Richard Baxter on the Teaching Roles of Parents

One of the bigger “in-house” arguments in modern Christianity refers to the roles of women and men in the church. This debate basically has two sides: complementarians and egalitarians. Complementarians (such as yours truly) believe that men and women have complementary — but very different — roles in family and church life. Egalitarians believe that there are no gender-specific roles in marriage or ministry. People tend to feel pretty passionate one way or the other, which can lead to some intense discussions.

I recently read something which may help to affirm both the complementarian view of Scripture and an egalitarian woman’s desire to serve in a teaching role. This excerpt from Richard Baxter is quoted in Thomas Manton’s mid-17th-century “Epistle to the Reader of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms” (available in its entirety here; the whole thing is GREAT):

“Among others, a principal cause of these mischiefs is the great and common neglect of the governors of families, in the discharge of that duty which they owe to God for the souls that are under their charge, especially in teaching them the doctrine of Christianity. Families are societies that must be sanctified to God as well as Churches; and the governors of families have as true a charge of the souls that are in them, as pastors have of the Churches. But, alas, how little is this considered or regarded! But while negligent ministers are (deservedly) cast out of their places, the negligent masters of families take themselves to be almost blameless. They… promise to teach their children the doctrine of the gospel, and bring them up in the nurture of the Lord, but they easily promise, and easily break it. Thereby they educate their children for the world and the flesh although they have renounced these and dedicated them to God. This covenant-breaking with God, and betraying the souls of their children to the devil, must lie heavy on them here or hereafter. They beget children, and keep families, merely for the world and the flesh, but little consider the greatness of the charge that is committed to them, and what it is to bring up a child for God, and govern a family as a sanctified society.

“O how sweetly and successfully the work of God would go on, if we would just all join together in our several places to promote it! Men would not so often run off to be preachers (uncalled), but would find that part of the kingdom’s work that belongs to them to be enough, and not only enough, but the best that they can be employed in. Especially women should be careful of this duty; because as they spend the most time with their children, and have early and frequent opportunities to instruct them. This is the principal service they can do to God in this world, being restrained from more public work. And doubtless many excellent magistrates have been sent into the Commonwealth, and many excellent pastors into the Church, and many precious saints to heaven, through the happy preparations of a holy education, and perhaps by a woman that thought herself useless and unserviceable to the Church.”

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