A Biblical Vision for Multi-Generational Faithfulness (TBB)

The “TBB” in the name of this post means that it is part of The Big Box series. If you’re new to Scarlet Letters, read the introductory post to see what The Big Box is all about.

Well, the homeschool conference is over – but not The Big Box! This week we’ll be meeting one of patriarchy’s more obscure proponents, William Einwechter (though readers who’ve brushed up on their Reconstructionism will probably recognize his name – he’s rather infamous in certain circles for his remarks about stoning rebellious teenagers).[1][2] According to the brief bio on the back of the case, he serves as pastor of Immanuel Free Reformed Church in Pennsylvania and vice president of the National Reform Association. Interestingly, I just finished reading about a different National Reform Association in John Fea’s book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? (emphasis mine):

As we saw in the last chapter, much of the religious debate between North and South during the Civil War focused on the “Christian” nature of U.S. Constitution. The South reveled in the fact that the Constitution of the Confederate States of America invoked “the favor and guidance of Almighty God,” while the U.S. Constitution did not. … In 1863 several ministers decided to do something to change this godless Constitution. … This group of ministers eventually became known as the National Reform Association (NRA). In 1864 its leaders brought their proposal for a Christian amendment to the White House. … By 1874 the organization was holding national gatherings attended by several thousand people, mostly clergy.

The above makes the historical National Reform Association’s mission clear: amend the Constitution to include explicit references to Christianity and the Christian God. (For more information, see here and p. 22-25 of Fea’s book.) Unfortuantely, since none of the links at the website of Einwechter’s NRA seem to work on my computer, I can’t confirm whether Einwechter’s organization sees itself as some sort of reincarnation or continuation of the historical NRA, or if the names are just a coincidence.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree?

I’ll start my analysis of A Biblical Vision for Multi-Generational Faithfulness by presenting the short version of Einwechter’s argument. He opens the lecture by quoting Deuteronomy 5:

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image – any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Deut 5:8-10

Einwechter states that “thousands” in the above verse means metaphorically “thousands of generations,” and concludes from this and several other passages (Genesis 18:16-19, Psalm 25:12-13, Psalm 112:1-2) that, since God’s covenant is multigenerational and future-oriented, Christian families are required to try to start “dynasties” of Christian descendants and God promises to bless these “dynasties.” (Yes, the word “dynasty” was actually used on the back of the CD case.) He also states that Christians are “people of destiny” and should have a “clear sense of destiny for [their] seed.” This is likely related to Phillips’ and Brown’s emphasis on the “godly seed” of Malachi 2:15.

As you may have guessed, there are many layers to, and assumptions behind, Einwechter’s reasoning in the above paragraph. Let’s unpack some of them.

Einwechter’s most central assumption is that Deuteronomy 5:9-10, in which God punishes the descendants of His enemies for their fathers’ sins, still applies under the New Covenant. I think there are good reasons to believe this isn’t so, most notably Ezekiel 18:

The word of the Lord came to me again, saying, “What do you mean when you use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying: ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live,” says the Lord God, “you shall no longer use this proverb in Israel. Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul who sins shall die.” Ezekiel 18:1-4

The rest of the chapter goes on to describe a righteous man, whose son is wicked and whose grandson is righteous. God concludes that the righteous man and his righteous grandson will live, but his wicked son will die. And this is exactly what we should expect under the New Covenant, as John the Baptist and Jesus indicate:

But when he saw the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.Matthew 3:7-10

“I know that you are Abraham’s descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father.” They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this. You do the deeds of your father.” Then they said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father – God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.John 8:37-44a

Other passages (notably Romans 9:6-8 and Galatians 3:26-29) could be cited to prove the same point. Being one of Abraham’s “godly seed” has nothing to do with physical descent, and indeed, God’s children under the New Covenant are adopted. (To avoid repeating myself, I’ll direct you to my previous discussion of this issue in this post.) In other words, generational blessings and curses do not apply under the New Covenant. They cannot, or else God would be violating His own word in Ezekiel 18.

Also, I have to wonder whether Einwechter consistently applies his own reasoning. At one point he emphatically states that his own grandfather was an ungodly Mason. Since Einwechter himself is only two generations removed from this man, shouldn’t he be worried that God will visit his grandfather’s sins upon him? That is, after all, what Deuteronomy 5:9-10 clearly states. I’m sure Einwechter would object and say that since he and his father are now committed Christians, the curse no longer applies. But frankly, this looks suspiciously like having your cake and eating it too.

