Results tagged “Marriage” from Reformation21 Blog

The Intricacies of Interracial Marriage

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In light of current discussions regarding racial reconciliation, we thought that it might be a benefit to our readers to run a series of videos from a longtime contributor, Rob Ventura, and his wife, Vanessa, concerning a variety of subjects related to interracial marriage. Rob is the pastor of Grace Community Baptist Church in Providence, RI. Rob and Vanessa have been married 20 years and have three children. 

The interviewer, Suhylah Claudio, has provided the following rationale for this series of interviews: 

"To share the varying perspectives on race, ethnicity, culture, and nationality from various ethnic backgrounds. The purpose is to dispel myths and stereotypes and expose points of view from those whom we may not feel are 'like us' and ultimately to think about what Scripture says about these things. My goal is to help unite us as one race of Christians who are aware of the perceptions and experiences of one another so that we can be more sensitive and loving as brethren in Christ."

In this first video, Rob and Vanessa talk about their ethnic backgrounds, how they met and the way in which their marriage was perceived by relatives and those in the public. It is our desire that this series will stimulate helpful and God-honoring discussions about this important subject.

Imitatio Sanctorum

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"The things related in Scripture are not always proper to be imitated." So notes Calvin midway through his commentary on the story of Isaac and Rebekah's engagement and marriage--a story that, rather unpromisingly to modern ears, begins not with star-cross'd lovers flung forth from the fatal loins of ancient foes, but with the efforts of Abraham's unnamed servant to contract a suitable spouse for his master's son from his master's place of origin. Calvin's permission (or even exhortation) not to imitate all that even Scripture's rosiest characters do comes as a relief in a chapter chalk full of ancient near-eastern practices and customs far removed from contemporary ritual.

Clear biblical mandates, rather than dubious examples, are to be our moral guide: "Whatever the Lord commands in general terms is to be accounted as an inflexible rule of conduct; but to rely on particular examples [of characters in the biblical narrative] is not only dangerous, but even foolish and absurd." And yet. Calvin feels quite happy to encourage imitatio Sanctorum when the biblical Saints of old conform to biblical precepts in their actions. And, rather unnervingly, he ends up, on the basis of that principle, applauding many of the doings in Gen. 24 that we are likely to think most dubious, and discouraging the doings that we are likely to think morally indifferent if not most acceptable. The reformer, as ever, drives a hard moral bargain, and refuses to leave us in our comfort zone when it comes to our personal conduct.

For instance, Calvin raises the alarm when Abraham's servant gifts Rebekah with a golden ring and two golden bracelets in exchange for her kindness to his camels at the well (Gen. 24.22), lest anyone think this demonstrates that "God approves ornaments of this kind, which pertain not so much to neatness as to pomp." For "we know," Calvin admonishes, "how highly displeasing to God is not only pomp and ambition in adorning the body, but all kind of luxury." Abstinence from such extravagance, especially for the fairer sex who might be more prone towards "adorning the body," is the safest path: "Because the cupidity of women is, on this point, insatiable, not only must moderation, but even abstinence, be cultivated as far as possible." But Calvin's words contain a moral warning for persons less interested in jewelry (i.e., me) as well. His swipe against "all kind of luxury" in addition to "pomp and ambition in adorning the body" spells trouble, presumably, for the Bimmers and Benzes in our churches' parking lots just as much as the bling on display inside.

Calvin likewise expresses concern over the method that Abraham's servant employs for choosing a spouse for Isaac (Gen. 24.10-12). He applauds the servant for making the decision a matter of prayer, but objects when the servant demands a peculiar sign from God spotlighting the right woman. The servant obviously "desires to be made fully certain respecting the whole affair of God" concerning the matter at hand. But since God never promises to disclose his sovereign purposes to us, we step out of line when we require or ask him to do so. "Since the servant prescribes to God what answer shall be given, he appears culpably to depart from the suitable modesty of prayer." That God went ahead and provided the requested sign to Abraham's servant speaks merely of God's "extraordinary indulgence," not the propriety of seeking such signs. Calvin seems considerably worried that the servant's sign-seeking, as recorded in the biblical text, might encourage others to indulge in "vain prognostications." The moral: don't seek a sign from God to determine your path forward. Pray for wisdom, observe whatever biblical commands might bear upon your choices in life, and step forward in faith and confidence that God is sovereign even over your freely made decisions. Or, as Augustine somewhat more bluntly put it, "love God and do what you want."

But other actions of the characters in Gen. 24 garner admiration from Calvin. So, for instance, he lauds the same servant whose sign-seeking he criticized when that servant praises God for leading him to Abraham's kin to find a wife for Isaac (Gen. 24.26-27), and again when that servant worships God in response to Laban and Bethuel's favorable response to his proposal for their daughter's marriage to Isaac (Gen. 24.52). The servant's proper example reminds us "always to have the providence of God before our eyes, in order that we may ascribe to him whatever happens prosperously to us."

Calvin's highest words of praise, however, are reserved for Rebekah's parents, who exercise just the right degree of parental involvement in their daughter's prospective marriage. When Laban puts the decision to accompany Abraham's servant back to Abraham's home to his daughter, Calvin notes with obvious approval that "[Laban] did not exercise tyranny over his daughter, so as to thrust her out reluctantly, or to compel her to marry against her will, but left her to her own free choice." This prompts further reflection from Calvin on the proper path for parents in negotiating marriages for their children. As always, Calvin presents his proposal on the matter as a via media between two extremes: "Truly, in this matter, the authority of parents ought to be sacred: but a middle course is to be pursued, so that the parties concerned may make their contract spontaneously, and with mutual consent." Love may not reign supreme in Calvin's perspective, but it has a voice. Or at least children have a voice. 

It's hard to see how any love but that for her parents played much of a role in Rebekah's decision to marry Isaac, since she had never met the chap. Calvin discerns a similar dynamic between Abraham and Isaac reflected in Gen. 24.67, which, in Calvin's view, records Isaac's free decision to make Rebekah his wife, no matter the role that Abraham played in securing the young woman. "Isaac was not compelled by the tyrannical command of his father to marry; but after he had given his mind to [Rebekah] he took her freely, and cordially gave her the assurance of conjugal fidelity."

One final note of praise is reserved for Rebekah when she veils herself, "a token of shame and modesty," upon first meeting Isaac. Calvin expresses complete confidence that this custom prevailed in every honorable age. "So much the more shameful," he complains, "is the licentiousness of our own age, in which the apparel of brides seems to be purposely contrived for the subversion of all modesty."

In sum, Calvin's application of the principle he enunciates in Gen. 24--that "things related in Scripture are not always proper to be imitated" -- may be open to criticism. His advice on marriage contracts and appropriate wedding apparel (veil and all), for instance, seem to reflect the mores and customs of his age more than unambiguous biblical commandments. His condemnation of luxurious living and vain prognostication strike me as somewhat better founded on biblical precept. Regardless, the principle itself that Calvin advances here is sound and well worth repeating--we are, after all, far too prone to seek whatever justification we can for whatever it is we want to do, whether in biblical examples or elsewhere.

Why Complementarianism Remains Important

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Recent months have seen considerable controversy among conservative Christians around the topic of complementarianism, arising mainly from a false analogy between the subordination of wives to husbands and that of God the Son to God the Father. Depending on your perspective, the complementarian view has been either maligned, discredited, or reformed. My hope is that events will prove that the latter has taken place. I am in complete solidarity with those who reject the eternal subordination of the Son in any form, since no amount of nuance or affirmation of Christ's deity can preserve it from functionally reproducing the Arian position. There are no ends for which a degrading of the Trinity is an excusable means. I am therefore grateful for the way this controversy, though regrettably contentious, has highlighted massively important issues of theology that tend to receive little attention. At the same time, my hope is that this attempt to reform the complementarian position will not truly damage the important stand it takes. To this end, let me offer 3 reasons why complementarianism remains important for Christians and why we should not allow the need for reformation truly to discredit it.

