Do we need to attend the same church as our parents?

By Beth Hyduke

Jesus designed a church body to be a close community, often closer than a family. So what should adult children do when the church of their parents no long meets their needs? Or teaches theology they no longer believe? It can be especially difficult if the parents expect their adult children to stay. How can they balance freedom in Christ with honoring their parents?

It's a difficult issue for those with genuine concern for their parents and who want to do right by them. It is not at all uncommon for there to be some confusion about how Christian children should relate to their parents as they grow up and mature from young children into responsible adults. I think a proper and contextual understanding of what the Bible says about this is the key to answering the question.

Ephesians 6:1 says, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right." Exodus 20:12 says, "Honor your father and your mother..." The Ephesians verse is specifically directed to and intended for children (young people who are being raised by, and are under the authority of, parents) while the Exodus verse is more generally directed at all people whose parents are living, children and adults alike. Just from this one comparison you can already see that there is a distinction between the two. Children are instructed to obey and honor parents; while adult children, though not instructed to obey their parents, are still instructed to honor them.

The distinction between obeying and honoring is important. Obedience carries with it the idea of absolute trust and absolute submission. It means to put oneself under the authority of another and to follow the commands or guidance of that person. In the Bible, this is frequently used in reference to a child learning from a parent (Proverbs 1:8, 23:22; Colossians 3:20; Ephesians 6:1; Leviticus 19:3, 32) or God's people learning from God. The meaning of honoring someone is different than obeying or submitting to them. Honoring means showing esteem and respect to someone of superior standing. Interestingly, the original Hebrew word for honor means "to weigh" or "to make heavy." So, as adult children, when we honor our parents we are esteeming them as people of value and superior standing and recognizing that their experienced counsel carries a lot of weight with us.

When we become adults, we are no longer under the direct authority of our parents. The relationship matures past that of parental authority/obedient child to one where the parent is a friend and a trusted advisor to the adult child who has assumed responsibility and initiative in their own lives. The mandate to honor parents never expires, but the mandate to obey parents lapses when the child reaches adulthood. Part of being a responsible adult is making decisions, especially important decisions regarding spiritual life and welfare, such as where to attend church. While parental advice should be respected, seriously weighed, and considered, and received with humility, kindness, and grace, a Christian adult is not required to obey or take their parents' advice. In the Bible it is understood that there is a normal progression of responsibility and freedom for children as they age and mature into adults. This normal progression is what Dr. Dobson refers to when he offers this advice to parents:
It is better, I believe, to begin releasing your children during the preschool years, granting independence that is consistent with their age and maturity. When a child can tie his shoes, let him — even require him — to do it. When he can choose his own clothes within reason, let him make his own selection. When he can walk safely to school, allow him the privilege. Each year, more responsibility and freedom (they are companions) are given to the child so that the final release in early adulthood is merely the final relaxation of authority.
As Christian adult, we are not required to attend the same church or denomination that our parents attend, and therefore may want us to attend. God requires of His followers that we attend church (Hebrews 10:24-25; Ephesians 4:11-12) and that the church we attend is a God-honoring, Bible-believing, Christ-centered church (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 1:22-23; Ephesians 2:19-21). As long as our preferences are in alignment with those requirements, we have a good deal of freedom in regards to which church and which denomination becomes our home. In the meantime, God's requirement to honor our parents does not change simply because we happen to not see eye to eye on where we will go to church. Honoring them, in this instance, may mean — not necessarily that you comply with their wishes for you — but that you sit down with them and humbly and respectfully explain our rationale and reasons for wanting to seek another church without getting offended or angry if they continue to disagree. How Christians handle disagreement amongst themselves can be a great personal encouragement as well as a great testimony to those around us. In terms of disagreements stemming from denominational differences, I think of CS Lewis' hallway metaphor which may be helpful to the situation. In his book Mere Christianity, he compares the whole realm of Christianity to a common hallway out of which various doors open up into separate rooms that represent the different Christian denominations. His purpose in writing Mere Christianity was to usher people into the hallway by convincing them that the basic teachings of Christianity (which all Christians share in common as central beliefs) are reasonable and true. At the same time, Lewis recognized that it was in the rooms themselves — both the choice of them and the practices that each instills and fosters — where a Christian's growth truly begins. Lewis writes this:
The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose, the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable. It is true that some people may find that they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at...Above all, you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and paneling. In plain language, the questions should never be: 'Do I like that kind of service?' but 'Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door-keeper?' When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall.

Image Credit: Suzi Duke; "The family on Easter Sunday, 1961"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Family-Life  | Personal-Relationships

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Published on 5-20-15