Therefore WHAT GOD HAS JOINED TOGETHER ...
There is an increased clamour to redefine marriage, even in the Church. Steve Maltz explains the dangers inherent in such thinking…
There was a piece of news recently that has been largely overlooked but, in the grand scheme of things, greatly overshadows even the results of the General Election. The Scottish wing of the Anglican Church has just voted to legalise gay marriage1. After giving his reasons, the head of the Scottish Episcopal Church, David Chillingworth stated that “we affirm we are a church of diversity and difference bound together by our unity in Christ” . The Bishop of Edinburgh, John Armes, added, “if the Anglican Communion is to survive it must embrace unity” .
If Church unity demands that Biblical doctrine on marriage is thrown out of the window, then I suggest that the Anglican Communion does not deserve to survive, whatever the implications. In terms of core understandings of what a Church is in relation to Jesus, this doctrine is far more precious than these Scottish clergymen seem to understand, far more important than the survival of a single denomination, regardless of how many clergy it employs or the size of its investment portfolio.
To get things in perspective, let us go back to basics. Marriage has many forms, depending on culture and tradition, but for the purposes of our discussion, we need to examine the Christian position, as defined by the Holy Scriptures. The first mention is when the first woman appears: Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman, ’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Genesis 2:23-24.
After the Fall this one flesh, this husband and wife, were reprimanded by God. The woman would suﬀer pain in childbirth and be subject to the man, who would now toil to receive food from the ground. The man, Adam, named his wife Eve, the mother of all the living. A straightforward reading of this story tells us that a key feature of this entity “husband and wife” , one flesh, is the oﬀspring that will flow from this relationship.
Function, not form
Crucially, the underlying issue here is about how we read from the Bible. Firstly, we must always remember that this is God’s word – from His perspective rather than ours – and secondly, we should be more concerned with function over form. In short, this means that everything in the Bible is put there for a function or purpose and we must always ask ourselves, what is God’s purpose for putting it there? So, what is God’s purpose for this one flesh? Is it primarily about the expression love between partners? Is it purely about mutual sexual pleasure? Actually, the Bible is silent on this but it speaks consistently of one purpose: the production of offspring. This is God’s viewpoint, as featured in the Bible. We are aware that other expressions of one flesh, or marriage, in other cultures, may see things in a different way but the Bible insists that this is His model for propagating the species.
Jesus reiterates the origin of marriage in Matthew 19:4-5, but he adds the following observation in verse 6: “So that they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
One flesh is thus not just a random coupling, but a lifelong commitment. From God’s perspective every true marriage will be that which He alone has ‘joined together’ . He sets the terms, He does the matchmaking. The terms and reasons are summarised in Ephesians 5:22-33
“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”
Here we are given another reason for one flesh and that it is one of God’s mysteries, one of those things we accept rather than analyse or meddle with. The complicated bit is that Christian marriage, one flesh, is a model of Christ and his Church. This has the air of something very important indeed, using the physical to describe the spiritual.
So the wife submits to the husband, not because the man is stronger or more important, but because it is a picture of the Church submitting to Christ. Although this concept is an affront to feminists and “progressives” it is mysteriously bound up in the relationship we have with our Messiah. It is a principle, not an expression of masculine abuse. The husband is called to be the head of his wife, to act on her behalf in decision making. This he must do out of love for her, not as a power trip. But again it is a picture, this time of Christ as head of the Church, as loving saviour.
Christian marriage is therefore a union of one flesh as ordained by God with two aims, or functions. Firstly as the mechanism for producing offspring and therefore ensuring that the human race doesn’t die out. Secondly to demonstrate in some mysterious way the relationship that Christ has with his Church and reminding the husband and wife of their responsibilities within this arrangement. Also, God has ensured that masculine and feminine physical attributes correspond to these roles, to ensure they are best equipped to carry them out.
Where the rubber hits the road…
And this brings us to an important point. To explain it best we will again look at the difference between form and function. Our Greek mindset, which is predominant in the Church as well as in society, concentrates on forms, on objects and concepts, without paying attention to any meaning attached to said objects. A Hebraic mindset, as typified by Jesus and Jews of Bible times, would consider the function, the purpose behind the object. In our society marriage is a form, an all-purpose term for people who wish to make an official commitment to each other. This should not bother us Christians if the context is outside of our jurisdiction. It will be just a form with a function of making a general commitment, even if this is in a single sex context. But the rubber really hits the road if the context is Christian.
The function of a Christian marriage is for it to be acceptable to God, not the Church. If God is not honoured, then He is being mocked, whatever a denomination may decide to do for the sake of “unity” . What is more important is unity with God and His word and if one flesh is not for the purpose of producing offspring (if possible) and modelling the relationship between Christ and his Church, then it is not a Christian marriage and God most certainly isn’t the matchmaker.
If this seems judgmental as moderns – including many Christians – try to shake off the old biblical definitions to justify sexually-driven fashions, we must insist that the Bible is our authority, interpreted correctly as God’s instructive wisdom to us. Scripture is not a means of rubber-stamping our own ideas – and Church traditions should not even come into it. Christian marriage is sacred because of the mystery that is wrapped around it. If we seek to redefine this, we are meddling where we shouldn’t and God is not to be mocked. We don’t make the rules, He does. However unloving it may seem from our limited perspective, Christian marriage must reflect His holiness. God has proved His love for humanity and owes us no explanations.
The Scottish Episcopal Church leadership is treading on dangerous ground with serious implications not just for themselves, but also for the wider Anglican denomination. They would do well to heed this warning:
But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. (Jude 1:17-19)
Rebellion brings division, not true unity.