Can Marriage Be Redefined? Part 3

5118561480_3296f53489_m_PeteEvangelicals almost universally believe that marriage is an institution ordained of God, a covenanted relationship bonding one man and one woman for life. They ground this belief in the Scriptures, and in doing so they are joined by many nominal Christians and also non-believers who nevertheless have a view of life deeply influenced by Judeo-Christian thought.

On this matter, I write with good will toward all, none excepted. My purpose is positive, not negative. I address only the one question: what does the Bible say on this issue?

There are reports that evangelicals in some quarters are deviating from this understanding of marriage in the name of compassion. Does the Bible leave room for such a variance?

The answer begins with the story of creation. The opening chapter of the Bible declares that everything that exists was spoken into being by the word of God. Then it tells the story step by step, moving relentlessly forward to the pinnacle of God’s creative work — the creation of man.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, in our likeness …’” (Genesis 1:26). Man, this planned, God-formed creature, the peak or exclamation point of creation as the story tells it, is going to be assigned to rule over all.

The fulfillment of this divine intention to bring humankind into being is then announced and nailed down by the threefold repetition of the word “to create.” “So God created man in his own image, / In the image of God he created him; / male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).

Then came their united domestic assignment: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). Together they are “man” (Genesis 1:26) — that is, humankind — but as “man” they are “male and female” (Genesis 1:27). The implication is that together, through copulation, they will procreate, that is, act in behalf of God to bring human life into being.

Then comes Genesis 2 with its matchless story of Adam and Eve. Here is the ground for marriage as it has been understood for centuries. One man and one woman in a “one flesh” union.

I see Genesis 1 as the big picture of creation, taken with a wide-angle lens. Then the angle narrows and we look in upon the creation of man in greater depth. He is alone at first, and his name is Adam (man). God sees that he is lonely. He solves the problem with a divine surgery. Now there are two. They share a common human identity but there is a bifurcation so that they are attracted to each other by certain differences. They are male and female.

This is how the Bible gives us the first intimation of marriage. Adam and Eve are capable of producing children, which in time they do.

From that point in prehistory there is a string that runs through the Bible featuring marriage as a relationship of one man with one woman. Abraham had one wife, Sarah, though after her death he married Keturah. Earlier when he succumbed to Canaanite practices and took Hagar as a concubine to bear him an heir the Bible makes clear things did not go well. Concubines as second wives, were not in God’s plan.

Jacob wanted to have only one wife but his father-in-law tricked him into having two, and eventually there were four. In that story Bible readers are shown the negative consequences of polygamy: domestic disorder.

Ruth, the Moabitess married an Israelite man while he was living in Moab. He died there. She came to her mother-in-law’s home in Bethlehem and married the Israelite, Boaz. In each case, even for someone from another culture, one man and one woman was the standard.

The Bible favors this Adam and Eve plan. It also contains many examples of deviations from the plan. It appears to prescribe the former, and only to describe the latter.

The Proverbs also have a string of wisdom sayings to favor traditional marriage: “A wife of noble character who can find? / She is worth far more than rubies” (Proverbs 31:10). Notice: “a wife,” not “wives.” “May your fountain be blessed / and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth” (Proverbs 5:18). Again the model is one throughout life.

The New Testament is no less clear that a marriage is a union of one man and one woman. To the Corinthian church planted in a degenerate seaport city the Apostle Paul wrote, “But since there is so much immorality each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). To the Ephesian church likewise he wrote, “However each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:33).

The Bible has much to teach about the evil of deviations from this pattern of one man and one woman. Even the scandalous situation of Solomon with 700 wives and 300 concubines is only reported, not commended. Other reports of deviation are many. Lamech is the first to take a second wife (Genesis 4:19). The Sodomites veer to the course of same-sex intimacy and violence (Genesis 19:1–5). In all such deviations the reports do not condone any immoral practice or plead for the approval of what the Lord does not approve.

Most significant, our Lord spoke clearly to the issue of marriage when he was confronted by the Pharisees on what to them had become a sticky question — the issue of divorce (Matthew 19:3–9). Rather than entering their ongoing debate at that level he reminded them of the timeless account of Adam and Eve (Matthew 19: 4–6). And in doing so, he merged as God’s inspired word the accounts of Genesis 1 and 2, quoting from each together on the subject.

All Christians are called to treat with compassion the troubling issues others wrestle with in the realm of sexuality. But to do so by veering from the clear teachings of the Christian Scriptures will always be a response of unfaithfulness. Our sacred book makes clear that marriage cannot be other than the covenanted relationship of one man with one woman.

