In recent days, the term “family values” has taken a beating. In response to the recent Supreme Court decisions on same-sex marriage, ERLC President Dr. Russell Moore wrote, “Regardless of what happens with marriage, the gospel doesn’t need “family values” to flourish. In fact, it often thrives when it is in sharp contrast to the cultures around it.” This sparked a useful and friendly email exchange in which one of our elders, Paul Haines, addressed the topic with some of our young men. With his permission, I have compiled his email correspondence into a post in which addresses some his concerns with Dr. Moore’s article.
While there are some good things that Moore said, there are a couple of issues I have with Moore’s article. I will limit it currently to the “family values” issue, since this is what you sent to me. While I do not believe that “Family Values” is the gospel by any stretch of the imagination, “Family Values” are very important and should not be downplayed.
(1) They show God’s common grace towards us. We must not forget that in theology, we study about two kinds of grace, one special and one common. See the article by Berkhof on Common Grace (http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/berkhof_summary.html#chapter18).
(2) The loss of “family values” does not promote the spreading of the gospel. We should not rejoice that Family Values are fleeting in a society. We SHOULD see that it is positive when people realize that they are not a Christian simply because they are moral, but to say it is positive that family values are going away or that they are a point of rejoicing when they are gone is quite different. It is not only a sign of the dying out of the influence of the gospel on society, but also of the knowledge of God in general. Do we not want more of the knowledge of God to be known? The lack of the knowledge of God is a sign of wrath. This is what we see in Romans 1:18-32. It is a hardness to the gospel. It is a suppression of the gospel influence and revelation of God in the Word. It is a sign of the failure of our witness, rather than a promoter of it. It makes it more difficult to witness, because there is less of an understanding of God Himself. If it promoted evangelism and conversions, then should not we lower our flag against abortion, pornography, euthanasia, pedophilia, polygamy, bestiality, etc., in order to have the greatest spreading of the gospel?
While I do not believe that “Family Values” is the gospel by any stretch of the imagination, “Family Values” are very important and should not be downplayed.
(3) We should promote family values for the betterment of society and in fulfillment of God’s Law. The Ten Commandments are not just for Christians. They are commandments which are from God’s very own nature, burned upon the heart of every man, given in the Garden, declared on Mount Sinai, and fulfilled by every word and deed of Christ. They are good for us and for society. Read below about what Berkhof states about the “Means” and “Effects” of Common Grace. “Sin is restrained in the lives of individuals and nations The corruption that entered human life through sin is retarded and not yet permitted to complete its destructive work.”
(4) The great mission movements in the past addressed family values and societal issues along with the gospel. Could we say that John Paton was wrong to condemn the cannibals of the New Hebrides for murdering and eating the flesh of their captives and stealing from their “Missi”? Could we say that God’s morality and family values were unimportant to William Carey in his battle against Seti and the torching of widows? Would we tell Gladys Alward that she should not have addressed the cruel binding of young girls feet in China. Would we tell David Livingston that it was wrong to address the slave traders, who kidnapped their very own people, forced them to leave their country, separate from their families, and starve or die in cruel places on slave ships that he was wrong to stop and address this? Whitefield, Wesley, and many others faced a wicked society and called them to leave their wicked ways. These people were all great bearers of the gospel, but they addressed the breaking of God’s law. They called sin, what it is…lawlessness, as they brought the gospel. They called people to see their great breaking of God’s law. It was not a simple gospel of just coming to know Jesus and then change your life. It was repent and believe.
(5) The Old Testament prophets did not rejoice at the breaking down of family values in society. They addressed them alongside the good news of the coming Messiah that they promoted. A quick reading of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Hosea, and Malachi is a “great awakening” in this area.
