Monday, June 28, 2010

The Two Kinds of Marriage Redux

Geoff Ashley

I had a recent conversation with a pastor from The Village Church in Texas. (Some of you may recognize this as the church Matt Chandler leads.) Anyway The conversation we had sparked some more thinking on my position on marriage, nothing monumental changed, but I thought I'd share the exchange with you here.

Thank you for writing. I think that the article stands or falls on the strength of the distinction between legal and sacramental marriage, a distinction which is not evidenced within the biblical text itself. As that is our ultimate authority for faith and practice, I would be careful lest we restrict that which was intended as common grace to only those who are believers. Most theological reflection on marriage over the past 2000 years has leaned toward it being a gift to humanity in general and not specifically to the elect. Though there are deeper implications for the elect, the gift is still never restricted in the text. Adam and Eve represent all humanity as our ancestors, not simply Christians. I don't know that we have any biblical merit to limit that which was given to them.
 I have never wrestled through the implications of Canadian law in thisarea, but I would want to make sure that giving up the right to
perform marriage was done with pure motives and not simply fear of reprisal(legally or otherwise). That would be where I would be wrestling. We
are certainly called to give up rights at times for the good of others,
but I'm not sure that I see giving up ordination as an example of such atime. What decision best exalts the glory of Christ and the good of
your fellow man (believer and otherwise)?
 I feel for you and for all who desire to be faithful in environments more restrictive than my own. Thanks for writing. Let me know if there is anything else we can do to help.
 Grace and peace.
The guy's name is Geoff Ashley, he raised a number of good points that I hadn't really thought through or articulated fully, so I replied...


Thanks so much for getting back to me so quickly. I wanted to send you a message saying how much I really appreciated your input, you made me 
think through a couple of things and hopefully come up with a better way to articulate some of them.

You're definitely correct that there is no biblical distinction between 
legal and sacramental marriage. There is simply the gift of marriage 
offered by God to His creation. Where I see a distinction is in the 
culture. The marriage God gave was set up as a covenant (See Genesis 2 
and most of the book of Hosea) but our culture sets it up as simply a 
contract which can be broken for any reason (literally, I don't know 
about Texas, but up here, all you need for a divorce is to live apart 
for a year). On this is my heart and the crux of my argument.

The marriage that God gave was set up as covenant. The marriage we as 
clergy solemnize is seen by the solemnizing state as a simple contract. 
Christians then, who are seeking marriage are bound by both; marriage as covenant as God gave, and marriage by contract as Romans 13: 1-2 (and 
any number of practical reasons) dictates. The need for the distinction 
between legal and sacramental marriages, in my view, is becoming more 
pronounced with governments moving away from the biblical standard of 
marriage as covenant.

You were right to challenge my motives as well. It is important that we 
don't compromise scripture for the sake of our comfort. I'd be lying, 
though, if I said I didn't recognize that my stance on this conveniently

avoids the gay marriage question. My motivation though comes not from 
this question, alone, but from what the government has historically been doing to marriage (specifically in the realm of divorce) that has made 
marriage into something that is not the same as what God gave. That 
said, I certainly wouldn't force a "remarriage" on a married couple who 
comes to faith, I'd simply explain that the marriage they have is not a 
contract, but rather a covenant.

It's this fundamental difference (contract/covenant) that motivates my 
position regarding solemnizing marriages as clergy. I believe that we 
(at least in Canada) are sending mixed messages when we will perform one ceremony that is the solemnization of a legal contract while at the same time preach and teach about marriage as a covenant.
I found Geoff's insights to be really thoughtful and I'd value more thoughts on the topic.

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