A valid and necessary vocation
The renewal of the family as a call for a new Reformation
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Just as marriage and family needed to be relearned in the Reformation era, they need to be relearned today—not just as a spiritually valid vocation, but a naturally necessary one.
In 1523, Martin Luther infamously spirited away eleven nuns from their cloister. These newly converted young women were desperate to escape and begin a life where they could openly confess and practice their newfound freedom in Christ. Among these women was Katharina von Bora, who would later become Martin Luther’s wife—after several failed attempts to marry her off to others.
As the Bible was unshackled from the prison of Latin and translated into the common tongue, so too, many who were shackled to singleness out of a misguided requirement for godliness found freedom to marry and have children as pleasing in God’s sight. Martin and Katie helped revive marriage and family as normative for the Christian, and as a holy calling.
Just as in the pre-Reformation era, marriage and family have fallen on hard times in our days.
The United States has seen steady decline in its marriage rate from the 1980s onward. Before Covid, marriage was at an all-time low in 2018 at 6.5 marriages for every 1,000 residents, which meant a 20 percent decline from 2000-2018. In 2022, the marriage rate has sunk to 5.1 marriages per 1,000 residents. In truth, the U.S. birth rate has declined precipitously since 2007—an accelerated trend reaching back to the 1950s. But worse than the declining rates are the attitudes that characterize our country’s views on marriage and family life—attitudes of disdain, redefinition, and apathy.
The Reformers helped the 16th-century church rediscover the inherent and natural goodness of marriage, children, and family life as a spiritually valid vocation. Our challenge today is similar yet distinct. Rather than society at large believing singleness to be particularly holy and marriage to be a sort of necessary evil, we are in a time where the marriage of a man to a woman has been rejected as a prerequisite for childbearing.
In our day, marriage has been torn asunder from the concept of procreation altogether, leaving it open to seizure by those who have exchanged natural relations for unnatural passions (Romans 1:26-27). It’s not that marriage is considered spiritually undesirable yet naturally necessary—it’s that it is considered completely irrelevant except as an avenue of self-expression.
The challenge we face is not one of culpable ignorance manifested in the rejection of special revelation, but one of willful ignorance—a rejection of natural revelation as the full and bitter blossoming of idolatry. C.S. Lewis writes, “They err who say: ‘The world is turning pagan again.’ Would that it were! The truth is, we are falling into a much worse state. Post-Christian man is not the same as pre-Christian man.”
Marriage is not rejected because of biblical ignorance or a misguided spirituality, rather it is repudiated, just as manhood and womanhood are repudiated. What we are given in return is our own putrid lump of clay by which we are told marriage is any arrangement of adults who desire to “marry” and a family is any arrangement of adults and children that the adults choose to assemble. The natural family has given way to the era of the unnatural man.
Yet there is much to learn from the Reformers. They sought to reform the church and Christian society. Today, we need a reformation that starts in the hearts of real people and works like leaven through the entire society. We need Christian men and women to get married, have children, and raise them in nurture and admonition of the Lord. And we need them to do so with cheerfulness, industry, and unflinching conviction, just like the Reformers. We need a revival of the Great Commission that is properly and fundamentally connected to the Creation Mandate.
Lewis may be right—we may be worse off in this post-Christian world than previous Christian generations were in pagan days. Yet, the power of Christ is real. The hope of the nations has not changed. The Creator of sons and daughters, wives and husbands, brothers and sisters, is still weaving together chromosomes in the XX or XY configurations and calling them “very good” (Genesis 1:31). He still gives to all “life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). And it is still God alone who will give us the strength to walk by faith in our marriages, with our children, testifying to the goodness of the Creator’s ways in His creation and in His Word.
May we do so with unshakeable hope that He is doing more than we can yet see, and that perhaps, if we ask Him with willing hearts and hands, He might entrust us with the heavy, good work of a new reformation—starting at home.
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