Friday, August 16, 2013

Christian Marriage

A few weeks have passed since I've been back from Big Tent in Louisville, Kentucky where about 1700 Presbyterians gathered together in celebration of our faith in Jesus Christ, our denominational history (sadly I missed the street party) and connectionalism. I loved my first Big Tent experience. It was amazing, I had great fun, and I not only met a lot of wonderful people but I learned a lot! I've been processing my experiences and trying to fully understand all of the amazing moments when I felt the power and love of our awesome Triune God. Today, I'm finally ready to start blogging about it. Since my friend Bruce has an interesting discussion going on his blog about Biblical Marriage, I've decided to start with marriage. It is a very important topic and one that has increasingly been on my mind.

One of the sessions I chose to attend at Big Tent was The General Assembly Marriage Study led by Dr. Chip Hardwick, Director, Theology, Worship, and Education, PC(USA). It was not in the tracks for which I had signed up - Presbyterian Communicators Network and World Mission - but sponsored by the Theology, Worship, and Education Conference. The workshop introduced two different marriage studies (curriculum) that are now available for congregations and presbyteries to use. These resources were developed in response to a request by the 220th General Assembly (2012). I also chose to go to this workshop because I keep hearing about the PC(USA) straying away from Jesus and the Bible. I wanted to see how true this was. What does the PC(USA) believe the Bible says about marriage? In other words, what is the Christian view of marriage?


Bruce's post, referenced above, mentions different kinds of marital relationships - polygamy, monogamy, concubinage, provision for the widows, marriage of slaves and so on - present in the Bible. The GA Marriage Study looked at Christian marriage, a big difference, in the process making a not-so-subtle point. There's a lot about marriage in the Bible. The controversial relationship and outcome between the patriarch and father of all believers Abraham, his wife Sara and her slave woman Hagar is probably the best known.  But even in the Golden Age of Israel, when the kingdoms were united under King David, rape, incest, adultery, and polygamy were all par for the course, it seems. David took many wives and committed adultery with Bathsheba. Sexual impurity and licentiousness were common. Thus, even though sexual immorality was practiced by Bible heroes these are not our models to follow. They just show that even a man after God's own heart can fall really low but is redeemed by God's infinite grace. They are examples of sin, of the times, and the fallen nature of humanity. This is why the phrase Christian marriage appeals to me so much better; I could argue that it too is a misnomer since Christ did not marry and the Apostle Paul advised celibacy if one was capable of it, but we won't go there :). Anyway, the Marriage Study "is a study of what the Presbyterian Church (USA) has said on Christian marriage. The issue before the PC(USA) is whether to say something new about marriage, specifically concerning same-gender couples." Two versions of the study are available. A six-week version and a two-hour study. We did the two-hour study.

The primary sources used in the study included 4 documents: 1) Scripture, 2) Book of Confessions, 3) Book of Order, 4) Book of Common Worship's marriage liturgy. Six statements from the Marriage Liturgy used in many weddings in Presbyterian churches form the framework of the study. Each statement is supplemented with relevant Scripture and statements from each of the other source Books (Book of Confessions, Order, Common Worship) and questions for conversation and discussion.

At the workshop each of the tables had a conversation about one of the statements (the six were combined into three). My small group discussed the first statement. I give below the background Scripture (translation used is Common English Bible) and some of our group's reflections on the conversation questions.

Statement 1: Marriage is a good gift from God and a part of the created order. 

Background Texts: 
Genesis 1: 24-31 - In this first story of creation in Genesis, the origin of male and female is described. This passage has been used by the church to understand marriage as part of the created order and a gift to human beings.
Genesis 2: 18-25 - God's provision for human companionship and community as part of creation is central to this second story of creation.
Mark 10: 1-9 - Jesus teaches on marriage by referring back to the story of creation in Genesis 2.

Conversation: 
1) Briefly name ways in which marriage is a gift to you and to the human community.
2) Biblical descriptions of marriage include normative teaching and narrative descriptions of many patterns of relationship. How does marriage belong to and serve God's created order? 
3) Our Directory of Worship (Book of Order) says that marriage is both a civil contract and a sacred covenant. What is the difference between a civil contract and a sacred covenant? How can marriage be both a civil contract and a sacred covenant? 
4) How does the sexual identity of those who marry inform the understanding of marriage as a covenant relationship, witnessed by the community of faith, and part of the created order?

Some of our reflections: 

 My group felt that very few people today have an understanding of marriage as a sacred covenant, God is a part of the marriage;  marriage is not just between a man and a woman. This covenant view of marriage has been lost for the last 100 years. Most of the focus and attention for couples, their parents and families is on the church ceremony of the wedding. The view of God as helper, ever present in the marriage, is gone.

There is very little support for building and strengthening marriages after the ceremony. Most churches today have divorce recovery and support groups but marriage ministries are almost unknown. They are not a priority in many churches. How can we then blame the culture for their lack of understanding about marriage as a sacred covenant.

Too often, the church too has not supported couples without children. The fruitfulness of the womb has been linked inextricably to the fruitfulness of the marriage. Marriages that produce children are valued much more in our churches than childless couples, empty-nester couples or couples with grown children sans grandchildren.

Finally, we considered another question that came up during our discussion: How does Christian marriage aid discipleship to Jesus? Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5 have household rules, a table of rules for the Christian home/household to follow. Husbands and wives are to submit out of reverence to Christ to one another. How often does this happen in a Christian marriage and is it the norm? Most Christian marriages today are too transactional, much more like a contract than a sacred covenant.

[Incidentally this was related to the third statement on marriage in the study and so I will share the other two statements here as well:

Statement 2: Marriage provides for the full expression of love and contributes to the well-being of society. 

Statement 3: Marriage reflects Christ's relationship with the church and aids Christian discipleship.]

Bottom line. I did not hear one thing said at Big Tent that devalued Jesus or the Bible or leads me to believe that the PC(USA) has strayed away from our Triune God. If anything, this workshop has made me think a lot more about marriage in general, marriage in the church more specifically, including my own. How is God present in our marriage, and how is my spouse and our marriage helping each of us in our great and glorious adventure with Jesus?

I am truly blessed by how the Holy Spirit is leading me. Thanks to all the folks (you know who you are and I will name you all one of these days!) who encouraged me to attend Big Tent, made it possible, and prayed for me while I traveled and was away. I couldn't have done it without you all.

References: 

Christian Marriage in the Presbyterian Church. Available online. http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/theologyandworship/marriage/

Chip Hardwick's Powerpoint Presentation that preceded the workshop and our small group discussion and study. If you want copies, please let me know and I can email it to you.

3 comments:

  1. Neat insight, very helpful personally !
    Arlene

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Arlene! I am delighted to read that its personally helpful. You have blessed me, dear!

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  2. I was browsing about Christian singles dating and eventually marriage. I found your blog which is quite interesting. Thanks for sharing. God bless!! :D

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