Thanks again to Jacob for his comment and question about marriage. Jacob begins by asking this question:
What I haven’t been able to wrap my mind around is how “A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife” has been accepted in Christian circles as meaning a legal union recognized by the state, stamped on paper, with all the benefits that the government can throw at you for being married.
To answer this question it is important to understand our social history in chronological order. It is possible to look at our country and culture today and conclude that the church is seeking validation from the state with regard to marriage. But time and the decreasing impact of the church on our culture has blurred the lines between church and state. In reality the state first drew its understanding of marriage from the church and Scripture. Historically, in the United States marriage has been understood as an institution ordained by God for the good of all people. A reading of the literature concerning the laws of this country will leave you with no other conclusion. From the April 11, 1890, edition of the New York Times, we read this quotation, attributed to the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Jay: “But however they may be established there is nothing we look for with more certainty than the general principle that Christianity is the law of the land.”
Recent legislative and judicial decisions have denied this formerly accepted understanding, but it is still historically accurate to say that many of our practices and institutions were understood to originate from Christianity. At least initially, many of the civil requirements of this country, including marriage, were intentionally based upon the Bible and a Christian worldview. In this sense, it can be said that the early leaders of the United States perceived that they had an obligation to protect the institution of marriage. Furthermore, they had an obligation to provide a social climate in which marriage, as defined by the Bible, would be the basic building block of society.
For marriage to be successful as an institution it must be seen as originating from God’s authority. When Pharaoh understood that Sarai was Abram’s wife, he called Abram: “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife?” (Gen 12:18). Pharaoh honored the institution of marriage. Similarly, marriage was protected as an institution in the nation of Israel. Laws were given by God to protect marriage as he had designed it from the beginning. Following this example, the civil laws of the United States also sought to protect marriage as institution given by God to man. So, our civil laws were not meant to ordain and validate marriage, but rather to protect and serve marriage as a God-ordained institution that is good and essential for society. In this sense, marriage is not established by the state, but by the church. Following the direction of Scripture, the church discerns what are the proper grounds for marriage and,for that matter, divorce. The recent direction of humanistic thinking in our country, however, has been to attack rather than protect marriage. As modern civil law has has increasingly sought to sever itself from its biblical foundations, marriage as an institution has become disassociated from its divine origin.
So, Jacob, from this perspective we can acknowledge that it is appropriate and necessary for the state to honor and protect marriage. It is a good thing for Christians to marry and have that union recognized by the state. This helps to avoid the chaos of the time of the Judges when “every man did what was right in his own eyes.” But, while it may appear today that the state is in control of marriage, that is not the case. It is the Church, following the lead of Scripture, that is to be the ultimate authority in sanctioning marriage. Daniel 4, Colossians 1, and Romans 13 make it clear that the state derives its authority from God. Therefore, the wellbeing of the state or commonwealth is tied to its adherence to God’s authority. A state which moves away from the biblical institution of marriage as between one man and one woman does so at its own peril.
Jacob also states in his comment, “but do we need the state to help us to be obedient to God and faithful to our wives (or husbands). While I want to teach my children the sacredness and importance of marriage within Gods design, I won’t give them what scripture does not contain. “
Jacob, we are not meant to function without the state. God has ordained the home, the church and the state to function as spheres of authority. While the state is not the author of marriage and is not fit to design its own alternatives to marriage, it is, in fact, helpful for the state to support and protect marriage, as we have seen historically. For a society to function well, it must have common universal building blocks. As the United States begins to except same gender marriage as normative, the stability of the country will be greatly weakened. This is precisely because marriage, as an institution, has not been protected and honored. Christians will suffer from this instability as well.
The spread of the Gospel–not the passage of legislation–will bring societal structures into proper balance. But for now, the state appears to believe it has the power to redefine marriage in its own image. The resulting society will not be a pleasant environment.
Today, we appear to have many lifestyle options. Heterosexual marriage, heterosexual cohabitation, heterosexual union, civil unions, homosexual marriage and cohabitation, communal living, surrogate parents–these combinations and more dominate the social landscape. Society, the church, and individual marriages would all be better served if the laws of the state recognized biblical authority alone for marriage. This no longer appears to be the case. Thus, Jacob’s concern will be illustrated in the negative.
There will be additional response to Jacob’s and Aric’s comments in the next post. Give this some thought and let me know your thoughts. Think too, about the implications of these things for your children.
