At the Close of Another Father’s Day
The blogosphere and social media have created a predictable cycle of emphases to which we’re exposed annually. This applies to church life as well as to other areas of life.
One example is the Christian’s approach to cultural holidays. As the Fourth of July approaches, for instance, I expect that my blog feed will include posts on whether churches should hold patriotically oriented services. November is likely to see articles on the real, real historical background of Thanksgiving, perhaps also a few on whether the USA was ever a Christian nation.
Some Christians question even religious holidays. In the spring I might run across a discussion of the appropriateness of celebrating Passion Week/Resurrection Sunday, and in December on whether Christmas is a good idea. Rejection of these observances could be motivated by their alleged pagan origins and/or a rigid view of the regulative principle of worship.
To Mother’s Day or not?
Another disputed point is the recognition of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day by the church. Through the years I’ve probably seen more articles on these holidays—especially Mother’s Day—than any other. What are the issues?
- The Bible doesn’t command us to concentrate on mothers and fathers in church services, nor does it record an example of an early church doing so.
- For various reasons beyond their control, many women aren’t mothers, and many men aren’t fathers. The church shouldn’t make these fellow believers feel like they’re second-class citizens, but it sometimes has.
- Many people had an abusive or otherwise poor upbringing. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day may well cause them to relive painful memories.
- All parents live with some measure of failure and regret, often a great measure. A day that is supposed to encourage them can end up having the opposite effect.
- Many parents are broken-hearted that their children are not following Christ or are making destructive life choices. Here again, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day easily have the effect of pouring salt on an open wound.
- There is a fair amount of latitude in how biblical principles of parenting may be applied. Moms and dads don’t all have to do exactly the same things, and preachers can drift into a form of legalism by being overly prescriptive.
- We could elevate parents in such a way that we lose our focus on God and his grace as the reason behind anything good we see in parents. And Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can take the spotlight off the gospel generally.
These are all legitimate concerns. Especially when they’re raised not by random online authors but by one’s own church members, a pastor ought to give them weight and not blithely go along with tradition. Sometimes this issue has seemed so complicated to me that I’ve felt like tossing the tradition and just preaching on the next pericope in my expository series. That would certainly be easier than figuring out a fresh way to speak on motherhood or fatherhood again, while avoiding the land mines.
The Other Side of the Story
Usually, however, I agonize until—by God’s grace—I arrive at something workable. Why?
To begin with, the Bible urges us to express gratitude to those who have ministered to us (e.g., 1 Thess 5:12–13), and such commendations occur in the pages of Scripture (e.g., 1 Cor 16:15–18). More specifically, God commands us to honor our fathers and mothers (e.g., Eph 6:2). Scripture itself publicly honors faithful parents. Proverbs 31 ends this way: “Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates” (v. 31). Surely the gathered church is doing a good thing to follow suit a couple times a year.
The Lord has commissioned the church as the transmitter of his truth as revealed in Scripture (e.g., 1 Tim 3:15). While avoiding legalism, we need to expound the Bible’s specific instructions for mothers, fathers, and children. What better opportunity to do so than at a time when the subject of the family is on people’s minds anyway? The world relentlessly pushes its agendas regarding the family. And Christians sometimes have inaccurate or imbalanced views of the Bible’s teaching on this topic. Present and prospective parents in the church need all the help and encouragement they can get!
Likewise, the local church serves as a natural and effective context in which to address the problems and pains of family life. Pastors can sensitively bring these out in the open on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and then shine the light of God’s Word on them. Scripture has plenty of comfort and guidance for those who suffer because of their moms, their dads, their children, their lack of children, or their parenting failures.
Finally, we should remember the power of example. In addition to the example of Christ himself (e.g., John 13:15), Scripture presents various believers as patterns of godliness worthy of imitation (e.g., 1 Cor 11:1; Phil 3:17). As complex and intense as parenting can be, real-life illustrations of parenting—whether of successes or struggles—hold unique potential for inspiration.
Such illustrations need not be limited to a sermon. The sharing of personal testimonies on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can function as sermons of their own. In this regard, I’ll wrap up with a portion of a letter I recently received. I trust you’ll find it encouraging as we close out Father’s Day 2019.
Dear Pastor Ken,
One of the things you do at Cleveland Park Bible Church that has made a tremendous impact on my life is allowing church members to give testimony on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Hearing how the gospel has influenced individual lives and family units by a godly life lived well is motivation for me to do the same. I remember —’s testimony about her dad. When she was finished I was thinking, ‘Wow, I wish I could meet this guy someday.’ What a privilege to get to know — and have a relationship with him after he and — moved south. . . .
There are other testimonies I remember as well, but my goal in this letter is not to run through a list of various testimonies given, but to focus on the one that has made the most impact on me. . . .