I’m also curious what Einwechter would say to someone who was raised Christian but rejected their parents’ faith. Do they still receive “generational blessings” because of their parents? If not, then Einwechter, no matter what he says about Deuteronomy 5, is really using the Ezekiel 18 standard (“the soul who sins shall die”). Perhaps he’d do better to talk about individual blessings – but that would come awfully close to making his lecture an hour of useless airtime.

Whose covenant is it, anyway?

Another of Einwechter’s major assumptions is the idea of “covenantal succession” and “historical continuity”:

…the fifth aspect of a Biblical covenant – that is, a covenant implemented, revealed and established by God – always has succession, historical continuity built into it. God’s covenants with men are always future-oriented. Not that they don’t have tremendous implications in the present, but the point here is, the present is the outworking of somebody’s future. We’re constantly moving this forward. And provision is made in these covenants for historical continuity through the generations.

After making this statement, Einwechter explores the various ways that “covenant continuity” is promoted in Deuteronomy and the four commands to parents in that book. Not everything he says in this section is wrong, but things get slightly more hairy when he turns the focus from large-scale covenants (like the Mosaic) to what he calls a “family covenant”:

The continuity for your family covenant that you and your wife have sealed together means that you are charged to seek to raise up an unbroken succession of followers of Jesus Christ. God’s purpose isn’t for your family line to die, and we’re not just talking about flesh and blood descendants. Your faith will not die. … Do I have a vision for the future of my family, and do I have a plan to bring it to pass?

There’s several problems with the above statement. First, Einwechter states later that a family with no children has no “succession” or heritage. Anticipating the objection by barren couples, he does mention adoption, but what is conspicuously absent is a discussion of spiritual children (the focus of the New Covenant). Paul, after all describes Gentiles as Abraham’s children when they are not physically Jewish (Galatians 3:28-29), and even calls himself the spiritual father of Timothy and the Corinthians (1 Cor. 4:15-17). Like the discussion of generational blessings and curses above, this undercuts Einwechter’s focus on physical descent.

Second, and closely related to the first point, Einwechter seems to have little or no awareness of evangelism – or at best only talks about family evangelism. The only way he mentions for a couple to pass on their faith is to transmit it to their children, whether biological or adopted. This strongly reminds me of a certain historical situation, which I’ll get into in detail at the end of this post.

Third, I cannot recall where in the Bible marriage is called a covenant or the term “family covenant” is used. If any of my readers know, please inform me. If marriage is not referred to as a covenant, I’d like to know where Einwechter got this idea. I suspect it derives from his Reformed background and probably covenant theology. However, I’m not well-versed in covenant theology so I’ll refrain for the moment from commenting on whether marriage, Biblically, is or is not a covenant in the same sense as, for instance, the Mosaic covenant.

Fourth, assuming that marriage is some kind of covenant, Einwechter is very vague on this point. In one place he talks about a Christian couple “starting a dynasty” and “carrying on their family covenant,” but in other places he says that when this original couple’s children marry, they enter their own marriage covenant and create a new “covenantal unit.” It gets even more complicated when daughters marry into other Christian families with their own “family covenants.” Color me confused, but are there many covenants or only one? Do children carry on their parents’ covenant, or enter into their own?

Einwechter never answers these questions. In fact, they don’t seem to have occurred to him in the first place. We’re thus left to wander through a trackless maze of nesting, interlocking and branching “family covenants,” which sounds about as easy to navigate as the U.S. tax code.

Botkin’s butterfly

763px-Doxocopa_agathina_supTo give my readers an idea of just how complex and elaborate multigenerational faithfulness can become, I’d like to go on a brief detour and examine how Vision Forum’s very own Geoff Botkin went about planning his “family vision” (still no definition of that key word, in case you were wondering). Hat tip to Cindy Kunsman for the info:

The “200 Year Plan” promoted by Vision Forum derives from some goal setting that Geoff Botkin did with his children to help them have a “vision” and plan for their lives. … Mr. Botkin describes sitting down with his sons to communicate what he would like to see each of them accomplish. He collaborated with his sons regarding their comprehensive life goals for themselves, and they mapped out all of these specifics together. When they worked everything out to see all their desires accomplished, the plan extended to 200 years. …

Botkin states that he uses an Excel spreadsheet, assigning a row for each year and assigns columns to each “initiative” in life. Among these initiatives, he lists the categories of personal, practical goals, legislative, marital, how many children, and even speculates about his death. He does state that this is not presumptive upon the Lord, and the plan can be amended as necessary to accommodate for these changes.