2 thoughts on “Marriage and the State”
Although I disgree that this nation was purposed by its founders to be a christain civilization, it is agreed that many of the founding fathers were men who were,if not devout followers of Christ, were at least in agreement with much of biblical principle.
-“The spread of the Gospel–not the passage of legislation–will bring societal structures into proper balance. But for now, the state appears to believe it has the power to redefine marriage in its own image. The resulting society will not be a pleasant environment.”
I could not agree more that the spread of the Gospel will bring about the change we long to see. This is the only means by which we can expect to see it. It has been my observation that many churches and christain organizations seem to spend so much time sobing over what wreck our government has made of our society and encouraging people to “get involved ” in the process as if it were the answer. Our correct attitude should be,and I quote a portion of a recent article by a well known christain writer, “The more we love one another within the kingdom, the more we bring in those who were outside the kingdom. We seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to us.” We can not expect those outside the church to understand or to make decisions that are in line with scripture. While I agree that we are to live peacably with what governing authority has been placed over us I disagree that it is our place to persuade those who are not of the church to behave like the church. I want my children to understand that the world without Christ is dead. If I expect the world to honor Christ then I have esentially said that they are capable of pleasing God apart from being part of His Church. The Apostle Paul said that he had no business judging those who are outside of the church. We are only to judge those who claim to be Christs. While it is very discouraging to see the love that the world has for sin, change will only come about through the work of the Church not the State as you have said. While we must expose the sin in the world we must be more about the business of building up Christs Church and loving and serving each-other rather than proclaiming what a mess the government has made of society.
I guess the point I am trying to make, and it involves much more than just marriage, is that christains today have placed too much emphesis on government and how important it is that they make good decisions. Yes, they have the capability to make decisions which can drasticaly affect our lives, but do we not serve one who is greater? It is our business to be Jesus to the world, not desire the state to do so or to even understand why we believe what we do.
Our “society” is the church. And we do have a common building block. And I believe it would serve us well if we would stop expecting the state to synchronize itself with us.
-“Society, the church, and individual marriages would all be better served if the laws of the state recognized biblical authority alone for marriage. This no longer appears to be the case. Thus, Jacob’s concern will be illustrated in the negative.-”
Perhaps, but just as Christ came to serve and not to be served so too are we.
Certainly there will be implications for our children when decisions like this are made, but I hope mine will derive their joy and peace and contentment on what Gods Word and the Church has for them, not what their government has said or done. I certainly hope they do not see me as distraught or despairing over the fact that those who hate God are not aiming to honor Him.
Jacob said .”…it involves much more than just marriage.” I wouldn’t downplay it too much, Jacob.
Doug Wilson writes:
“God established marriage at the very foundation of the world, and He did so because it was a key instrument for the accomplishment of His purposes for our world.
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Gen. 1:27-28).
Notice that man and woman together constitute the image of God. Having created us male and female, the very first thing He did after that was pronounce a blessing. Because man and woman together bear the image of God, God is blessing something which reflects and mirrors Him. This means that when a man and a woman live together in the kind of harmony that Scripture calls us to, we are a blessed reflection of what our triune God is like.
The next thing God told them was to be fruitful and multiply. But if we limit our thoughts on this to filling up the spare rooms in our house, we fall short of God’s intention. God created man so that we would establish cultures, cities, and gardens. And He wanted this done throughout the entire earth. He said to replenish the earth, and subdue the earth. He told us to exercise dominion over every living creature, and to do so throughout all the world. But notice that what He established as the instrument for accomplishing this was not corporations, or factories, or masters of high finance. He placed marriage as the cornerstone of all godly dominion. Of course it is lawful for us to create other secondary instruments as we seek to exercise dominion, but it is not lawful for us to create them as substitutes for marriage.”
Beyond the things that Wilson points out I would say that marriage is a commentary on Christ’s relationship to his people. Obviously that is not novel, it’s biblical. So biblical marriage is beautiful because it displays, quite explicitly, the truth of the gospel. The world needs biblical marriage because it needs the gospel. If that picture that marriage is intended to display gets distorted, then the gospel is actually being distorted, and if the gospel gets distorted cultures collapse. THIS is why the state must protect marriage. If it doesn’t the culture will be ruined. Not because it got creative with defining marriage, but because it messed with the gospel. If the state does not see the grace provided through God’s intent for marriage, then woe to the state.
It seems it would be easier for the state to remove itself from the marriage business, but for the state to function and exercise dominion it is deeply connected to the marriage business (just as wilson points out). Therefore for the gospel to change cultures there is a link to how that culture decides to define marriage.