Hello, I must be going, 4

Posted on December 17, 2013

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marriage_2074156bThe more determined men become to despise the teaching of Christ, the more zealous should godly ministers be to assert it and the more strenuous their efforts to preserve entire. And more than that, by their diligence to ward off Satan’s attack.

John Calvin

Now that we have established the fact of humanity’s fall in its totality that included our sexual attraction, we come to ask our next question: In what context do we now place our sexual expression? How are to understand its qualifications and prohibitions? To answer this question we must first understand God’s original purpose for marriage as revealed in the Scriptures.

But why start with marriage? I started with marriage because of my context at the time. In coming out of liberalism with its hermeneutic that assumes there is a fundamental discontinuity between Jesus and the Apostle Paul, I was struck by the fact that both Jesus and Paul refer to Genesis 1 and 2 and marriage’s purpose when posed with questions of sexual expression. This is significant for our question of qualification of sexual expression in our new life in Christ after we are justified in him because Genesis 1 and 2 is before the fall of humanity. It is also significant as I heard at the time how Jesus never spoke of same-sex attraction the way Paul did, so Jesus “trumps” Paul, as it were. The fact that they both spoke of marriage in Genesis 1 and 2 as a positive paradigm of how we express our sexual attraction got my attention.

What is marriage?

So much is assumed at to what marriage is by both sides of the debate. The answer to this question is massive, but we must try. So let’s look at two attempts.

The St. Matthias Day Statement of the Church of England Evangelical Council put it this way:

3 – God’s gift of marriage
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? (Matt 19:4-5)

For be ye well assured, that so many as are coupled together otherwise than God’s Word doth allow are not joined together by God; neither is their matrimony lawful. (BCP 1662 Solemnization of Matrimony)

3a. Marriage as created by God is an exclusive relationship between one man and one woman that is entered into for life and that is intended in normal circumstances to result in the gift of children who are to be brought up to love and serve God. It is given to us by God both as a created institution, which benefits all in society (Genesis 2.18-24) and as a relationship which images the relationship between Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5.21-32).
3b. Because marriage is instituted by God, neither the Church nor the state is authorized to re-define it.
3c. A relationship between two men or two women cannot therefore be a marriage and neither the state nor the Church should describe it as such.

Christopher Ash, in his book Marriage: Sex in the Service of God defines marriage similarly to 3a:

  • Marriage is the voluntary sexual union and public social union of one man and one woman
  • from different families.
  • This union is patterned upon the union of God with his people his bride, the Christ with his church.
  • Intrinsic to this union is God’s calling to lifelong exclusive sexual faithfulness

Let’s look at the key passages: Genesis 1.26-28 and Genesis 2.18-24. Traditionally Christians have said that marriage has 3 purposes: procreation of children, an enrichment of relationship between husband and wife, and prevents a society disintegrating into sexual chaos.

In Genesis 2.18, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Since the mid-20th century in Protestant theology the “not good” was loneliness. That’s a misreading. Because if marriage was God’s cure for loneliness you would expect the rest of the Bible to say something about that but it doesn’t. You can go through lots of passages on love and need and sexual need and you will not find  that the predicament of loneliness is solved by marriage. You find it is solved by fellowship, by friendship, in other words by belonging.

You need to read Genesis 2.18 in light of 2.15, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and to keep it.” So he has a job to do, he is the “gardener” for God. And it is in that context that God says it is not good that man is alone. The natural reading is that he cannot do the job on his own because it is too big for him. He needs the woman, and by implication he needs the children they will have who will do this job with him. 

If this is right, then God brought the woman to the man in Genesis 2 in order that together they should serve God. That means when we think about marriage we don’t think about it the way society does with a soft-focus lens gazing into each other’s eyes, etc. On the contrary we think the love and affection of a good marriage is there so that they should put their boots on and go out into the garden. In other words, there’s work to be done. There is serving God to be done, often in God’s kindness by the procreation and nurture of children. Not always often and that’s a great sadness. But it will always be done when the couple build a stable social unit and are hospitable and support one another in serving God in his world in all sorts of different ways. They may not always be doing the same things, one supporting, one serving, but they will be together serving God in his world. So sexual differentiation has a specific purpose – male and female must be fruitful in the creation and nurture of children to join them supporting and serving one another in serving God.

The principle that arose in my study was that marriage is a creation ordinance. Sex and marriage as defined in Genesis 1 and 2 is given by God in creation. This is really, really important. Here’s the idea. If you work in the physical sciences you believe the material your working with has an underlying order and your job is to discover it. The Bible teaches that this order is not just confined to the material universe, but it extends to the moral universe. It is something given to us. There is a right and wrong that is given to us. It is given to us as gift that brings stability to the world. And it is given in that it is not negotiable.

I say this is critical because you can read a lot of secular and religious writers that asset that ethics is constructed by culture so that a culture can change it. When a legislature wants to change a definition of marriage, their presupposition is that marriage is something we construct and we can change the rules as they see fit.

The question then arises, what happens when society decides to redefine marriage? They cannot destroy what God has set as right and wrong but what happens is that when a society no longer conforms to creation order for marriage or for patterns of work and rest (another creation order), it is disaster! When a society throws over God’s standards the result is chaos. That means I don’t need to defend marriage with a tone of panic. If we fail the society will be the worst for it. But as Christian we can say that this is the way God has made us and the world and society will be better if we do that.

So after a careful study of those texts used by both Jesus and the Apostle Paul and how they both applied them to our sexual expression I discovered that marriage is a creation ordinance, that is, embedded or “hard-wired” in creation itself.

  • It has a specific sexual differentiation – of one man and one woman.
  • It has a specific expression.
  • It has a specific purpose in service to God: global stewardship of creation.

I had grasped a vital truth: it is not that I was isolating same-sex desire; rather I was clarifying how God had established marriage. I realized that it is in marriage and marriage alone that sexual intimacy and expression is to occur. It can only be moral within marriage. Unmarried life is to be a life without sexual intimacy.

I think it was about the time I grasped this truth and saw that human sexual expression had been so misunderstood by the Episcopal Church that my heart began to sink. I started to realize that this equivocation of same-sex attraction with heterosexual attraction was a symptom of a much, much deeper error. But before I come to the end of my journey we must turn next time to the question of our restoration in Jesus Christ and the call to holiness.