 

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Photo credit: Pete (via flickr.com)
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2 thoughts on “Can Marriage Be Redefined? Part 3

  1. What an excellent series on the sanctity of marriage as God defined it! I wish all Christians could read this. It is so logical and Biblically based. I have friends who are trying to be “compassionate” but don’t realize this is not God’s Word on the subject.

  2. Dear Pastor , your three ’Can Marriage Be Defined ’ blogs provide a strong ,clearly articulated case for standing by the biblical meaning of marriage against the current zeitgeist which seems to be trying to chip away at the foundations of marriage If no one speaks up for our ages old definition of marriage,. the whole institution may lose it’s meaning and comes crashing down.

    The series has been most instructive ,showing beyond doubt ,by carefully pointing to the relevant verses of scripture,that Christian marriage is a gift from God It is God designed,a blessing, God ordained ,His covenant.God’s marriage design is particular,perfectly designed ,absolutely clear.It is a monogamous,lifelong union into one flesh ,of one woman and one man

    Part 3 has been the most pertinent for me,Pastor, and I am struck by your timely warning .

    ‘’There are reports that evangelicals in some quarters are deviating from this understanding of marriage in the name of compassion.’’

    I sat up sharply at these words for in part they apply to me. Not that I ever doubt that the Bible clearly says marriage is for one man and woman, living as one flesh,for life, never to part ,in love and mutual day- to -day forgiveness and understanding.But I have been sometimes reluctant to speak my clear understanding of the bible for fear of hurting peoples feelings.

    I’ve met gay couples in church,nice folk, and when our church debates gay marriage I ‘m very reluctant to speak my clear understanding of the bible for fear of hurting feelings.Yet feelings are hurt on both sides.Biblical Christians are very hurt when our churches seem to be pushed in a non Biblical Christian direction by new worldly secular notions.

    Marriage,as Genesis shows ,is designed by God as the right way to multiply our generations,by families.We have the model of Adam and Eve .Pastor,you show us the model of Abraham and Sarah.Did any human being before or since Abraham have such powerful fait ?.I think of Abraham ascending Moriah with his beloved son Isaac.Has any other person faced such a trial of faith ? Isaac was Abraham’s only son living with him ,since his lliaison with Hagar had ended badly and he had needed to banish her with his son by Hagar,for the sake of his marital peace..Isaac was everything to Abraham.

    More than that,Isaac represented Abraham’s greatest promise from God,his succession through the generations.At a stroke Abraham was ready to lose his beloved son and all God had promised .In obedience,in faith.At Moriah’s summit Abraham raised the knife without flinching ,ready to sacrifice everything .Only God Himself was to sacrifice His beloved only Son.In the end ,at the last moment,Abraham wasn’t called to.But his faith was proven

    Danish Christian philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard ,father of existentialism , based the whole of his important book ‘Fear and Trembling’ on this terrible journey of faith up Moriah,Abraham with Isaac.To his own fathers sorrow,Kierkeggard never did become ordained as the Lutheran pastor his education trained him for, but he devoted his life to Christian faith.

    Maybe if Sarah had had Abrahaham’s faith she would not have laughed at the suggestion she would bear Isaac.Maybe the extra marital mistake of Abraham’s congress with Hagar would never have happened ,if Sarah had faith she could beget, faith that everything is possible with God.If her faith had only matched her husbands.

    The Old Testament shows us again and again the problems caused by deviation from right marriage, monogamous & lifelong.The Hagar error shows us this in the marriage of Abraham and Sarah.

    Later David’s adulterous obsession proved disastrous.Solomon’s harem led the builder of God’s temple to become corrupted to worship the idols his concubines worshiped.Again and again bad consequences follow deviation from God’s covenant of marriage.

    Reviewing these most recent 3 ‘Just Call Me Pastor’ writings,has shown me just how much of the Bible shows us the importance of right marriage.

    In many parts of the world Chritianity is growing. Where active Christianity is declining,as in my nation UK and other parts of Europe, one may expect the instition of marriage to come under threat from redefinition.

    I heard on Sunday morning UK radio news that 20% of UKers profess themselves Anglican ,but only 2% of UKers are churchgoing Anglicans.Our House of Bishops,who sit in the House of Lords and are part of our parliament,jointly made a stament asking all Christians to vote in the coming election, &without ever suggesting which party to vote,said Christians should vote etically according to biblical morality.