1. Because complementarianism summarizes the Bible's teaching on husbands and wives.   

In speaking to wives, the Bible uses clear and pointed language. Ephesians 5:22 and 1 Peter 3:1 are not "texts of terror," nor are they cultural anachronisms. They are the loving Word of Christ for his people. Moreover, while these and other statements require proper interpretation, they are remarkably clear. The Greek verb hupotassomai means to be subject or subordinate to, teaching a wife's willing embrace of her husband's God-assigned headship (Eph. 5:21-23). To be sure, we should avoid and oppose extra-biblical add-ons or abuses of this teaching. Submission is about marriage: Paul and Peter do not tell all women to submit to all men. Submission does not make a wife the property of her husband. Notice, in this respect, that when Paul later addresses slaves and masters (Eph. 6:5), he uses a different verb for this relationship (hupakuo). Our approach to a wife's subordination should be just as obviously opposed to slavish subjugation as Paul's teaching is. Furthermore, the biblical teaching of male headship is never an excuse for abuse in any form. Rather, the analogy with Christ and the church and Paul's subsequent teaching to husbands (Eph. 5:25-31) make it clear that wives should be showered with nurture and love from husbands. With these necessary protections having been made, the Bible's teaching of the submission of wives to husbands remains crystal clear and authoritative.

2. Because complementarianism bears testimony to the Creator and his design for life. 

I need not belabor the point that pagan secularism has recently aimed its assault against God directly at the male-female identity and relationship. This is not by chance. Having rejected God the Redeemer, replacing the biblical gospel of saving grace with the false hope of progress and pleasure, secularism now aims at God the Creator. What better way to assail the Creator, following the serpent, than to aim for the pinnacle of his creation: man and woman made in the image of God and joined in holy marriage. Facing this anti-Christian strategy, churches that downplay the Bible's teaching on sex and gender for the sake of their witness achieve exactly the opposite. Our generation desperately needs the church's testimony of God as both Redeemer and Creator. Believing, as I do, that there is such a thing as biblical masculinity and femininity, these patterns should be intentionally cultivated by the church. Christian boys and girls should have no doubts about the differences between male and female and how they should relate. The watching world should learn from our practice of human personhood and relationships what God is like and how he has designed human society. This is not to say that our primary witness as evangelicals concerns the submission of wives, in place of Christ in his person and work. Far from it! It is to say, however, that the testimony given to God by our commitment to the Bible's teaching on gender, sex, and marriage is not a side issue in our generation. The questions addressed by complementarianism stand directly at the point of attack by an ungodly secularism and therefore have a high importance for Christians and our witness today.

3. Because complementarianism is a biblical remedy for sin as it strikes the vital institution of marriage. 

Not only is complementarianism important because it is the Bible's teaching and it stands directly in the path of secularism's assault, but its message is also vitally important for the lives of Christian people. In Genesis 3:16, God cursed the woman for her part in the Fall, saying, "Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you" (see Nick Batzig's excellent article on this verse). The context of God's curse makes it plain that this is a problem that mankind is going to face - a big enough problem for God to give it prominence. Complementarianism did not begin with Eve's curse, of course. The creation order of male headship tracks back to Genesis 2:18, where God spoke of his design to make the woman as a helper for the man. It is both because of this creation order and the problem posed by the curse of Genesis 3:16 that priority is given to the submission of wives and the loving headship of husbands in the New Testament. In short, complementarianism upholds the pattern that Christ emphasized as a remedy for the effects of sin within marriage. This means that complementarianism is a pastorally important issue, and our neglect or rejection of the Bible's teaching on this topic will have harmful effects in the lives of Christian people. Unless we are determined to declare the Bible's teaching "muddy" and "complicated" - charges often made without warrant against the complementarian texts - then our love for the church and the people of Christ will urge us to teach and emphasize biblical complementarianism with care, sensitivity, and conviction.

Wisdom and Biblical Principles of Complementarianism

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Our little corner of the internet has been ablaze over the past several months with posts and articles about the Trinity and complementarianism. A number of individuals have raised concerns about certain segments of the church allowing chauvinism (e.gsanctified testosteronesoap bubble submission) and abuse (e.g. Black and Blue complementarianism) in marriage to fester under the cloak of complementarian commitment. However, what seems to be surprisingly absent in these discussions is a treatment of what complementarianism in the marital relationship should look like in a biblically faithful and nuanced fashion. As some of our colleagues have been reminding us--words and definitions matter. I suspect that the lack of positive treatment is due, in large part, to the fact that the Scriptures do not give us a detailed list of the specifics of every interaction within the marital relationship. Rather, the Holy Spirit gives us broad principles and examples to follow--thus admitting a measure of subjectivity and necessitating that we seek to proceed with the wisdom that is needed commensurate to the particular situations that may arise. The idea that the Scriptures give us general principles rather than detailed prescriptions for marital situations also tends to be true of of our other relations in the home, the church and the world.

More than anything, it seems to me that we need to approach the complementarian issue by first learning the biblical principles and then by seeking out the wisdom to know how to best carry out these principles in our marital relations. The Scriptures are clear that "the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church" and that "as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands" (Eph. 5:23-24). Additionally, Scripture teaches us that wives are to "submit their husbands as to the Lord," and that "husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church" (Eph. 5:22-25). The Apostle Paul explains that the Christian wife is to "respect her husband" (Eph. 5:33) and the Christian husband is to "nourish and cherish" his wife (Eph. 5:29). These are some of the clearest statements in all of the Scripture from which we glean principles of complentarianism.

There are, of course, other general principles in Scripture that govern how these role relations work out in the day in and day out circumstances of marriage. For instance, the Apostle Peter tells Christian wives that they are to be submissive to their own husbands--"that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives" (1 Peter 3:1, 4). In like manner, husbands are to dwell with their wives with "understanding" (1 Peter 3:7) and not to be "bitter" toward them (Col. 3:19). Here, the Scriptures speak to the matter of one member in the marriage fulfilling his or her responsibility even--and especially--when his or her spouse is not. In short, we must always ask ourselves the question, "What is my responsibility in fulfilling my role in marriage in light of the disobedience of my spouse?" The Apostle Peter unequivocally states that wives may win their husbands "without a word" when the disobedient husband witnesses his wife's godly character. Likewise, husbands are to dwell with their wives with "understanding" and without "bitterness." Surely, these qualifications have to do with the husband's response to his wife's sinful reactions to things in the home. No matter what the wife's reactions, husbands are to lead their wives in the same the way that Christ leads the church--by means of servant-leadership that seeks to benefit and not by demanding to be served (Matt. 10:45; 20:16). In keeping with this teaching, Tim Challies has helpfully set out four marks of a godly husband's love from Rick Phillip's commentary on Ephesians

These principles do not in any way whatsoever teach that wives are to submit to the sinful verbal or physical abuse of their husbands. This is where ecclesiastical and civil authority comes to bear on the marital relationship. God has established church courts and civil courts to intervene when there is sin and abuse that necessitates such intervention. Seeking out the involvement of such courts also requires great wisdom. When a wife believes her husband is violating God's word in an abusive way, she is to take him to the church courts. Surely a wife is not going to take her husband to the elders of the church any time he fails to speak gently to her. Likewise, a husband is not going to take his wife to the elders of the church every time she speaks disrespectfully to him. However, if there is verbal abuse of such a nature that intervention is necessary, a wife must go to the elders. If there is physical abuse of any kind she is responsible to go to the church and civil authorities for intervention and protection. Tragically, church and civil courts may and sometimes do fail to protect abused women; nevertheless, they are the courts that God has appointed. Every effort must be expended in appealing to these courts for protection. 

