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Monday, April 27, 2009

Biblical Marriage

I’ve just read an article entitled “The Institution Formerly Known As Marriage” by Jennifer Roback Morse. In the article, Morse laments the recent redefinition of marriage by the Iowa Supreme Court. She argues that the Court has not merely made marriage more inclusive, but has radically changed the legal understanding of the purpose of marriage. She’s right...and she’s wrong.

She is right that the Iowa Supreme Court has changed the official view of the purpose of marriage. But she is wrong in regard to what the proper view is.

What is Morse’s view of the true purpose of marriage? “The essential purpose of marriage is to attach mothers and fathers to their children and to one another.” She cites this purpose several times in her article so that by the time I finished reading it, I could recite it verbatim. It becomes clear as the piece progresses that Morse’s primary concern is for the children. Indeed, her entire argument rests upon the good of the children: “Advocates of [traditional] marriage, as opposed to [gay] marriage, believe that society needs marriage to be a child-centered, gender-based social institution. We have been arguing all along that same-sex 'marriage' will be a gender-neutral institution, in which children are only a peripheral concern.”

I certainly admire the author’s zeal and her distaste for the modern attack on marriage, but I disagree with her about the purpose and nature of marriage. In the article, there is not a single reference to God or biblical morality. This is just speculation, but it may be that she believes a non-biblical argument may have more traction in a godless culture. Or maybe she doesn't believe in God at all. Either way, when God is removed from the picture, even when we are fighting against a truly immoral institution, such as gay marriage, we lose the only absolute standard of morality and are forced to make arguments that are based on biblically unfounded ideas, like “child-centered” marriage. The only way to frame this debate in terms that show it for what it is, is to look at marriage from God’s perspective through the lens of Scripture.

Before I deal with the idea of child-rearing as the purpose of marriage, let me just state quickly and clearly that we don’t need to argue the dynamics of social institutions in order to determine that gay marriage is wrong. God's Word is clear. Leviticus 20:13 says, If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. While the penalty prescribed there is no longer binding, the moral principle, which is rooted in the character of God, is still binding. Once an abomination, always an abomination.

Lest we think that such sayings are confined to the Old Testament, consider Romans 1:26-27, which shows both female and male homosexual relations as the last stop on the road to the depraved mind. 1Corinthians 6:9-10 is likewise explicit: Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. If homosexual relations are an abomination, then a homosexual “one flesh” marriage (Gen 2:24) is also an abomination.

But what is the problem with the idea of “child-centered” marriage as an argument for traditional marriage? Certainly, child-rearing is one purpose of marriage. God created man and woman in His own image and commanded them to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28). However, this does not mean that the bearing of children is the “essential” purpose of marriage, as Morse contends. Rather, marriage should be God-centered, not child-centered.

As we will see in the coming weeks’ Sunday messages, God intended marriage to be a picture of Christ and the church (Eph 5:22-33). Paul spends the first three chapters of Ephesians developing the idea of God’s master plan to bring glory to Himself by united Jews and Gentiles into one body with Christ as the head (Eph 1:22-23; 2:11-16). The climax of the book shows this union as the culmination of God’s plan to bring eternal glory to Himself: …to [God] be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen (Eph 3:21).

As the church submits to Christ, her head, so also the wife is to submit to her husband (5:22-24). As Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her salvation and sanctification, so also the husband is to love his wife as his own flesh (5:25-30). After explaining this, Paul then shows the true significance of the “one flesh” statement in Gen 2:24: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church (5:31-32). In other words, while the relationship of Christ and the church is to be a model for the roles of husbands and wives, the more significant truth is that God has designed the marriage of one man and one woman to be a picture of the eternal covenant marriage of Christ and the church.

Though that biblical perspective will not persuade those blinded by the god of this world (2 Cor 4:3-4), we should not resort to arguing from the standpoint of pragmatism or a godless morality that places children at the center of the debate. If this issue comes up in conversation with your neighbors, family, or co-workers, I encourage you to keep Christ at the center of the issue rather than adopting Morse’s tactic. God intended marriage to be a picture of the gospel. Your explanation of that fact may be the very gospel presentation that the Holy Spirit uses to grace that person with repentance and faith, making them another member of the bride of Christ.

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