Chapter 4: A Biblical Critique of Family Idolatry

Confronting the Idolatry of Family: A New Vision for the Household of God
by Janet Fishburn

Chapter 4: A Biblical Critique of Family Idolatry

At the end of the nineteenth century many Protestants believed that American had been chosen by God to transform the whole world into the kingdom of God on earth. Even if their theology about the future of the world differed, they were likely to agree that America was God’s chosen nation. The myth of America as "God’s new Israel" was a part of the national self-image quite apart from formal theological considerations or specific biblical references. The values of the nation seemed Christian to church leaders who talked of "Christianizing the world in our lifetime."

This vision of the mission and destiny of Protestant Christianity in America was shared by liberals and conservatives. It was congenial to progressive politics at the time. Many church leaders believed that the dream of saving the world through democracy was simply a political way of expressing the mission of the church.

Of all the Western races, that can read skillfully the providence of God, or can read it at all who can hesitate in affirming that the signs of divine decree point to this land of ours which is gathering to itself the races which must take the lead in the final conflicts of Christianity for possession of the world? Ours is the elect nation for the age to come. We are the chosen people.1

Austin Phelps, a congregational executive for missions, could speak these words in 1881, confident that his reference to God’s providence would motivate people to increase their support for home missions. The vision of "the elect nation" is a way of interpreting God’s act in history that came to America with settlers from England. In seventeenth-century England, Protestants believed that the Reformation was being worked out in England, that England was heir to the promises of Israel.2

The habit of associating biblical concepts like the Providence of God and the election of Israel with a nation and Protestant Christianity has greatly influenced the way American Protestants regard the nations of the world, the church, their families, and themselves. The expectation that God was bringing the Reformation to completion in America has been part of the national self-image since the seventeenth century when English Puritans settled New England and Scottish Presbyterians settled in the middle colonies.

The idea of private property as essential to a Christian civilization was also part of the English interpretation of God’s Providence.3 In the nineteenth-century American version of "salvation history," property ownership was regarded as a sign of God’s blessing, failure to own property as either punishment or a sign of moral failure.

The theme of God’s judgment, talk of heaven and hell, and an expectation that the end of history is imminent is far more prominent in American religion than it is in the Bible. There is no one biblical eschatology, though there are several highly symbolic accounts of how God will bring history to a close in "the end times." These symbols are commonly employed to call the people of God’s chosen nation back to faithfulness.

Many of the ideas associated with the American Dream are no longer expressed in nineteenth-century terms. Yet, the association of God’s blessing with prosperity continues to have formative power in American life. Low morale in congregations experiencing membership loss and financial difficulty has deeply rooted spiritual dimensions related to the American Dream. When a sanctuary is half empty it can feel like a divine judgment.

Protestant response to changing family roles has a similar spiritual dimension. Many Protestants still measure the success of their family according to the ideals of the American Dream. When children do not share the values and attitudes of parents about sexuality, marriage, or family, parents feel they have failed. This, too, can feel like a punishment from God.

A Biblical Perspective on Church and Family

The use of Judeo-Christian symbols and values to express the American Dream continues to influence the way Protestants use and understand the Bible. The use of biblical language to express a Victorian worldview makes it very difficult for most Protestants to remember that the books of the Bible address questions posed in another time in terms of the worldviews of ancient cultures. The nineteenth-century sense of certainty about a hierarchy of moral, social, and intellectual values remains a part of the way many in the church today still regard family ideals.

Historian William McLoughlin describes the thought of Horace Bushnell as typical of nineteenth-century "Romantic Evangelicalism." He points out that a "romantic view of the Bible as literature or poetry proved a convenient way to rationalize much of the higher criticism."4 According to McLoughlin, Bushnell’s adaptation of Judeo-Christian symbols and values included a belief in intuitive perception of truth, a Christocentric theology and a "sentimental idealization of women, children, and parenthood as the most perfect embodiments . . . of grace."5

Contemporary discussions of Christian education differ little from Bushnell’s way of reasoning. The family ideals of the, American Dream are rarely evaluated from a biblical perspective. It is not uncommon to find Victorian dualisms read into a biblical text about the family or sexual ethics.

In books about "the Christian home" writers seldom note that the New Testament is about the faith of a religious community. If they are from a biblically conservative tradition they are likely to use selected references to sexuality, marriage, and family to communicate the ideals of God in a way that will encourage and motivate people to strive for the ideal.6 This didactic use of the Bible fails to distinguish the radical difference between family life and the religious practices of ancient and modern cultures.

