Christian Marriage

August 4, 2011

It has always confused me going to weddings and at the end when the pastors say “By the powers granted to me by God and the state of so and so, I pronounce you husband and wife.”

Really? I thought marriage was a Christian institution?  But maybe not; after all, there is marriage is in the old testament.

Back up a bit. So where does this power of pronouncement come from then?  God and the state?  or just God since all power of the state is from God anyway?  And if so, is this power of pronouncement granted solely through the state (even though it’s from God) and not directly from God to the pastor?  But isn’t the pastor acting as an agent of the state, in which case even if the power is granted directly to the pastor, then it cannot bypass the state in any way.  whatever the answer may be, 2 things must be true: one, that ultimately all the power of pronouncement comes from God, and two, that this power is granted to the state at some point.

Alright so if these two things are true, then does it necessarily follow that marriage is a “Christian” institute? No, it does not.  After all, Christians do no have a monopoly on the idea of God, nor do we have (or should have, for His kingdom is not of this world) control of the state.   If we indeed think that marriage is a Christian institute, then the pastor should not act as an agent of the state; we should then claim and profess that it is not by the power granted by the state but solely by the power granted by God that we are able to pronounce any couple a husband and wife.  Christian couples should have then a separate civil pronouncement by a government official.  maybe it’d be easier to have “christian marriage” as distinct from a “civil marriage.”  After all, we can’t control what non-Christians do, but we can change what we do.  And if what we do doesn’t really make sense or conform to what we profess, then we should change what we do even if this means breaking out of old venerated traditions.  And if i remember correctly, C.S. Lewis proposed something similar in Mere Christianity.  It makes sense today as much as it did then.

This has other implications.  This means that the state cannot force a pastor to use this power of pronouncement on certain people if it goes against his beliefs.  Because this power of pronouncement grants a distinct type of marriage (christian vs. civil), the pronouncing of the christian marriage is a strictly religious matter.  On the other hand, this may mean that the pastor can theoretically pronounce a couple as in a civil marriage, but again, he cannot be forced either because he cannot be forced to act as an agent of the state against his own will.

An obvious objection would be that a marriage ultimately represents the union of the church with Christ.  Yes, but every human relationship, properly understood, is an object lesson in our relationship with God.  We don’t insist that non-Christians not have friends or not have parents do we?  (well we can insist on it, but this is equal to insisting that they don’t exist.  And it’s very hard to love your neighbors if they don’t exist.)  The problem is that with marriage, we’ve forgotten what is the shadow of what.  Earthly marriage, though good, draws its real beauty not from itself but from what it represents.  When we glorify it instead of what it represents, when earthly love becomes a god, it becomes a demon.  When a good thing becomes an ultimate thing, it becomes a bad thing.  Since marriage is a symbol, this means we don’t treat it as a god, but as an angel.  As tempting as it may be, we don’t bow down to worship it but we praise God along side it.  we also don’t try to protect it; the institute of marriage isn’t fragile – it’s given by God after all, the foundation is solid.  rather we are protected by it.

Another objection might be that if we are to be the salt of the world, we are to preserve the society from moral decay.  Well and good. but being the salt doesn’t mean we convert the food into salt.  it means we stay distinctively salty, but at the same time we do not turn our neighbors into pillars of salt.  that would taste horrid.

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