Great article by Steve Cornell. Does not say everything that would need to be said in such a situation but is a very helpful starting point.
(HT: Tony Lane)
Ask a friend for a definition of marriage and you might expect something like this
‘Marriage is an expression of love in which two people make an exclusive commitment to one another.’
Or maybe something like
‘a private arrangement between parties committed to love’
If that is what marriage is what possible reason could there be for anyone objecting to same-sex marriage? It would be as discriminatory as telling a couple they could not marry because they came from different countries or they had different coloured skin.
It’s working from such a definition of marriage that gay lobbyists (and an increasing number of the population including politians and a prime minister) argue that same-sex marriage is simply a matter of equality. The argument goes that there can be no rational reason to resist the implementation of same-sex marriage legislation and therefore what lies behind the resistance of ‘traditionalists’ is nothing more than prejudice. Those who oppose a change in the law are now almost without thought regarded as simply intolerant, bigoted and homophobic.
But what if the kind of definitions we’ve considered are not a sufficient definition for marriage. What if marriage by definition means more than a loving commitment? What then?
Much of the debate about same-sex marriage has centred around attitudes towards gay people when really the debate needs to centre around the question ‘what is marriage’? How we define marriage is absolutely crucial to whether or not it is appropriate to legislate for same-sex marriage.
By far the most helpful book on the subject is David Blackenhorn’s The Future of Marriage. For the record Blackenhorn is no homophobe. He states quite clearly that what is at stake is not ‘good versus bad, enlightened versus reactionary. The real conflict is between one good and another: the equal dignity of real persons and the worth of homosexual love, versus flourishing of children. On each side, the threat to something important is real.’
Blackenhorn’s book demonstrates that marriage cannot only mean a commitment between two people who love each other. He writes:
‘Defining marriage as essentially a private emotional relationship obscures a large piece of reality…’
Because Blackenhorn points out that marriage exists for a bigger purpose, it always has. Marriage is a social institution that has been designed primarily for the purpose of raising children. He writes ‘Childrearing is probably the single most important social need that marriage is designed to meet, but there are numerous others as well.’
Three important statements then with which to finish this introductory post
1. That children (at least the biological possibility of children even if sadly frustrated by infertility) are central to the definition of marriage is a reality recognised by former Home Secretary Jack Straw MP back in 2000 when he introduced legislation for same-sex civil partnerships:
“I’m a very strong supporter of gay rights and treating people the same regardless of their sexual preference – but marriage has a different purpose. Marriage is about a union for the procreation of children, which by definition can only happen between a heterosexual couple. So I see no circumstances in which we would ever bring forward proposals for so-called gay marriages.”
2. The interconnectedness of marriage and children is also enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- (1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
- (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
- (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
‘Here we see six important ideas. Marriage is intrinsically linked to children. Men and women have equal rights in marriage. Marriage requires the spouses’ free consent. The natural family is society’s basic group unit. The institution of the family deserves protection. And, marriage is a fundamental human right.
The key point is that each of these ideas is connected to all the others. Freedom is linked to solidarity. Marriage is linked to family. Rights imply responsibility…Together, these six ideas are not perfect and do not tell us everything about marriage, but they ably suggest marriage’s fundamental shape and public purpose.’
3. Finally, that marriage is above all else for the purpose of children has been recognised across all cultures and at all times.
Blackenhorn after presenting a raft of evidence on how marriage has functioned through-out the world writes:
‘Across cultures, marriage is above all a procreative institution. It is nothing less than the culturally constructed linchpin of all human family and kinship systems. Marriage brings together biologically unrelated persons to produce the next generation, create fatherhood as a social role for men, and radically expand the reach and possibility of kinship ties. It brings together the two sexes in such a way that each child is born with two parents, a mother and a father, who are legally and jointly responsible for the child.’
Now the question we must turn to next is does anything about the way in which marriage has traditionally functioned suggest that we should not redefine it now. What is at stake in a redefinition of marriage and should a society have any concerns?
Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Britain’s most senior Catholic, sets out his defence for marriage over against those who seek to redefine it in today’s Telegraph
Updated: the post on which my blog-post depends appears to no-longer be available
How should Christians respond to arguments in favour of same-sex marriage? There are many advocates for a change in the law to permit gay couples to marry. After all the argument goes ‘equality should mean equality’.
Peter Saunders chair of the Christian Medical Fellowship has written a blog post outlining Ten reasons not to legalise same sex marriage check it out and think it through for yourself.
Most persuasive for me is argument 9 - Redefining marriage will not stop with same sex marriage
After all ’Equality is equality is equality’ is surely the foundation for the argument in favour of a change in the law to recognise same-sex marriage. IF equality is equality and IF we are to be free from ‘intolerant, bigoted, discriminatory and hateful’ positions in the debate I wonder whether advocates of a change in the law think that
1) a man should be legally able to marry his sister?
2) 3 or more parties should be free to enter into a marriage arrangement?
3) a muslim should be permitted under British law to have 3 or 4 or more wives?
Having rejected historical or biological arguments in favour of the ‘equality’ argument it seems only logical that those in favour of same-sex arguments will also be in favour of all sorts of marriage ‘arrangements’ between consenting adults.
If anyone can suggest otherwise I’d be happy to hear from them.
An interesting post by Chris Wiles on being a single Christian on Valentine’s day prompted me to offer up some material on marriage, singleness and Christian ministry. A second post will follow on some of the practical outworkings on the issues faced by married’s and single’s in ministry situations.
1. Biblical models of marriage and singleness in the Bible
- The Apostles – 1 Cor. 9:5
- Priscilla & Aquilla – Romans 16:3
- Typical situation of a church elder – 1 Tim. 3. 2-5
- Jesus, Paul
2. Does the New Testament offer any advice on whether marriage or singleness is better for Christian ministry?
a. Genesis 2, Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Tim.3:2-5
Marriage is a gift from God to be enjoyed. Companionship, procreation.
Christians, through marriage, have opportunity to model to the world God’s ultimate purpose of the heavenly marriage between Christ and the church. Given that the majority of people in a local church congregation will be married a church minister has opportunity to model to the church, and to a watching world, Christian marriage and through marriage point people to Christ.
Marriage is a privilege, blessing and gospel opportunity!
b. 1 Corinthians 7 – a brief overview
1 Cor. 7:1 should follow the ESV translation
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’
Some at Corinth seem to have been following the Greek practice of celibacy and considering themselves more spiritual for doing so. They were possibly also using Paul’s celibacy to justify their own attitude to sex and marriage.
In Chapter 7 Paul wants to defend the value of singleness without defending their rationale for it.
The theme of Chapter Seven can be summed up as ‘remain in the situation in which God called you’ v.8, 17,20,24,26,40. i.e. Be content with who you are in Christ.
Were you married when you became a Christian? Then stay married, even if your spouse is an unbeliever. This is command of the Lord v.10-11
Were you a widow(er) or unmarried? Then Paul’s advice is that it is best to stay unmarried, as he himself is. v.8.
Please notice that to those who are married Paul issues a command from the Lord but to the singles Paul does not use commands but rather offers guidance. He chooses not to speak with the full force of his apostolic authority but with words of advice.
‘Paul’s argument takes on a character of its own, quite unlike anything else in his extant letters. He begins with a caution, that what is about to be said, even though he thinks it trustworthy, is less than a command of the Lord; it is his ‘opinion’ (v.25). The argument is then laced with ‘I think’ (36), ‘I am sparing you’ (28), ‘I wish’ (32), ‘I say this for your own good’ (35), ‘let him do as he wishes’ (36), ‘he shall do well’ (37). Whatever else this is not your standard Paul.’
c. Why does Paul seem to prefer singleness?
i) Eschatological perspective – Christ is coming soon vv.26-29
This is almost certainly what Paul is referring to in vv.26-29 as the present crisis v.26 and again in v.29 when he comments that the appointed time is very short. If Christ is coming soon then there is an urgency about the Lord’s work and we must be free from the grip of the world’s values e.g. Pursuing the things the world chases after – spouse, 2.4 kids, nice house, car and dog!
ii) Those who are married inevitably have divided interests. v.28, 32-24.
