There were some Christians in the 1600's...early Congregationalists who refused to perform marriages.[i] These elders said the Bible nowhere teaches that a 'minister' should marry you,[ii] nor does it give any credence to the whole idea of a 'church wedding'.... all holdovers from medieval Catholicism and the Romanist view of marriage as a Sacrament, viewing the building as a holy temple, etc...
While Christians do view their marriages as blessed and holy....is it a distinctively Christian institution? Unbelievers marry too right? It's not a specifically Christian arrangement. Every pagan culture has marriage of some kind. This goes back to creation, back to the garden, before the fall, and reiterated with some modification in the post-Flood Covenant with Creation in Genesis 9.
Marriage is not a sacrament.[iii] Yet...because we're Christians our marriages do reflect a different reality. As Christians we are redeemed people who are now 'joining' within the confines of God's Holy Covenant. The heart of the Covenant declares throughout Scripture that God is our God and we are His people and by marrying another believer we are keeping faith and acknowledging this reality. Our marriages approach something of what the relationship between Adam and Eve was like before the Fall. It is a high expression of our humanity and the relationship is reflective of the Image of God.
In the post-Fall period it reflects the redemptive union between Christ and the Church, it is a shadow of the restored relationship we will experience in eternity.
And yet the Scriptures are clear....marriage does not survive the Eschaton. (Mark 12)
It is typological. It serves as a means…both in terms of Providential Preservation (the propagation of the race of mankind) and for Christians it serves to expand the Covenant, to exhibit salt and light, to sanctify the believer, and to help redeemed people deal with the urges and impulses we are subject to.
These urges and impulses are not sinful in and of themselves but because of sin we must clothe/cover ourselves and control the way our sinful nature, our flesh seeks to pervert these impulses and desires. Man perverts the image of God, and we turn what was right and good and honourable into something rooted in covetousness, pride, and idolatry.[iv]
And yet for Christians the state of marriage is honourable and the bed undefiled. (Hebrews 13)
Because only within the confines of Christian (i.e. Redemptive) marriage can something of this perversion be laid aside and two people ‘in the Lord’ can approach what human relationships and intimacy were meant to be.
And yet it is imperfect.
Marriage is something common to all cultures and because all cultures are fallen they destroy not only marriage but all relationships and ways of expressing these relationships (intimacy etc...).
Again for Christians this is different, but a Christian understanding of marriage is brought about by hearts changed through the work of the Holy Spirit.
This can never be replicated on a social or cultural level. To think so, is to ignore what the Bible says about sin, the Fall, the unbeliever's response to the commands of God....and ascribes an ability to fallen man that the Scripture ascribes only to the Holy Spirit.
The Sacralist definition of marriage is theologically incorrect on several levels...in its basic assumptions concerning the Kingdom and society, as well as the nature of marriage itself.
Their concerns fall flat when examined in this light and in light of history.
So should we support homosexuals exercising civil rights and being granted equal rights before the law? Not at all. I neither celebrate it, nor do I panic because it's happening. It's a sad turn for society, but I think we need to think differently about it. The lost culture has of course made a wrong turn, but so has the Church.
So to me the whole argument that gay marriage is somehow going to overthrow marriage (in general) is incorrect. How are they defining marriage? I don't think the marriages unbelievers have are going to be the same as a Christian marriage. But the dividing line isn't marriage...it's the gospel. For them marriage can only be temporal in its nature and implications... that's all they have.
1. marriage isn't specifically Christian, and,
2. since I don't believe Christian marriage can ever be replicated by the unbeliever and thus is not something the state can ever define for me anyway....and,
3. since I don't believe there's any such thing as a Christian society or nation…
Then the whole issue comes down to a group of different considerations that you're not hearing in Christian circles.
1. For the unbelievers among us, what purpose does marriage serve? I'm talking about from our perspective as Christians living as Pilgrims in Babylon.
2. If the unbelievers are engaged in immoral behaviour, which they always will be, then what should our response be? If our society legalizes immoral economics, supports war and violence, perverts justice, steals from other peoples, promotes idolatry and sin on every front....basically this is the scenario for every Christian, every believer who has lived in the post-Israelite New Covenant era. This isn’t a new issue, but again… What is our response to be?
