[Jesus] answered, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will be united with his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?”
- Matthew 19:4-5
In the last blog, I mentioned that I was finally going to get around to writing a book on Christian marriage. What I failed to mention is that I plan to use blogging to organize my thoughts and, hopefully, to get a bit of constructive feedback. (Hint: if you’re a site member, you can post comments. To become a site member, follow the link at the bottom of the blog. For now, commenting is the sole benefit of being a site member, but the future holds possibilities!)
The challenge in writing about Christian marriage is that it is such a hotly contested topic these days. Yet, that is precisely why we need to think seriously about biblical teaching, as well as what Christians have believed throughout history. The very fact that such a fundamental Christian belief dating back to the origin of our faith is now subject to debate ought to make us stop and think. We frequently hear, “but we now know…” The assumptions are that we have superior scientific knowledge and greater insight into the human mind and human passions now than did our ancestors in the faith who wrote the books and letters of the Bible. But more knowledge and greater insight than our Creator? Probably not…
The arguments for abandoning traditional Christian teaching come from assumptions about human beings, creation, and God that are quite different from the Christian perspective. As we think through various aspects of Christian marriage in these blogs, I will point out some of the differing assumptions and fallacies on which new definitions depend. The goal, however, is not to point out what’s wrong with others but to discover and understand what is right for us. By “us,” I specifically mean Christians. We cannot defend when we do not know, but more importantly, we cannot live faithfully if what we do not understand what God intended.
We need to live Christianity in every area of our lives as witnesses to the truth about human life and human purpose. In other words, if traditional, biblical marriage is the right and best way to live for Christians, it is also the right and best way to live for all people. Truth doesn’t change with personal opinion. That said, a person must first be or become Christian before choosing to live in obedience to Jesus Christ, including obedience to Christ in marriage. Thus, telling people around us that they are living the wrong way is neither an invitation to Christian discipleship nor a service to the Kingdom. Instead, it is an imposition of the Gospel for those who do not know the Gospel of Jesus Christ and, frequently, do not care what it is. God loves, pursues, and invites, but He does not impose.
Almost nothing that we hear regarding Christian marriage from the voices in our society is correct, frequently even inside the church. No one has been asked to think about distinctly Christian marriage in centuries. The reason this is so, is because Christianity originally was the sole proponent of monogamous marriage between a man and a woman, as well as the strongest defender of the sanctity of marriage, the worth of women, and the intrinsic blessing of the family. These Christian views spread beyond the Church over the centuries, but monogamous, heterosexual marriage not lived in relationship to Christ and in obedience to the Gospel is not Christian marriage. It’s just monogamous, heterosexual marriage. Still, the appearance of “Christian” in nations that tacitly accepted Christianity as their civil religion didn’t seem to require any reflection on marriage itself.
As we witness our culture redefining marriage, with additional redefinitions beginning to be heard and legalized, Christians are left defending our views by pointing to a Bible others consider ridiculous. The Bible does not hold value to people who do not believe in God. It doesn’t even hold authority for some Christians who do believe in God. As a result, many of us are left with a strong sense of what ought to be and what is right and best, with only stuttering, uncertain responses to challenges to our belief. Perhaps even more importantly, God desires our blessing and our sanctification in and through marriage. We cannot strive for a goal we do not know.
Uniquely Christian marriage is born first from belief in the Creator. From the Nicene Creed, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all that is, visible and invisible.” If we are created, then we are created with design, intent, and purpose. To reject the Creator’s design, intent, and purpose is eventually harmful to the creature. That leads to the second truth we need to understand as Christians, although it certainly applies to all people.
Between the creation of human beings and human life today (and throughout history), there was the fall. Exactly how God created, where the Garden is, and when human beings rejected God are not as important as understanding that, whoever we are now is not who God intended us to be. We were created in His image, but every expression of the Divine image in us is distorted, misdirected, and warped by the death and sin introduced in our rejection of Him. Every time we reach for the forbidden fruit of our own will rather than abide by the will of our Creator, we reject God, seeking to be our own gods to our own destruction.
Human beings live in a state of sin, and by this, I don’t mean that we do some wrong things. Rather, sin is the mortal disease of our nature – the nature of our being. Every aspect of our lives is affected by sin, whether it is seen in a general sense of pride or selfishness, for example, or if it expresses itself in particular acts, such as gossip or manipulation or abuse of others and/or creation. To possess a sinful nature is to be incapable of not being sinful, even in our lack of understanding or our limited imagination. Sins, as we tend to think of them, are actions we either commit or omit to our own detriment or the harm of others. Such actions arise from the sinful nature that is the mark of human life.
In marriage, sin can take many forms, and the simple facts of monogamy and heterosexual union do not imply perfected or sinless marriage. As in every area of life, traditional marriage reflects the sinful nature of the couple involved, as well as the influence of extended families, all of whom are also plagued by sin. Really, human beings are a mess, but we are a wonderfully gifted, wildly varied, and endlessly interesting mess.
The place for Christians to begin in understanding marriage – and indeed, every facet of human life - is that all human desire, ambition, and understanding originate from the fact that we are made in God’s image. Our creativity, our passions, and our sense that we matter are all the image of God in us. Equally, every aspect of His image in us is grossly misguided and irreparably flawed. Irreparable apart from Christ… We are born that way, and that is why the Gospel is good news. The possibility of being created anew and restored to all that God wants for is revealed in Jesus Christ and fulfilled by new birth in the Spirit.
We need to seek and to exhibit a measure of humility in the midst of the discussion. No one is without sin, and everyone is welcome to turn to Jesus Christ at any time. We want to be the people whose lives bear witness to the beauty of God’s intention for human beings, in marriage and in life generally. To have any hope of being witnesses to the Gospel of life, our own struggle with sin should be the source of compassion and understanding for all others.
We can hold to what is right without being judgmental. Everyone has their own story and travels their own pathway. If we are fortunate, we can come alongside with compassion and reveal the love of our Lord to everyone we meet. Not all people are not interested in the love of Jesus, but you just never know when you will meet someone desperate to hear about the hope given to us and available to all. When that moment comes, you want to be the people who live in His love and have that hope to share.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau
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