    Critics of the Bishops said the Bishops call was irrelevant since only 2% of UKers are churchgoers. 2% are Anglican churchgoers .That is the official established denomination of this kingdom,headed by an Archbishop appointed by our monarch via our prime minister.

    But many many UK Christians,even in Anglican church congregations , are Methodists,Catholics,Baptists,Pentecostalists,Lutherans,Presbyterians,Orthodox Christians and many others..I found a statistic that 7% of professed Christians of all denominations go to church.Well ,some will read the bible and pray at home.The faith of some may be known only to God.Eire,being around 90% Catholic ,has declining church attendance but still far higher than 7%.

    I can’t find any consensus in the various statistics.One survy says 15% of UKers goes to church at least once a month.Another says the figure is only 5%.

    But there are many more people who consider themselves Christians,and go to church for christenings,weddings and funerals.Many who barely consider Christ,still value the Christian covenant of marriage. Only God knows the secrets of peoples hearts.We don’t know who prays to Him in secret.Maybe marriage itself,binds families to God ,like the churches do.
    Yet even within some churches,among many congregants, occurs a loosening or relaxing of the definition of marriage.I think you’re right Pastor,that in the name of compassion ,we may be letting go of our clear definitions of marriage.For fear of hurting peoples feelings.

    But we can be compassionate and at the same time stick to biblical standards.In fact sticking to biblical standards in the way we live means we must be compassionate.

    Does not the New Testament teach us to love all God’s children and all are God’s children since He created all that is.Christ’s new covenant teaches us to hate the sin , love the sinner.We must love God with all our heart and strength and love others as ourselves at the same time as standing resolutely for what is right according to God’s Word.

    Certain biblical principles are clear.Marriage is a covenant for life between one man and one woman and no one must pat what God has joined. There can be no sexual congress outside marriage for Christians.That is sexual intercourse

    Country singer Dolly Parton,both of whose grandfathers were country pastors, wrote in her song’In My Tennessee Mountain Home’ about two young sweethearts stealing a secret kiss on their way to church.Of course that is not sex,as of course a loving cuddle sat together on a setee is not.We know what sex is and that is forbidden outside marriage to Christians.

    As you point to Pastor Don,our civilization is built on Christianity,including our institution of marriage.Since Augustine,our first Archbishop of Canterbury landed on our shores from Rome over 1400 years ago ,Christiany has shaped our culture. Even when Augustine landed in Kent,our Queen of Kent,Bertha was already a devout Christian. I have stood in a Christian church in a Welsh church built in the 600s ,still used by The Church in Wales for worship.

    Romano- British Christian mosaics,admittedly alongside Medusa heads & other pagan symbols, exist from much earlier.In fact I believe there have been Christian’s in UK almost since shortly after the crucifixion.,possibly even before.

    Some ancient European history chronicles state Joseph of Arimathea ,even Jesus Himself before His baptism, visited Britain.William Blake celebrastes this in his poem ‘Jerusalem’.

    ‘’And did those feet,in ancient times
    Tread upon WEngland’s green and pleasant land ’’

    So much good we British have is built on Christianity. For Canada the same ,most of whose population came from Christian Britain especially Scotland , and from Christian France and Europe. Most of USAs population descend from Christian Plymouth brethren and others Christians from Britain and Christians from Spain,Germany,Scandinavia etc.

    Our civilization is steeped in and deeply shaped by Christian philosophy,law and ethics.There are of course other cultural strands and when I say Christian of course I include Jewish culture since Jesus was a Jew and the Christian Bible includes and embraces the Torah ,Old Testament Histories, Wisdom literature and Prophets major & minor.

    As to other strands,Pastor I concur with and applaud your positive good will to all others ,none excepted.We Christians are taught by His apostles,particularly Paul in his letters, that Christ died for all.We are taught to love all,

    All includes atheists.In this spirit I have often found discussion with atheists sterengthens my faith by testing & questioning it, in a way which makes me recall what Plato’s writing said about Socratic dialogue,how it leads to strengthening of truth,by careful questioning.The way Jesus so often shows the truth by careful questioning those Saducees & Pharisees with fixed ideas. They can either see the truth He shows ,or unwilling to learn,go away speechless.

    Let us stand faithfully by the clear message of God’s Word on marriage in our bibles.We can be compassionate to others and be kind and loving and considerate when engaging in dialogue with others.There’s no call to be cruel or lose our temper or be insulting or name call. ,while we hold steady to what we know to be true.Indeed let us be concerned where we see others falter and privately, not ostentatiously, pray God guide them.

    Let’s simply hold to the biblical meaning of marriage calmly,clearly,happily.

    .
    .

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