Society as a whole lives in open rebellion against the commands of God. No surprise here. But this rebellion, especially when it is codified and enters the public psyche as ‘normal,’ often trickles into the Church’s mindset as well. One of the subtlest of such cases of such a corruption of the Church’s mindset regards the violation of the Fifth Commandment: “Honor your father and mother.”
When the Heidelberg Catechism expounds this command, it starts by asking what is actually required of us in this command. It says,
Question 104: What does God require in the fifth commandment?
Answer: That I show all honour, love and fidelity, to my father and mother, and all in authority over me, and submit myself to their good instruction and correction, with due obedience; and also patiently bear with their weaknesses and infirmities, since it pleases God to govern us by their hand.
It is to the last clause that I wish to draw attention, for it is I this regard that many Christians are guilty of violating God’s revealed will. I am referring, of course, to the popular psychological trend of blaming one’s parents for one’s own sinful behavior and/or attitudes. This is a direct violation of the 5th Command. And it has entered mainstream Evangelicalism with guns blazing.
This mentality is almost a given in much teaching, preaching, seminar lectures, books and Christian counseling. I do not mean to say that preachers, teachers and authors actually shift the blame for people’s sin onto their parents. But it is simply a given that such influence is real and is an acceptable explanation for sinful actions and attitudes.
What the Heidelberg Catechism so beautifully addresses is the attitude one is to have towards those under whose authority God has placed us. Honor and respect are to be given to our parents, not because they have earned it, but simply by virtue of the fact that God, in His sovereignty, has decreed that you be born into their home under their authority. Anything less is rank rebellion.
This is not a blanket condoning horrible behavior and lousy parenting skills. But God is God and He knows where He has placed everyone. Nothing in Scripture even remotely suggests that if your parents don’t measure up to your expectations, then you are justified in disobedience or disrespect. To think so would be to reject God’s authority and to deny His sovereignty.
Related to this is the notion we hear so often that respect has to be earned. While this principle may be generally true, in cases of authority it is an unbiblical philosophy. God commands us to respect our parents and our civil rulers, not because they are so wonderful and do everything right, but because He has seen fit to govern us “by their hand,” as the Heidelberg Catechism says.
A second way in which countless people violate this command is seen in the general status of men as fathers in society and in the Church. Fathers are constantly portrayed as little more than big kids that need Mom’s oversight at least as much as their own children. Men are so consistently excoriated in the media that it is little wonder that boys want to stay kids forever. TV sitcoms have portrayed dads as idiots that the family would be better off without for 50 years and video gaming has kept boys stuck in perpetual adolescence.
Again, it important to note that nowhere in Scripture is a father’s headship in the home staked upon his being the paragon of all virtue. This is not an excuse for lousy attitudes and sloth, but it is still the biblical standard. The Feminist movement started out ostensibly seeking “equal status” between the sexes. It has become clear though after decades of activism that the real objective seems to be to turn both sexes into females. And the Church has succumbed to this effeminizing influence as well.
When is the last time you have heard the ideal Christian husband portrayed as anything but Mom #2? He doesn’t lead family worship; he doesn’t oversee the discipline of the children; he doesn’t teach his family God’s Word; he doesn’t concern himself with anyone’s spiritual wellbeing, character development or intellectual growth. But he does cook, wash dishes, wash laundry, iron clothes, vacuum and feel guilty for not doing these things as good as Mom #1. I am neither denigrating these things nor the men who do them in a spirit of compassion for their wives and children; indeed, I often do these things. But I worry about the family who measures a father’s success in his family role by the how much he acts like Mom.
This isn’t a slighted husband’s rant, nor is it tirade of a “woman’s place is in the kitchen” chauvinist. I am simply saying that when fathers are judged on how much they are like Mom, then they are not being honored according to God’s command. And for that matter mothers are not being honored according to God’s command either.
If this all sounds weird to you, that in itself, is evidence of how pervasive this thinking is. The very fact that such an organization as The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood exists shows how dire things are. That Christians have no idea of what God’s Word demands of them as men, women, husbands and wives, is surely a lamentable thing.
Before leaving this subject, we wish to point out one more issue related to this command. The Westminster Shorter Catechism explains to us that this Command requires the “preserving the honor, and performing the duties, belonging to everyone in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals.” The closing point I’d like to address s in regard to church discipline.
If the Fifth Command teaches us how to interact appropriately to those under whose care God has sovereignly placed us, it also teaches us that we are not God and do not have carte blanche to rule over those in our care in any way we wish. Nor does it mean that those under abusive rule have no recourse and must submissively be trampled upon.
Church discipline has fallen on hard times. I am personally aware of cases where members have been excommunicated from a church due to grievously immoral behavior, only to move to another church and have the leadership there thumb their noses at the previous church’s decision. Recidivistic behavior was the predictable result.
In response to this many pastors opt for a short-cut. Christian leaders increasingly apply principles from the corporate world to the Church. Thus they are often like elusive or self-important CEOs. It is assumed, rather erroneously, that this pompous air will fill people with fear or respect for the aloof leader. The people will be less likely to cause trouble thus lessening the need for his involvement in their daily lives.
A second short-cut is a megalomaniacal method that is becoming frighteningly more common. Many pastors enforce draconian policies through Machiavellian leadership tactics in order to attain discipline in the church. Rather than being servants of God and His people, they are “Kim Jung-Il” type dictators. This is the coward’s way of achieving discipline and it pushes the church in the realm of the cultic. This is a particular problem in countries where the Roman church is dominant. People are born and raised on the Romish philosophy that the priesthood speaks directly for God and must therefore never be doubted of questioned. As far as I know, no evangelical pastor would claim infallibility like the Pope, but many pastors behave as if they possess it. Matters of doctrine and practice can never be discussed because “Rome has spoken,” i.e., the pastor has given his declaration on the matter and any question is regarded as a challenge to his authority.
This is a perilous situation – for both sides. Once people surrender their reasoning and discerning powers, there is no end to the evil they can be driven to do. Ron Enroth (1) has documented many churches and parachurch organizations that have run into the grossest of immorality (wife-swapping, incest, group sex, etc.) by the direct command of the leader/pastor, who usually claims to be speaking with full Divine inspiration and/or authority. Unquestioned power is a drug to its possessor, creating an insuperable addiction that, barring Divine intervention, is impossible to surrender.
(1) Ron Enroth, Churches That Abuse