On the other hand, liberals writing about family life or sexual ethics know that "the family ideal" is not viable for Christians today. They may find the Bible an inadequate guide because they are aware that the books of the Bible were written in a variety of settings in ancient cultures.

As church members and pastors try to adjust their minds and hearts to the way family relationships have changed, few seem to realize that the family ethos that is changing had very little in common with a biblical perspective on the role of the family in the life of faith. The issue is not the validity of Scripture as a guide to faith in contemporary culture. Rather, the issue is the validity of a family ideal that is believed to be biblical.

Biblical scholars concerned with the roles of men and women in biblical cultures point out that the love ethic of the early church was so revolutionary in its day that it was considered a threat to social order in the Roman Empire. The loosening of kin-family loyalties in favor of church-related loyalties was perceived as dangerous. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza finds the roots of patriarchy in the very earliest responses to Jesus’ treatment of women as equals.7

The scenario she describes is not unlike the response to the changing roles of women in contemporary culture and in the churches. Many commentators see the changing role of women as a threat to social order and personal morality. Much of the resistance to change in Protestant churches today comes from people who fail to realize that a Christian way of life is far more radical than it would appear when looked at uncritically through the lens of a family ideal that has roots in the American Dream of the nineteenth century.

All interpretations of the Bible are relative to the interpreter, the interpreter’s critique, and the conditions, times, and places of the text. In every period of the history of Christianity, the church has had favorite texts and favored interpretations. Nevertheless, it is possible to get a perspective on family life by asking what informs reflection about the family in the New Testament. In the following discussion, questions will also be raised about what factors might have governed the judgment of writers.

What does the New Testament have to say about family life? The Gospels tell the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in terms of his own Jewish tradition. Each Gospel writer encourages first-century Christians to remain faithful to their baptism, but in slightly different ways. The stories they tell to instruct the faithful are addressed to congregations with reference to particular circumstances. Each Gospel is written in a way that keeps the power and hope of the Risen Lord vividly alive to memory and imagination. This is the Christ experienced by Christians through the ages as the life-giving Word of God through scripture.

Most of the epistles and pastoral letters are also written to specific congregations. In the Gospels, Jesus is presented as a charismatic figure who places loyalty to God clearly above all other loyalties, including family loyalty. According to the Gospel, he had very little to say about families. The epistles and pastoral letters give more direct attention to family life in the short passages known as "a household rule." Similar passages in Colossians 3:17 -- 4:1 and Ephesians 5:22 -- 6:9 contain instructions to men and women, parents and children, masters and slaves. These passages have been cited a great deal as support for American family ideals and hierarchical relationships.

The "household rules" of the New Testament are included in books addressed to members of missionary churches. As such, the rules bear little relation to modern concerns such as fulfillment in family life or even the quality of family life. The biblical writer’s concern about family relationships is that of an evangelist. The issues addressed are those of ways Christians can witness the love of God to non-Christians in their own families and in their communities.

In a "household rule" it is the behavior of individuals in their role as family members that concerns the writers. The reason for the concern is always that of how family relationships will affect the church. A careful reading of the rules in Ephesians gives the impression that the relationship between members of the congregation is considered the primary family of Christians. The writer expects their identity as "children of light" to inform their family life and responsibility as family members.

The writer of Ephesians thinks about the daily life of Christians in terms of service to God and to one another. The new life in Christ requires the believer to walk in love "as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Eph. 5:2). In the context of a discussion about the new life in Christ, general teaching about sexual purity, wise use of time, and the pleasure of praising God in song preceded a more specific discussion of husband-wife, parent-child, and master-slave relationships.

As if to reiterate the sacrificial nature of the way in which the faithful are to "walk in love," the writer warns of the forces of evil ready to deceive Christians with illusions about the fruits of sin. The attitude of faith described is that of a quality of life, a way of relating between Christians at home that has direct continuity with the worship life of the congregation.

Parental responsibility includes the admonition to bring up children in "the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (6:4), a favorite verse in modern "Christian family life" literature. In the first century, Christian parents were probably expected to teach "the law" to children as it had been taught in the Jewish family. The continuity of early Christian communities with the Jewish tradition suggests that children would learn Christian faith through participation in worship and through home ritual. Greek assumptions about education also could have informed attitudes about parental responsibilities. However, it was the Jewish way to tell the stories of faith associated with religious rituals.

The visible mark of Christian faith, according to New Testament writers, is in the way life is lived. In both Jewish and Greek traditions, it was assumed that chastisement and correction were a part of every learning process. Just as the congregation had defined patterns of spiritual discipline intended to strengthen the commitment of the community as a group, it was assumed that all loving relations include discipline, correction, repentance, and forgiveness.

Given the theological and church issues that could have divided any one of the early Christian congregations, the importance of the Lord’s Prayer as a guide to all aspects of daily life becomes apparent.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one (Matt. 6:11-13).

This was the way of life and the ethic of disciplined love to be carried from a congregation into the non-believing world through believers. The social ethic for family members found in a household rule provides only general guidelines for the ordering of relationships grounded in equality in Christ. All aspects of the Christian life central to the teaching of the church -- worship, ethical responsibility, deeds of mercy -- were to be carried out in daily life as witness to life lived in the power of the Spirit. Wherever Christians incarnated the way of Christian love, they bore witness to the presence of the Spirit of Jesus in the world. This included life at home.

As a minority group living in a hostile culture, members of the early Christian churches were in no position to identify the bestowal of God’s grace and blessing with national peace and prosperity. As a rag-tag group of believers from various ethnic backgrounds they were in no position to identify Christian faith with any one type of family.

The love ethic of Jesus had the effect of challenging the priority of all bloodline family relationships. Apparently, families were torn apart if all members did not become Christians. It was in this setting, as the church modified the sense of loyalty to family and nation of the Jewish tradition, that Christians were instructed about obligations to blood relatives.

The Changing Role of Family in the New Testament

Among the early Christians, the church was quite literally "the household of God." That household included families, but it was by no means a collection of family units. When Christians were no longer welcome to worship in the synagogue, they moved their worship into houses and fields. The church, as the household of God, gradually modified reliance on the extended family units that had been so important to Israelite religion.

In the Jewish tradition, the blessing of God was strongly associated with a stable and prosperous family life. In the new Christian tradition, God’s blessing was associated with members of a congregation. It was through the church, rather than the family, that the well-being of the new life in Christ was experienced among people who were made brothers and sisters through their common bond "in Jesus Christ."

Jesus’ teaching of a "law of love" revitalized Jewish ethical instruction. Through the history of the people of Israel, two slightly different religious traditions had emerged. In the Mosaic tradition, the blessedness of the people of God was associated with keeping the covenant of law. The belief that God rewarded people for faithfulness to their religious tradition was periodically challenged by prophets like Jeremiah who reminded the people of the law of God written on the heart. In his teaching, Jesus regularly challenged legalistic religious practices, reminding his followers of the law written on the heart. He gave priority to love of God and neighbor when questioned about family, marriage, and divorce.

Parties in the church are nothing new. Just as there are parties today, writers of New Testament books had to think how to describe Christian faith to people from two different religious traditions. For Christians who had converted from Jewish religious traditions, the old forms and practices were gradually altered in light of the life, teaching, and resurrection of Jesus. Descriptions of unity in the church are usually addressed to readers with different perspectives on religious tradition.

A major theme in New Testament theology is the issue of the meaning of the church for people from these two "parties." For instance, Gentiles addressed in Ephesians are described as "converts" from the ways of the world. Compared to Jewish Christians they are seen as previously having had "no hope and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12). Yet, the promise and hope of eternal life in Christ challenged prior beliefs about the meaning of life in "the world" for Christians with roots in the Jewish tradition.

New Testament discussions about the church are colored by expectation of the imminent return of Jesus, or the "end of the age." As the hope dimmed with the passage of time, second- and third-generation Christians became more concerned with the future of young congregations. Some scholars argue that because the churches were caught up in eschatological expectation, very little of their discussion about social ethics is relevant to modern issues.

However, scholars also point out that Gospels and epistles were written to encourage the faithfulness of adult believers in light of possible death through persecution. That is, they were concerned with the possibility of their own imminent end. They were also concerned, to some extent, about whether their children would have faith. Questions about the transmission of faith from one generation to another were surely a part of New Testament discussions about membership requirements in a Christian community. Transitions from circumcision, the traditional mark of membership, to baptism, as the new normative practice, were particularly difficult (Acts 15) 8

The fact that Christians addressed in the New Testament came from two different religious traditions has considerable bearing on the persistent tendency to favor dualistic views of human nature and God’s relationship with the world. Writers had to wrestle with the extent to which Jesus’ teaching challenged traditional Jewish attitudes and practices concerning the role of men and women in the family and in Christian communities. This is most obvious in Pauline writing in which the teachings vary in different letters.

However, attitudes about proper roles for men and women were further complicated for any theologian in the early years of Christianity by differences in Gentile and Jewish attitudes about the human body. Unlike the Jewish tradition, some of the Gentile Christians addressed apparently did not consider "the flesh" essential to the human spirit. They tended to spiritualize physical reality and treated the body as inferior to and separable from the spirit.

The question of whether the biblical writers were correcting dualistic thinking or introducing it has vexed interpreters of scripture in every era of church history. The interpretation of the Epistle to the Ephesians is quite different, depending on whether the writer is seen as primarily dependent on Jewish thought and practices, or as someone whose thought is dualistic.9 It is very difficult to know whether the writers use the various words translated into English as "flesh" and "spirit" in a spiritualizing way or not.

This, however, was not an issue in nineteenth-century American thought. No one questioned whether flesh and spirit had different connotations. The book of I Peter reads like a source-book for the dualistic theology of Victorian Protestant churches as well as new sects like the Mormons. Virtually all attitudes about sexual and family ethics are related to the belief that the passions of the flesh are the source of sin.

It is no accident that conservative Christians today are so vigilant in opposing sins they consider to be corruptions of the flesh. In their biblical heritage they are urged "to abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against your soul" (I Pet. 2: 11). In their theology, a whole world will be lost if Americans do not return to the moral standards they take to be biblical.

The Church as the Household of God

Contemporary Christians long for a household where they are loved and accepted as they are. There is good reason why so many pastors refer to a congregation as brothers and sisters in Christ. They are aware that many of those entrusted to their care suffer some disappointment from family members, perhaps a loss of love in marriage, that many are lonely living the single life. Given this situation, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians can be especially appealing to modern readers.

The Bible can be used as a guide to faith that transcends the particularities of time and place for those who remember that both the original readers and modern readers are influenced by a culture. Parker Palmer suggests that Scripture is like a mirror we hold up to our world. In faith we judge for ourselves as a community of Christians, even if the truth we come to know is not the currently accepted "truth" of a particular congregation, denomination, or culture.10

Some of the continuing appeal of Ephesians lies in the use of domestic imagery and familial language with reference to the people of God. The people addressed in Ephesians were religious people who wanted to serve some God and who sought the blessings and assurances of a good life from that God or gods. They are told that the experience of being born anew into "the Kingdom of Christ and God" will raise questions about their prior attempts to be religious, good, or moral people. These were not unbelievers or irreligious people. On the contrary, they were being warned that their old way of being religious was compromising faith in the living God.

Ephesians is a letter written to warn readers against seeking more or other knowledge of God’s love than is already available. Gentiles who became Christian were tempted to fall back into pagan ways of probing the mysteries of God. It is likely that they were drawn to the scientific knowledge of their time, astrology, which promised knowledge about the ultimate outcome of the cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil.

The ancient desire for spiritual power through knowledge of the mysteries of God is not unlike contemporary Christians attracted to New Age religion, belief in reincarnation, or stories about people coming back from the dead. Then, as now, the exact shape of the future was unknown. It is tempting to imagine that the forces of death and evil can be overcome by some "new" knowledge.

The writer assures the ancient readers that they need only trust the promises and knowledge of God already available to them. For they have been sealed with the promised Holy Spirit who guarantees their inheritance of life in Christ "toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory" (Eph. 1:14). Instead of following habits from their old way of life, they are directed to look to Jesus Christ to see the kind of life that is pleasing to God. Anyone armed with the "truth that is in Jesus" will not need special knowledge because, in Christ, God’s plan for the world has already been revealed.

Baptismal language is used to describe believers as persons made new by God through Christ, by "washing of water with the word." The new people of God are a people already made holy by the sacrifice of Christ. God wants the Christian community to be as beautiful as a bride on her wedding day -- without spot, wrinkle, or blemish. The sins of her past are washed away. She stands on the threshold of a new life with a new family. In place of knowledge of future mysteries, the writer invites readers to participate in the present mystery of growing up "to the measure of the full stature of Christ" (4:13).

Still, life in the Spirit is described in very concrete, worldly terms. There is no indication that the power of the Spirit will lift souls up to heaven or conform believers to the moral values of their culture. This is not a theology for people who think of faith as being transferred from generation to generation. Quite the contrary, all contrasts between the "old man" and "new man," between "children of wrath" and "children of light" indicate that believers are created anew in Jesus Christ. Their prior history counts for very little compared to the transforming power of the Spirit available to the Christian community. Without the spiritual power that is given by God, they would be blind to the height, breadth, and depth of God’s love for them.

Domestic Imagery in Ephesians

Ephesians is about the Christian community. The writer distinguishes between God as the Father to whom all believers have intimate access because of reconciliation through the cross (2:14-18) and God as the Father "from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes it name" (3 :15). This suggests that the church, as the household of God, is the true "family" of Christians.

Only in Ephesians is a gathering of Christians referred to as citizens of the household of God (2:16). Markus Barth suggests that the book may be addressed to newly baptized Gentiles." The household of God is meant to embody the eternal love of God which Jesus Christ graciously bestowed on all who knew him (1:5-6). The writer indicates that God’s relationship to the church was established when the love of God was visible for a time in Jesus Christ.

The use of family imagery in the New Testament is the same language used to express faith in the one God of Israel. This is the God who is later perceived as the Father of all families on heaven and earth. Israel is God’s ‘‘first-born Son" in the Moses stories. Salvation for Israel is sometimes conceived in parent-child language: "When Israel was a child I loved him.... It was I who taught Ephraim to walk" (Hos. 11:1, 3).

The association of parental language with the God of Israel was not a novelty introduced by writers of the New Testament. In the Gospels, God is said to be well-pleased with Jesus, his "beloved son" (Mark 1:11). According to the Gospels, it was highly offensive to the Hebrew way of thinking about God when Jesus addressed God as Abba, Father. It was Jesus’ claim to personal relationship with the one God of Israel that was audacious to a religious tradition in which the relationship with God was a corporate experience. The father-son imagery was a new use of older, more traditional ways of thinking about the relationship of God to the world and to the people of God.

In Ephesians, family imagery is not used -- as it had been in the Old Testament -- to say that only Israel is beloved of God. Family imagery in Ephesians is used to express the new teaching that the beloved of God who live the new life in Christ will come from every tribe and nation. Those whose new life is assured by the love of God in Christ are bonded by a kinship of spirit stronger than the power of death and evil.

The writer reminds readers that full enjoyment of God’s blessing is limited by the continuing power of evil in the world. Even so, the present oneness of God’s "beloved children" in the church is a miracle among people who are bound to quarrel and misunderstand each other. The community displays immaturity and imperfection. Nevertheless, it is blessed with well-being and peace of the new life because they are united by the Spirit with Christ who loves and cherishes all of them as his own body (5:29).

New Life and New Values

The first three chapters of Ephesians are an exquisite description of the spiritual riches available through the blessings of God’s grace. There is not the slightest hint that God’s blessings are those of material reward for faithful service. There is no reference to a future reward in some mysterious place called heaven. This is a letter written to discourage airy speculations and empty words. This becomes more clear in the second half of the epistle as the writer introduces new moral and social values for Christians as the attitudes and acts of those whose "knowledge" of God comes through Jesus Christ.

The truth described is a kind of knowledge that cannot be possessed. The "truth that is in Jesus" is known as believers learn that it means to be faithful to God. The power of evil in God’s world has not yet been fully vanquished. Yet, baptism into Christ places people in a family where they can begin to learn how much God loves them. The moral, social, and intellectual values of members of "the household of God" cannot be encoded in laws. Rather, the meaning of new life is grasped as believers attain "the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God" (4:11-15).

The writer of Ephesians uses the language of courtship and marriage to convey the passion and mystery of Christ’s union with the church.12 Yet anticipation of full union with Christ does not deny the reality of inevitable daily conflict between the "old" and the "new" in the life of believers. Although the "bride" has been purified by the "bridegroom," she finds it hard to live with confidence in her new reality. Old ways of thinking about the world, the habits of the old way of life can lead her to doubt the promises of the new life in Christ.

Influences from the old life constantly affect the new life. Hence, the final warning of the writer to "put on the whole armor of God" as protection against temptation. If the community will embody the love of Jesus Christ in their relationships with each other they can withstand the power of evil in the world. There is nothing here about transforming their culture. This is warning against being conformed to the values and ethics of the powers and principalities of this world (6:10-20).

