How are families different today?

As Christ followers, we often have a difficult time relating God’s Word to our modern culture and families.  So, in what ways has the concept of “the family” changed from Biblical times until now?  In what ways do conservative Christians view “the family” similarly and differently than they did in the New Testament era?  In what ways are these changes good and in what ways are they not so good?

The definition and make up of family has changed drastically over the centuries – and it is hard to put labels on those, but here are a few:
1) Extended Family vs. Nuclear Family – in NT extended families living in the same abode (or on the same compound) was common place.  Aunts, Uncles, G-parents, cousins grew up and often stayed in the same area their whole life.  Nowadays, in CC circles, extended families are the exception and not the norm.  Of course, nuclear families in the “traditional sense” (mom, dad, kids in one house) is quickly becoming the exception as well.  This is not a statement of good or bad, just one of observation – but one that does carry implications for ministry.
2) Transience – families today are far more mobile than they were in the OT.  Simply b/c of the inability to cover vast areas of land easily and quickly, families in OT and NT times most often just stayed together.  Today, children are often living in different states and different countries than where they grew up and where their parents may be.
3)  Individual vs. Corporate – Families are far more isolative today than in Biblical times.  When we lived in Colorado, the neighborhood I lived in looked like cattle stockyards b/c everyone had a 6 ft privacy fence keep their own piece of land separated from everyone else’s.  Also, with the invention of the garage and garage door opener, families never even have to come in contact with others if they choose to.  They simply press a button to open and close their home without ever being seen.
4)  Family size – Families today are far smaller than in Biblical times as well.  I couldn’t venture a guess what family size was back then, but I would imagine it is far more than the 1.8 kids per families today.  On the surface this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when you understand the reasons behind having numerous children back in OT & NT times, it becomes a bigger issue:  kids for working the family business/farm, kids to carry on the beliefs and values of the Spiritual family are just 2 of them.
5)  Priorities & Values – Overall the values and priorities of the family has changed drastically.  It seems one of the main thrusts of the family in the OT & NT was to promote certain values or at the least maintain certain priorities – maintaining a certain level of livelihood was one of them (i.e., you grew crops and raised cattle to make a living and to be able to eat vs. going to the grocery store and buying whatever is needed).  The priorities and values of our families today show a very different culture.  With the rise of entertainment – music, sports, computer technology, etc. – families have shifted into focusing on things that they believe will benefit their kids more in the long run.  Not that these things are BAD in and of themselves, but I often wonder what is being left out to make room for all of these things?

6)  Outsourcing – We have become a nation that outsources just about everything.  We get our kids lessons for sports, music lessons, tutoring, spiritual training, etc.  We buy our groceries at a store rather than grow them ourselves.  We use technology to outsource our entertainment so kids don’t have to entertain themselves.  In part, this has been driven by necessity – working 40-70 hours a week doesn’t leave a lot of time for other things.  But there are also choices the family has made to value certain things over others; so to make time for those things we see how we can cut time to “make room” for it all.

7)  Maturity & Rite of Passage – By and large, in European and American cultures, the age of maturity and marriageability has risen since OT & NT times.  We tend to think of young people not being adults until they reach 18-21 years of age (or even beyond more males),  and even then they not really ready to be married until much later in their twenties.  This wasn’t the case for a LONG time!  A Rite of Passage typically took place (Bar Mitzvahs, Bat Mitzvahs in Jewish culture) took place at age 13-16 – and it is then they were marriage eligible.  You still see this in various cultures around the world – Quinceanera, for example – but by and large has gone by  the wayside.

Honestly, there is a lot that appeals to me about the way families were set up and run before the Industrial Revolution.  I think we have a lot to learn from history…

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