The Functions of the Family
This article is from Law and Liberty, Chapter 17, by Rousas John Rushdoony, a Reformed scholar and brilliant writer of the last century. Dr. Rushdoony was the founder of Chalcedon Foundation, an educational organization devoted to research, publishing, and to cogent communication of a distinctively Christian scholarship to the world at large. His son Mark continues to publicize and distribute Rushdoony’s work through Chalcedon. We are grateful to Chalcedon for permission to publish this book serially, chapter by chapter. Visit Chalcedon’s website here.
The Family Law Structure
Historically and Biblically, the family is the central institution in law and in society. Although we do not think of the family normally as a lawmaking body, the family is nonetheless the basic lawmaking body in all history. Every point of power and authority is also a point of law, and, historically, family law has been the basic law of mankind. In any society or institution, there are basic rules of conduct, and these rules of conduct constitute its law structure. The family is man’s basic lawmaking body because of a variety of reasons, but certainly one of the first of these is the fact that it is the first place man, as a child, encounters law, rules of conduct, and his idea of law is shaped and defined to a great degree by the family. Life is seen through a law structure which the family gives to the child, and this law structure defines life for the child. But this is not all. The child’s attitude towards every other institution and its laws is largely shaped by the family. How the child approaches and reacts to church, school, state, and society depends greatly on his source of law, parental authority. He can face other law-making bodies rebelliously, or he can face them obediently. His attitude can be constructive, destructive, or indifferent, depending on his family background to a large degree. Every parent daily is a lawmaking person, a focal point of law enforcement, and the delinquency of parents in this respect is their delinquency before God, their Lord and sovereign.
The Desirable Prior Condition of Birth
It is obvious, of course, that procreation, birth, is a function of the family, and, in a healthy, Biblically oriented and governed family system, this function is preceded by an important fact that conditions birth. The parents marry because there is a bond of faith and love between them, a resolution to maintain for life a covenant under God. As a result, a heredity of faith and a unity in terms of it are established as a prior condition of birth, so that a child born into such a family has an inheritance which cannot be duplicated. The Biblical family cannot be rivaled by man’s science or imagination as the institution for the procreation and rearing of children.
Man’s First School
Moreover, the family is man’s first and basic school. Parents have very extensively educated their children before the child ever sets foot inside a school. Moreover, every mother regularly performs the most difficult of all educational tasks, one which no school performs. The mother takes a small child, incapable of speaking or understanding a word in any language, and, in a very short time, teaches it the mother tongue. This is a difficult and painstaking task, but it comes simply and naturally in the family as an expression of the mother’s love and the child’s response to that love. At every stage of the child’s life, the educational function of the home is the basic educational power in the life of the child. For education to cease to be parent-controlled and become state-controlled is deadly to both education and the child.
Man’s First Government
The family is also the first government in the life of the child, with the father as the God-ordained head of the household and his government under God as the child’s basic government. The children are not the only ones who are governed by the family; the parents are also. The mother is governed in her activities by the requirements of her husband and children. The father is governed by the necessities of providing for his family, protecting them, and giving them the example and leadership they need. Where the family is not self-supporting, there is neither power nor authority in the person of the father. Welfare families, from the days of the Roman Empire to the present, have been notorious for the undisciplined, immoral, and delinquent characters, and welfare families have always been marked by a general lack of masculine authority. A man who will not provide for his family, accumulate respect, and cherish private property, will have neither the authority nor the ability to govern with wisdom and honor. Lacking self-government, he cannot govern others. Welfare destroys family life and creates more evils than it tries to solve.
Motivation and Guidance
Another basic function of the family is motivation and guidance. The child is provided with the best kind of guidance, because the family is most interested in him, and the child is, in the Christian family, given the highest kind of motivation for his own future and present development.
A Major Economic Function
The family also has a major economic function. The father provides for his family, not for strangers. Welfare agencies maintained by state and federal agencies have provided some kind of economic existence for as many as fifteen and more millions at one time. But, daily, far more than a hundred million persons are supported by the family system. Under statist welfare, there is disintegration of the individual and of the family and extensive demoralization. Under the family system, untold millions are supported ably and well, with the best of social consequences. Under welfare, education declines; there is less interest in the discipline and results of learning, and less ability to progress as a result. Under the family system, children are not only intellectually motivated for the best educational results, but they are economically financed through grade and high school, college, and sometimes graduate school, so that the most ambitious educational enterprise of history is economically dependent on the family system. In terms of sheer economic efficiency, nothing in all of history has ever equaled the family. By comparison, statist welfare and Communist takeovers of the family’s economic functions are pathetic and tragic failures. Socially, this magnificent economic institution, the family, has no equal in its contribution to social stability and order. To reduce the reason for marriage and the family to love is to deny the vast and varying social functions of the family. But, in the Biblical perspective, the family and marriage are governed, not by love as the only sufficient reason, or the social consequences, but by the covenant with God and the Word of God.
The family as an economic unit has an excellent division of labor plan, whereby certain duties are required of the father, others of the mother, and still others of the children. There are mutual rights and duties, all of which are discharged with a greater degree of success and efficiency, despite all the problems, than in any other institution. The family, moreover, can withstand and survive more shock than any other institution—economic disasters, personal disagreements, social catastrophes, and the like.
A Policing and Protecting Function
The family has also a valuable policing and protective function. The members of a family police one another; they work to keep their members in line and out of trouble. The members of a family not only police and punish one another, but they also protect one another, and theirs is a cradle-to-grave protective function. When civil governments talk about cradle-to-grave security, they are simply imitating the family and offering the state as a substitute for the family. Throughout history and today, the family has provided cradle-to-grave security for the overwhelming majority of all men and has done a most satisfactory job of it. The state has botched up its every attempt to replace the family. Today, the state has worked to limit the authority, power, and ability of the family and then has turned to blame the family for conditions the state has created.
The state has extensively interfered in the family’s functions, and it has claimed vast areas that properly belong to the family. Does this mean that the family has been weakened? Does the future portend a decline in the importance of the family? On the contrary, the more the state has interfered, the more it has thereby underscored man’s need for the family. The incompetence of the state as family has made more obvious the competence of the family as a family. The prevalence of sickness does not make health obsolete, but only all the more urgently needed and desired. Historically, every period of statism is followed by an era of an intensely family-oriented society as men turn from sickness to health.
God’s Order Shall Prevail
We are today in an era of burgeoning statism. On every side, the family is under attack, and the state is assuming progressively more and more of the family’s functions, and progressively finding itself more and more prone to social disintegration and demoralization. More than ever before, the Biblical faith and law concerning the family, its functions, property, and faith, must be stressed and taught. The future does not belong to disease; it belongs to health. Because this is God’s world, it is God’s order which shall prevail. “Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it” (Ps. 127:1).