Concerning less volatile marital situations, I have learned two things from carrying out counseling sessions over the past ten years in ministry: First, nearly every couple has the same problems. Husbands abnegate their responsibility to lead; wives, in turn, disrespect their husbands; the husband then gets bitter toward his wife; and, a vicious cycle persists. It is a cycle that can only be broken by confession of sin and a willingness to forgive, love, lead and respect. Second, in every marriage there are diverse personalities involved. Just as no two children are the same, so no two husbands or wives are the same. This means that wisdom is needed for both spouses to learn to carry out the unique role to which God has called them in light of the unique spouse to whom they have chosen to join themselves.

As it pertains to the way in which I seek out wisdom to carry out headship in my own marriage, I tend to be extremely hands off when it comes to asking my wife to do things in the home. I have friends who expect their wives to have the dinner ready, clothes folded and the house clean when they come home. I personally do not ask my wife to do much around the home because I understand that she already has her hands full teaching our children, keeping the home and bearing so many of my burdens in ministry. In fact, I see serving her--in ways that I know will make her day easier--a significant part of my call to Christ-like leadership. In this regard, to demand certain things of her might be a failing on my part to dwell with her with understanding and nurture. However, every situation is different. It is not necessarily wrong for a husband to ask his wife to do certain things in the home. He has this God-given authority. To deny this is to deny complementarianism. These dynamics require a great deal of discernment, understanding and wisdom. God has ordained pastors to help counsel and intervene in difficult times on account of difference in personality type and life situations in marriage. When two sinners are dwelling together in marital union--seeking to fulfill their God-given responsibilities in their respective roles--they will almost inevitably face challenges and growing pains.

This post is my feeble attempt to highlight the fact that principles of biblical complementarianism must be gleaned from Scripture and approached with wisdom. While much more can and should be written, my fear in the current debate is that an overreaction to abuses of these principles will be used to downplay the Divinely revealed role relations of husbands and wives in Christian marriage. Much wisdom is needed to navigate the situations that arise as husbands and wives labor to learn how to fulfill their respective roles. May God give us grace to search the Scriptures carefully to discover His plan and purpose for His people in marriage!"

 

4 Approaches to a Balanced Complementarianism

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I have been following the concerns raised over at the Mortification of Spin with respect to imbalances in the practice and teaching of biblical complementarianism (I think particularly of some of Aimee Byrd's posts - here and here).  I have long been an admirer of CBMW (Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood), though I am not formally associated with them.  Moreover, I was encouraged by Kevin DeYoung's recent blog post on this topic.

In my view, the gender complementarian case has been well made, centered on key passages like 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and Ephesians 5:22-33. This does not mean that all evangelicals accept these arguments, although they are clear and persuasive enough that complementarianism should be embraced and practiced by professing Bible believers. There are, however, excesses in the broad conservative Christian movement that do a great deal of harm both to people and to the complementarian position. Identifying these excesses is therefore in the interest of those who believe that biblical gender identity is an important issue in our time and a significant feature in healthy Christian living. 

It is not my intention in this post to enter into preceding debates and the particular points that have been made. But I would offer the following four approaches that will help us practice the Bible's gender teaching while avoiding harmful and unbiblical excesses: 

1. Practice male ordained leadership and fully empower female church membership. 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is not a problem that needs to be solved or an embarrassment that needs to be explained away. Rather, it is apostolic teaching that reflects the creation order of God and the intention of Christ for his church. To this end, Bible-believers should ordain only men to the offices of elder and deacon, in keeping with 1 Timothy 3:1-13. (Yes, I am aware of those who argue that this passage does not restrict women from the diaconate, but in my view these are exceedingly weak arguments). Moreover, the public duties in the church associated with these offices should also be performed only by men. I refer to the public reading of Scripture, prayer, and the administration of the sacraments, which functions have long been understood to be tied to the office of minister (i.e., the office has functions and those functions are for the officers). Churches that toe-the-line by ordaining only men, but who then highlight women performing the functions of those offices in the worship service, are not in my view embracing the apostolic mandate. 

At the same time, Galatians 3:27-29 clearly grants the full privileges of church membership to women. Therefore, women should not be disenfranchised as church members. This takes place in churches that practice "household membership," so that only heads of families participate fully in congregational meetings. I realize that unmarried adult women get to be the head of their household, but why should wives and young women in the home be excluded from the privileges and obligations of church membership - voting on a pastor, electing officers, approving budgets, etc? Moreover, women should be fully integrated into ministries like evangelism, worship and music, missions, and Christian education, as well as ministry support bodies like the nursery and kitchen (where we also should encourage men to serve). In the church I serve, women participate on every committee under the leadership of an elder or deacon (depending on the committee). My wife is deeply involved in the missions committee of our church and I am not bothered at all to say that she provides important leadership to our missions program. Women provide leadership and service in most aspects of a healthy and balanced church, and like non-ordained men they do so under the ordained headship of male officers. 

2. Teach wives to submit to husbands, but not all women to all men. Complementarianism emphasizes the clear biblical mandate to male headship in the home, as in the church (Eph. 5:22-24; 1 Peter 3:1-6). It is not easy submitting to the knuckle-heads that many wives have married, but it is their duty to do so as Christian women. Proper feminine submission is (as my wife often puts it) "kinetic." It is not servile, which is why Paul and Peter employ a different word for wives than Paul uses for slaves in their relationship to masters (Eph. 5:22; 6:5). Being a biblical helper requires wisdom, creativity, and godliness. So we should put the most positive biblical angle on feminine submission and then unashamedly teach it. 

But notice that Paul writes, "Wives, submit to your own husband, as to the Lord" (Eph. 5:22). Two things stands out. First, submit to "your own" husband. Wives do not submit to husbands in general. Girls do not submit to boys in general. On a date, the woman is not to obey the guy (and if he demands this, she should jump out of the moving car and change her phone number!). It is true that the biblical principle of male headship will urge women to a general responsiveness to men. But "submit" is a very pointed command and it is reserved for marriage (wives to husbands) and the church (members to ordained leaders - Heb. 13:17). Second, notice that wives submit to their own husbands "as to the Lord." The husband is not her god and she should not submit with an awed trembling appropriate for oriental semi-divine potentates. Rather, she wisely and proactively submits to her husbands as an act of worship to the Lord Jesus Christ, seeking for his blessing and glory above all other things. 

3. Train husbands to love rather than dominate their wives. The point of male headship in both the church and the home is not the glory of the small-egoed men but rather the glory of God and the well-being of those under this covenant care. In both the church and the home, male leaders must be called upon to provide nurturing and protecting love that stimulates growth and health for those under our care (see the Masculine Mandate in Gen. 2:15). Pastors and elders should frown upon and in some cases discipline men who misuse their God-given authority in the home to oppress or otherwise harm their wives and children. In the church that I serve, the elders have many times summoned a husband to give an explanation for his failure or abuse of leadership in the home. To be sure, this is the exception - we do not regularly intrude into home affairs - but as needed we think our duty to provide this pastoral oversight. The women in our church should feel cared for by the ordained leadership, even as they are likewise challenged and exhorted to live up to their own callings as Christians. In a healthy church, a wife does not have to dominate her husband because she can be confident in the spiritual leadership that is provided to her husbands by the elders of the church. 

