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Legal recognition of marriage and the way of Jesus – by Paul Blackham

Paul Blackham pastors at Farm Fellowship and is the co-author of Bible Overview.

Pagan and non-Christian societies provide legal status and support for the kinds of marriage that express their basic beliefs about humanity, sexuality and marriage.  Pagan societies almost universally see marriage as polygamous [and occasionally polyandrous] with various legal provisions made for concubinage.  Under both communism and fascism, definitions of marriage have been used that were quite alien to the local Christian churches.  Greek and Roman definitions of marriage and sexuality are a well documented point of deep divergence with the local churches of the early centuries.  If Europe returns to its pagan ancestry then, naturally, it will return to those ancient, non-Christian definitions of marriage and sexuality.

Someone asked me, with evident shock, if I could imagine what would happen if the current redefinitions of marriage led to things like polygamy?  It was very sweet really.  Christian churches have often lived under legal systems that recognise polygamy and it has been [and still is] quite a common form of legal marriage around the world. Local churches have lived under legal systems that recognised same-sex partnerships in the ancient world and we are doing so again now.  Yes, it can be a shock to realise that we live in a non-Christian society and we do not have any privileged status or power.  Yet, this has been quite normal for local churches down the ages and it is, in fact, what Jesus told us to expect.  The only weird thing is the way that European churches have grown so used to actually imposing ‘Christian’ ideas through the statute books.  It is interesting to see which churches and church leaders are most alarmed at the loss of this power.

The LORD Jesus Christ, through the whole Scriptures, sets out His own unique vision of marriage and sexuality.  The Bible shows almost no interest in what kind of ‘orientation’ any of us might have or what kind of people or things our sexual desires might attach to. Throughout the whole Bible there is a much more practical concern with what we do with our sexuality and how we say “no” to worldly passions, living self-controlled lives in this present age while we wait for the glorious appearing of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ.  The passions are there, and we are not told to deny their existence, but rather we say ‘no’ to them and instead develop [receive from the Spirit] a new passion for the glorious appearing of our God and Saviour. (Titus 2:11-13)

The alcoholic might live with a strong worldly passion all their life, yet every day they have to say ‘no’ to it - and the fact of that daily ‘no’ is what gives them the freedom and dignity that is so precious. We understand this well enough, but don’t always see how the experience of the alcoholic is a basic paradigm rather than a special case.

We all are what we are as fallen, messy sinners, whether our sexual desires want to run away after several different people of the ‘opposite’ sex or the same sex or both sexes or we may feel little sexual desire.  As followers of Jesus, all of us have to say ‘no’ to a great many of our sexual desires, yet there is that one context of a lifelong marriage between a man and a woman where we are permitted, within godly limits and self-control, to say ‘yes’ to sexual desire. Jesus’ preference is, of course, that we don’t marry at all and are able to say ‘no’ to all our sexual desires and give all our passion and desire to the life and work of the Kingdom of God.  Yet, if any of us cannot do that, there is this one possibility of a totally exclusive, lifelong, sacrificial marriage between a man and a woman.

Yes, even allowing for that possibility does not mean that any specific person will ever be married.  There are godly people who would love to marry but have just never been able to make it happen, for one reason or another.  There are godly people whose desires do not lead them towards such a marriage.

Naturally, this understanding of marriage and sexuality is based on a passionate love and trust for the LORD Jesus Christ.  It would seem very legalistic and futile for anybody outside the love and support of a local church to try to live this way.  How can any of us joyfully say ‘no’ to our worldly passions, eclipsed by that great passion for the return of Jesus, unless we are members of the local family of Jesus followers?  There is too much frustration and bitterness when we turn to ‘religion’ as the alternative to our own sexual desires – or when people turn to a harsh treatment of the body (Colossians 2:23). It is not good for us to be alone - and whether we are married or not we urgently need that family of the local church where we can find that unity and diversity in Jesus that we were made for.

It is, of course, slightly odd that in the modern age there is so much pressure within our churches to get people married off.  Yes, the culture of the day strongly worships sex, romance and relationships - with the overt pagan claim that a failure to be sexually active is almost dehumanising.  Our Christian ancestors of the ancient Roman empire tended to emphasise their freedom from such views by declaring how many of their congregations were lifelong unmarried virgins.  It is hard to imagine such a free and confident view of human sexuality at this moment, though there are some encouraging signs as we are sent back to an older, deeper view of sexuality and marriage.

We are living at the tail end of a cultural era when Christianity had exercised enormous control over the legal structures of the European world.  It is fascinating to see how this was done in relation to marriage in medieval Europe as strict legal limits on marriage were introduced as a support to the vision of ‘Christendom’ that was forming.  Polygamy was a widespread European practice in early medieval Europe which was addressed with ‘Christian’ legislation especially after 1215. A classic example was over the marriage of close relations.  Historically it was considered a good thing to marry close relations so that land and power could be kept within a fairly tight family heritage, but for a variety of political, economic and theological reasons Christendom tended to introduce legal limits that forced people to marry from a much wider social circle.

Having such political and legal power was not necessarily good for the churches or for ‘Christian’ marriage.  If the only kind of legal marriage available is ‘Christian’ marriage, then is there really any such thing as ‘Christian’ marriage in such a society?  If people were forced to marry only as if they were followers of Jesus, even when they were most definitely not, then how could anybody ever see what difference Jesus really makes to marriage?  Once we seriously question the idea that the church should be married to the state, then we see how strange it is for the church to ever be meddling in the business of the state’s legal recognition of marriage?

My Nonconformist friends find these protests against legal definitions of gay marriage totally incomprehensible, but for those of us with established church connections it is “emotionally more complicated”!  Islam is comfortable with claiming legal and political power because it was the way of Muhammad from the beginning, but it is most definitely not the way of Jesus to do that.

In the period between Moses and the Ascension when the Christian church formed its own nation and, to various limited degrees, was able to write its own laws, there was a sense in which ‘Christian’ marriage and the law had a much closer relation.  Even then, of course, the law could only define the limits and provide certain provisions, but the love and sacrifice, the faithfulness and service, all still came down to the godliness of the husband and wife.

However, before Moses and after the Ascension, how could local churches ever have that level of legal control over marriage in any society?  We are only ever a small minority and Jesus promised us that we would be consistently persecuted, misunderstood and even hated.  We are spread out through all the nations and cultures of the world, trying to live out the way of Jesus under all kinds of legal systems and cultural expectations.  Sometimes the law makes it easier for us, sometimes not.

Many of our brothers and sisters in Muslim majority nations or communist regimes have all kinds of legal problems not only with marriage but also their basic citizenship.  It is pleasant when the law is not against us, but can we ever really expect the law to enforce the way of Jesus on the whole of a nation?

Can we ever really expect to be the legal majority who makes life difficult for or even persecutes those who do not follow Jesus?

In the 16th and 17th century some of our Christian ancestors took a very different view.  What had the church got to do with marriage? How had the church ever ended up exercising this kind of state power, providing legal norms for marriage?  How did local churches ever become franchises of the registry office?  The Puritans who went to America wanted to escape the European alliance between church and state.  The established churches of England and Rome thought that marriage was their business, to be authorised by the clergy, but the new England Puritans believed that marriage was a civil business to be governed by the magistrate.  They did not want institutional churches wielding such civic power.

Followers of Jesus marry only other followers of Jesus, only one man married to one woman, exclusively and for life, modelled on the marriage between Christ and the Church - but none of that is from the magistrate!  The magistrate/registry officer is only interested in recognising the civil union defined by the state: the content we pour into that is what it means to follow Jesus.

Think for a moment who utterly strange it would be to imagine Jesus of Nazareth lobbying Herod or Pilate for better marriage laws so that His teaching might find a more comfortable place in society. The Christians in the catacombs were not administering the states records.

Local churches are the places where Christian marriage is defined, where we disciple one another in Jesus’ way - and it is almost a total irrelevance how the state views marriage.  The way we follow Jesus in marriage and sexuality is ever more distant from the legal patterns and cultural assumptions of European society.  Maybe that’s all the better for our Christian witness.  Perhaps it is time we got out of the legal marriage business and leave that entirely up to the state.

The state can define marriage however it wants to - but we should have the confidence and faithfulness to hold up and display Christian marriage for what it is.  We are not a franchise agency for the state’s administration of marriage.  We are the churches of the LORD Jesus Christ bearing witness to His way of sexuality and marriage that is radically different to anything else in European culture.  We need to make sure that in our local churches we are showing the world what the LORD Jesus Christ created marriage to be - but can we really do this through the statute book?  What right do we have to judge those who are outside?  1 Corinthians 5:12.

A friend asked me to consider another possibility.  In the Bible it is sometimes difficult to see the relevance of the state at all in marriage.  When Isaac married Rebekah, wasn't that just handled within the local church?  The local church community recognised that Zak and Becky were hitched and so Zak & Becky went to live in his tent for the rest of their lives.  Did it ever cross their minds to register this event with the local Canaanite magistrate?  Were they expecting some tax breaks, allowances and credits as a kind of state reward for getting hitched?  I'm not convinced that any of these things went through their minds.  So, is it even conceivable that a modern Zak and Becky could, after some marriage prep and wisdom from older Christians, announce their marriage after the morning service and then go and live together for the rest of their lives as a married couple... and never even bother seeking tax credits, allowances or legal status from the magistrate?  This possibility gave me a sleepless night, thinking it through.

The fact is that as followers of Jesus our marriages are full of challenges and struggles as well as joy and comfort.  When we display the way of Jesus in marriage we are trying to show how grace, patience and love work when selfish sinners are joined so closely together.

At the moment there is a real danger that, once again, Christians can appear to be trying to legislate through the statute book that non-Christian people must behave as if they are Christians.

62 thoughts on “Legal recognition of marriage and the way of Jesus – by Paul Blackham

  1. Rich Owen

    I've known a few Christian couples now, who have done the "legal registration" aspect a few days/weeks before the Christian marriage.

    Since the state are willing to give a tax break, why not register. Since the state make the process of probate a bit easier if a spouse dies, why not register. If those civic aspects which help Christians weren't there, then nobody would care what the Government said about marriage.

    What matters is what Jesus says about marriage. One man, one woman, declaring vows to one-another before the Head and Body of Jesus which last until the Great Wedding Day.

  2. Pingback: Mwarriage (again) « Confessions of an Undercover Theologian

  3. japesy

    Fascinating post. I've been thinking through issues of church and state for a while now, and I have to admit when it came to gay marriage I wasn't as keen as some of my friends were to sign the Coalition for Marriage's petition. There seemed something suspect to me about trying to enforce a Biblical view of marriage on the state.

    That said, when it comes to abortion, I'm far more willing to be involved in campaigning about making it illegal. I can't decide whether I'm being inconsistent or not. I guess it could be argued that within gay marriage no-one is being harmed in the same way as within say, abortion or slavery - but I do wonder if that's an arbitrary distinction.

    Anyone got any thoughts? Also, any good books to recommend on church/state issues?

  4. Si Hollett

    Japesy - there's a massive difference of scale of harm between abortion/slavery and gay marriage. If marriage, and changing it, doesn't have some effect on society, then why should the state give legal benefits and surely it should be an area that the state doesn't control? Likewise there must be some effect of the state redefining marriage else it's a lot of fuss over nothing. However people's safety and humanity isn't directly in danger from gay marriage, unlike abortion or slavery.

  5. Paul Huxley

    Aaaargh. Lots of good stuff there, which makes it dangerous (from my perspective)...

    'At the moment there is a real danger that, once again, Christians can appear to be trying to legislate through the statute book that non-Christian people must behave as if they are Christians.'

    My response:

    1) Should governments/nations/rulers/leaders submit to Christ? (if no, go to Psalm 2, if yes, go to question 2)

    2) If so, would Jesus have them enforce any sort of morality? (If no, go straight to anarchism, if yes, go to question 3).

    3) Is any kind of (good) law legislating Christian behaviours on both Christians and non-Christians? (if no, why not? - if yes, the argument above doesn't work and you can go onto bonus question 4)

    Bonus question 4) What arguments should Christians use for the implementation of good Christian laws? (if 'secular/neutral' then you are encouraging moralism, if essentially 'God says so' then you have passed the test).

    Then there's a lot of thinking to be done about what morals Jesus wants his rulers to enforce, which not to and how to enforce them - see theonomists, federal visioners, Frame/Poythress for helpful discussion of these topics.

    Also see Leithart 'Against Christianity' and 'Defending Constantine' for more in depth argumentation.

  6. Paul Blackham

    Japesy, yes, it's a very helpful point. Abortion, slavery, access to health care, education, trafficking, foreign aid, immunisation programmes, and several other issues can create real harm or good depending on the governments' policies. As you say, these are not about abstract ethics but very concrete lives and even life or death situations.

    The apostolic church did not focus on campaigning for legal change on issues of slavery or abortion [exposing infants] - but the biggest items in the budgets of those early churches were typically buying the freedom of slaves and caring for orphans. In other words, they showed how the way of Jesus was a very different way to live: they demonstrated His way of freedom, life and dignity - even when nobody seemed to be listening. Now, of course, we look back and take great pride in the wonderful witness of love and truth that they made - but in their day it must have been hard to shine for Jesus against such a great empire of darkness. In the Christian family there was no slave or free [whatever people were in the wider society] - and the orphans found a real family in the family of Jesus. Yes, there was a social revolution emerging from the churches but it was not based on trying to force it down on everybody via the legal system but rather winning hearts and minds through the example of the local churches.

    I wonder if the focus always needs to be on how we are dealing with these issues in our own local churches. For example, there was such a hostility against "single parent families" in some church cultures that there were plenty of women who felt that the private and personal pain of abortion was easier to deal with than the public shame and rejection of the church community. Could we, even now, do things differently? If the early church was the first place a young mother thought about if she had problems with an unwanted child, what about now?

    We want to hold up another way and we want to be prophetic in a nation that has turned its back on the way of Jesus. In our local church communities we are teaching the Bible on all the big issues of life and society... and we are putting that into practice in ways that will cause genuine contrast with the surrounding culture. If we want to sound a trumpet voice to the nation, if we want to shine the light as brightly as we can, then we must see to it that our church families are in fact bright shining lights in the darkness, like stars shining in the universe.

    When the government and the culture define marriage or money or sex or health or freedom or family in a way that denies the reality of the LORD Jesus - or on any other issue - then it is right for us to speak the truth and show the truth in our local churches. If we want to show that these false ways are wrong and that they do not work, then it is more vital than ever that we show what really does work as we put the Way of Jesus into practice in the local church.

  7. Paul Huxley

    'The apostolic church did not focus on campaigning for legal change on issues of slavery or abortion [exposing infants] – but the biggest items in the budgets of those early churches were typically buying the freedom of slaves and caring for orphans.'

    Just a couple of things-

    1) We definitely need to learn from this example

    2) The situations aren't exactly parallel (given democracy, totally different legal system, officially-Christian-professing-faith).

    I realise I'm just picking up on some more minor points in what you've said, so please don't take this as criticism of everything - there's much to commend in what is written above.

  8. japesy

    Paul H: Thanks for the book recommendation! Interesting argument too. Would you count yourself among the theonomist/reconstructionist crowd then?

    Paul B: Thanks for your reply! If I understand you correctly, you seemed to say that yes, there is a difference between an issue like gay marriage and an issue like abortion. But then you implied that even given the distinction, if we're to be like the early church we shouldn't focus on changing society through legislation, but rather through the example of the church community. In which case, do you think Wilberforce & co shouldn't have worked on the political level to abolish slavery?

  9. Vicky

    Thank you. I've enjoyed reading this article and it's given me a lot to think about. Just a couple of questions though:

    'Think for a moment who utterly strange it would be to imagine Jesus of Nazareth lobbying Herod or Pilate for better marriage laws so that His teaching might find a more comfortable place in society. The Christians in the catacombs were not administering the states records.'

    Although I agree that we have had it easy in comparison with other countries and that I agree some Christians are up in arms about the issue precisely because they have lost touch with the reality that being a Christian = being different from society, I do not think the issue at heart is about making it easier for ourselves. The coalition for marriage does have some good points to make. The fact that marriage is intertwined with our legal system does not mean we can remain indifferent on the legal issues that arise from changing the definition of marriage, which would not only affect Christians but a huge proportion of our population. At stake is also the protection of any children who come from marriage and their legal status in connection with their parents. Thus, inheritance laws as well as social identity are potential issues here.

    Whilst I naturally agree that Christians should strive to match their marriage with Christ and not society, our laws, at least in principle, were originally founded upon biblical values, thus their intended effect was not to impose morality, but to uphold justice for all. Surely, the state offering help to widows and widowers, plus the care of orphaned children and the upholding of their legal status is a result of Jesus' actions being put into practise at a higher level...?

    'Christians can appear to be trying to legislate through the statute book that non-Christian people must behave as if they are Christians.' Yes, I agree this is a danger and even more so if Christians are not living out in their Church communities what they preach in legislation.... but then how much should we encourage Christians to get involved in the law and politics? Japesy also touches on this in the above comment, so the question for me is really where do you draw the line? Surely a withdrawal from the public sphere is not really a good witness either.

  10. Paul Blackham

    Perhaps I'm wondering whether the critical momentum for Wilberforce came from the local church revivals of the late 18th century and the early 19th century. The theological character of the arguments against slavery was critical - and the support of evangelical ministers vital. The key to the abolition of slavery was what was happening across the country rather than what was happening in Parliament.

    Think of the revolution contained in Philemon - and then consider how much less effective it would have been if it had been nothing more than a pamphlet asking the Roman senate to abolish slavery. As it was, it required so much more from local churches across the world and down through the ages. Philemon shines the light right into the local churches all over the world, forcing us to ask how we are dealing with slavery and inequality right among our own church family.

    Think of the iniquity of slavery from the American position, where there were mainstream Reformed theologians like Dabney who were literally peddling racial heresies. Dabney's "Defence of Virginia" is poisonous stuff. Because so many local churches were actually supporting slavery, it was still going on right on into the second half of the 19th century - ending in such a fierce conflict. The legacy of racial heresy within the local churches has not been easy to escape in America and I have heard it said that it can still be felt even today.

    The key to social revolution is the local church. That is always the engine of real, fruitful change.

    The profound effect of nonconformist ecclesiology on the rise of democracy and political freedom is well known. To read Locke after reading the 17th century Congregationalists is to see secularising plagarism in full power!

    Look at what is happening in India today as the vast number of new local churches make this simple revolutionary challenge to the caste system.

    In difficult areas of Britian right now, local churches are accomplishing what no government could ever do. I remember receiving a government leaflet a few years ago asking our local church to 'get on board' with initiatives in the third sector. They promised to listen to our feedback if we would agree to sign up to their vision and programmes, accepting their charter of equality and inclusion. It was so strange because they clearly believed that they were the real agents of change and progress. They seemed to think that they were graciously offering the local churches a chance at joining in with the real power. I wish I'd kept it because it showed that upside down thinking so clearly.

    If people within our local churches are involved in politics and law, then it is good for us to pray for them to do a good job - just as we pray for and support the rest of the workers in our church families. We pray that the government would maintain a peaceful and stable society - and in this democratic system we make our individual votes accordingly. But by far the most revolutionary meetings that ever happen in our towns or nations are always going to be the local church meetings. "These who have turned the world upside down have come here too" - Acts 17:6. What are they doing that was turning the world upside down? Why was the local town council having an emergency meeting to decide how to react to these revolutionaries? Were the apostles collecting a petition or tabling a proposal for new legal protections? No, far more dangerous than such things [that plenty of other people do] they were forming a local church right there in the heart of Thessalonica.

    When the local churches have such confident love for the LORD Jesus and His Way to trust that His church is His great answer to the world's problems, then society can change in ways we could never dream. But, if we try to shortcut the process and miss out the local church by trying to force people to follow Jesus through legal compulsion [at least in supeficial behaviour] then we actually lose influence and credibility.

    If we seriously want to bring about a radical revolution in the way that our societies think about sex, marriage and relationships there is just no way that can happen through some legal shortcut. In fact, even attempting that shortcut makes it more difficult in the end because it makes our non-Christian friends think we are trying to judge and control them. Think of our own local churches: is the revolution happening right there? Are we really living out the freedom of Christ and the Spirit in sex and marriage? Can we invite the world to find the freedom from worldly desires in our local church? What about the way we use money or treat our possessions? Are we sharing all we have with one another? How are the elderly cared for? Ex-offenders? Alcoholics, sex-workers, unemployed, depressed... how does the Church of the Living God care for these needy people among us? Are there any needy among us? Acts 4:32-37.

    NOTE: Leithart's books on church and state are such a stimulating read. That kind of perspective was first put to me by Bishop Leslie Newbiggin 20 years ago. I remember he very pointedly asked me this kind of question [and he waitied for an answer...!] - "the pagan Roman society is disintegrating and they can see that the only people who seem to know what they are doing are the Christian churches - so the state that had been persecuting and killing you now turns to you and effectively asks you to help... what are you going to do? are you going to say, 'no thank you, would you please keep throwing us to the lions?"

  11. jaredthirsk

    Much good has been said so I won't rehash. I like the above comment and think Christians definitely need to examine whether they are trying to use law as a shortcut to positively influence society.

    Government is important for Christians to be involved in, and I believe we must self-moderate within our governmental roles (including as voters), and not simply try to mindlessly power grab to paint the world Christian on a superficial level. Wisdom, love, and considerateness are needed.

    "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard." (Matthew 19:8) What other things should Christians in government permit, because peoples' hearts are hard?

    I think it is important to figure out the role of the state. I would consider making marriage a religious concept and a civil union a civic concept and set them apart to protect church and state from one another, to the benefit of all. Justice issues, things that directly affect other people, perhaps should be an issue of the state. Adoption is perhaps a tricky one: perhaps there should be religious adoption agencies as well as secular.

    Media is another important sphere to have influence. I think Christians in the west could do much better, and I thought I'd mention there's an event tomorrow for Christians to fast and pray in hollywood. You can watch online here from 2pm-midnight Pacific Time: http://www.thecryhollywood.com

  12. Sean

    A bit of a tangent regarding a point: the article says Jesus 'of course' prefers people not to marry. (Yet God said it was not good for man to be alone; and Ecc 4 says advantages of 2 people over 1; finding wife and obtaining favor from God, and so on.) I know Paul said he wished this for others but I did not think it was clear that Jesus said this, especially at least not without the condition of "to whom it is given" in Mt 19, (which I am not sure what 'it' is applying to, unless it is the whole paragraph.) Romans 6 says we are not slaves to sin and Philippians 4 says we can do all things through Christ, therefore we all have the capability in Christ to accept celibacy (and/or castrate ourselves) -- if it is something we therefore should do, I would expect there to be large Christian celibate communities spontaneously forming (as opposed to Catholic-style convents/monasteries that attract a few from across society), and many couples mutually deciding to live as singles. I imagine the Bible reading "In the beginning... 'be fruitful and uh, yeah' ... and Adam and Eve sinned and became subject to death ... and gave birth to Jesus, but then killed him, ... and they repented did good in the eyes of the Lord and then were given grace to be celibate ... and died. The End. Human population: 3."

    Ok, this may be an out there comment but it is coming from a single person who has faith that God can give me grace to be celibate (and has for a time, and could easily continue) and who has wished for a Christian community so loving and family-like (and maybe early church-like) that we did not feel we needed to marry, but someone who yet believes God is leading me to marry in the life I have been given and would be sin if I did not walk in step with the Spirit in this. And as I infer from your one little sentence :) you are saying this is a Biblical impossibility. To bring this back on topic (and incidentally further increase the zaniness factor, yay) imagine if government banned marriage and sex due to "Jesus' preference" as you said it and threw everyone who disobeyed in jail, and the human race died out.

  13. Paul Blackham

    Hey Sean, thanks for the feedback.

    Yes, I'm just making the obvious point that the Bible holds up the life of a celibate single as the highest and best for the Christian. When paul speaks about this in 1 Corinthians 7, I take him to be explaining more of why Jesus says what He does in Matthew 19:12 - "some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it"

    1 Corinthians 7: 32-35 - "One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord."

    As far as I can see both Jesus and Paul are recommening that we stay single if we are able to do so, for the sake of the kingdom and undivided devotion to the LORD Jesus. Paul applies this teaching to people when they become Christians [verse 17] - but I don't think there is any expectation at all that non-Christian people should or could remain celibate single for the sake of the kingdom/devotion to Jesus.

    On the other hand both Jesus and Paul totally honour marriage - and Paul explicitly and deliberately states that any Christian man or woman is not sinning if they get married.

    In this post I'm not engaging with the pastoral or practical issues that this teaching might raise - but I wanted to clarify what I meant in the original post.

  14. Gordon Banks

    Wouldn't this mean disestblishment - at the moment people have a legal right to have a wedding in Church - so, therefore how long will it be before same-sex couples are pressing for that same right?

  15. Chris

    It's tough for singles though, because so many other Christians are married. The only way advocating singleness can work is the same way that it worked in the early church - by having lots of them! And having lots of them in community with one another, so that singles need never feel alone.

    In my homegroup, most people are married. There is only one person who is single and she is finding it tough. It doesn't help that everyone around her is either married or heading in that direction. I know how she feels as I remember what it was like when one of my best friends got married and how our friendship changed.

    We also need to take into account that marriage is clearly a better option for some. For example, it is recommended for elders (1 Tim 3) and for those who would struggle to keep themselves under control if they stayed single (1 Cor 7). Singleness is a high calling, but it's not an easy one - fortunately Jesus has promised special grace to those who choose to stay single (Matthew 19).

  16. Si Hollett

    Chris, absolutely. Also tough as we know it isn't good for man to be alone, we are called to be fruitful and multiple, and that marriage is also a blessing, and we have huge pressure from the church to get married.

    I've had more pressure from the church universal than from the pagan world to have a girlfriend - part of that is taking the church more seriously, but there's a strong idea in the church that the gift of celibacy (which is considered to be something like asexuality) is rare, and marriage the norm for Christians. And if you don't have the gift of celibacy you must get married. Soon. This is especially a problem in circles in America similar to the ones we move in on this side of the pond.

    While the 'man up and pursue a lady" message is one that many guys need to hear, that and trying to pair off single people seems to be the sole approach taken by churches when it comes to the "never-married, but not through deliberate choice" group of the church (single through circumstances rather than choice is rarely talked about - even widowhood). Little is mentioned of the benefits of being single, and how it's a gift from God even though you may not want it.

    Even deliberately choosing to be single for a time early in adulthood, to focus on the Lord and Kingdom work, before then maybe marrying is considered bad/weird by many in the church, as you still want to marry someday and are putting it off. This is because the church today views marriage as the better option, rather than singleness being an equally good (or even, as Paul has said, better) option.

  17. Chris

    Si, I totally agree, I'm not really convinced by the whole 'gift of celibacy' thing - I think it's down to that person, as Jesus said: 'he who is able to accept this, let him accept it.' For many, choosing to wait and maybe get married later on in life in order to focus on furthering the kingdom could be a truly wonderful calling. Being a 'kingdom eunuch' for a time can still be good!

    I think there's a danger that we can encourage single christians who didn't choose it to just find any other Christian to marry. Yet if we are to get married, we should be marrying someone who will help us to be a better Christian. After all, Jesus should be more important to us than our potential spouse! I myself have been guilty in the past of suggesting that just marrying (almost) any other Christian is acceptable, but it's really not.

    Having said all of that, I do think Paul's advocacy of singleness in 1 Cor 7 is at least partially motivated by the circumstances that the Corinthian church had found itself in at that time. As he states in verse 31, "the form of this world is passing away". The Old Covenant world centred around the temple had been abolished at the cross and was now vanishing from sight. "The time is short" (verse 29). The "present distress" he was referring to was the intense persecution of Christians by the Jewish leadership during the Church's early history, so I'm not convinced that these teachings are universally applicable to Christians today.

  18. Sean

    I am thinking it may be jumping to a conclusion beyond the Bible to say that it says celibacy is highest and best for 'the Christian' (which I read as all Christians.) As in: any Christian who marries (a prerequisite for parenting and elderhood) is willfully opting for a lower calling and less than best than what God has for them. It is not obvious to me that the Bible is saying that, and I think that putting it this way can be discouraging to those who are devoted to God and marry or believe they will.

    I'm 30 and single and like have Si, I have wished the benefits of singlehood were promoted more in churches, and the pressure to marry was less (although I don't have it too bad). I have wished a deep and pure love for brothers and sisters (1 Pet 1:22, 1 Tim 5:2) was more prevalent and understood -- but many only know to look for that within marriage. I feel God has directed my life so far and given me grace to be single. I definitely feel He has given me grace for it and could for the rest of my life if He it felt was best. However, I also believe that God can call people to marriage, in which case that would be the highest and best calling for their life.

    Imagine if Hosea said "no God, I will not marry that woman as you commanded me because you said [in the Bible that hasn't been finished yet] it is best not to marry" -- would he be living a better life, or would he be disobedient? He is an obscure case, but a more plausible one to me are two people who have already decided to commit to being like bondservants, "concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord," (1 Cor 7) and out of that commitment to God are led to a particular situation where "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor" (Ecc 4:9). I accept that in general, being married means a person may expend large amounts of energy on non-kingdom things to please each other, but I do not believe it always has to be this way. Practically, it may have difficulties, but then so may a celibate person's life: less intimate fellowship, less encouragement, accountability, (unless God somehow provides those things, as He could provide a grace for devotion to God for those within marriage.)

    Marriage is a serious thing: being tied to one another for life. What does God want to do through your life? And the life of your potential spouse? If He is calling you to be a businessman and your candidate spouse to be a missionary, then it may be a loss for the things of God for those particular two people to marry. But if He is calling two people to be long-term missionaries (as an example - but it could be anything), and perhaps also their kids, I see marriage being be a strategic alliance with a net gain versus remaining single.

    Perhaps you wish to give special honor to those who are called to a celibate life, because their devotion to God is typically very overt, and I do think they are worthy of it, as in the spirit of this verse: "The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching." 1 Tim 5:17 (Though as said, the example of elders/deacons in 1 Tim is someone who is married.)

  19. Sean

    Oh I randomly listened to one of your sermons where Jesus says His family are His spiritual brothers/sisters/mothers etc., who are closer than biological family.

    I indeed tend to think that a Christian community that got this and acted this way would be "highest and best" for the community (something I hoped for, and I recently found a church that may actually believe this in theory and practice, although they are virtually all married), and that it would allow for greater fruitfulness in the individuals, so in that sense and with that responsibility on the community perhaps I agree in that I think God would lead less people to marry if there was a rich and intimate social fabric for fellowship. Although, I would phrase it differently and more delicately for guilt-ridden perfectionists like myself so the burden of missing out on God's best for one's life doesn't necessarily fall on the individual. As a perfectionist, it is acceptable to me that my life might be better and more fruitful if I was surrounded by ultra-mature Christlike Christians who were virtually perfect in love and fellowship, (knowing that God's sovereign purpose for humanity at this time hasn't called for that.)

  20. Chris Edwards

    japesy - a great book recommendation would be "Church and State in the New Millennium", by David Holloway http://www.amazon.co.uk/Church-State-Millennium-David-Holloway/dp/0002740591/
    It's almost more relevant now than when it was written 12 years ago, because so many of the things it discussed (over Islam and the EU, not just domestic politics and morality) have become increasingly big issues recently.

    This article is thought provoking, and certainly a good challenge to anyone who simply wants to 'Christianise' the state rather than evangelise it. But for lots of people the motivation is not that one. I think it's rather a LOVE for people who are caught up in the tragic consequences of family 'mess'.

    As I think John Stott once said, if I live at an accident blackspot then it's very Christian to go out and tend to all the road accident victims every time one occurs; but it may also be very Christian to write to the council suggesting it install traffic lights!

    In the same way, though I'm not a massive political campaigner, it comes naturally to me, since I've become a Christian, to try to do even a little thing to help people avoid the consequences of abortion, divorce, homosexual adoption, etc. And actually that is not irrelevant to leading them closer to Jesus Christ.

    Finally, as a Christian living in a democracy (and one where over 70% of the population identified themselves as Christian in the 2001 census) I would feel I was dishonouring God's glory, and somehow failing to shine as a Christian, if I said nothing and gave the impression that God thinks redefining marriage is fine. And the clearer we are on what God's standards are, the more wonderful we see the amazing grace of Jesus Christ to be!

  21. John B

    I imagine the Bible reading “In the beginning… ‘be fruitful and uh, yeah’ … and Adam and Eve sinned and became subject to death … and gave birth to Jesus, but then killed him, … and they repented did good in the eyes of the Lord and then were given grace to be celibate … and died. The End. Human population: 3.” Ok, this may be an out there comment...

    My many thanks to Sean, for whether an "Out there comment" or no, he's summed up my own thoughts exactly, but I've never been able to express them so precisely and concisely as he has done here.

    I keep going over Matthew 19 and I can't see that Jesus has abrograted his creation ordinances. Seems more like he's saying that in the Kingdom of Heaven it's union with Christ that is ultimate and eternal life for those who are his. But until he comes again, following his commands, including the creation ordinances, is the way of loving and serving our neighbors. There seems to be a lot here in this portion of scripture that deals with the great reversal that results from the completion of Christ's work. What a radical thought that there are eunuchs who have so much more than even a married man, if they are eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom. And even the disciples didn't see that the Kingdom is for little children. And again the disciples were astonished that someone like the young man who was so rich, full of promise, and ethically good, yet, apart from God's gracious provision, he couldn't enter the Kingdom. Laborers will receive mercifully from God's loving generosity and not because of their own merit. So the last shall be first, and the first last. What a great reversal was taking place in the work of redemption that Jesus was accomplishing for his people.

    As Paul writes, (Romans 14:8) For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's. Living or dying; husband or eunuch; big or little; rich or poor. And if we are the Lord's, we live in the hope of the resurrection where there is neither marriage nor giving in marriage.

    So although I'm apt to read both Jesus and Paul on this point as telling me how best to live, I think that they're actually saying that Jesus has sanctified both celibacy and marriage for his followers. He will provide to those who trust in him, using celibacy and marriage as a means of his blessing.

    Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

  22. Paul Blackham

    The LORD Jesus certainly had a positive view of marriage - as shown by His first miracle. He invented marriage in Eden and continues to bless couples with children. It is fairly obvious that He didn't give either Adam or Eve the role of being eunuchs for the kingdom! There is no sense of marriage being sinful or a 'worldly' option. He created us in this way so that there was always possibility of marriage and children for some/most.

    It is true that some local churches in the western world are obsessed only with getting married and do very little to support single people - and certainly do not recommend the single life as a way of serving the kingdom and being entirely devoted to Jesus, as Paul recommended. Perhaps some of us live in a church culture that sees the benefits of marriage/sex/'relationships' - but does not so champion the benefits of a celibate single life of undivided devotion to Jesus.

    In our surrounding culture there are plenty of feel-good rom coms - but not so many feel-good single, devoted to Jesus coms.

    In my experience if a local church only really shares life a couple of times on a Sunday and maybe for an evening in the week, it will be very hard for the church family to fulfil our relational needs/duties, especially if we are single - "it is not good for the man to be alone". The kind of local church in Acts 2 & 4 that meets daily for meals and fellowship is the context in which the Bible's teaching becomes much easier to understand. If we are spending most of our week alone, isolated from the church family, then marriage may seem to be the only real alternative.

    It is possible to stand with Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden and argue that marriage is the best way to live the Christian life - or it might be better to stand with Christ and His Bride in the New Creation and argue that since there is only one marriage in our future, we can be satisfied and fulfilled with our engagement right now. We are heading from Eden to the New Creation - so where should our centre of gravity be found? These human marriages of this passing age are not of the 'esse' of human life - but our marriage to Jesus is.

    Look, yes there are wonderful marriages that seem to bring together two sets of gifts and visions so that as little time as is reasonable is lost on the divided devotion that Paul speaks of - BUT, not all marriages have that perfect fit of vision and personalities, so a great deal of time must be given to developing that marriage and caring for each other [which is what the Bible commands, but which does mean divided devotion]. Marriage is an intense workshop dealing with the difficult project of trying to bring two selfish sinners into the kind of union that is found in the Trinity and between Christ and the Church.

    The romantics among us [especially the unmarried ones] may imagine marriages and children that only increase our fruitfulness and devotion to Jesus and the Kingdom... far from dividing devotion from Jesus actually constantly enhance devotion to Jesus... far from losing time or work, they actually reduce the amount of work we need to do as we share the jobs of cooking, cleaning admin etc etc. It's a sweet thought - and praise God, there is a grain of truth in it... but the apostle Paul is wisely speaking not just to a historical moment at Corinth but to all of church life in this passing age - we need to be realistic about how much time and effort will go into a happy marriage, bringing up children faithfully and responsibily, visiting relatives, ferrying children to after school clubs, staying up with sick or worried children, sorting out relationship problems, misunderstandings etc etc. etc.

    In addition, remember that we are all full time missionaries, so every Christian marriage should be prayed for as bringing two visionary missionaries together.

    Could I cautiously recommend a careful reading of Ambrose's classic book On Virginity? I hesitate to do this because he is writing from such a different cultural age and from a church life that is so different to that of modern Britain. He can be easily misunderstood and dismissed... but there is real depth of wisdom in that work. Notice his positive but realistic view of marriage - but see also how he elaborates the words of Paul and the other Scriptures.

    It's good to be married - and Jesus, with the Law, prophets and apostles honour marriage. Yet, when we look at the whole of our existence, stretching on to eternity, the marriage that must capture our hearts and minds must be the Divine Marriage of our resurrection future.

    There are no end of cultural forces that tell us that the most important relationships and unions possible are the sexual and romantic ones right here and now... but there are almost no voices bearing witness to the truth... that these are at best only for this brief life, but there is a more fulfilling and fruitful and intense and mind-blowing romance that can begin right now and stretch on into an eternal future with a family home beyond all imagination.

  23. Chris

    Paul,

    I like what you're saying about a married couple as a 'missionary pair' - it's so true! You should definitely be confident in praying with and for that other person and be encouraging each other to seek opportunities to witness before considering getting married. It's interesting how in Acts the early evangelists always went out in pairs - seems to be a recommended model for all, married or single!

    Having said that, I do think "The time is short” makes it pretty clear that Paul is referring to the first century. Having said that, I think his teaching is applicable to Christians throughout the ages who are caught up in fierce persecution (as in many countries today). But I don't think "great distress" is an apt description of the circumstances of a believer living in the UK currently!

  24. Dave

    "Jesus' preference is that we don't marry at all". Indeed? Where does he ask that of all Christians? Christianity would soon die out if all Christians did so..

  25. Kate

    Thanks for your great post. It has brought together a lot of disparate thoughts that I've had on the gay marriage debate. I think that a healthy dose of the 'two kingdoms' type doctrine would calm some Christians down, here in Australia who think the nation's going to vinegar!
    I have long said that because Christian marriage is qualitatively different to other civil unions, it would be great if non-Christian marriages were called something else. I had never thought of leaving the State to run legal marriage and having Christian marriages validated by the Church. That's a great thought!

  26. Paul Blackham

    Dave, that is the strongest case of evangelism only through covenant offspring I've ever heard. :) Some of the Baptists may have a different view...

    No, but seriously, if you read the posts you will see that [as far as I'm aware] nobody is arguing that Jesus commands a single celibate life for every Christian. He seems to say that any Christian that can accept the way of celibacy for the kingdom should do so.

  27. John B

    Hi Paul,

    Full quivers are a blessing for Baptists, too. But not all of their arrows find the mark. :)

  28. Si Hollett

    Paul - that last sentence is a really helpful antidote to the subtly different (in wording, not in what's the default outcome) classic conservative evangelical view that if you can't accept the way of celibacy for the kingdom, you should marry.

  29. James

    Getting back to the relationship between Christians and state law, it is the role of Christians in a *democracy* which is missing here.

    Under a totalitarian regieme, Christians may have no role in influencing the law. But in a democracy, as citizens, each Christian has a *responsibility* to play a part in enacting better laws.

    So whilist I fully agree that Christian views cannot be imposed on those who do not live by the Spirit, the current campaign is not as misguided as has been argued.

  30. Tim Vasby-Burnie

    Paul, what intrigues me is your comment about the Church declaring a couple to be married, without any State involvement. It seems to me that a marriage must be public: whatever Zak and Becky do in terms of the rite, it is publicly understood as a lifelong covenant of faithfulness. [Therefore cohabitation, which is NOT publicly understood as such a covenant, is wrong.] That is, the rite needs teeth: if husband or wife are being ungodly we can say to them 'how can you break the covenant you made?'. But maybe something in the context of the church family, accompanied by Zak and Becky telling everyone they are married, would count.

    Perhaps obedience to the state (Romans 13) might fit in here somewhere, but if the state re-defines "marriage" so that it isn't marriage, we need to do something so that Christian couples can get married!

  31. Sean

    "In our surrounding culture there are plenty of feel-good rom coms - but not so many feel-good single, devoted to Jesus coms."

    There are a lot of hero movies with spies / assassins / comic book superheroes where it is evident that romance (not to mention children) for the protagonists is difficult, dangerous, or impossible. The Bourne trilogy for example is a romantic tragedy. Also, often in femme fatale spy shows, the guys who fall for the sexual allure of the woman are portrayed as weakminded and usually end up dead within about 30 seconds. I would have to say these have influenced me when considering my role in life as a Christian. (A Christian example might be 'Machine Gun Preacher' although I have not seen that.)

    "The kind of local church in Acts 2 & 4 that meets daily for meals and fellowship is the context in which the Bible's teaching becomes much easier to understand. If we are spending most of our week alone, isolated from the church family, then marriage may seem to be the only real alternative."

    That makes sense. I wonder if the church could use some more creative social engineering. I think I would have more close male & female friends if all my female 20-something friends weren't worried that I was hitting on them (and vice versa, to be honest.) I remember one agency here in Canada (Wycliffe Bible translators) has pleaded to young adults to consider postponing and/or carefully considering marriage so that they were free to pursue full-term overseas missions type work in the short term, or in the long term with the right spouse.

    "we need to be realistic about how much time and effort will go into a happy marriage,"

    I have never been married, so I do try not to have any naive illusions about the practicalities of marriage, and I do consider what you say. (And thanks for the book recommendation.)

    In TheCryHollywood event posted above, the primary organizer on her first wedding anniversary day spent 14+ hours working for the kingdom (husband working alongside her). She had organized several major prayer events across Canada, but after being married to an American in Christian showbiz, they have now combined their passions to kickstart a prayer movement in Hollywood. I see it as a strategic alliance. Could these good things be happening with them as singles? Sure, but I would guess that in this case if they remained single and had less fellowship with one another, this movement would be less successful. I guess I am romantic who is optimistic that there are examples of two bondservants of Christ where God brings them together for reasons beyond the burning with lust that Paul talks about, or not being able to accept celibacy is better (I believe all who dedicate themselves to God could accept that -- I don't think God made our sex drives so strong that they are exempted from Romans 6:6.)

    "Marriage is an intense workshop dealing with the difficult project of trying to bring two selfish sinners into the kind of union that is found in the Trinity and between Christ and the Church." ... "sorting out relationship problems, misunderstandings"

    Sometimes I wonder if a reason God brings people to marriage is so that they become unselfish and therefore more pliable and useful in God's hands. (Is a celibate person who has not dealt with selfishness more useful to God?) I also wonder if in other cases, God also first teaches people selflessness for a time and then leads them into marriage as favor "The man who finds a wife finds a treasure, and he receives favor from the LORD", not "the man who finds a wife finds an intense workshop where all selfishness is painfully exposed and all his free time to do anything useful goes out the window". That reminds me, people in culture (including in the church) often treat marriage as death and loss, often jokingly, but nonetheless people believe it to some extent. This idea has really irked me: "you sold your soul and life to scratch a sexual desire and now you have a ball and chain and threat of alimony the rest of your life" -- as it seems very unbiblical. And I believe it leads people to fornication, (cohabitation & promiscuity).

    You seem to be (rightly) more concerned about general and probable cases, and the imbalance in the lack of promotion of the benefits of celibacy (which I agree is a big problem), and the potential for understanding of "a more fulfilling and fruitful and intense and mind-blowing romance" as you put it (which I am personally excited about other Christians becoming aware of), whereas I am only personally concerned with those who offer their lives as bondservants to God yet still feel called to marriage (not necessarily children). (I usually don't press an issue when I feel I am an obscure corner case but I guess it's a little more personal for me right now as I've been pondering it lately.)

    I also have been thinking there is a certain arrogance in believing God needs us to do His work for Him, and that we need to sink every spare moment into His cause, or He won't get what He desires, or be able to show mercy to those He desires. I think of examples of God sovereignly reaching Muslims through visions of Christ, and also the busy Martha versus the Mary that sat at Jesus' feet. After our focus is fully and wholly on Jesus, being able to participate in His ministry is certainly a blessing, but one that is secondary to a love of God. I once felt asked by God whether I would be willing to skip all the possibility of ministry (and marriage) and leave this earth, out of love for him. I realized I made a bit of an idol out of ministry and was trying to derive self-righteousness from it, and now feel I have a better perspective of it. (Of course, I do not want to shirk the command of the great commission or God's desire for me to be a minister of the gospel. I know He has much to teach me about that yet. Although I wonder if Mary might be a better minister than Martha.)