Family life is hard work and requires time and effort to sustain. Being single enables an undivided service of Christ.
d. Is it less spiritual for Christians to seek to be married?
No. Twice Paul affirms that if you marry you are not sinning v.28, 36
Paul also recognizes that God gifts people differently. He gives a marriage partner to some and not to others. v.7. If you are married, thank God for your partner. If you are single thank God for that too! Both are gifts from God.
Paul is concerned that we seek the Kingdom of God first, c.f. Matt.6:31-33, and not get hung up on marriage. However if a suitable marriage partner comes along and we wish to marry then we are free to do so.
‘Ultimately, however, it is our freedom to marry or not which Paul emphasizes time and again. .. As such, we should regard singleness (whether short or long term) as an available option and, since we all start out single, we should approach life form the point of view of seeking the Kingdom of God, not the end of our singleness, as our priority.’
- First things first. Seek to serve Christ where you are!
- Don’t idolize either marriage or singleness.
- Don’t consider yourself superior because of your status e.g. ‘smug married’s or ‘single for the gospel’.
- If looking for a potential marriage partner ask:
‘Will this person I am thinking of going out with / marrying help or hinder me in the work of the gospel?’ ‘Will I help them?’
- If you are thinking about starting a relationship look to go out with someone more godly than you.
- Consider life goals i.e. how, where and when you might serve in say 10 years time when thinking about marriage.
g. Can I know today which gift I have been given by God?
Not necessarily. John Stott helpfully comments in an interview with Al Hsu at the end of his book Singleness
In spite of rumours to the contrary, I have never taken a solemn vow or heroic decision to remain single! On the contrary, during my twenties and thirties, like most people, I was expecting to marry one day. In fact, during this period I twice began to develop a relationship with a lady who I thought might be God’s choice of life partner for me. But when the time came to make a decision, I can best explain it by saying that I lacked an assurance from God that he meant me to go forward. So I drew back. And when that happened twice, I naturally began to believe that God meant me to remain single. I’m now seventy-six and well and truly ‘on the shelf’! Looking back, with the benefits of hindsight, I think I know why. I could never have travelled or written as extensively as I have done if I had had the responsibilities of a wife and family.
It should also be noted that some people long to be married and yet for various reasons never do. This must be seen as God’s sovereign gift for them.
Some good books to read on the broader issues of marriage, singleness and the gospel:
Good commentaries on 1 Corinthians!
Kathy Keller (married to Tim) and co-author of The Meaning of Marriage gives her answer to the old chestnut ‘why shouldn’t a Christian marry a non-believer?’
I’m enjoying reading through Tim and Kathy Keller’s The meaning of marriage and I’m enjoying reading it slowly. It’s a book written by a man with a pastor’s heart, with Reformed and gospel-centred convictions and with 37 years of marriage experience. It’s a book that can and will breathe life, hope and renewed focus into any marriage.
For a taster here’s an extract from Revelant magazine entitled ‘You never marry the right person’.
Typical, you wait years for a book on marriage and then two come out within a couple of months of each other. I’m talking about The meaning of marriage by Tim and Kathy Keller and Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll.
Given that most of us will probably choose one or the other (at best) how do you go about deciding between the two.
Tim Challies considers one to be ‘my new favorite book on marriage and the best of all the books I read in 2011‘ but when assessing the other concludes ‘Would I want to read it with my wife or would I encourage her to read it on her own? Would I recommend it to the people in my church? In both cases the answer is no.’
Read his reviews to find out why and if you’ve the time and the money to read both make up your own mind!
Tim Keller speaks to Google staff on the essence of marriage from a Christian perspective. A very helpful and stimulating look at defending marriage before a sceptical audience.
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