Family: The Key to the Covenant

All civilizations, if they are to last, are founded on the principle of corporate life. That is, individuals must mature to the point of being able to live for others beyond themselves. In this sense, the modern west has become an aberration. This is particularly seen within the family. Whereas mothers and fathers should be living to help each other and to lay down their lives for their children and the family as a whole, the driving force in western societies is the desire to secure individual rights and personal autonomy. This has made us self-centered rather than being other-centered which has had a pernicious effect as it distorts both society and the individual.

In contrast, the Church teaches that the family is the basic cell of society. As JPII said, “the future of humanity passes by way of the family” (FC 86). During Vatican II, Bishop Fiordelli of Prato, Italy made the point in the Council debates that the Christian family was the smallest articulation of the Church. From this we see that the family is of critical importance to society and the Church. In effect, the family is part of God’s design for saving the world. This is difficult for many in the modern world to grasp because we have adopted an atomistic view of the person. We see the person as being absolutely autonomous; any corporate dimension is accidental and not essential to the person’s identity.

But Scripture shows us that the family is part of who the person is. Indeed, salvation is always, and at the same time, deeply personal and corporate. It is never individualistic. Noah was a righteous man and ‘found favor in the eyes of the Lord (Gen 6:8).’ Because of his relationship to God, he and his family were saved (Gen 6:18). The covenant with Abraham was to him and his family to all generations. All families (not all individuals) of the earth would be blessed in him (Gen 12:3). During the Passover, the Jews were saved within the family context. The Passover over is a family meal. All who were within their family homes, eating the ritualistic meal and under the blood of the Passover lamb were saved from death (Ex 12:3ff).

It is clear that God uses families as a means to work out salvation. That is why the genealogy of Abraham’s family forms the basis of the OT that goes right up to the beginning of the NT. It can be observed that in the OT there is no covenant without the family. The covenant, the teaching of the Law and its rituals were passed on within the family. In the NT, we can observe the practice of household baptisms (Acts 16:15, 31; 1 Cor 1:16). In the new covenant, the family becomes the place where the Holy Spirit is present and where the salvation of the family members is being worked out (cf. 1 Cor 7).

It only makes sense therefore that the family has become the prime target of evil. Once the family is destroyed, both society and the Church are greatly weakened. The myth of the autonomous individual is simply that, a myth. The truth is that a person needs a family to grow into psychological, emotional and spiritual health. As JPII said, “The family finds in the plan of God the creator and redeemer not only its identity, what it is, but also its mission, what it can and should do. … Family become what you are.” (FC 17)

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