200 years?! Talk about planning! Here’s the verse about presumption Botkin’s obliquely referring to:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. James 4:13-16

Having never met him personally or read any of his writing, I don’t know if Botkin brags about his 200-year-plan, so I can’t say whether he’s being presumptive the way James defines it. However, it’s hard for me to imagine how he can account for all possible ramifications of a given event over a 200 year span. Perhaps he’s never heard of the “butterfly effect”? In other words, while Botkin may not be “presuming” in the strict sense, I still think he’s gone far beyond the limits of advisable (or even feasible) planning.

The devil’s in the details

At this point I’d like to share another excerpt from one of Cindy Kunsman’s excellent posts on multigenerational faithfulness (her series is required reading for anyone wanting to research the topic further):

As is so true of Vision Forum material as was true of Bill Gothard’s training or other such programs, on the surface of things and when considering the veneer, their ideas sound reasonable. In an interview with Kevin Swanson, Botkin states many principles that just make my heart sing, but these things are limited to the surface layer. If you’ve not read the specifics of Geoff Botkin’s ideology in his daughters’ book, if you have not heard his sermons or you never saw the “Return of the Daughters” video, when you listen to his interview with Swanson, you would never suspect any problems with the concept.

As I listened to A Biblical Vision for Multi-Generational Faithfulness, I found myself reacting much like Kunsman did. Einwechter said many, many good things over the course of the lecture. Leave your children a rich personal library. Help them discern their gifts so they can choose a suitable vocation. Teach them God’s Word and raise them in the church. And if we were to focus only on these good things (the surface layer), we might come away thinking that Einwechter is a little more conservative than we are, but has some good ideas anyway and is overall worth listening to.

But we cannot limit our examination to the surface layer. All of Einwechter’s good ideas are mixed with, and indeed rooted in, some very, very bad ones – and in a few places, if we listen closely, the veneer’s thin enough that we can see the unpleasant foundations.

424px-Thomas_Eakins_HomespunI mentioned above that Einwechter advises parents to help their children discern their gifts when choosing a career path. Well, that isn’t exactly what he said. What he actually said was that parents should help their sons discern their gifts. Daughters, on the other hand, are to be trained to manage the home – and that is, apparently, it. Einwechter never said anything further about vocational training for daughters, and nothing at all about their gifts. I can only conclude, therefore, that girls either don’t have gifts at all, or any gifts they do have are not a priority compared to their domestic role. Einwechter’s philosophy also reminds me of Edmund Morgan’s description of how Puritan parents helped their children choose vocations[3], which is unfortunately too long to reprint here.

Probably the most revealing “thin spot” in Einwechter’s veneer comes when he discusses the details of how a Christian family should divide its estate:

Dividing our inheritance at death, there’s a challenge, give a double portion to the son chosen to lead. That’s Biblical. Well, you can say to the oldest son – no, ‘cause it’s not necessarily the oldest son. Normally yes, but if that son has proved himself unfaithful to carry on the double portion of the wealth of the family and assume a sense of leadership in the wider circle of your descendants, he doesn’t get it. You give other portions to your sons and daughters, but I don’t think automatically to your daughters. You need to use wisdom here. Your daughters’ circumstances need to be carefully considered because you know what, if the other family’s doing it, her husband may be having a fine inheritance and being taken care of in that course. And finally, ungodly, unfaithful, unbelieving children should receive no inheritance. That’s the covenant sanction, and your children need to now understand that. ‘That’s so unloving!’ No, it’s so obedient, because obedience to God transcends all love to any child or wife or husband or anybody.

As you can see, there’s a lot to unpack in this paragraph, so we’ll take it one point at a time.

Dividing our inheritance at death, there’s a challenge, give a double portion to the son chosen to lead. That’s Biblical. Well, you can say to the oldest son – no, ‘cause it’s not necessarily the oldest son. Normally yes, but if that son has proved himself unfaithful to carry on the double portion of the wealth of the family and assume a sense of leadership in the wider circle of your descendants, he doesn’t get it.

Per the idea that leaving a double portion to the eldest son is Biblical, Einwechter is alluding to Deuteronomy 21:15-17. He’s not necessarily wrong that this is a Biblical idea, if he means “Biblical” in the sense of “an idea which appears in the Bible.” He does not, however, produce any proof that this law still applies to New Covenant believers, and it’s also worthwhile to note that it the context of the law assumes polygamy, which Einwechter would denounce as decidedly unbiblical.

