A Final Word

New Wineskins

by Rick Knoth

The golden age of the idyllic TV family of the 50s and 60s stands in sharp contrast to many of the images we see in today's popular network programs. The evolution of the American TV family over the past 60 years is emblematic of the societal and cultural changes seen over the same period. Television families over the past six decades are deeply rooted not just in the portrayal of fictional families but also in reality of the way life was and is.

The iconic Ward and June Cleaver, in the "Leave It to Beaver" series, typified the traditional American middle-class suburban ideal romanticized by TV audiences everywhere. The Cleavers of the 50s and 60s segued to the 70s blended family of the Bradys in "The Brady Bunch." The 70s and 80s also gave rise to two popular single-parent TV families: The Partridges and Romanos ("One Day at a Time").

And who can forget the Taylors ("Mayberry R.F.D."), the Cunninghams ("Happy Days"), the Huxtables ("The Cosby Show"), the Bunkers ("All in the Family"), the Keatons ("Family Ties"), and the Seavers ("Growing Pains")? Though some of these earlier TV families represented less-than-ideal family structures, there was still a common thread of decency and orthopraxy in all of them.

Fast forward to the 1990s and 2000s when American audiences were introduced to dysfunctional families, such as the Conners, ("Roseanne"), the Barones ("Everybody Loves Raymond"), the Osbournes, the Bluths ("Arrested Development"), the Kardashians, and the Pritchetts ("Modern Family"). Audiences of these programs were and are more apt to be exposed to copious discussions about single motherhood, gay marriage, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, nonmarital cohabitation, adultery, and other sexually-charged innuendo — conversations that would cause our grandparents and patrons of the faith to turn in their graves.

The emergence of these varied family types over the past several decades has brought into question the definition of "family." The regression of the family from the historic nuclear model many of us grew up with leaves us wishing we could turn back the clock to relive earlier days. Unfortunately, we cannot relive a second, minute, day, or a single year of our lives. A return to America's traditional, healthy, two-parent family model is a vestige of the past.

Many God-fearing families and individuals feel threatened by the changing paradigm of the family, and rightly so. Today's Christian families, especially our children and youth, are being sucked into a vortex of family change that promotes a variety of undesirable consequences: relativism, agnosticism, atheism, rebellion, promiscuity, isolationism, narcissism, suicide, voyeurism, and spiritual nakedness, to name a few. With such unwelcome consequences, is it any wonder families express little hope for bright and sustainable futures for their children?

No government action or impressive erudition can reverse the trends in family construction or return America to the historic nuclear model upon which it was built. Therefore, the requisite role of the Church in such uncertain times becomes increasingly important. The Church must not only strengthen what remains, it also must find compassionate avenues of ministry to meet the spiritual needs of today's "modern family."

In Matthew 9:14-17, Jesus told John the Baptist's disciples that new wine should not be poured into old wineskins. Why? "The skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined." He said new wine should be poured into new wineskins so both will be preserved.

Our churches mustn't overlook the underlying message of this passage. Will our wineskins of the past be sufficient to hold the new wine needed to minister to the needs of the "modern family"? Will we be so married to the past that we are unable to engage America's changing future? Will our churches remain so locked into old attitudes, mindsets, and biases that they cannot be the compassionate servants Jesus called them to be? Or will our churches adapt new methodologies of doing ministry that address the growing dysfunctions inside and outside the church, all the while proclaiming the unchanging message of the gospel? I trust we will choose the latter.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, our churches must look to develop a biblical theology of the family that runs as a deep, flowing river through all of our existing ministries. Our churches must find creative ways to strengthen what remains so that the faithful feel secure and better prepared to meet the challenges of an increasingly hostile world. If we do our job well, the biblical moorings upon which believers in Christ build their lives will stand the test of time and eternity.