Meanwhile, rather than a celebration of the privileges of male headship in marriage, Christian husbands should be taught and encouraged to love their wives actively and sacrificially, as the Bible teaches (Eph. 5:25-33; 1 Pet. 3:7). Jokes that demean wives should be strongly frowned upon and a culture of male servanthood should permeate our complementarianism. Does this mean that male heads should do the dishes at home? He certainly does in my home, since my wife daily expends herself in wearying service to me and our five children. (Plus, my way of loading the dishwasher is the right way...) While it is true that a godly and submissive wife should do her best if her husband is harsh and evaluative, she should also have the privilege of pastoral care from the church that urges her husband to provide a more nurturing and caring headship. 

4. Raise daughters to be snowflakes, not ice cubes. It doesn't take a brilliant cultural observer to realize that our society is waging a massive assault against God and his creation when it comes to gender. In response to the pagan androgyny all around Christians today (see Peter Jones for more here), Christians should cultivate clear gender identity. Without massively expanding this post by giving the details, girls are different from boys and vice versa. There is such a thing as femininity and another thing called masculinity. Therefore, a girl growing up in a godly church should not be confused about what it means to be a woman, and a boy should pick up on godly manhood by the examples and influences in his Christian environment. Both boys and girls should learn from clear Bible teaching about their distinctive identifies and callings. At the same time, as I once heard Don Carson state, "God makes snowflakes rather than ice cubes." Ice cubes all look exactly the same - they are forced into a rigid mold. Snowflakes are each unique - not one exactly like another - but at the same time they fit a God-designed pattern. In like manner, girls should be raised to cultivate feminine principles and follow female examples from the Bible and in the church, while urged to cultivate her own God-given uniqueness and calling. Ditto for the boys. 

There is much more to be said about a balanced complementarianism, but I will submit just these four approaches in the hope that they will encourage and clarify. In general, our complementarianism should not be reactive but biblically pro-active, seeking to attain not to man-glorifying ends but a God-glorifying blessing in the church and in the home. 

"My Spouse is My Best Friend"

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Answering who is your best friend is a little like answering who is your favorite character in the Bible. The rules of theology (rightly) demand that we answer the latter question with the name that is above every name. And the rules of society today seem to demand that we answer the first question with: "my spouse is my best friend". To deny this is to perhaps cast aspersions on the quality of one's marriage. 

Several years ago, if you asked me whether my wife is my best friend I would likely have been a little perplexed by the question. It seems weird to me, mainly because my wife belongs in a category that goes beyond friendship. How does a man compare his wife with several of his male friends, as if she is first but there is a second, or third best friend behind her? He doesn't. He shouldn't. We take away something from our marriages when we talk in this way, and we take away something from our friendships with people of the same sex when we speak like this. 

For me, I'm content to say: she's my wife (and all that that ought to mean as far as the Scriptures are concerned; see Eph. 5:22-33). 

As my Facebook friend, Peter Wallace, says: "It is only in the last generation or so that you will find people talking about their spouses as their 'best friends.' Until the late 20th century your best friends were all the same gender as you. I fear that the result of 'I married my best friend' is that most people do not have strong friendships outside of their marriage (which is disastrous for marriage -- since we need friends who know us well -- to help our marriage when we are in trouble). I wonder if anyone has studied the correlation between marrying your 'best friend' and divorce rates..."

Is Hallmark to blame? Is our increasingly effeminate culture to blame? I don't know, but I worry that men and women do not have strong friendships outside of their marriage, so their spouse wins by default. I don't want my wife to win because, well, I just don't have much to compare her with. I don't even want her in the "race", so to speak. 

Regarding the "effeminate" culture, I think we are almost becoming afraid to say we have close male friendships because that could be construed too easily as "gay." Little wonder that pro-gay apologists have read this into the relationship between David and Jonathan. There is such a thing as a wife-centered home, whereby the wife is doted upon hand and foot, and where men simply don't spend enough time with other men. Likewise, there is a man-centered home where the husband gets to spend (a little too much) time with the boys, but the wife is constantly left watching the kids. Both are harmful situations. 

In this world you are a blessed person if God gives you several friends, the type that stick closer than brothers (Prov. 18:24). Friends are gifts given by God to bless you, challenge you, support you, laugh with you, and counsel you. But they often do this in a very different way than your spouse. We're talking apples and oranges when we speak about how our spouses are friends to us and how others are friends to us.  

When I think of spending time with my best friends a quote from C.S. Lewis comes to mind: "My happiest hours are spent with three or four old friends in old clothes tramping together and putting up in small pubs - or else sitting up till the small hours in someone's college room talking nonsense, poetry, theology, metaphysics over beer, tea, and pipes. There's no sound I like better than adult male laughter."

Or, similarly, Carl Trueman: "Drinking beer with friends is perhaps the most underestimated of all Reformation insights and essential to ongoing reform; and wasting time with a choice friend or two on a regular basis might be the best investment of time you ever make."

There's something else that strikes me as I think about this topic: when I'm around some of my closest friends, there is a sense in which my wife doesn't quite get how we talk and act the way we do. From her perspective, we're sometimes like immature kids, laughing our heads off about things she either doesn't understand or in which she fails to see the humor. Or she just isn't interested in some of the things we love. But, you see, that's the point: because of the radical differences between men and women, my wife isn't supposed to fully understand the nature and dynamic of my friendships with men. I only expect her to appreciate that they can give me something that she can't - and she can be content in that because God designed matters that way. I am more than happy to admit that her friends offer her something I can't. 

We also need to consider the context in which this "my wife is my best friend" comment is made. Usually it is on Facebook for others to see. I tend to get a little worried when some people feel the need to tell the world constantly they have a good marriage. I don't go on Facebook and talk about how my best friends are my best friends. We simply live and act in a way that displays that reality. Likewise, with my wife, if I need to tell the watching world she is my best friend, then perhaps she should get worried. Or she will think I'm up to no good ("what do you want?" or "what have you done?"). 

As a close friend said to me recently, "It is even odd to say that your wife is your best female friend. She belongs to a category entirely her own. She is sui generis! We have various kinds of friends with women, but we only have sex with our wife. That is a deal changer. We are far more guarded with other women, and rightfully so. Thus, the husband-wife relationship cannot be compared to any other human relationship. 'An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.' To speak of your wife in categories that apply to other relationships is to denigrate both her and others."

Let's try to remember, the issue isn't about the phrase itself; the issue is about the underlying issues and the problems in our culture. Men and women need best friends of the same-sex. I find it a real pity when the spouse takes the place of those necessary relationships. 

So if you ask me if my wife is my best friend, I would answer, "Of course not. She's my wife. Most of my best friends are balding."  

Marriage (and the Church) in America

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I have little idea what challenges American churches (and other institutions) that refuse to recognize same-sex "marriages" may soon face in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, announced today. The Wall Street Journal's Jerry Seib says this feels like the end of a national debate, the final word on a once politically divisive issue in America. It's not that simple, but I suspect he's more right than wrong; the decision already feels a touch passé, as though the court is trying to catch up with a culture already moving on, and the news has dropped off the banner of several major news sites.

If Seib is right, it only shows just how marginalized confessional evangelical types are. But that assumes confessional evangelical types all agree that this decision is wrong. There are those who support gay marriage as a civil matter while believing the act itself immoral.

Obviously, not all immoral acts should be criminalized by the state. Although the state is constantly scalp-deep in moral issues, it lacks the competency to deal with large swaths of the moral order, such as internal acts of the heart or mind. Not even all external acts, capable of being publicly established, are criminalized. Should the state fill its treasury and prisons by prosecuting the merely rude, immodest, or gluttonous? Even the criminality of prostitution and drug use is up for debate today.

