century world as it was for readers in the mid-20th century. Westminster Magazine will be republishing each article, in print and online, over the next year.
This, the second article in the series, was written by Robert Strong. Strong graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1934 with a bachelor of Theology and was founding member of the OPC. He was pastor at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Willow Grove, PA. He also served as Member-at-large of the WTS Alumni Association. In this article Strong details the importance of the Christian family as divine institution that is central to the well-being of not only the Church, but the whole society. While maintaining the Spirituality of the church, Strong details how the call to God-honoring family life is nothing less than Christian ministry."
“This country is in deadly peril. We can win this war, and still lose freedom for all in America. For a creeping rot of moral disintegration is eating into our nation. I am not easily shocked nor easily alarmed. But today, like thousands of others, I am both shocked and alarmed. The arrests of teen-age boys and girls all over the country are staggering. Some of the crimes youngsters are committing are almost unspeakable—prostitution, murder, rape. These are ugly words. But it is an ugly situation. If we are to correct it, we must face it. You read about the most flagrant cases in the news columns. The sordid movie-theater gang assault in New York. The vicious railroad track murder in Houston. The tragic case of the fifteen year-old boy in Michigan who killed his little sister after unmentionable cruelties. These are not isolated horrors from another world. They are danger signals which every parent—every responsible American—should heed."
"These are symptoms of a condition which threatens to develop a new 'lost generation', more hopelessly lost than any that has gone before. Consider: In the last year seventeen per cent. more boys under twenty-one were arrested for assault than the year before; twenty-six per cent. more for disorderly conduct; thirty per, cent. more for drunkenness; ten per cent. more for rape. And that despite the fact that many of this age group had already gone to war or were productively employed. For girls, the figures are even more startling; thirty-nine per cent, more for drunkenness; sixty-four per cent. more for prostitution; sixty-nine per cent. more for disorderly conduct; one hundred twenty-four per cent. more for vagrancy. And these were only the ones who were arrested, the advanced cases."
"The other day a friend of mine, who is a police chief, saw a fifteen year-old girl coming out of a tavern. She had obviously been drinking. The chief knew her, and knew her family — respectable, serious-minded people. Shocked, he took the girl home to her mother. He told me about it as an example of how even the best homes are being hit. But even more significant. He had expected the child's mother to be upset, and she was —but not in the way that he had expected. She was upset because of the indignity he had inflicted on the girl by bringing her home. Of course, the girl had done wrong, she admitted; but she should have been allowed to look out for herself. That, the mother insisted, was the way to develop a child’s character. And that, I insist, is the kind of crackpot theory which has laid the groundwork for our present surge of teen-age trouble. For years, we have listened to some quack theorists and pseudo-psychologists who have preached that discipline and control were bad for children—that they should be left uninhibited to work out their own life patterns, their own self-discipline. But you don't acquire self-discipline if you. never learn what discipline is; neither can life's problems be worked out without experience which can be secured only through hard knocks or by guidance from the experience of others.”
The foregoing remarks of J. Edgar Hoover, Chief of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, ought to come under the eye of every citizen. They underline such a topic as is ours to discuss and help us to see the key significance of the home in times like these. The trend toward lawlessness must be resisted. The only sure center of resistance is the Christian home. The greatest contribution that, we can make toward the national welfare is to see to it that our homes are truly Christian homes. Let us think together about the making of a Christian home.
It does not need to be argued that the home is a divine institution. The Bible discloses that the Creator founded the home on the principle that only death was to sever the marriage relationship. (Withal adultery is recognized as a valid ground for divorce, with the innocent member of the union entitled to marry again. See Matt. 19:9.)
Now the New Testament makes it plain that a Christian is to marry in the Lord (1 Cor. 7:39). A believer in Christ, should be scrupulously careful that friendship be not permitted to ripen into love when the other is not a Christian. It is better to forego at the outset the companionship of someone attractive than later on to face the dilemma of disobeying the Word of God or refusing to marry an unsaved person who has become very dear. God was not being arbitrary when He gave through Paul the commandment against mixed marriages. How can two walk together through life except they be agreed upon the most fundamental issue of all—the Lordship of Jesus Christ?
There are, of course, other important preliminary considerations to marriage. The engagement period presents peculiar problems. The proprieties are to be strictly observed. A couple should be sure of their essential compatibility. It is sometimes wise to have an understanding about the relation that will obtain with the family of one beloved, so that no "in law" problem may be permitted to arise.
Among the decisions that early must be arrived at in the newly-established home is the apportioning of the family income. To live within that income must be the resolve. But even before that, husband and wife should agree upon a program of Christian stewardship: This might well be the reasoning: God who has created all things owns all things. He owns us. He owns our money and our possessions; these we hold as a trust from Him. Since the earliest days of His covenanting with men, His servants have acknowledged His ownership by giving to Him the tithe. We surely cannot do less. Therefore, a tenth of our income will be given to the Lord, that His cause and kingdom may be advanced.
It is but incidental to remark that it is advantageous to the Christian home to tithe. I have heard too many testimonies from people who tithe to doubt this: how they have been spiritually blessed through steadfast adherence to the principle of proportionate giving; how the nine-tenths remaining for family use has somehow proved enough to meet all needs; how increase of substance has been granted, traceable, so it is often felt, to the decision to tithe; how it has brought joy to go even beyond the tithe in giving. Every Christian home should for its own sake be a tithing home at the least.
