The Fatherhood Debate

Scriptures: John 14:1-14; Matthew 6:5-15

The title of my sermon today is The Fatherhood Debate. We’re going to go through a couple of things today. We’re going to try to understand the world’s perspective on fatherhood today, and then what fatherhood really means in God’s divine plan.

The world has a dim view of fatherhood today. Let’s be blunt, let’s be honest. For the last fifty, sixty years, they have set up systems and things such that fathers were not and are not supposed to be necessary.

I remember when I was growing up in the 70’s, there was stuff about gender. They said that kids were tabula rasa when they were born, they were blank slates, and we socialized them into their gender roles.

I love the longitudinal study, a 25-year study that came out on the Discovery Channel once, and they came to this incredible discovery: men and women are different.

Yup. Not just in reproductive organs but biologically. We think differently. We see differently. We perceive differently. We respond differently. It affects our relationships. It affects who we are. And it affects the way the family should be structured.

And yet, still, they promote the non-necessity of fathers. Despite the fact that every single study that’s been done over the last thirty years has shown that a child in a two-parent family with a father and a mother does statistically significantly better – in school, in life, success – than any other combination of family that you might have, whether it be same-sex or single parent. A single father or a single mother, it doesn’t matter.

There is a role for fathers. I have seen in action when someone has lost a father, and that’s a terrible thing. A child has lost a father, and you know, that’s going to be tough, but people think, mom will pull him through. But when a child loses a mother, that’s seen as just such an incredible tragedy that he’ll never recover. Apparently fathers aren’t as important or as necessary as mothers.

Bill Cosby has a little schtick he does on fathers and mothers. One of the differences between fathers and mothers is on Mother’s Day, he says the children go out of their way to take time and weeks and they’ll make something by hand and then they’ll wrap it and they’ll present it to mom on Mother’s Day. “Here, Mom, this is for you. I love you.”

On Father’s Day, they come up to the dad and they say, “Hey Dad, loan me twenty bucks and I’ll get you a pack of cigarettes.” And then they smoke half of them on the way home.

Someone noticed that the word “father” appears in the dictionary – I’m not sure which dictionary – just before the word “fatigue” and just after the word “fathead.” So to all of us fatigued fathead fathers, Happy Father’s Day.

Fathers are frequently looked down on today. They’re considered unnecessary. And yet, perhaps it’s our understanding of what’s involved in father. It’s not just a genetic thing. I once had a friend that had a shirt – I would have liked to steal it, but he only wore a medium, and that just wouldn’t work on me. It said “Any man can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad.”

Maybe what we should call it is Dad’s Day, instead of Father’s Day. Because there is a critical role for dads in faith and development, that I’ll get into a little later, after we have a perspective on God. But the fact is that we have an impact.

We need to look at it in terms of that dad. Because our relationship with God, in many ways, is the same thing. Now, I know that there are those that have had earthly fathers that are terrible, that are abusive. And I have compassion for them. I want to make sure that we love them with open arms.

But we also need to remind them that the earthly father’s failure is not the heavenly Father’s failure as well. Just because the dad here on earth isn’t a good dad and is even sometimes cruel doesn’t mean that God is and is not a reason for leaving God.

I had a friend in seminary, and she said she had an abusive growing up, and the one thing that kept her sane was recognizing the fact that her heavenly Father was nothing like her dad.

Now, as good fathers and dads, we want to emulate our heavenly Father as well, and we’ll get into that a little bit more later. But I want to say that one of the ways of handling the failures of earthly fathers is not to change the language, particularly the language of faith.

So many times we try to be politically correct in our descriptions of the Scriptures, to change the Scriptures, to take out the male pronouns, to take out the fatherhood of man. The hymns have been adapted. You know, God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen has been changed to say “merry gentle friends.”

