It may seem I’ve strayed a bit in discussing the whole issue of ‘church’ weddings, but the reason I bring it up is because I think we have problem when we take ideas like marriage and divorce which for us have theological meaning but also overlap with the culture.
If the last segment seemed a bit out of bounds to some readers, I’m afraid this section will seem even more so.[i]
While unbelievers do not partake of Baptism and the Supper, they do partake of marriage. It has a cultural and legal element to it and I think many Christians are conflating these ideas…the theological and civil elements. We’re trying to impose ideas on the culture, but at the same time we’re allowing the culture to impose ideas and define terms for us.
For example when is a person married? Let’s say as a Christian I want to get married before the Church…meaning the local congregation I gather with. So we meet in a park on Saturday afternoon, and with no ‘minister’ acting as an agent of the state, say our vows etc…
Are we married? Let’s say we don’t make it down to the registrar’s office until the following Wednesday, or even the following month. The state doesn’t recognize the marriage until we have the piece of paper.
When were we married? Saturday of course, but many would balk at that a bit. We don’t have the piece of paper yet. Can we start living as husband and wife? Is it okay to start living together even without the piece of paper?
I realize this isn’t an issue for most who have the ‘pastor’ act as the agent of the state….he’s empowered to do so by law… and thus can issue the license.
I cannot find any justification for this in the Scripture. Am I being a legalist on this point? No. I’m not binding anyone to this, but I am strenuously suggesting that few have even given it thought and even fewer can make a case for the practice from Scripture. Did Elders in the early Church act as agents for Rome in order to legally legitimize the marriage? The very notion of it is patently ridiculous.
What am I suggesting then? Again that marriage for Christians has a meaning entirely different than that of the culture. We get married in our own context…the Church.
In terms of civil law, marriage is not a Sacral building block, because we reject the whole Sacralist paradigm to begin with. Civilly speaking, it’s a contract. We’re registering with the state for reasons related to power of attorney, medical decisions and qualification, child custody, tax filing etc…
What about divorce? That’s a complicated topic that I don’t want to dive into at this time, but assume for a moment that divorce is legitimate. I’m not going to elaborate my view at this time, but assume my position for the sake of argument. The Scriptures frown on divorce in all instances but permit it for reasons of adultery and abandonment. Remarriage and all the associated issues are for another time.
My question is this…when is a person divorced? When has the marriage ended? Are we defining that from the Bible? (which I admit may be controversial and difficult)….or are we defining it based on the piece of paper issued from the state?
My concern is that we start to look to the state to define our categories. The state through legislation begins to delineate and define these concepts.[ii]
The Sacralist wants this and encourages this and thus at present is in a state of panic when the state begins to deliberately abandon this.
If Sacralism is a false paradigm their attempts to define these categories will also be false. So again, this question, the issue of Sacralism must be wrestled with and determined before you can really address these questions.[iii] If the body of ideas associated with Sacralism represents an error, then to tie in one’s theology with state legislation is to explicitly reject a Biblical Worldview.
I’m not suggesting we simply ignore the state. There are Christians who are advocating this. They would say get married in the living room and don’t register with the state at all. Usually they expand this and attach the same ideas to questions concerning Social Security numbers and birth certificates. They equate it with ‘taking the mark of the beast’ or something along those lines.
Some of this becomes sinful, breaking the law without theological warrant. In the case of marriage, since you’re not required to have a certificate in order to live with someone…I would say fine, but you’re being unnecessarily foolish.
I’ve talked before about how the Dominionist and the Pietist both view culture in Sacral terms.
The Dominionist says…we have to conquer every cultural institution and make it ‘Christian’….whatever that means.
The Pietist says…we’re Christians and every cultural institution is polluted and so we can’t have any contact with them unless they are explicitly Christian.
They’re both Sacralists, the one thinks you can’t get your hands dirty and you need to live in a Christian ghetto. The other thinks you have to go out and take over and won’t rest until this is accomplished.
They’re both wrong. Culture isn’t neutral, it’s a mix of blessing and curse, imperfect good and great evil. We’re not called upon to conquer it or flee from it. We have to interact with wisdom and it’s not easy. There’s much that we can take and much that we need to leave.
