A few of my secular readers might think, ‘Marriage? Open it up to everyone’.
Below are excerpts from a defence of marriage from a Lutheran pastor, the Revd Joshua Scheer, who contributes to Steadfast ‘No Pietists Allowed’ Lutherans.
Before reading it, however, let’s think about how we prepare our children for what should be holy — yes — matrimony.
Some women romanticise about the partner their child or nieces and nephews should choose for a life partner: ‘You could marry an Irish Catholic — that would be so cute!’ or ‘My daughter is going out with the handsomest man in the world’. It’s all so superficial with some: style over substance. What if the man turns out to be a cad? What if the woman turns out to be lazy?
The increasing divorce rates over the past 50 years speak for themselves. Now we have same-sex marriage instituted by law, recently passed in the UK and in France — at least in its initial stages. It is also under consideration in the US. Several other European countries have already given it the go-ahead.
As far as heterosexual marriage is concerned, however, what we forget to explain to our children is that sexual attraction and physical beauty last only so long. There needs to be a permanence and a gravitas in the union of two people. The vows a couple make at the altar before God and the congregation of family and friends are for life, not just for a week, six months or a year.
Pastor Scheer explains the meaning of Christian marriage (emphases mine):
Marriage is God’s institution. When God wants to get something done He creates an office to do it. So, to fill the earth with children He creates His offices of husband and wife. He then sets qualified individuals into those offices (men for husbands, women for wives). The abomination that is same-sex marriage is in complete rebellion to this, but reflects the ongoing shift away from God’s institution of marriage. We have replaced God’s estate of marriage with mankind’s perverted imposter of it. So God puts men into the office of husband and women into the office of wife. Literally God is the only matchmaker for marriage. As Luther points out in his sermon on the Estate of Marriage, Christians need to look at marriage as something that is God’s work and that He places people together and unites them (just like the first marriage where there could be no doubt in Adam’s mind that God put he and his wife together). The inbred synergism of mankind has of course perverted this view also as we think of marriage as some sort of human work to find each other and pick a spouse.
Marriage has another purpose. It was not good for man to be alone. This “not good” happens in the litany of “goods” that one finds in the creation account of Genesis 1 and 2. God’s fix for it is the helper fit for the man. Companionship and mutual support becomes a purpose of marriage as well …
… The first two purposes happen in the perfect creation. This third one is necessary in a fallen creation. It is the idea that St. Paul touches upon in 1 Corinthians 7 that not all are given the gift of chastity so others will need to be married in order that they not burn with passion. This is also of course been assaulted by the world, as terms like friends with benefits and rampant fornication have been accepted and even celebrated ways of life.
Martin Chemnitz in his “Examination of the Council of Trent” deals with marriage in the second volume. In it he not only list these first three purposes for the estate of marriage and the offices of husband and wife, but he lists two more which are wonderful to think about.
The fourth purpose according to Chemnitz is that God is a God who blesses. This is evident of course in the first purpose to bless with children, but there are many more blessings to living in the married estate. There is joy and blessing to found in marriage. Yes, there are trials, but even trials are a blessing from God. Think of the effect that suffering has on the Old Adam and teaching self control and discipline. A good example of this is Jesus blessing the couple at the wedding at Cana in John 2. God is a God who blesses, and He loves to bless in marriage.
The fifth purpose Chemnitz poses is probably theologically the most important. Chemnitz lists that marriage has the purpose of being a mysterious picture of the relationship between Christ and His Church. This is in accord with St. Paul’s words found in Ephesians 5 concerning husbands and wives. Marriage points us to Christ as head and self-sacrificing husband for His bride the Church, who out of respect for His office as head and His sacrificial work subordinates herself to Him. This of course can become a great lesson for husbands and wives in how they should handle the offices which God has given to them. More than that we can see the mystery of Christ and Church behind the offices of husband and wife …
Do you see why divorce can be called evil? It goes against God’s design and brings offense against His Word. Yes, Jesus allows for the possibility of divorce when adultery is committed. Yes St. Paul says that divorce may happen to a Christian whose unbelieving spouse leaves. In a fallen world sinners are going to sin.
Now the real challenge is this: do we listen to God’s Word on this (or really any great moral issue or controversy) or do we mask our past sins by trying to self-justify our actions [?] …
I know of one couple where the husband left because his father-in-law died suddenly. He said that he couldn’t handle death. Escaping his wife and in-laws nearly a year ago appears to his immature mind as a solution to mortality. To make matters worse, he has not formally separated from his wife or instituted divorce proceedings. He’s simply gone, vanished. This makes it difficult for his wife, not only emotionally but also in matters of property.
Where a couple wishes to marry, parents of the two should take the time to discuss matrimony. Marriage vows contain a lot of hidden eventualities, not least the health of in-laws. These days, money enters into the equation as couples — particularly the husband — might need to financially support an ailing in-law. It does happen.
This is why, awkward as it is, many pastors insist on interviewing engaged couples before the wedding ceremony. Some churches also require couples to attend classes before the big day.
Many years ago, I knew a Catholic couple who attended what were called pre-Cana conferences. They must have had a good priest giving the series because by the end of it at least one couple broke up and another postponed their wedding. Money, children, sexual habits and in-laws bring with them big questions and serious scenarios for discussion.
Romance might be fun. Marriage is a serious proposition. Let’s honour it as such.
Tomorrow: Martin Luther on marriage