Today, we sang “Faith of Our Fathers” at the church in Morning Sun. And in the hymnal there, the second verse says “faith of our mothers.” Now, that’s not in the original. But they changed it, because they didn’t want to exclude mothers. If you talk about fathers, you have to talk about mothers.

Gender correctness. Even in the liturgist’s Call to Confession today, she talked about God and didn’t say “his.” Instead of saying “his Son” she said “the Son.” While He is the only begotten Son, if you actually look at the Scriptures that she was quoting from, it says “his Son” did not come into the world to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved.

We try to get rid of God and his Fatherhood and our relationship to him as a Father. And it affects every area of our church and it affects foundational faith today. When I was not pastoring for a while, Pauline and I went and visited a church. We had visited it once, and we weren’t all that impressed, but we like to give a church a chance. Everybody has a bad day sometimes.

So we went again. They were having confirmands become new members, being confirmed in their faith. One of them needed to be baptized, and we noted that during the baptism, the pastor – who was the assistant pastor there – did not ask him the first question of the baptism: “Do you repent of all sin and evil and take Jesus Christ as your only hope of salvation?” Instead they were asking questions about membership and such.

Then when the time came to baptize the youth, the pastor baptized him “in the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer,” not the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. We talked here, a couple of weeks back, if you were here, about the heresy of modalism, and how looking at God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer doesn’t do justice to the persons of the Trinity.

My wife, as you all know, is a very quiet woman. But when she speaks with authority, then it is as she says. And as we were walking down the steps from the church, she didn’t look at me, she simply said, “We’re not coming back here.” And I said, “I know.”

Because fatherhood is important. Our understanding of our relationship with God as a relationship is important. In the Bible itself, all throughout the Scriptures, whether in the Old Testament with looking at the Father of the nation of Israel, to very personal in the New Testament with Jesus and the two passages read today, we experience relationship with God as a Father.

We are adopted as his children. He is our parent. We are to experience him. Because you can’t have a relationship with a thing, a force. I’m sorry, the force may be with you but you can’t have a relationship with it.

You have a relationship with someone, and in that relationship then there’s going to be a give and take. There’s going to be a setting. There are going to be standards. There are going to be things going back and forth. And there’s going to be some sort of way to love one another. And it’s not necessarily as equals.

God loves us as a father is supposed to love his children. God provides for us. He was our creator. He created us. He gives us the very breath that we take every day, every moment. He provides us with material blessings.

And yes, you do have women that are the breadwinners. There was a long time that my wife was making more than I do. We actually talked about if we needed to go to being a one-income family, I was more than happy to be a stay-at-home dad, for a while.

It doesn’t have a thing to do with who’s the breadwinner. It has to do with God providing for us, providing for us in terms of not just material goods, but a safe, stable environment and integrity in a relationship that we can count on, and we know that what he says is going to be true. That’s what being a father is about.

And disciplining us sometimes when we need it. Although I have to admit in my family, my father was always the discipline of last resort. You didn’t ever want to get to the point where my dad was involved in the discipline. That was the final threat of my mother.

But nevertheless, that kind of loving relationship. One that sacrificed His own Son for us. That’s how much He loves you. So that we could then be adopted, through His Son, to Him, and become His children. Paul says “sons,” like Christ, with the same kind of authority. The same kind of relationship. The same kind of power. The same kind of access to God in heaven.

It’s important for us to understand, because so many people are moving away from the understanding of God as Father. They debate it. But if you debate it, and you dismiss it, then what kind of relationship can you have with Him?

You can have a relationship with the Son. You can have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. You can work with that. But what kind of relationship do you have with your Creator? We need to recognize what God is. He is Father. He is the Father. He’s not just like a father.

The Bible shows God to be a true model of fatherhood upon which all other fathers are judged. If you want to know what a true father is, don’t look at your earthly father or my earthly father or any other earthly father, however good they may appear to be. Look instead in the Scriptures.