3. How can we respond in a way that's morally right, faithful to the gospel message and most conducive to the promotion of the gospel? If we have to be persecuted, so be it... and on one level we always will be....but what can we do, what should we do to help the cause of the gospel?
For many Christians, they want to control the social narrative and the social parameters and definitions. They want these to be defined by the Sacralist Christian worldview.[v] Since marriage and thus the family is a basic or fundamental building block for a society...they feel that if they lose this argument, this ability to define this fundamental social building block… then the whole structure of Christendom comes crashing down and implodes.
It's a line that once crossed cannot easily be remedied.
So for these folks their angst over this issue is tied entirely to their Sacralist assumptions and commitments. For Christians...this is THE issue. How you answer this determines everything else.
Turning back to my fundamental thesis…
If Sacralism is wrong, the whole idea of a Christian Nation or Christendom is also wrong.[vi]
If this is the case, as I argue the Bible teaches, then we look at this in a very different manner and with a different set of questions. They’re asking the wrong questions and obviously coming up with the wrong responses.
I think a lot of people sense this, but they don’t know where to go. If you fall into their trap, you’re forced to operate within their circle and interact with their questions and the way they frame the argument. A lot of people do this and struggle. This is the argument the Sacralists want to have.
It’s a waste of time, because unless you agree on the basic assumptions, you’re never going to understand each other. If you redefine the paradigm and the questions we should ask, I find they usually either grow nearly violent, or they run away. But what they don’t seem to do (at least very often) is engage.[vii]
[i] Namely Henry Jacob and some of the first English Congregationalists. Sometimes they are referred to as Independents, although in light of how the term is later used, Congregationalist is probably more appropriate.
I agree with many of their stances.
[ii] As either an agent of the Church or the state.
[iii] If you wish to speak of Sacrament in terms of mystery or mysterium, then you could enter into that discussion. But generally and properly speaking it is not one of the ‘Holy Rites’ of the Church, that being limited to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
[iv] We must be clothed, because not only do we lust after others, we judge them and looking at others we are filled with pride. Thinking wrongly we judge others by their outward appearance (which sin ravages with age) and think ourselves better.
Or we look and lust and think wrongly and claim emotional intimate bonds with others that we have no right to look at in that way.
Recently I was a having a discussion with someone and we were arguing over the nature of temptation. This man believed that when Jesus was tempted, he wanted to sin, but chose not to.
Now granted this issue of the Impeccability of Christ is a complicated one and honestly, not very helpful. It deals with whether or not Christ was ‘actually’ tempted. If he was not able to sin, then was he really and truly tempted? If he ‘could’ sin, then what are the implications of that etc…?
That’s a fruitless quest but I honed in on the issue of temptation and what we might call the point of sin. We talked about Eve in the garden and we used the example of looking at a woman walking by.
He was saying that in desiring her you’re being tempted and that you only sin if you pursue it. This kind of thinking might sound familiar to those coming out of a Wesleyan background. Perfectionism ties the idea of sin with action. That’s why you have people (lost people) thinking they haven’t sinned in decades. They don’t understand what sin is to begin with.
I was saying that no, the minute I improperly desired her…I had already sinned.
This led to us talking about Christ. He honestly thought that Christ could look at a woman, desire her and yet still be sinless. In fact he thought it necessary in order to speak properly of temptation.
I said ‘no’….Christ could watch the same woman walk by naked (as we were before the fall) and ‘still’ not be tempted to desire her improperly.
Or I would add think improperly in any sense…again pride, judgment, desire, loathing….whatever.
[v] Tying the culture and by implication the political structure to the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom extends to the non-redemptive realm of culture and power. And these tools are used to help defend and build the Kingdom. For the Sacralist the task of the Church is to work toward redeeming culture or in many cases overtly transforming culture.
[vi] The historical and cultural arguments are basically moot. Even if the Founders of the American State were trying to establish a specifically Christian Republic…
Then we would still condemn them as promoting an error.
[vii] Why? Because I don’t think they have a leg to stand on. They can’t argue from the Bible and when you won’t let them argue in civilizational or historical terms, there’s not much else to say.
I will happily engage them on civilizational and historical terms as well. Even there, I think they lose the argument.