The Funeral of Marriage in the Church

marriageSeveral weeks ago, the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterin Church (USA) took two actions that paved the way for same-sex weddings to be performed by PC(USA) pastors in states where it is legal. I’m not going into any details about the specific actions, because, honestly, few care about the bueracratic ins-and-outs which brought about these historic decisions. For those of us in the denomination, those of us who have vote and voice at various councils, we know all the “i’s” aren’t dotted and the “t’s” not yet crossed, but they will be.

The congregation I serve, the First Presbyterian Church, Lakeland, FL, has issued a well thought-out and heart-felt response, and I stand firm with that response and believe it cuts to the core of the matter.

To be plain, I’m a traditionalist. In many ways, I identify with the evangelical movement and even call myself “evangelical” for whatever it’s worth. And many on this side are mourning these decisions… But I have to say, when it comes to the biblically-prescribed ideal of marriage – the ideal churches everywhere are called to uphold according to Scripture… we are all a little late to the funeral.

The biblically-ordered institution of marriage – for those who consider themselves Christians has long been dead (I can’t hold non-believers to the biblical standard of anything, including marriage). This ideal of marriage is dead, because we’ve conceded to the rampant epidemic of divorce without much of an attempt at inoculation. We have looked the other way on pre-marital cohabitation and pre-marital sex, regardless of the fact couples who live together before marriage are 50% more likely to end up divorced (though we’ve tried to act pre-emptively through purity promises, “True Love Waits” classes, etc. with youth groups). The churches’ and pastors’ expectations for pre-marital counseling within a Christian context have fallen dramatically. Weddings have become moneny-makers for congregations in decline, and thus the idea of choking that income stream is unimaginable.

How can the Church be expected to hold authority on any marriage-related issue, when we’ve consistently dropped the ball on others? Wasn’t there a parable about being faithful in the small things?

The funeral dirge is playing; we have just showed up late.

Look, I’m not happy about the actions of the General Assembly, and when I’m called to vote at our local presbytery, I’ll vote against the measures; however, we, as the Church, need to look more deeply at marriage and our role in it, not focus on just the wedding ceremony. The Church does not exist to endorse the decisions of two people but to help couples honor God in their mutual relationship, and we’ve failed. We’ve failed to have the influence on the culture, because we have failed to exercise our God-given responsibility to nuture those who seek the Church’s endorsement.

As I look at Scripture and what it says about marriage and marriages, a couple of things jump out. First, few marriages in the Bible are held up as ideal. Adam and Eve: nope. Abraham and Sarah: nope. Jacob and Rachel/Leah: nope and nope. David and Michal: nope. David and Bathsheba: nope. The Song of Solomon is a poetic book, not a historic narrative of two people. Peter’s wife is only mentioned by implication that he has a mother-in-law. Even the marriage imagery used to describe God and His people is frought with infidelity on the part of the people, and Jesus was called to cleanse his bride (God’s People/Church) of unrighteousness. The closest ideal marriages we have in Scripture maybe Mary and Joseph or Aquila and Priscilla, but we know very little about them.

Second, outside of Jesus’ first miracle being conducted at a wedding, there is no mention of him or any of the disciples conducting wedding ceremonies. I can’t find a place in Scripture where elders or other leaders are exhorted to conduct weddings, pre-marriage counseling, or the like. And when Jesus is questioned on the idea of eternal matrimony, his response is that people in heaven are neither married nor given in marriage.

Now, I want to say something clearly: I love my wife. I love the fact that we are married, and we that we got married in our home church by the two most important pastors in our lives – her dad and my dad. It meant something significant to us, and that’s because not only the wedding significant, but that congregation was significant to us… We were active there, the people knew us, and would be part of our lives.

But in light of the Church’s overall failures regarding marriage, and in light of the relative significance or lack thereof for weddings in the Bible, the question I’m left asking myself is, how important is the ministry of weddings for the Church? Until we are ready to re-envision our responsibilities to those whom we join together in “holy” matrimony, do we really have the right to act as the mediators between two people whom “God has joined together”?

Truthfully, I don’t have a good answer for these questions. But I do know that if God can raise Jesus Christ from the dead, he can certainly do the same for the biblical ideal of marriage. We, the believers in the Church, need to pray for that miracle and do our part to reclaim the whole ideal – not merely one part.

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