Thursday, December 14, 2023

Church fathers. . .

If you know me, you know I am an advocate of knowing the church fathers.  I have on my shelf the volumes known to all as the Ante-, Nicene, and Post-Nicene Fathers (NPNF).   I also have those volumes and others covering the same and other early church fathers in digital format.  In addition I have a host of other volumes on my shelf.  These are not show books (though they do show well) but are a working library.  As important as these church fathers are to us today, there is another kind of church father that is urgently needed and in short supply.  That is the kind of church father who is the teacher in the home, bringing God's Word to His family, and the spiritual leader of the household who takes His family to church, sets a good example of participation and attention, and talks about the importance of His faith and the life of worship with his family.

The sad reality is that for far more than you would imagine, that kind of church father is either missing entirely or not living up to this vocation.  We all know and have all heard the statistics that tie the strength of the child's faith and life in the Church to the presence and witness of the dad in the home and in worship.  What we are not paying attention to is the decline of the father's role and place within the home.  What we are missing are the numbers of men who do not want to be husbands and dads or the spiritual leaders of their homes.  But this is surely behind the sad statistics of how quickly and easily our children fall away from the faith.  Too many dads are missing in action and the family is suffering because of it.

As we approach Christmas, it is good to remember that God chose not only Mary to be the Virgin Mother of our Lord but Joseph to serve as father figure and guardian of the incarnate Son of the Most High God.  Their qualifications were not riches or stature in the community or some other combination of virtues and personal characteristics.  No, their main qualifications was that they were faithful.  Both Mary and Joseph were faithful people who lived out their faith with dedication and honesty.  Neither Mary nor Joseph were perfect but they were each godly people who knew the Lord through the Scriptures, followed the liturgical life of Jerusalem as an observant man and woman, and pondered the words of our Lord within themselves even as they raised Jesus into manhood to publicly assume His role and place as Savior and Redeemer of the world.  There is something both simple and yet profound in this that we too often miss.  God knew the hearts of this couple, knew the faith and devotion that lived within them by the Holy Spirit, and chose them for the one qualification that we too often placed near the bottom -- they were faithful people of faith.

We need men who will be priests of their own households, leading their families in God's Word and in prayer.  This kind of church father is at least as important to the life of the Church today as the church fathers who lived and died in the Lord before us.  Too many Christian congregations are empty and, if they have anybody in the pews, they are women.  We ought to thank God for those women but we must not let them be alone in the good work that God has given men and women to do.  In some respects we have ourselves to blame for making faith look like a placebo for those too weak to build themselves up or for making worship that appeals to women more than men.  The feminization of the Church and worship and the way we pursue a separate but equal line, the more our congregations will find themselves without strong male figures, leaders, and witnesses.  As Christian fathers we must teach our young men by example of their role and place within God's order but we cannot allow this to be a witness of mere words without a good and salutary example to show them.  The longer we wait to address men and their role within the home and the family, the more likely the Church will continue to see a mass exodus of Christians either unwilling or uninterested in serving their families as God has served us.

The old joke once said that God could not have Jesus been born in Italy (or any other place) because He could not find a Virgin and 3 Wise Men there.  The new joke is that He cannot find men at all.  This is probably part of the reason why pastoral vocations are down along with nearly every other venue for formal church work.  Men, become the leaders of your families.  Stand up and stand out for the sake of the Gospel.  Live not by words but by example and works that tell your family and the world that this is your belief and practice.  It is not too late yet but it is becoming too little too late every day we fail to stand up and stand out for the sake of the Kingdom.

No comments: