Wednesday I linked to an article at Touchstone about a study of father’s church attendance and the subsequent adult church attendance behavior of their children. I loved the article for two reasons. First, it reminded me of days gone by when I worked as a social scientist. I still like to read the occasional bit of social science research. Second, it reminded me of the central role of fathers. I’m a guy and a father, and the article said, “Hang in there. Keep on keepin’ on. You make a difference.” In short, it was encouraging.
But I didn’t think about how a faithful Christian mom married to an unbelieving husband might read the article. Or a faithful single mom. Today, a dear sister whom I love in the Lord, lovingly wrote to say that the article left her feeling discouraged, particularly the insinuation that no matter how much mom does the kids will turn away. Wow. That would be quite disheartening.
Because of her note, I’m reminded of three things:
1. I’m so very thankful for the sisters of the church who teach me so much. Their lives and perspectives are sometimes so wonderfully different and richer than my own that I’m simply made more humble, human, and helpful when I hear from them. This sister’s note is no exception. It demonstrates again how much we need the entire body of Christ.
2. Every good social scientist ends his article with some kind of qualifier, usually acknowledging the limits of the study. Posting the excerpt as I did, and not posting the original article, I’m sure left out some much needed qualifications that would have helped some who found the op-ed piece discouraging. The most significant Qualification for a study of religious behavior undoubtedly is God. The social science study doesn’t have the last word; God does. And His word of gospel grace and power is final. As evangelicals, we don’t (or shouldn’t) believe that religiosity and discipleship are in the final analysis simply sociological phenomena with human origins. No. We believe that discipleship and faith are supernatural phenomena–benefiting from human means, yes–but ultimately caused and maintained by our sovereign God who works in the lives of those He came to save. Marital status and father’s church attendance doesn’t amount to a hill of beans when God bares His arm to save!
3. The Bible is full of people who joyfully, faithfully, and radically follow Jesus even though their dads never saw a church door:
There is Moses the virtual orphan raised in the pagan home of Pharaoh.
There is Abraham, called by God out of a pagan family and land.
There is Timothy, whose mother was Jewish and father was a Greek who failed to have him circumcised. Timothy knew the scriptures from infancy because of his believing mother and grandmother, and he never departed.
Cornelius, the Gentile who feared God and was among the first fruits of Peter’s preaching to the Gentiles.
Our Lord’s own earthly father, Joseph, is essentially invisible after the birth narratives.
And outside the Bible there is me, and tons and tons of others who grew up in non-Christian homes, who come from other religious backgrounds, whose fathers never attended church and who have by God’s merciful grace come to love the Savior.
This is a partial list off the top of my head. Can you think of others?
It’s not as though we need others. To that mom and all the other moms like her, we put our hope in this confession: “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (2 Tim. 1:12b). Sisters, keep trusting the Lord, teaching the Scripture, and encouraging your children to follow the Lord. The Lord’s power does not rest in a man’s example, praise God!