And we don’t just get to call Him Father. We get to call Him “Dad.” In the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, we say “Our Father, who art in heaven…” But the word that’s used there is Abba. Abba. And it speaks of an intense, personal, intimate relationship with the person in that role.

It may not directly translate as “Daddy,” but that’s what it means: Dad. Dear dad, who is resting in heaven. Dear Dad. And I can just picture, in my own head, the little 3- or 4-year-old Jewish kids who would see their dad come home from work or from wherever he might be, and they go running down the hall, “Abba, Abba, Abba,” and throw themselves into his arms, as he welcomes them in.

We have that image for us. We have that kind of relationship with God. And Jesus Christ came to us. He told us that. When he was talking to the disciples to give them comfort, he said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you.” Be comforted by this.

We can take comfort in the Fatherhood of God. In Matthew 23:9, Jesus even says, “Do not call anyone on earth your Father, for one is your Father who is in heaven.” Now, that may seem strange at first. What do I call my dad, then, here?

But Jesus is speaking in an ultimate sense. In the same passage, he says not to call any man teacher, for Christ is our teacher. But we note that in other parts of Scripture it is clear that if we cannot receive earthly teachers given by God, then it is a sign of our own immaturity. There are people who are called to be teachers by God. But our ultimate teacher is Jesus Christ.

And our ultimate Father is our Father in heaven. And that’s the standard that we use. That’s the person we look to for our image. That’s the one that we as fathers, those of you who are fathers here, and grandfathers, should be looking to.

I know that we’ll never match up, because He’s perfect, and we can never be. But we need to strive for that, as much as we strive for any witness of the Christian faith. It’s critical that we do so. Because fathers have a much greater impact on the faith life of children than you would ever believe.

Justin Taylor posted an article on fathers’ church attendance and the future church attendance of their adult children. Now, this is equating attendance with being solidly grounded in the faith, which isn’t necessarily true, but it is nevertheless a decent measure. The study came from Barna, and they do a lot of studies like this.

It confirms what many have informally observed and suspected for a long time: Dad’s example has a dramatic effect on daughter and son’s spiritual life. And this is not to denigrate moms and their effect. I don’t want to leave them out. They have a major influence.

John and Charles Wesley were two very well-known people. Charles wrote twenty thousand hymns, supposedly, and John Wesley was the founder of the Methodist church. Their mother had nineteen kids. Five of them turned out to be preachers. So the mother has a humongous impact on people’s personal faith.

But, when it comes to participating in the church, no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions, if a father does not go to church, only one child in fifty will become a regular worshiper. By regular, they mean at least three out of four weeks in a month.

If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers, either regular or irregular. If a father goes but irregularly to church – that means less than twice a month and maybe Christmas and Easter … and Father’s Day, regardless of his wife’s devotion, between a half and two-thirds of their offspring will find themselves coming to church either regularly or occasionally.

A non-practicing mother with a regular father will see a minimum of two-thirds of her children ending up at church. In contrast, a non-practicing father with a regular mother will see two-thirds of his children never darken the church door. They’re inverted. If his wife is similarly negligent then that figure rises above 80 percent, never darkening the door.

The results are shocking, but they should not be surprising. They are about as politically incorrect as it is possible to be; but they simply confirm what psychologists, criminologists, educationalists, and traditional Christians know. And as this young man put it, Justin Taylor, you cannot buck the biology of the created order.

Father’s influence, from the determination of a child’s sex to the funerary rites surrounding his passing, is out of all proportion to his allotted, and severely diminished role, in Western liberal society.

A mother’s role will always remain primary in terms of intimacy, care, and nurture. I mean, who is it that all of your tough-guy athletes and tattooed people, if they get on camera, what is it that they always say? “Hi Mom!” They never say “Hi Dad!” So the mother’s role is always primary in terms of that, and no father can replace that relationship.

But it is equally true that when a child begins to move into that period of differentiation from home and engagement with the world “out there,” he (and she) looks increasingly to the father for his role model. As they begin to go through the teen years and differentiate themselves and separate themselves in preparation for college and moving out on their own, they look to the father as a role model.

