The Domestic Church is the Real Church
When we think about the basic unit of society, we inevitably think of the family. Of course, the nature of what defines a family is rapidly shifting and re-arranging itself in our society. I should add that the definition of family has been challenged and re-arranged several times over the centuries and even today takes on many different shapes depending on which culture and which individual family one is looking at. Yet, regardless of the definition we use or would prefer to use it can be agreed that family life has an incredible impact on individuals: their worldview, their future health, their future relationships, etc. etc. etc.
This is just as true when it comes to matters of faith. A great loss in many parts of North American Christianity is the loss of what I will call the domestic church, this meaning the vibrant union of Christian faith with ordinary family life. This means the development and practice of rituals, customs and family life patterns that intersect with Christian faith. Many evangelical Christians still practice family devotions, which would be one example of this.
But I’m thinking especially about the Christian calendar: the annual cycle of feasts and observances that is meant not only for worship gatherings but for Christians to observe at home as well. Many countries with Christian heritages have wonderful customs and traditions related to this calendar such as special cakes for Epiphany, eating by candlelight during Advent, the blessing of the home annually by the parish priest, etc.
We have forgotten in a real sense how to evangelize and socialize our children, grandchildren, godchildren, nieces and nephews into the faith. Somehow we’ve been led to believe that if we can take them to worship – a one hour event- once a week then they will somehow learn to live the Christian life. It takes more than weekly attendance at worship and participation in some educational program to introduce someone to the Christian life, the best way to do that is by experience living that life.
I believe Church leaders, lay and ordained, need to bend over backwards to find ways to encourage the observance of the faith at home. This will usually mean having to teach adults first, who will then teach their children. Some good resources on these topics can be found here from an Evangelical perspective, here from a Catholic perspective, and here from a Protestant perspective.
How can we begin this mammoth task?
(I want to add a disclaimer here: my statements are not meant to be accusatory toward parents. In fact, I think it is people like me who are in large part to blame for this situation, as we --Christian pastors and teachers -- have so often failed to equip families with the tools they need to observe the faith at home).