But frankly, the eldest son inheriting a double portion isn’t what disturbs me about the above quote. What disturbs me is Einwechter’s claim that one of a Christian family’s sons must be selected to lead not just his immediate family, but his extended family. Einwechter gives no justification (Biblical or otherwise) for this idea whatsoever and, tellingly, gives zero details as to how it would work out in practicality. Do the head son’s brothers “submit” to him, and if so, how far can this “submission” be taken? If the head son decides that the entire family should, for instance, move to another state for economic reasons, are they obligated to follow him? And when the head son dies, what’s the procedure for choosing the next patriarch? Primogeniture? Some kind of “spiritual fitness” exam? These are hardly flippant questions. Their answers will tell us volumes about what Einwechter is really advocating – which, in the worst case scenario, seems to be a disturbingly tribal arrangement.

Your daughters’ circumstances need to be carefully considered because you know what, if the other family’s doing it, her husband may be having a fine inheritance and being taken care of in that course. And finally, ungodly, unfaithful, unbelieving children should receive no inheritance. That’s the covenant sanction, and your children need to now understand that. ‘That’s so unloving!’ No, it’s so obedient, because obedience to God transcends all love to any child or wife or husband or anybody.

Aside from the strangely archaic statement about daughters (I pictured something along the lines of Sense and Sensibility when I first heard it), the idea that non-Christian children automatically receive no inheritance comes with a boatload of potential problems. Let me propose a not-so-implausible scenario. A Christian couple, attempting to practice Einwechter’s multigenerational faithfulness, has two children, both sons. The elder son is an avowed atheist and a trained financial manager; the younger son is a Christian but also a notorious spendthrift. To which son should they leave their inheritance? I can only assume that it would be better for them to knowingly squander their inheritance on the younger son. A covenant sanction is, after all, a covenant sanction.

It’s all been done before

You may recall above that I said Einwechter’s emphasis on family evangelism reminded me of something I had read in the history books. I find myself once again obliged to reference Edmund Morgan’s The Puritan Family, and call attention to what he refers to as “Puritan tribalism.” (This is highly pertinent to the subject at hand, as Einwechter stated early on that the talk’s original title was “The Puritan Vision of Multi-Generational Faithfulness.”) Morgan’s thesis is, essentially, that the Puritan church and family, working so hard to keep themselves unspotted from the world, eventually turned in upon themselves to the point of almost completely neglecting those outside their small circle:

Since so many of the lewd had found their way to the promised land, it was imperative that the children of the saints be urgently warned against mingling with them. “Let a man beware of his company,” said Richard Mather. “He that delights to walk and talk with them that have the plague, it is no marvell if he catch infection.” … When the ministers instructed parents about the government of children, they always emphasized the importance of keeping them away from wicked companions. …

Countless examples of this kind of advice might be produced. They indicate a defensive, tribal attitude, growing at the heart of New England Puritanism. The ablest of the founders of New England, their eyes on larger horizons, were undismayed by the fact that man in America had proved to be, after all, man, still succumbing to temptation, still perishing, still tainted with original sin. … But later generations, losing sight of the errand on which the founders had come, succumbed more and more to tribalism. They preached and coaxed and prayed in order to save their children for Christ, but this very love for their children paralyzed the evangelical impulse that gave their religion meaning. They translated “Love thy neighbor” as “Love thy family.” …

When a New England minister preached the gospel, he did not ordinarily address himself to the masses who attended church by command of the state: he spoke either to the church members, who already had grace, or else to their children. When the Puritans were accused of neglecting the work of conversion, they denied the charge not on the ground that they converted ordinary sinners but on the ground that they converted their children. … Puritan ministers apparently tried to convert two kinds of people: hypocrites who had been admitted to membership by mistake, and the children of the godly who enjoyed membership though not converted. Not a word about the mass of men who remained in the outer darkness![4]

Sound familiar? Perhaps there’s a good reason Einwechter originally referenced the Puritans in the title of his talk. But it doesn’t stop there. Morgan devotes an entire chapter to “Puritan tribalism,” and it’s worth reading not only because it shows us that there really is nothing new under the sun, but because it tells us what must inevitably become of such insular movements:

The Puritans had a neat theological explanation for this neglect of the mass of men. The argument was simple: comparatively few people are saved anyhow, and those who are almost always belong to the same families. … The church, therefore, in neglecting a large proportion of the population neglects very few potential saints. The most likely candidates for conversion are the children of church members. As the Puritans usually stated the idea, “God casts the line of election in the loins of godly parents.” This phrase became one of the cliches of Puritan preaching. …

No matter how reassuring such doctrines may have been to the godly parent, they lacked visible confirmation in the history of the church. In spite of their theological advantages and in spite of all the preaching directed at them, the children did not get converted, either before they came of age or after. God refused to become a respecter of persons. He refused to grant a monopoly on salvation to a religious elite. As a result the number of full members in the churches gradually shrank until the ecclesiastical structure could no longer hold together. The Half-Way Covenant of 1662 enabled the unconverted children of church members to retain their incomplete membership after becoming adults, but it did not increase the number of full communicants. Before the end of the century the Puritan system was tottering. …

The Puritan system failed because the Puritans relied upon their children to provide the church with members and the state with citizens. Even when it became apparent that their children were not up to the task, they did not take the obvious step of looking for material elsewhere. Instead they intensified the campaign to win the children; they wrote, they preached, they prayed, they threatened – but to no avail. It did not lie in their power to give the final ecstatic experience of grace without which true devotion must prove impossible. After they had exercised all the means of grace, they had to leave the issue with God, and long before the end of the century God’s answer had become unmistakable.[5]

Not only have Einwechter’s ideas been tried before, they have a proven track record of failure. This is obvious after even a cursory look at New England’s churches today, when compared to Einwechter’s standards. Any native New Englander can tell you that nearly every town has at least one Congregational church, most of which are affiliated with the United Church of Christ. Given that the UCC has been ordaining gay clergy for the past thirty-eight years, Einwechter would probably not consider most of these churches to even be churches in the Biblical sense. And since it hasn’t been nearly a thousand generations since the Puritans settled New England, what happened to those “generational blessings”?

But that’s not the only parallel between the Puritan situation and the patriarchal subculture. In accord with the idea that Christian children must only be allowed to marry into other faithful families, many patriarchal parents have extremely high, and often unyielding, standards for potential mates (see here for an extreme example). In fact, their standards are often so high that their children marry well into their 30s, or in some cases, never marry at all. (This trend has become so well-known that it’s even becoming fodder for YouTube jokesters.) Patriarchal leaders are, understandably, starting to become alarmed, as they, like the Puritans, staked the success of their (self-consciously multigenerational) movement upon their children. And just like the Puritans’ children, the children of patriarchal families appear to be failing to measure up.

So what will the patriarchs do? Will they adapt and change their message to include those outside their narrow circles? Or will they do as the Puritans did and retreat into a smaller and smaller bubble, ensuring their movement’s demise in the process? Only time will tell. But my money is on Ecclesiastes 1:9, and history repeating itself.

[3]Edmund Morgan, The Puritan Family, p. 66-75.
[4]Edmund Morgan, The Puritan Family, p. 173-175.
[5]Edmund Morgan, The Puritan Family, p. 183, 185.

3 comments on “A Biblical Vision for Multi-Generational Faithfulness (TBB)

  1. Nicholas says:

    Excellent series!

  2. Angela Wittman says:

    The author wrote: “Unfortunately, since none of the links at the website of Einwechter’s NRA seem to work on my computer, I can’t confirm whether Einwechter’s organization sees itself as some sort of reincarnation or continuation of the historical NRA, or if the names are just a coincidence.” It was a continuation of the organization formed in the mid 1800’s by the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. I’m sorry to see Rev. Einwechter mixed up with the VF crowd. There really is a difference between working for a National Confession and what VF was doing. The NRA was an outworking of Scottish Covenanter theology in America. It has noble roots and is not a top down effort, but was to be from the grass roots up and eventually become national as the pattern was in Scotland during the 1500 – 1600’s. I invite you to read “A Scottish Christian Heritage” by Iain H. Murray. Thanks for all the work you are doing.

  3. Angela Wittman says:

    Also, I always had a problem with the multi-generational cursing/blessing teaching common in Christian Reconstruction (that’s my background). I always knew I was a sinner saved by grace – it had nothing to do with my family: I wasn’t raised in church and my mother rejected Christianity due to her legalistic Pentecostal upbringing. Praise the Lord, both of my parents became Christians later in life, but our family was a real mess when I was growing up!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s