Where the father is indifferent, inadequate, or just plain absent, that task of differentiation and engagement is much harder. When children see that church is a “women and children” thing, they will respond accordingly—by not going to church, or by going much less.

Curiously, both adult women as well as men will conclude subconsciously that Dad’s absence indicates that going to church is not really a “grown-up” activity. And despite the fact that there is an age where, let’s face it, every child thinks that you don’t know anything anyway, in their teenage years. You know, I’ve said before, it’s amazing how smart my dad got as I went through my twenties.

But despite that fact, unconsciously, subconsciously, they’re making evaluations. They’re making evaluations about faith and understanding, and what’s important, what’s “grown-up.” If the father doesn’t come to church, then they don’t think that’s a grown-up activity. So they tend to wander away from it.

We have a job to do here, that we have failed to do in the church. Many of you have been fathers and are older and you’ve been grandfathers. Some of you have been great-grandfathers. But I want to tell you something. The job of being a father is not finished yet.

And it’s not just because, as my mother said, “No matter how old you get, you’ll always be my kid.” Rather, in the church it makes it very clear that the fatherhood role is so important, so important that if there are those who have an absence in their family, whether it be due to death, due to divorce, or just leaving and abandonment, it doesn’t matter. Men in the church are supposed to take up that role.

In Titus, we read a passage yesterday at the funeral, and it talked about teachers and their example. But in the four verses right before that, it talks about older men mentoring younger men and older women mentoring younger women. Timothy was raised by his grandmother in the faith, and came to understand, but Paul was his father-figure.

So you don’t have to have had a child. You don’t have to currently have a child to be a father and to act as a father. You need to fill in, where there’s a gap. And I would imagine that even in a small town like this, in Wapello, and Morning Sun, and Mediapolis, and the areas around here, there are young men who need a father-figure.

Someone to step up to the plate and form a relationship with them, and begin to mentor them in what it means to be a man and a father, a dad. To be a dad, and to be a faithful follower of Christ. Like being a Christian itself, which doesn’t stop until you die, and even then you just go on to heaven and get into a new stage.

Your job here as a dad, and being a dad, never ends. God has called each and every one of us who is a man to do it. We have that challenge today. And the world’s not going to like it. The world is going to be against us. It’s going to take some effort and it’s going to take a lot of support from the church as a whole, to stand up for those people who are trying to stand up for their faith in that manner, and to pass on and to be dad to other people.

We need it. I think the signs of that lack are all over society today. I mean, so many kids that grow up fatherless, they get into gangs, because they can look up to the leader there, they take him as their role model and their mentor. Or they just run amok. And it’s because we haven’t instilled in them the discipline and understanding of what it means to be responsible in a relationship with other people.

So on this Father’s Day, I want to give you two challenges. One is specifically to fathers, in terms of being dads for those who are in need, and continuing to work on being a dad and a granddad for those that are in your own family.

The challenge to the mothers and sisters and aunts and such is to encourage those menfolk in emulating God and being godly men and dads to the people they relate with and have the opportunity to relate with in that manner.

Our second thing that we need to do is stand up firm in the faith for our understanding of God as Father. Don’t back down. Don’t give up. We need to understand, if we have a relationship, a personal relationship through Jesus Christ with God, that relationship is one that the Scripture itself says is like that of a father and a son. And we can take pride in that, and comfort in that.

And we need to reach out in compassion with anyone who has had a bad experience with an earthly father. Point them to their heavenly Father, so that they might know what a true father is like. And we need to love on them, and care for them, so that they know it is safe.

It’s not an easy thing, especially in this day and age. But I believe very firmly that God is calling us to it. I pray that you will be up to the challenge, that you will take the opportunity that God gives you, and that you will give Him praise and glory by what you do, for the great things He has done for you.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.


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