The family is the historical answer to the human longing for security and support. In the view of the social sciences, this form of life is found wherever two or more generations live together for a sustained period of time on the basis of parenthood rooted in considerations of biology or law. The Biblical notion of the family, on the other hand, relates nearly exclusively to that traditional social form of the ‘whole house’, also referred to as the ‘household family’ (1 Cor 16.19), characterised by a close intertwining of work and family life. This social form, which included not only the kinship group but non-related employees, was the dominant family type in Central and Western Europe into the 18th century; in the 19th century, it was replaced by the nuclear family, which consisted of father, mother, and child(ren). There are several features characteristic of the Christian view of the family. One such feature is the close, inseparable correlation between marriage and family. The foundation of the Christian family is marriage, a loving bond between husband and wife. Children, and hence the existence of the family, are not a precondition but rather the natural fruit and outcome of this bond (Gen 1.28). The second characteristic relates to the meaning and value of the family. The quality of family relationships is characterised by human closeness and personal familiarity. Here, and in contrast to the career world, cohabitation in a family is shaped not by objectivity, competition, and mutualism, but rather by emotionality, a willingness to care for one another, and solidarity. The family is in direct service to the human individual and his or her development as a person. It is the locus for the procreation, development and preservation of life of the human person. Its central mission is to offer its members – children and parents alike – a space of security and protection, a place in which they can grow and mature as individuals, gaining psychological stability and identity in the process. From a theological point of view, finally, beyond its enabling of physical and intellectual life, the Christian family is constituted and called upon to play a part in building the Kingdom of God by passing Christian faith in the resurrection of the dead and eternal life along to the next generation. To the extent that this occurs, God’s love for humankind comes alive and is tangible in the family in the way in which family members treat one another.
Through their personalisation and emotionalisation, family relationships in the countries of the Western world have grown noticeably more unstable since the 1970s. In Germany, currently roughly one-third of all families – Christian families included – break up. Apart from unrealistic expectations of family life, major factors responsible for this trend include exaggerated tendencies towards individualisation and continued incompatibilities of career and family. Despite these difficulties, however, the family in Germany enjoys an unbroken, high level of esteem and recognition, cutting across all age levels, as a place of love and acceptance.
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