There will be children in the Christian home except in rare instances. They will be wanted and joyfully welcomed. With what earnestness of heart will the father and mother claim the promise of God to be not only the God of the parents but the God of their children also! How sincerely will they respond to the baptismal questions: “Do you promise to instruct your child in the principles of our holy religion as revealed in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments; and do you promise to pray with and for your child, to set an example of piety and godliness before him, and to endeavor by all the means of God's appointment to bring him up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?” Through the years it will be their faithful effort to live up to their covenant obligations. Let us think of what might well be considered to be involved. The first necessity will be the maintenance of a strong and vital family devotional life. This will mean more than saying grace at meals. (What a reproach it is that some professing Christian homes do not even observe this most obviously to be expected custom!) It will mean that father and mother both be faithful in private prayer. It will mean the establishment of a family altar; there will be family worship daily.
A question arises at this point. Someone asks, "How shall we conduct our family devotions?" Some homes use the moments following breakfast; some prefer to wait until evening. Some will sing a hymn. Some will recite a psalm in unison from memory. The Scripture will always be read and prayer offered. It is a helpful practice for each one in the family circle to have his own Bible and follow the day's lesson. It is good also for each member of the household to take part in prayer. Some families like to conclude their devotions with the use of the Lord’s Prayer. Let there be an occasional variation in the order followed. Let real attention be given to the planning of the devotional period, so that interest may be sustained and participation by all gladly given. Blessed memories will cluster around such a family altar.
A guest was much impressed with the devotions in a certain home. At the breakfast table, each of the family, even the four-year-old, repeated a verse from the Bible. Then, joining hands as they stood around the table, they repeated the Lord's Prayer, and were led in a brief prayer by the father. A few months later this guest was in a university town where the eldest son of the family was attending college. He talked with the boy of his pleasant visit with his family and then asked, "Would you mind telling me what you miss most, now that you are away from home?" After a moment the young man said, "I miss most the handclasp at the breakfast table. If I could feel the close grasp of my father's hand, and repeat with them all the Lord's Prayer, it would begin the day all right, and nothing would matter then. The remembrance of those breakfast scenes at home has stood between me and more than one temptation”.
The Lord's Day is the great ally of Christian parents. The whole family in Bible school and church should be the rule. Attendance at the evening service ought to be a habit also. Sunday trips can have no place in the program of the earnest Christian family. It is the Lord's Day and is to be used for Him.
Agreement on the foregoing points is fairly easy to gain. The real problem arises when the hours not spent in the house of worship come to be dealt with. What shall be done with Sunday afternoons? Here is the difficult place in Sabbath observance, but here is also the opportunity of the Christian home. Let the effort be directed toward making Sunday afternoon a true family time. Various kinds of Bible games can be used. There may be the reading aloud from the Bible story book. One of the best practices of all is to gather around the piano and have a family “sing”. Let the children by turn choose a favorite hymn. Father and mother will be able to introduce the grand hymns that childhood too will come in time to appreciate and love. The “sing” will help to fix the great truths of Scripture in the children's minds. It will be, moreover, a testimony to all the neighborhood. I still carry the impression caused through hearing in boyhood days the singing of sacred songs by a family living a few doors away. It was a sound beautiful to hear, and the heart was touched and softened. Let psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs frequently ring out in the Christian home. The hymnal far better adorns the piano rack than do the songs made popular by radio personalities. Make the hymnal the true index of the family's taste in vocal music. Use it every Lord's Day afternoon, and it will pay gratifying dividends in a better home atmosphere, in Bible truth imparted, in the solid satisfaction that comes from keeping the commandments of God.
What careful attention should the Christian parent also give to the intellectual life of his children! If at all possible he will send them to a Christian day school, so that the habit will early be formed of referring every fact of existence to the Creator, of learning to think in terms not of the laws of impersonal nature but of the will of the all-wise, all-ruling God. The gifts of common grace will be appreciated in the kind of home of which we speak. There will be good books and worthwhile magazines. There will be good music. I know of families in our denomination that are learning to enjoy and understand the music of the masters by listening to recordings—an excellent family activity. There will be the effort to guide the table conversation into thought stimulating channels. There will be a wise guidance given in the choice of radio programs.
The constant longing of Christian fathers and mothers will be that their young folk come into a warmly vital Christian experience. No training effort will be spared. Precept will be laid upon precept. Yet it will always be remembered that the special or saving grace of God is not the automatic outcome of sacrament, instruction, and training. These are means through which the Lord has been pleased to work, which He Himself has indeed commanded us to use faithfully. But our reliance is to be, let us ever and again remind ourselves, upon Him. His is the saving work. He must do it. There is no substitute for the mighty, resistless working in the heart by the blessed Holy Spirit. For this the Christian father and mother, even before the birth of the child, will long and fervently pray.
The home where these things are believed and where covenant duties are fulfilled will be —does it need to be said?—a happy home indeed. Mutual love and kindness will be the very breath of it. Tower of refuge, source of comforting, it will be Heaven’s ante-chamber.
There was a time in Principal Rainy's life when he was the best-hated man in Scotland. Hardly a week passed in which the newspapers had not some malicious attack upon him. And all the time, neither in face nor temper did Rainy show a trace of irritation, but carried himself with a beautiful serenity. One day Dr. Alexander Whyte met him and said, “Rainy, I cannot understand you! How do you manage to keep serene like this, exposed to all these venomous attacks?” Came the reply, “Whyte, I'm very happy at home!”
This too is a day of attack upon the Lord's servants. The honor of their Master is being violently assailed and they must take their stand with Him. Blessed are those whose base of operations, the home, is a place of pleasantness and trust and covenant keeping. They shall be strong for the day of conflict. Their children shall go forth also and play a noble part and do them credit. The name of their God and Redeemer will thus be glorified in them and in theirs. The ideal is very high, it is true. But the end is worth the striving.
(October 25, 1943)