But these are not the same sorts of issues as gay marriage. Abortion, prostitution, pornography, drug abuse: these kinds of immoral acts are widely practiced while illegal. Same-sex marriage, however, was not even possible in most states in this country in 2013, now the legal entity exists everywhere. The actions of the state have, over the last decade or so, not decriminalized an immoral practice but created something new by legally redefining a divinely-instituted estate.

To the degree statecraft is soul craft this is a tragedy. It may never manifest itself in the socio-economic desiderata we pay so much attention to as a society--surely one of the reasons so many of our neighbors can't imagine how this is a bad idea--but it springs from a failure to gratefully acknowledge God and sweeps us along toward even more audacious folly down stream.

But, however terrible this error is, it's preferable to another championed by many of my more libertarian students and friends: that "the state should get out of the marriage business." I suspect this view will seduce even more Reformed folks going forward, but it turns on an even more fundamental misunderstanding of marriage. Marriage is not just a religious rite or custom, but a really existing estate established by God among all people and thus something every state needs to recognize and respect, provide for and protect.

The error settled into federal law today is grave and the practice it warrants confused and defiant. That the state still recognizes the reality of marriage and legally provides for true marriages (as well as false ones) may be little comfort, but it is a very big deal. As we lament this decision for our nation and grapple with its effects over the weeks and years to come, the libertarian line will no doubt look very attractive at times. But to adopt it would be like trying to put out a chimney fire by burning down the house. If the chimney fire isn't put out, the house may burn down anyway. But it's better to have a house with a cracked chimney than no house at all.

Back to Business as Usual: Calvin on Gen. 9

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The flood waters having receded, and Noah and family having disembarked from the ark, it was back to business as usual on earth in a number of discernable ways.

Thus we see, firstly, the restitution of the creation ordinance of marriage (Gen. 9.1), and, at least by Calvin's reckoning, a rather remarkable population boom in the first few centuries of post-flood human history. Noah's family was directed to "recover the lawful use of marriage," and so to rest assured that "the care of producing offspring" remained "pleasing to [God]." Accordingly, they returned to the pattern of marrying and procreating that characterized their pre-flood days; indeed, they did so with notable success, producing "within one hundred and fifty years" an "astonishing increase" of offspring, which "doubtless" resulted in "unbounded joy" for Noah, for it spoke clearly of "divine favor towards him."

We see, secondly, a return to work. "Noah, ...though now an old man, returned to the culture of the fields, and to his former labors." The resumption of his farming career must have felt rather anti-climactic to Noah, given the nature of his recent adventures. But work (along with rest/worship) is part of the normal pattern which God established for man even before the fall (Gen. 2.15). Calvin concedes that Noah may have added 'viticulturist' to his job description for the first time following the flood ("it is... uncertain whether he had been a vine-dresser or not") but he is not willing, being after all a good Frenchman, to concede that viticulture as such was strictly a post-flood pursuit. "It does not appear to me probable that the fruit of the vine, which excels all others, should have remained neglected and unprofitable [before the flood]."

We see, thirdly, a return to eating and drinking, a return to the enjoyment of the fruits of human work. Calvin refuses to see the permission to eat animals in Gen. 9.3 as something unique to the post-flood setting: "God here does not bestow upon men more than he had previously given." Men were, in other words, "permitted" from the very first "to kill wild beasts" for the very specific purposes of making "garments and tents" and padding their diet with protein. However, no license was given, before or after the flood, for superfluous shedding of "the innocent blood of cattle." As already indicated, Calvin believes God's "most precious gift" of wine was likewise entrusted to men from the very beginning, and so merely re-entrusted to men following the flood. Both gifts of God -- food and drink -- are, of course, susceptible to "shameful abuse." Neither gift should be despised on that or any other grounds.

We see, finally, a return to man doing what (fallen) man does, and God responding as God does. We see, in other words, man sinning (and sometimes, by God's grace, repenting), and God responding to man's sin in judgment, mercy, and promise. The flood was, of course, no ultimate resolution of sin. God's own post-flood observation that "every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood" (Gen. 8.21) quickly proves concretely true in a series of incidents. Noah, first of all, engages in the "filthy and detestable crime [of] drunkenness" and prostrates himself "naked on the ground, so as to become a laughing-stock to all." Then Ham, who "must have been of a wicked, perverse, and crooked disposition, ... not only took pleasure in his father's shame, but wished to expose him to his brethren." Calvin supposes a deeper motive than simple scorn to Ham's mockery of his father: "It is probable that he thus perversely insulted his father, for the purpose of acquiring for himself the license of sinning with impunity. We see many such at this day, who most studiously pry into the faults of holy and pious men, in order that without shame they may precipitate themselves into all iniquity."

In the face of such (continuing) human sin, God remains God, and responds as God responds. Indeed, God responds to human sin even before man perpetuates any (recorded) concrete sinful acts after the flood. He responds with his covenant -- that is, his promise not to destroy the earth with flood-waters again, even though man's sin be great. God's word of promise serves, Calvin notes, as a "thousand bolts and bars" restraining the waters of his wrath, "lest they should break forth to destroy us." For man's greater confidence in God's mercy, God assigns a "new office" to "the celestial arch which had before existed naturally;" the rainbow henceforth serves as a "sign and pledge" of God's promise to restrain his own anger at human impiety.

In more immediate response to the instances of sin just noted, God responds in judgment and promise. Judgment is leveled against Canaan and the Canaanites, descendants of Ham, for Ham's actions. Calvin restrains us from overmuch speculation about why Canaan bears the brunt of cursing for Ham's sin. God is never, he notes, "angry with the innocent, because even they themselves are found in fault." Beyond that we must "remember that the judgments of God are not in vain called 'a great deep,' and that it would be a degrading thing for God, before whose tribunal we all must one day stand, to be subjected to our judgment." And so "let every one of us, conscious of his own infirmity, learn rather to ascribe praise to God's justice, than plunge, with insane audacity, into the profound abyss."

Of course, more remarkable than God's sentence of condemnation, whatever its own peculiarities, is God's promise -- directly in the face of man's sin -- of a hope and salvation far greater than that which Noah and his family had recently enjoyed. In this post-flood setting where God is obviously keen to re-establish so much of what pertained to the original creation, he is most eager to repeat the promise of the Seed of the Woman who would one day come to reverse the consequences of that sin which wreaked such havoc on the original creation (Gen. 3:15).

That Seed and his saving work bear proleptic fruit, of course, in the free pardon granted Noah for his drunken escapade (a pardon which can be deduced, Calvin argues, from Noah's faith and the prophetic role granted Noah immediately after his recovery in Gen. 9.25). The concrete repetition of the promise as such occurs in Gen. 9.26-27, where Shem and Japheth are blessed. The blessing of Shem anticipates the eventual blessing of Abraham, through whom the Seed would come, and in whom all nations would themselves be blessed (Gen. 12). The blessing of Japheth points, in Calvin's judgment, to the gathering of "the Gentiles and the Jews... together in one faith," the joining together of "scattered sheep to join his flock" in the singular "covenant of life." "It is truly no common support of our faith," Calvin observes, "that the calling of the Gentiles is not only decreed in the eternal counsel of God, but is openly declared by the mouth of the Patriarch; lest we should think it to have happened suddenly, or by chance, that the inheritance of eternal life was offered generally to all."

It was, then, truly business as usual after the flood, for both good and ill. Sinful man returned to his ways of marrying and making babies, eating and drinking, working and (for some) worshiping, and, of course, sinning. God remained God, and so returned to the business of pursuing sinners with his "paternal love," sustaining them by the word of his promise in the hope of eternal life with him.

Aaron Clay Denlinger is professor of church history and historical theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Florida.

How to Choose a Spouse: Calvin on Gen. 6.1-3

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"The sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose" (NASB). It is not entirely obvious who the parties ("sons of God" and "daughters of men") to the historical event (or rather historical crime, cf. Gen. 6.3) thus described in Gen. 6.2 actually were. Calvin identifies several possibilities. Some -- namely, persons "fascinated by ravings... gross and prodigious" -- have thought the "sons of God" to be angels, who in defiance of divine design engaged in "intercourse with [human] women." Calvin rejects this interpretation on the grounds of "its own absurdity." Angels, by common theological consent, are by their very nature spiritual beings that lack the corporeal presence and procreative impulse necessary to marriage and intercourse (cf. Matt. 22.30).

Calvin is equally dismissive of a second interpretive option which identifies the "sons of God" as nobility who violated proper social hierarchy by marrying "the daughters of plebeians." This view he merely labels "frigid." Gen. 6 is not, in his judgment, included in Scripture for the purposes of reinforcing any given caste system.

Calvin adopts the view that "sons of God" is here a reference to the descendants of Seth, among whom "the pure and lawful worship of God" had thus far prevailed, while "daughters of men" refers to "the children of Cain." In part he adopts this perspective by a process of elimination: when in doubt, choose the interpretive option that doesn't entail ascribing corporeality and corporeal functions to angelic creatures or serve to absolutize a social construct like the relations of nobility to peasantry. Calvin's view also, however, has the merit of respecting its context; the chapters leading up to Gen. 6 serve to detail the genealogies and differences of Cain's and Seth's lines respectively. It is, then, most natural to read the reference to "sons of God" in Gen. 6.2 as a further reference to Seth's line, which has already been identified as proper worshipers of the true God, and so to see Gen. 6 as advancing the great drama of that conflict between the respective seeds of the woman and the serpent -- a conflict which will reach its apex in Christ's life, death, and resurrection.

Calvin's interpretation has the further benefit of yielding both a significant theological truth as well as a very concrete and practical exhortation regarding how Christian believers should approach the task of finding a spouse. The theological point really stems from a potential problem with Calvin's interpretation, the fact that his reading has "sons of God," persons ostensibly characterized by sanctity, committing an act which effectively proves them to be decidedly un-sanctified.

Calvin sidesteps this problem rather easily by observing that these guilty "sons of God" were designated so by virtue of their "external vocation" and outward participation in the people of God, not by virtue of that "eternal election" which properly defines a person as an adopted child of the Eternal King. These men were, in other words, "wolves... within the fold;" members of the visible Church who were not invisibly joined to Christ. Thus Calvin finds in Gen. 6.1-3 the first biblical reference to the distinction between that broad circle of those who belong to the covenant and participate in the rituals and external blessings of the same and that narrower circle of those within the covenant who, properly elected by God, enjoy the spiritual reality (salvation through union with Christ) which all the rituals and external blessings point towards. Gen. 6.1-3, in other words, introduces a categorical distinction within God's people which will persist until the final judgment (the over-realized eschatological objections of our Baptist friends, who wish to discover a covenant and covenant sign which pertains only to indubitably true believers, notwithstanding).

The practical exhortation Calvin discovers in these verses stems from careful consideration of the crime which the "sons of God" here committed. "It is not fornication [or some other sexual sin] which is here condemned in the sons of the saints, but... too great indulgence of license in choosing themselves wives." These nominally Christian men sinned, in short, by marrying the wrong women, not because the women in question were committed to other men, but because they lacked that saving faith in God which renders a potential spouse appropriate to a believer.

The moral implication for single believers today is, I suppose, rather obvious; but before we let Calvin make the point explicit, it's worth noting several things for which Calvin doesn't incriminate these "sons of God." First, he doesn't incriminate them for marrying per se. Marriage as such is an honorable institution (cf. Gen. 2.21-24), and there's nothing in Gen. 6 or in Calvin's reading of it to indicate that fault should be found with these "sons of God" for preferring the married to the celibate life.

Secondly, Calvin doesn't incriminate these men for exercising the faculty of choice in marrying. Individuals should, Calvin seems to assume, have the principal say in who they wish to marry (within those boundaries established by God). The fault of these persons did not lay in any failure to honor someone else's conviction about who their spouses should be. Calvin at least allows, if he does not implicitly encourage, the view which Martin Luther made explicit: that -- all things being equal (i.e., all potential spouses being godly) -- marriages should be contracted on the basis of love and the free decision of the parties involved, and that no one (particularly parents) should interfere in such arrangements without good cause.

Thirdly, Calvin doesn't incriminate these men for choosing beautiful wives: "Moses does not deem it worthy of condemnation that regard was had to beauty in the choice of wives." Physical attraction to a potential spouse is not only lawful but desirable. Physical attraction can, however, turn problematic; in Calvin's judgment the unlawful decision on the part of the "sons of God" to marry beautiful but unbelieving women stemmed from unbridled lust for them. "Our appetite becomes brutal, when we are so ravished with the charms of beauty, that those things which are chief [i.e., godliness in a potential spouse] are not taken into the account."

All of this, of course, contains fairly obvious moral implications for believers in every subsequent age. "We are taught... in these words, that temperance is to be used in holy wedlock, and that its profanation is no light crime before God." The profanation of holy wedlock consists in the sin -- and it is, for Calvin, very clearly a sin -- of marrying someone who does not belong to the people of God. It is a sin that will, Calvin thinks, inevitably lead to more sin and ultimately even apostasy: "It is impossible but that, in the succession of time, the sons of God should degenerate, when they thus bound themselves in the same yoke with unbelievers."

Step number one for choosing a spouse, then, is this: choose a believer. Calvin's rather black and white moral exhortation, and the rather overt assumption underlying it (that single Christians are not in fact free to marry absolutely anyone they might wish), will undoubtedly prove jarring (even to some Christians) in our present day culture, which is squeamish about moral absolutes pertaining to relationships and seems particularly hell-bent on stripping away restrictions on who individuals can lawfully set their affections upon. C'est la vie, as Calvin never said. The good news for single Christians is that Calvin has no problem with you pursuing, with the intent to marry, a believing person of the opposite sex because you think that person's smoking hot (among other virtuous qualities, of course).

Aaron Clay Denlinger is professor of church history and historical theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, FL.

4 Reasons Why Marriages Suffer

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There are many reasons why marriages suffer. Here are four.

1. You have fallen in love with someone else.

Adultery, pornography, and all manner of lusts provide a third party to an otherwise two-party marriage. Intimacy decreases, the closeness that you once experienced is exchanged for distance, and the ebb and flow of an otherwise good marriage begins to break down week by week. 

2. Physical union is withheld. 

The apostle Paul wrote, "Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control" (1 Cor. 7:5). As a pastor, I am privileged to counsel many married couples. One of the complaints I receive with some consistency is the lack of physical union that occurs. One person craves it more than the other, and since the frequency is not what one person desires, the marriage, at least from the perspective of the one wanting physical union more, suffers.

3. Marriage is about the children.

Whether it is preparing meals, taking them to school, attending their sporting events, or reading to them, children require your time. It is somewhat easy, therefore, to arrange your marriage around them. However, when the children eventually leave the home, both husband and wife no longer know how to communicate with each other because the foundation of their marriage became their children.

4. No time in the scriptures and prayer. 

More and more I hear wives complain that their husband does not take the initiative to lead them in word and prayer throughout the week. In some cases, wives request this time with their husband and he refuses. Deuteronomy 8:3 finds no place in the home.

Biblical Personhood and Gender Confusion Conference

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Since the Garden of Eden and our first parents' "bite of the apple," gender confusion in its various forms has constituted one of the most significant assaults ever leveled upon individuals, the family, and culture. The terrible fallout from such confusion has wreaked havoc on countless lives around the world ever since.

Oconee ARP Church (121 Rochester Hwy, Seneca, SC 29672) is hosting a conference which intends to lay a biblical foundation for understanding many of these gender-related issues. They have invited Rosaria Butterfield, Richard Phillips, and Derek Thomas to examine various aspects of gender confusion alive and well (and increasing) in today's world. They will then also seek to formulate a God-honoring way forward, asking how the church should respond with clarity and grace in the midst of such confusion.

Join them on Friday, Feb 14 through Sunday, Feb 16, 2014. You can register online through the Alliance at http://www.alliancenet.org/CC_Content_Page/0,,PTID307086_CHID810294,00-sen.html

Bracket Analysis (No, not the Final Four)

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In a recent article, Albert Mohler has accurately and astutely observed the widespread bracketing of public moral arguments by those seeking to defend the traditional and conjugal view of marriage in America. It's true, from attorneys defending Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) before the Supreme Court to the most articulate proponents for heterosexual marriage from a natural law perspective, those who publicly stand against same-sex marriage treat moral arguments like sandcastles before a tidal wave. 


As one of the most capable diagnosticians of today's moral insanity, Mohler points out morality's indispensable role for society ("The idea that our laws can stand independent of moral foundation is senseless"); but aside from mentioning misplaced boundaries dictated by "the current intellectual environment," he does not venture an explanation for why moral arguments that are so obviously pertinent to the same-sex marriage debate have been ignored in that context like an embarrassing uncle. Surely the mind-numbing secularization of the intellectual and media elites plays a part. But my guess is that secularization plays a greater role in the embrace of homosexuality in parts of Europe, where secularization is more thoroughgoing, even in countries where that embrace has been relatively slow in coming. So why does morality get the squeeze here in the U.S. when it comes to same-sex marriage? 



To answer this question it may be helpful to note that while moral arguments have been largely absent on both sides of the debate, the use of moral language is quick in coming from those favoring same-sex marriage ("What's wrong with allowing people who love each other to get married?"), though such language is, to be sure, often only thinly disguised preference and sentiment ("Don't you want people to be happy?"). The use of moral language becomes most hard-edged in the rampant denunciations of those who refuse to sanction homosexuality as not only unkind, but bigoted, oppressive, and now (as Mohler himself has pointed out) beneath the standards of basic human decency.     



I think one reason for the fact that the cultural right has bracketed moral arguments in the marriage debate (even as they are bludgeoned by moral language from the left) stems from the dominant excesses of classical liberalism and distorted moral ideology such excesses cultivate. To be sure, individual rights, property ownership, and a common "live and let live" mentality have been American staples since its founding. But the way in which various liberties are calibrated and promoted in a society is often shaped by an agenda, an agenda that, absent a coherent and stable moral vision, pushes self-identified and majority-backed "rights" (read: instincts and preferences) into the mainstream, blowing right past the boundaries of genuine tolerance, impartiality, mutual respect, and fair play while still touting the moral high ground. Some are coming clean regarding this new moral "my tribe's way or the highway" ideology, announcing that such partisan agendas--whether in the courtroom, the boardroom, or the playroom--are inherently virtuous. The bad news of the trend, especially for Christians in the marriage debate, is that the minimum price of admission into the public cultural conversation on marriage is not only the total sacrifice of the relevance of the revealed Word of God; it now also includes the willful surrender of any derivative moral argument that does not comport with the reigning majority's notion of rights. 



The acceptance of this reality, perhaps even sympathy for it, by traditional marriage backers is the real reason why, I believe, moral arguments are absent on one side of the debate even as warped moral language flourishes on the other. The proliferation of the "rights" of a self-identified oppressed minority, like nuclear arms, can imperil a society that has long left its moral and religiously-minded roots behind. Maybe this is why John Adams said, "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net." 



My interest here is far from recapturing an idealized era of the past, much less advocating for a transformed culture as an entailment of the gospel. But the question still remains: what should we, as followers of Christ, do now? Might I suggest three things: 



(1) Keep a pilgrim's perspective. Recognize that the public debate over marriage merely confirms the divinely constituted fact that Christians, even those who admirably promote what I believe to be healthy public policies, are pilgrims in a foreign land. I am thankful for the role Christians play in public institutions, and I sympathize with them in the battles they must often wage. But even they must remember that God counts faithfulness to Him, not ballot boxes or cultural swings, as the highest prize of Christian living (Phil 3:12-14). Christians who keep that in mind will, I think, serve their societies well.  



(2) Keep a historical perspective. We will all face the new tolerance buzz saw if we haven't already, but saints of old (and saints around the world) faced the real deal (Heb 11:37). Even still, whatever hardship the church in America may endure, God may yet use it to promote his kingdom in the earth. That seems to be a way he works.



(3) Keep a global perspective. As a professor mentioned to me yesterday, even as the light of Christ may appear to grow dim in some regions of the world, it often begins to blaze in others. Missiologists tell us we have good reason to think this is the case today, for example in places like China, Brazil, and elsewhere. This fact should remind us of the unfailing promise that Christ will build his church (Matt 16:18); a promise that will never be cast into the dustbin of history, precisely because its realization is the central purpose of history, itself. 

Keeping marriage special

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Many Christians in the UK will be aware of one or more of the various campaigns opposing the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill currently passing through the Houses of Parliament. There was significant opposition to this legislation in the House of Commons, though the Bill did pass its Second Reading and is now heading for the Committee Stage (keep up at the back). After this it will pass to the House of Lords, where their lordships will hopefully give it a good kicking.

Anyway, one of the campaigns seeking to muster principled Scriptural opposition to the Bill is called Keep Marriage Special (other campaigns are available). This particular campaign deliberately maintains a narrow focus on the teaching of Scripture with regard to marriage, avoiding other concerns (however legitimate). They have been having some technical issues with their online petition, but it is now up and running here.

The petition is for UK residents only aged 16 and over. Anyone answering this description can sign even if one or all of the other similar petitions have been signed (there are also printable petitions for download for those who may wish to sign up but who do not have ready access to the interweb). So, if you are interested, please check out Keep Marriage Special.

From father to son

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Despite the temptation to rise to Dr Trueman's bait - I can only assume that the man who wrote a book called Histories and Fallacies had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he whiffled out that tosh about Baptists "executing Dutch nudists," otherwise one wonders precisely how reliable is the historical-theological instruction being offered in seminaries these days . . . but more of that anon - I offer something of what I hope is greater substance. I am working on a piece on Matthew Henry, born 350 years ago this year, and came across some gems of advice from his father, Philip Henry. I pass them on in turn, hoping that they profit others, and that Dr Trueman appreciates my readiness to "follow peace and holiness," even with him.