The martial language of armor, breastplates, shields, and helmets disrupts the language of love as if to convey the fierceness of the temptation to fall back into the attitudes and habits associated with the old way of life (6:6-18). Suddenly the bride of Christ is portrayed as the church militant, a people who will withstand evil in the world if they are clothed in "the whole armor of God."

Ephesians was probably not written to a particular community. It is a general treatise intended to encourage Christians to defend the good news of the gospel in the world. They are expected to proclaim the good news by living it. Family relationships are regarded as work done with "singleness of heart," rendered as to the Lord, not for the sake of impressing other people or for personal gain (6:5-10). Fidelity in the ordinary events of daily life is possible for people armed with the shield of faith, the gospel of peace, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit.

The writer of Ephesians instructs and encourages believers regarding faithful service to each other in the Christian community and in their families. The quality of life in the household of God is a form of evangelism to a world where people are desperate for knowledge of "the truth." The "beloved children of God" are strenuously warned against falling into unfaithfulness through illusions about spiritual power offered by "empty words" and false religion.

Freedom from Illusions About Spiritual Power

The church of the New Testament has continuity and discontinuity with the people of God in Israel. The distinctive claim is that in the church new life is offered to all who believe that the truth about life is seen and known in God’s revelation in and through Jesus Christ. That truth is so powerful that it can overcome theological disagreements in congregations. It is so powerful that it can free those who know God’s love from illusions about themselves and their place in God’s world.

It has been typical of the Protestant tradition to believe that "the Christian home" can or should be a little church. This reverses the biblical expectation that the power of "the love of Christ" is known through participation in "the household of God." The good life, the peace and well-being of God’s blessing, is given to a community through its covenant relationship with God. God’s blessing can also be experienced in the family relationships of Christians; but "the Christian home" is not the source of blessing.

God continues to create new life through Jesus Christ wherever Scripture and sacrament reveal the truth about God’s intention for the world to the people of God. God creates new life through the church where the people come to know and embody the loving Spirit of the risen Lord in their love for one another. The power to move people away from their old way of life toward a new life of love of God and neighbor is bestowed by the Spirit that all might "grow up . . . into Christ" (4:15).

The essential difference between a family and the church lies in the potential for transformation through participation in "the household of God." All families socialize members to conform to the values of a particular society. In the family life of church members, parents mediate the values of the world to children even if they also express their faith in Jesus Christ in family relationships.

Membership in the household of God presupposes a common faith in Jesus as Lord. Membership in a family may presuppose little more in common than biological kinship. There is no sociological entity that can accurately be called the Christian home. The family is not essential to the Christian life. People can become Christian through participation in a congregation of Christians whether they were born into a Christian family or not. Only the church is essential to the Christian life.

Protestants are currently adrift in a sea of theological pluralism . . . responding inadequately to change in sexual practices and family structure. Neither the effort of the private party to conserve a Victorian ethic in the name of Christ, nor the adaptations of the public party to a cultural transition captures the essence of the gospel. As the Body of Christ in the world, each generation in the church has the potential to learn anew what it means to live in love of God and neighbor. This is the subject of the next chapter.



1. Austin Phelps, "The Present Exigency in Home Missions," Home Missionary 54 (December 1881): 227.

2. Robert T. Handy, A Christian America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), pp. 3-9.

3. Ibid.

4. William G. McLoughlin, The American Evangelicals, 1800 - 1900 (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), part two.

5. Ibid., p. 14.

6. Charles M. Sell, The Enrichment of Family Life Through the Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), p. 71.

7. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her (New York: Crossroad,1984), chap. 5.

8. See W. F. Flemington, "Baptism," The lnterpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. I (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962), pp. 348-53. Flemington concludes that "direct historical evidence of the New Testament is insufficient to settle the question either for or against infant baptism."

9. I am following the reasoning of Markus Barth that the writer of Ephesians, who is not Paul, is highly dependent on Old Testament thought and practices: Markus Barth, Ephesians 1-3 (New York: Doubleday, 1974), p. 11.

10. See Parker J. Palmer, To Know As We Are Known (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983), for a critique of modern epistemology and an extremely helpful discussion of how "truth" is known.

11. Barth, Ephesians 1-3, p. 11.

12. Fiorenza, In Memory of Her, p. 270. "Although early Christian theology used this text from the Old Testament [Gen 2:24] for understanding the marriage relationship, the author applies it primarily to the relationship of Christ and the church." In their haste to cite this passage as evidence of God-given patriarchal marriage arrangements, interpreters often miss the subject of the passage.