It is not Mayberry here in America anymore, but I would love to see the days once again where there was a stronger Fear of God among the populous and a greater understanding of God’s Moral Law upon people. Today, there is an almost complete, suppression of the truth about God and His ways (Romans 1) or at least a radical turning towards that point. The gospel does “flourish” many times when there is a radical difference between Christianity and the world; when there is an almost death to Common Grace and family values. But the Gospel certainly has also flourished, and I think in a greater way, when there is a fear of God, when family values are strong, and there is an open mind-set to the gospel. The difference is that we don’t see this flourishing as radically as when there is a contrast in the those who are in Christ and those who are not. Where the gospel is preached consistently, biblically, truthfully, line-by-line and verse-by-verse, in and out every day, church by church, family to family, in homes, when people lay on their beds, when they arise, when they walk with each other, and talk with each other (Deut 6), this is when the gospel has flourished the most. We often look at the Great Awakenings and Revivals as great times in history and they were. But what is greater are the times in history, when every day in churches, there are many people growing and trusting Christ. At the latter times, it is harder to recognize, but it is there. It is true that the gospel can be lost in the Bible Belt through simply having a moral society and people thinking that they are saved, but this is because to a large degree that in the Bible Belt the gospel has been watered down, marginalized, made to be like the world, marketed to the world in “church growth movement”, where evangelism apart from a changed lifestyle is emphasized, and where there is a weak God preached.
Part V: The Doctrine of the Application of the Work of Redemption
Chapter XVIII: The Common Operation of the Holy Spirit: Common Grace
The study of the work of redemption wrought by Christ is naturally followed by a discussion of the application of this redemption to the hearts and lives of sinners by the special operation of thy Holy Spirit. Before taking this up a brief chapter will be devoted to the general operations of the Holy Spirit, as these are seen in common grace.
1. Nature of Common Grace. When we speak of common grace, we have in mind either (a) those general operations of the Holy Spirit whereby He, without renewing the heart, exercises such a moral influence on man that sin is restrained, order is maintained in social life, and civil righteousness is promoted; or (b) those general blessings which God imparts to all men without any distinction as He sees fit. In distinction from the Arminians we maintain that common grace does not enable the sinner to perform any spiritual good, nor to turn to God in faith and repentance. It can be resisted by man, and is always more or less resisted, and at best affects only the externals of social, civil, moral, and religious life. While Christ died for the purpose of saving only the elect, nevertheless the whole human race, including the impenitent and the reprobate, derive great benefits from His death. The blessings of common grace may be regarded as indirect results of the atoning work of Christ.
2. Means of Common Grace. Several means may be distinguished: (a) The most important of these is the light of God’s general revelation. Without this all other means would be impossible and ineffective. It lightens every man, and serves to guide the conscience of the natural man. (b) Human governments also serve this purpose. According to our Confession they are instituted to curb evil tendencies, and to promote good order and decency. (c) Public opinion is another important means wherever it is in harmony with the law of God. It has a tremendous influence on the conduct of men who are very sensitive to the judgment of public opinion. (d) Finally, divine punishments and rewards also serve to encourage moral goodness in the world. The punishments often check the sinful deeds of men, and the rewards spur them on to do what is good and right.
3. The Effects of Common Grace. The following effects may be ascribed to the operation of common grace: (a) The execution of the sentence of death on man is deferred. God did not at once fully execute the sentence of death on the sinner, and does not do so now, but gives him time for repentance, Rom. 2:4; II Pet. 8:9. (b) Sin is restrained in the lives of individuals and nations The corruption that entered human life through sin is retarded and not yet permitted to complete its destructive work, Gen. 20:6; 31:7; Job 1:12; 2:6. (c) Man still has some sense of the true, the good, and the beautiful, appreciates this in a measure, and reveals a desire for truth, morality, and certain forms of religion, Rom. 2:14, 15; Acts 17:22. (d) The natural man is still able to perform natural good or civil righteousness, works that are outwardly in harmony with the law, though without spiritual value, II Kings 10:29, 30; 12:2; 14;3; Luke 6:33. (e) All men receive numerous undeserved blessings from God, Ps. 145:9, 15, 16; Matt. 5:44, 45; Luke 6:35, 36; Acts 14:16, 17; I Tim. 4;10.