In these days it seems that everyone has an opinion on marriage, and everyone is equally dogmatic. I have no problem with dogmatism, but that dogmatism must be based on substance, not mere opinion or prejudice. The present government in the UK have indicated their intent to redefine marriage in UK law. I know that I’m sticking my head above the parapet with this, but here are my thoughts.
To redefine a thing implies that there is something substantial there in the first place to change. There is an existing understanding of marriage within the Christian faith that is wholly biblical. That is, the source of our understanding of, our definition of, our practise of marriage is based on what the Bible tells us about what it is and how we do it. The word marriage is a theological and sacramental term, and as Christians we can only restate what the the Bible gives as our authoritative word on the matter. If God, through the Bible is the source of our definition of and understanding of marriage, then no government has the authority to redefine it. They may introduce whatever other partnerships they deem to be acceptable, but to redefine that which God has set out goes beyond their remit and their right.
The reaction to the government’s proposals seem largely to be negative, with good reason. Whilst supporting that reaction I believe that we are missing the opportunity to put forward a positive perspective on what marriage really means to the Christian. What follows is, I trust, a positive presentation of what the Bible describes marriage to be.
In the first chapters of Genesis we are given the family history of mankind. It’s a sort of ‘Who do you think you are’ of the human race: where we came from, who we came from, and why things are as they are. This includes creation, men and women and the reason the world is full of wrong.
In this story the introduction of the first man, Adam, to the first woman, Eve is told as a story within a story. It was made obvious that nothing else in creation was right as a ‘partner’ for Adam. The specific phrase used for this ‘partner’ means, literally: ‘like opposite to’ – the same, but complementary. The two, becoming one were to be better than either on their own, but the fact that they are man and woman is fundamental to this – two different, but matching halves of a wonderful whole, just like those love heart necklaces for two lovers where the two parts join to make a single perfect heart.
This is presented in the Bible as the union intended by God for men and women.
Jesus, when asked about divorce quoted the text from Genesis, and reaffirmed that this was God’s plan. He went further by stating that ‘What God has joined together, let not man separate.’ This was made in the context of divorce, but the inference is that marriage is made before God and is subject to His specific blessing as men and women commit their lives to one another before God in fulfillment of His intentions for mankind.
I said earlier that marriage is a sacramental term as well as a theological one. The reason for this is found in the book of Ephesians that tell us that within marriage a husband should love his wife as Christ loved the Church. The same passage then continues to tell us that marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church. For the Christian believer the whole story of Jesus Christ, His death, resurrection and return are bound up in the concept of a groom returning for his bride. It’s an exciting picture, it provokes anticipation and wonder at the God of the whole universe choosing to come and claim that which doesn’t deserve Him, to be His bride. Above all it is a picture of overcoming triumphant love! To the Christian believer this understanding, this picture within marriage is precious. To the Christian, marriage is the opportunity to live under God in a way that fulfills His will, that allows us to relate one with another in the same love that we have been loved with and to look forward to an ultimate consummation of our relationship with God in what the Bible calls ‘the marriage supper of the Lamb’.
If you believe in Jesus as Lord and God, and are trusting in His redemption through His sacrifice on the cross, then this is wonderful beyond measure! If you don’t have a faith in God, then it will be of no value and will more than likely confuse you immensely. That in itself is understandable.
If all that I have said makes no sense, then I would gently suggest that whatever your persuasion, a civil partnership would be a more true reflection of your faith or choice not to believe. If you don’t believe in God, do you really wish to take on a commitment that is so bound up in Biblical concepts and that at its heart is done before God and in God?
If what I have said does make sense, then take heart that in marriage we have a wonderful microcosm of Christ and the Church – it is imperfect, but it carries with it the hope of eternity!
It is this positive and high view of marriage that causes Christians to defend the definition laid down in the Bible, and also causes Christians to affirm that the state has no authority to redefine that which God has already defined. This does not prevent the state from providing a civil partnership program that is open to all. The state can also insist that Christians must partake of civil partnership as well as whatever religious ceremony is involved, but it cannot redefine a God ordained institution.
If the state chooses to redefine marriage in such a way that Bible believing Christians cannot in good conscience enter into it then those Christians, for whom this is fundamental to every aspect of our faith, will be relegated to the sidelines of society and in secular terms barred from that which they, more than any other part of society, believe in.
Please read this as my attempt to portray the positive understanding of marriage within the Christian Church – it is not intended to condemn or demand, it is simply presented as a statement of faith, a reaffirmation which I believe is much needed. It is written unashamedly from a Biblical perspective, because, for me that is the only one possible. Please accept my faith in God and His revelation of His will through the Bible as the basis for my belief, and my freedom to express this for all to consider. For those who wish to look, the passages that I referred to are to be found in Genesis 2, Matthew 19 and Ephesians 5.