Of course that makes everything a bit more hazy and difficult. We don’t need to flee from the state, we need to understand what it is and what its limitations are going to be. We need to never confuse it with the Kingdom of God or think that it somehow helps us in our task. The only help it provides is restraint and order. That order will never be Christian because it is an order enforced by violence.
When we start letting the state define our categories we’re becoming unsettled and disoriented. When we let the state into the Church via ministers acting as agents of the state, or registering our congregations for tax exemption…we’re multiplying the confusion.[iv]
We see further examples of this in the push by many Christians for ‘Covenant Marriage’, which specifically rejects the contractual view of marriage and applies religious meaning.
Now don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting our Christian marriages are mere contracts. For us they’re something more and yet something less than an ecclesiastical ordinance or sacrament.
But for the unbelievers, the Babylonians in our midst, I would argue their marriages are indeed just contracts. In terms of how Babylon recognizes our marriages…it can never be anything beyond contractual.
Babylon (the state) cannot grasp theological categories and we don’t want them to wade into those waters.[v]
While as Christians we may indeed view our marriages within a Covenantal framework, to codify this with the state I believe is a gross error. And then to try (as has been done on occasion) to impose this on the unbeliever is an even greater folly if not once again a case of sacrilege.[vi]
For years we’ve seen people trying to push Covenant Marriage laws and many including Dobson have pushed for mandatory pre-marital counseling. Now there are some in the secular counseling industry who for pragmatic concerns also push this, but many Christians specifically are trying (for Sacral reasons) to discourage divorce. Statistically they believe that pre-marital counseling will reduce the divorce probability.
Again, I’m not in any way celebrating divorce. Far from it. I want Babylon to be at peace and exhibit order. There’s no doubt solid marriages and unbroken families are better for society.
But for many Christians their push, their emphasis on these issues is motivated by something other than pragmatics.
I want unbelievers to have happy marriages…but I do not believe their marriages will somehow make them better in the eyes of God or prepare them to receive the Gospel. I don’t believe marriage or any civil legislation serves a pedagogical purpose. Old Testament law did, but the pedagogy wasn’t about good citizenship, it pointed to Christ as the Redeemer or the Judge….something Washington, London, or Ottawa can never do.
I don’t believe their marriages will help the Kingdom. I don’t believe pagans can philosophically account for marriage and from a secular worldview, there’s really no reason they should embrace monogamy or stay together if there isn’t a mutual desire to do so.
I hope they do stay together but all the reasons I would give them to do so begin with the exhortation to repent.
Many Christians have attempted to ‘soften’ people by appealing to things like ‘happiness’ meters and ‘free from disease’ arguments. Again, if pragmatic concerns were the motivation I could see arguing that way.
But if they’re trying once again to contribute to a ‘Christian’ understanding of society and culture….To argue that way is nothing less than a Social Gospel and a rejection or negation of the Gospel’s specifically Redemptive categories. If religion is primarily an issue of the heart, then these forms of Christian behaviouralism are not only worthless but in the end work against the gospel. I would argue socially these measures only result in a backlash…which is what we’re experiencing at present in the United States.
If we can help build the Kingdom by telling people to stay married…so they can be happy, fulfilled and avoid herpes….we’ve got a twisted view of the Kingdom of God.
If you want to have a Christian understanding of your marriage…Great! But don’t look to the state to elaborate upon it or enforce it and do not try to force it upon others. If you think pre-marital counseling is a good idea, then fine, pursue it. But I resent the fact that Christians have pushed for marriage license fee reduction when you can prove you’ve been counseled or for that matter the way many Churches go about it.[vii]
‘We’re just trying to help society,’ I’ve heard many Christians say.
Really. As one pundit put it…you’re doing a great job making the world safe for Mormons.
And that’s about it, except for the fact that you antagonize and essentially end up persecuting the unbeliever. We can’t evangelize them while we threaten them with violence.
Again, these things are all distractions. The Church is caught up in so many areas and yet there just doesn’t seem to be a great emphasis on the Bible. ‘Biblical Worldview’ is tossed about, but that usually seems to be a shibboleth, a code-word for cultural and political engagement.
I guess living our lives and being the best Christians we can be, showing love to our neighbours…just isn’t very exciting. Sometimes I think it’s a problem with patience. Rather than realize that sometimes you won’t ‘see’ change for generations, people feel the desperate drive to push for it right away.
No doubt our culture has contributed to this mindset. Previous generations were definitely more patient and took a longer view. We see this everywhere in the Church….from the Willow Creek/Church Growth movement to the employment of the ‘Jesus Film’ in the mission field.
One thing I would say and this may also sound strange. If the Sacralists ever did completely capture the government and mandated pre-marital counseling for a license, or demanded Covenant Marriage….
At that point I would advocate a withdrawal and just getting married in a living room with no license at all. The more the Sacralists take power, the more I would be driven into the underground.[viii] Theologically a false theology represents a greater threat than a secular hostility to religion.
If this was 1920 and we lived in a time of social consensus, which even then was not as strong as some think…then at that point we probably wouldn’t even be thinking about these issues. We would just ‘do’ what everyone ‘does’.
In light of that, there is a sense in which we can be thankful for the current social mess. These issues are absolutely driving us to think through these issues. We need to learn once again to think like pilgrims and exiles. The ‘Church’ lost this with the Reformation when the Medieval Underground joined with the new establishment.
As Christians we view marriage and all of life in theological terms. As Christians living in Babylon, I am happy and perhaps would even prefer if the civil aspects of marriage were delineated in purely contractual terms. This shouldn’t affect us adversely and would guarantee a degree of freedom and equal protection for everyone else in society.
I am not being naive. I realize there are many complicated issues that arise. Adoption is probably the one that weighs most heavily on me. And yet, several years before anyone even whispered gay ‘marriage’ I was (even in this rural area) encountering homosexual couples with children. We live in a fallen world.[ix]
There are a host of related issues…fertility technology, poverty and many other realms in which I’m afraid the Church has not always been clear or consistent on. And in some cases I think has taken the wrong position.
There are issues with regard to Christian businessmen and health benefits. Some of these issues are driven by our national economic doctrines and the way we treat non-tangibles like health care and education as commodities subject to market forces. For example our access to health care is often tied in with our employment.
There are no good solutions to these problems. The ones I would offer are I believe Biblically informed but ultimately pragmatic solutions. Yet they are so radical vis-à-vis the status quo that they are revolutionary rather than reformatory.
Rather than panic over the current cultural trajectory I would encourage people to read more about the ancient world which survived several centuries into the Christian era. It’s a world very familiar with our own, in some ways far more wicked. The Church survived and flourished in spite of rampant homosexual activity, concubinage, and polygamy which historically have been very common. Even under Christendom these things never went away. Instead a hypocritical society was created where these things were hidden beneath a veneer.
The Bible tells us how to think and to interpret the world around us. History is a tremendous aid in this task. It won’t tell us the how or why but it does help us to see the ‘what’ and often gives us some indication of what to expect in the future (the when).
In the short term things will get worse in terms of degradation and sinfulness. If history is any precedent there will eventually be a moral reaction. It may take a century to manifest itself. It may come sooner. It may have nothing to do with Christianity. It might be rooted in some kind of neo-ethic or some form of pragmatism.[x] Who can say? But I am sure at some point there will be a reaction.
Currently we are enduring a severe pendulum swing, one I think made worse by the political Church. [xi]
We live in interesting times. My wife and I have often talked about how we remember Donahue in the 1980’s pointing to a man sitting in a chair on the stage and saying:
“Jeff here has something to tell you.”
Jeff (or whatever his name was):
(Gasps from the audience)
That world seems like a distant dream. Recently (when we had access to television) I was thinking of this as I saw some kind of weird homo-suggestive television commercial for cosmetics featuring Ellen and Sofia Vergara the Columbian model. The times they are a changin’!
All I can say is, strap yourself in and hold on because in another thirty years it’s going to be a different world.
Sacralists will bemoan this as will I but for different reasons. But for the Church it will be a time of winnowing and re-thinking many issues. The Sacralists will turn to flight and violence. We Christians must do what the Sacralists are not doing….learn to think Biblically. And we’ll have to deal with the fallout they generate.
For me at present I am much more concerned about bombs and a Militaristic state that spends around a trillion dollars a year on furthering its agenda.
I’m concerned that my country accounts for around half the military spending on the planet and certainly outspends the next twenty or so countries combined. In fact when you factor in the CIA, the NSA and many of the other related ‘Defense’ industries the United States spends more than the rest of the world combined.
It is economically breaking our country and our news media will barely touch it. In this respect we are more like Assyria than Rome. Speaking of praying for the peace of Babylon, if this spending is not cut then domestic spending will have to be radically cut.
Many on the Right, especially the ‘peace-loving’ Christians in America want to increase the military budget. At some point we will have the poor and minorities rioting, bursting forth from shanty towns while America feeds billions to the defense contractors of the military industrial complex.[xii]
I am far more concerned about the pragmatics and even the morality of this then I am about two people of the same sex acquiring a piece of paper that allows them to file taxes together and co-sign a loan.
[i] While my tone may seem to indicate otherwise I do not claim to have all the answers on this and related topics. They’re tough complicated issues, but a long time ago I realized the need to completely re-think many of these issues.
I’m often left struggling in casual conversation when some of these issues come up. My thinking on social issues like this and most political issues is so outside convention I have almost no point of contact with the person on the street.
I’m often left assessing whether the remarks or inquiries they make are merely casual or are they actually interested in discussing something. Usually the former is true, and at that point my goal is not to lecture them or enter into some kind of debate they weren’t looking for but to just drop a little seed of something. Most of the time people don’t pick up on it but sometimes someone will ponder the way you word something and then if you see them again they may ask what you meant by it. That’s always encouraging.
[ii] For example, if a couple have been living apart for more than ten years, can we call that a marriage…in Biblical terms? The state may still recognize them as married, but should the Church?
Or in another instance I know of a couple who have been separated for again about ten years and yet the one party is strongly anti-divorce and so won’t even entertain the idea. I would argue in terms of the Bible…they’ve been divorced for years but the one party cannot get over the state proclamation of their marital status.
[iii] You’ll be hard pressed to find very many people who have even thought about it. It becomes all the more confusing when many Christians believe the Kingdom is wholly futuristic and in no way applicable to the present. What then are they trying to accomplish? Is it merely Christian Nationalism? That’s even worse. At least Sacralists are trying to formulate a Kingdom-construct based off a misreading of the Old Testament and its relation to the New.
But those who aren’t thinking in Kingdom terms are engaged in naked idolatry, worshipping a man-made institution.
[iv] Not to mention the state’s requirements concerning by-laws, appointing Trustees etc…
The Church has no business allowing the state in any way whatsoever to define or create categories for us. And where are we mandated to define them for Babylon or Rome?
Pay the taxes or for that matter….as far as the government is concerned what Church? A group of people meeting somewhere is a meeting and nothing more. We have the right of assembly. The state doesn’t need to know anything about it. It’s only when you start down the path of buildings, and property, bank accounts and all the rest… creating dilemmas we shouldn’t have in the first place.
I realize of course that many will scoff at this. How are we going to build substantial churches under the model I suggest? You’re not. I think these people are asking the wrong questions and have the wrong model. Substance and greatness in the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with numbers or architecture.
[v] This is of course fundamentally different than probably 90% or more of the American Church and certainly a stark contrast from the opinions of everyone ranging from Rick Santorum to RJ Rushdoony.
[vi] To think the unbeliever can somehow please God is to overthrow and cast down the Cross of Christ. It exhibits a low view of sin, of righteousness and of the antithesis created by the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration. It is to treat the commandments of God as something base and common.
[vii] Not every couple needs to pry into every detail from the past. Not every couple wants to discuss their pre-conversion lives. Not every couple needs to sit down and submit their finances to a Church officer who in many cases may know nothing about their circumstances. Not every Church officer has the ability to discern these matters. Many Church officers and/or Counselors (Bible reference?) have a very conventional view of finances. What if you reject the social status quo? Are you going to let them tell you that you can’t afford to get married because you won’t have the money to afford the right house, the two cars, enough money for kid’s tuition and retirement?
And regarding a topic for another time, I am quite hostile at attempts to employ psychological testing and evaluation methodologies to determine things like compatibility.
If a Church wishes to offer these ‘services’ then that’s one thing. But to mandate it? Does the Church have that authority? If two people have credible professions and they can answer some basic questions their elders might ask them concerning faith and compatibility…can they be denied?
Again, there’s no hard and fast rule. Two thirty year olds are going to be different than two eighteen year olds. The elders can offer assistance, suggest, warn… but do they have the power to forbid? If the two eighteen year old Christians wed….have they done something wrong? They may be foolish…but is it sinful if they didn’t get the ‘approval’ of the elders?
[viii] And they are desperate to push these ideas. This is a crisis moment. I’ve talked about this elsewhere, but I strongly believe they have arrived at the make or break point. The younger generation is not on a Sacralist trajectory. The older generation, the Falwell’s, D James Kennedy’s, and the Colson’s are all dying off. They have plenty of adherents among the middle-aged population but the youth is a different story. When I’m a senior citizen and the Millennials are reaching middle age…then this whole Christian Right project will be on the brink of collapse. The Boomers are now reaching the Senior Citizen threshold. Their children (my generation) are less conservative and it keeps going downhill with each generation.
The Sacralist Project is going to fail. The demographics tell the story. That is unless they can pull off a reversal…right now. This is their last chance. They’ve got to start turning the tide and they know the time is short. They’ve maybe got a decade or so to turn the politics around and to engage Generations X and Y in this whole project or none of their activity is going matter.
Realizing this was also an impetus for me to start writing. Thinkers like Colson realized this crisis back in the 1990’s and for the past twenty years they have literally taken over the Church in America. Transformationalism is the new orthodoxy. But they’re frustrated because…
1. So many of the Church members don’t seem to get it and aren’t willing to engage with zeal. And,
2. They’re so far behind the power curve when it comes to the culture that they know they’re in trouble.
More than ever, especially with all the new media possibilities they are pushing this agenda. It’s on full throttle. I wanted to write to maybe reach a few people and help to combat this pernicious error in whatever way I can.
[ix] And our present economic collapse will also mean social workers will be less empowered to harass and pursue our families. Sadly with the social downgrade there are many domestic tragedies and while I never want to see children removed…sometimes I must confess I don’t know what the answer is? Communities? Our entire legal code would have to be changed for communities to be once more empowered to intervene in lieu of social services. But considering the state of people in general and our communities….do we want even that? In our area, people think we’re pretty strange. I’m not sure I would want them to be legally empowered to determine when to intervene. I don’t wear beer t-shirts and my wife doesn’t walk around in shorts and a tank-top. We homeschool and my wife stays home. We’re oddities, we’ve been labeled as ‘religious’ people. Do I want these folks to be empowered? The fact that my kids don’t have mobile phones probably indicates child abuse to many people.
In some ways the state protects me from the community.
[x] There’s a tremendous growth in the realm of sexual abstinence taking place in parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Have the people suddenly rejected fornication and adultery? Some do, but many are learning to control themselves simply because AIDS is killing them. It’s not moral, it’s practical.
Fallen man can formulate ideas of dignity and purity and shroud them in nationalism or whatever is convenient. The possibilities are almost endless but none of these things last. Dynamism is the only static principle when it comes to sociology.
[xi] If you're interested in seeing how homosexuals look at all this...this link has received quite a bit of attention. We can't agree with them, perhaps not even sympathize with them. But, like it or not, this is the way the Church is perceived and this is the message being conveyed.
[xii] Rightly called by some…welfare for the rich. Type in ‘list of United States Defense Contractors’ on Google or Wikipedia. It is an impressive list… and then consider how many people are invested in these companies.