From a pious aged father to his son a minister newly married

Dear Pair, whom God hath now of two made One
Suffer a Father's exhortation.
In the first Place see that with joynt indeavour -
You set yourselves to serve the Lord together,
You are yoakt to work but for work Wages write,
His Yoak is easie, & his burden light,
Love one another, Pray oft together, and see,
You never both together Angry bee -
If one speak fire t'other with water come,
Is one provok'd be tother soft or dumb -
Walk low, but aim high, spotless be your life
You are a Minister, and a Minister's Wife
Therefore as Beacons set upon a Hill -
To angels and to men a spectacle -
Your slips will falls be calld, your falls each one
Will be a blemish to Religion -
Do good to all, bee affable and meek
Your converse must be Preaching all the week -
Your Garb and Dress must not be vain or Gay,
Reckon good works your richest, best array -
Your House must be a Bethel, and your Door
Always stand open to receive the Poor
Call your estate God's, not your own, ingrave
Holiness to the Lord on all you have
Count upon suffering, or you count amis,
Sufficient to each day its evil is,
All are born once to trouble, but saints twice,
And as experience shews Min[iste]rs thrice,
But if you suffer with and for your Lord,
You'l reign with him according to his Word.

M . H. Lee, Diaries and Letters of Philip Henry (London: Kegan Paul, Trench & Co., 1882),  359-60, quoted in Allan Harman, Matthew Henry: His Life and Influence (Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2012)

Incidentally, Philip Henry, from his deathbed, gave Matthew further advice in response to his son's request, "Oh, sir, pray for me that I may but tread in your steps." Philip replied, "Yea, follow peace and holiness, and let them say what they will."

A thought on the homosexual marriage debate

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As Christians in the UK and elsewhere engage in discussion among themselves and with civil authorities about the nature of marriage, it seems that many are concerned that such battles are indicative or even productive of a coming judgement.

It would be worth our while to consider, on the basis of Romans 1.18-32, that such behaviour seems to be a manifestation of present judgement at least as much as, if not necessarily more than, a cause of future judgement. That does not mean that we should not address the issues, but it might fine-tune our perspective on them, and nuance our response to them. It reveals a problem far deeper and wider than the immediate one, and ought to make the church consider her attitudes and actions, and perhaps her shortcomings and failures, over many years. This is not the root of the problem, but a fruit of it.

Results tagged “Marriage” from Through the Westminster Confession

Chapter 24

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i. Marriage is to be between one man and one woman: neither is it lawful for any man to have more than one wife, nor for any woman to have more than one husband, at the same time.

ii. Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife, for the increase of mankind with legitimate issue, and of the church with an holy seed; and for preventing of uncleanness.

iii. It is lawful for all sorts of people to marry, who are able with judgment to give their consent. Yet it is the duty of Christians to marry only in the Lord. And therefore such as profess the true reformed religion should not marry with infidels, papists, or other idolaters: neither should such as are godly be unequally yoked, by marrying with such as are notoriously wicked in their life, or maintain damnable heresies.

iv. Marriage ought not to be within the degrees of consanguinity or affinity forbidden by the Word. Nor can such incestuous marriages ever be made lawful by any law of man or consent of parties, so as those persons may live together as man and wife.

v. Adultery or fornication committed after a contract, being detected before marriage, giveth just occasion to the innocent party to dissolve that contract. In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce: and, after the divorce, to marry another, as if the offending party were dead.

vi. Although the corruption of man be such as is apt to study arguments unduly to put asunder those whom God hath joined together in marriage: yet, nothing but adultery, or such willful desertion as can no way be remedied by the church, or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage: wherein, a public and orderly course of proceeding is to be observed; and the persons concerned in it not left to their own wills, and discretion, in their own case.

Chapter twenty-four of the Westminster Confession of Faith addresses one of the most controversial subjects at the present day. As various countries around the world consider the legality and morality of same sex unions, the Confession speaks with refreshing and bracing clarity about marriage and divorce. The Confession is, to be honest, building on a foundation of careful study of God's Word. The divines were not interested in fads and fashions which come and go with breakneck speed. They were concerned with permanent things.

This chapter is comprised of six paragraphs. While the Westminster divines could not have known about the debates concerning same sex marriage that capture our attention today, their teaching could not be more relevant. The first paragraph begins with a definition of what marriage is: "Marriage is to be between one man and one woman..."  Reflecting the teaching of Genesis 2:24 and Matthew 19:4-6, this brief statement makes it clear that marriage is not a mere social convention, nor is it the result of years of cultural evolution. It is a relationship instituted by God. 

But there is more. It is only lawful for a marriage to involve one man and one woman at the same time. While it is lawful for a man or a woman to remarry upon the death of a spouse, polygamy (many wives) and polyandry (many husbands) are off limits. This is no pedantic concern. Missionaries will tell you that one of the most significant practical matters faced when planting churches on the mission field is the biblical prohibition of multiple wives. An elder or a deacon, if married, is to be the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2, 12).

The Confession continues in its second paragraph to offer four reasons for the institution of marriage. First, marriage was ordained for the mutual benefit of husband and wife. As Genesis 2:18 has it, "And the Lord God said, 'It is not good that man should be alone. I will make him a helper suitable for him." God made Adam and Eve for each other. Both would reflect the image of God. Second, marriage was ordained to propagate the human race. God commanded our first parents to be fruitful and to multiply (Genesis 1:28). Third, marriage provides a "holy seed" or covenant children for the church. Fourth, God instituted marriage to prevent uncleanness or sexual promiscuity (1 Corinthians 7:2, 9).

Paragraphs three and four address who should marry and to whom one should be married. The Confession notes that "it is lawful for all sorts of people to marry..." and that such people must be able to give their consent to the marriage. There are, of course, limitations too. Christians should only marry Christians. "...Such as profess the true reformed religion" ought not to marry non-believers, Roman Catholics, or idolaters of other sorts. Further, the godly should not be unequally yoked by marrying those who are known to be flagrantly sinful or those who maintain false religious beliefs. Moreover, marriage ought not to be within the bounds of consanguinity (relations by blood) or affinity (relations by marriage) which are condemned in Scripture (Lev. 18:6-17, 24-30; 20:19; 1 Corinthians 5:1; and Amos 2:7). Brothers can't marry sisters nor sons their mothers and the like. 

The Westminster divines may have had a specific historical instances in mind here. Henry VIII married his brother's widow (Catherine of Aragon) and a special dispensation from the Pope had to be obtained for the new marriage. Later when Henry wanted a divorce from Catherine he had to obtain a special dispensation for divorce. When he could not obtain the desired divorce, he broke with Rome and he himself became the head of the church of England.

The Confession in paragraph five addresses circumstances which might lead to the breaking off of an engagement or divorce. At the time of the Westminster Assembly, engagement was more legally binding than in our day in the West. Specifically, adultery and fornication discovered after a couple had entered into engagement made it lawful for the offended party to dissolve the betrothal. The same thing discovered after marriage could lead to the lawful dissolution of the marriage and the offended spouse may marry again as if the offending spouse was dead.

The divines had a realistic view of sinful human nature and realized that many will diligently search for and weigh arguments which will release them from their marital vows. However, while many will look under every rock to find a useful argument to end a marriage, there are legitimate biblical grounds for divorce. 

In particular, the Confession in paragraph six stipulates that divorce is lawful for "...adultery, or such willful desertion as can no way be remedied by the church, or civil magistrate..." The Confession is clear that divorce is to follow an orderly procedure and ought never to occur at the mere whim of one or both marriage partners. The Lord only allowed for divorce because of the hardness of men's hearts. Marriage was for life until at least one of the spouses had died.  Marriage, the apostle Paul tells us, is meant to reflect the reality of the relationship of Christ to his church (Ephesians 5:22-33).

Dr. Jeffrey Waddington is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and currently serves as stated supply at Knox OPC in Lansdowne, PA and as communications director of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. He is co-editor, along with Dr. Lane Tipton, of Resurrection and Eschatology: Essays in Honor of Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (P&R, 2008).