    You raise another point: is not part of our purpose in this life to be prepared for eternity, in which we do learn to partake in the "kind of union that is found in the Trinity"? As you ask: "We are heading from Eden to the New Creation – so where should our centre of gravity be found?" Does not marriage then prepare us for the place our centre of gravity should be found?

    Jesus said "I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." Might not He also say "you loved me" in regards to 'our marriage to Jesus' which you say is the 'esse of human life', when a person loves their spouse? (And even more so, those spouses who acknowledge Christ's presence in their marriage.)

    Also, a marriage in the context of two people who do understand divine romance could be a missions tool to portray God's vision for mankind "on earth as it is in heaven", with healthy human marriage as an alluring foreshadow of God's drawing of mankind. If the world got a strong glimpse of healthy human marriages, perhaps gay marriage would not even be an issue (and perhaps this is the way it was in generations past.)

    "or it might be better to stand with Christ and His Bride in the New Creation and argue that since there is only one marriage in our future, we can be satisfied and fulfilled with our engagement right now"

    Could it be possible for both? I wrote a philosophical blog article recently about being fully fulfilled in Christ, and then seeing marriage as a bonus and pure joy rather than something that fills a void (http://is.gd/XVETL3).

    "but there is a more fulfilling and fruitful and intense and mind-blowing romance that can begin right now and stretch on into an eternal future with a family home beyond all imagination."

    Amen to that. I see God showing this to me and others I know and I see it being a game changer in Christendom as God reveals this to more and more people.

    (PS. sorry for such a long commment!)

  32. John B

    Here's a news article about New Monasticism and urban mission: http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2011-06-27-monastics_n.htm

    I'm very optimistic about this movement. It's missional and outgoing rather than isolating and introspective, as has so often been the case with traditional monasticism.

    With their focus on the "abandoned places of Empire", celibates and families are engaged together in this ministry.

    This model is very promising, especially as closer bonds are established between the sending congregations and these missionaries.

    Although there's no rule of celibacy, those with that gift will provide the drive and the energy needed to be salt and light, transforming their communities through mission. Savor and shine!

  33. John Thomson

    Hi

    A very thought-provoking post.

    Paul Huxley, you write,

    '1) Should governments/nations/rulers/leaders submit to Christ? (if no, go to Psalm 2, if yes, go to question 2)'

    My answer is yes but question 2 isn't the next logical or biblical step. The next step is the gospel. Indeed, until they submit to the gospel they have not submitted to Christ. The kind of submission Ps 2 calls for is gospel submission ie Jesus is Lord.

  34. John Thomson

    Hi Paul

    My point is most in positions of authority have not repented and believed and so can hardly be expected to advocate Christian morality.

    For those in positions of authority who are Christians, they must be mindful of the people they govern. While seeking to promote that which is morally good for the nation they must also take account of the moral state of the people and legislate accordingly. God did not approve of divorce yet because of the hardness of the nations heart divorce was permitted. Laws must take account of what a people can bear and nowhere is this more necessary than in a democracy.

  35. Paul Huxley

    Sure - the content of their rule has to be right - there are many sins in the OT that carried no civil punishment (e.g. coveting). But there were non-believers all through Israel's history who were ruled by godly Kings who implemented the law (as well as the many rebellious Kings). If 95% of Israel wanted their idols and couldn't bear to be without them, would a good King have allowed them their idols?

    I'm not arguing that OT Israel = exactly what we should do now. But it will reveal more of how God expects rulers to govern.

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  37. Si Hollett

    I'd forgotten how excellent this post is. Drags me away from fuming about the omnishambles of the actual legislating this (they truly are making it up as they go along and also failing to do what they set out to do - same-gender marriage will still be different to different-gender marriage, even ignoring the wedding ceremony itself) and bonkers bishops using Christmas sermons and/or media appearances to talk politics, rather than about Christ.

  38. J. H

    I appreciate and understand the arguments that have been set out here. My only concern is that as culture changes Christians will change their beliefs and actually not be different or that they would listen to the culture rather than what the Bible says.

  39. billpayer

    J.H. I think the argument is that the best way to be different is when we focus on our own faithfulness to Jesus rather than on trying to make other people pretend to follow Jesus. The past 50 years has tried to win political and cultural power and has ended up with Christians who don't look very different. Why don't we focus on our own church life as radical centres of the Jesus living? We cannot make the world behave like the churches... and when we try to do that we end up arguing for sexual morality merely on the basis of health benefits or social cohesion! (for crying our loud!)

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  41. RainbowWarrior

    Yeah that's right. Keep your religion to yourself. You homophobic Christian bigots should just live your own 'holy' lives while the rest of civilised society moves on without you.

  42. Glen

    Welcome RainbowWarrior, if you feel that I - or anyone here - have been bigoted please point it out, it's the last thing we want.

    With love and every blessing to you, in Jesus,

    Glen

  43. Glen

    RainbowWarrior, what is your definition of a bigot?

    I don't mind you criticizing Christian beliefs and behaviours, I don't call you a Christianophobe for it. If a Buddhist disapproved of my meat eating, I wouldn't call them a Carniphobe. If a pacifist disapproved of all involvement in the army, I wouldn't call them a 'bigot' even if I and my family for generations were 'army people',

    How is disapproving of a certain behaviour 'bigotry'?

  44. C. U. Paul

    Marry and Marriage! God made people male and female, and Christ said Luke 20:34-36 that those who are worthy to obtain the new world would not marry and cannot die because they are sons of God and of the resurrection.

    Interestingly, God Himself says it is not Good for the man (male) to be alone, and scripture also states that he who find a wife finds a good thing and obtains favour from the Lord.

    So how do we as believers reconcile all these? Mark you, scripture cannot contradict itself.

    As a mature believer, I have come to understand that since we are now in Christ, we are the people for whom all things have become new, so that we are ow in the new age/world that Christ spoke about. We have been raised from death with Christ as His Body and we are now the many sons of God through the one seed, which is Jesus Christ.

    As such, marrying or marriage is something that is up to each man how he sees and defines it. The Church and State should respect each man's conviction, provided it does infringe on another man's peaceful existence. The article is right in saying much local churches exert so much time and energy in the matter of marriage.

    I believe that what Christ meant concerning us not marrying is that as sons of God and the resurrection, we are already married to Him; so that we cannot marry another person because we have not and can't be divorced by Him. Nevertheless, since the Word of God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, we must fulfill the obligation of multiplying and subduing the earth by choosing an opposite sexed partner in Christ.

    In summary, I believe there is only one true marriage in all existence - Christ and the Church. All others are but types/shadows. In fact the reason why God instituted marriage is so that Christ and the Church should be one, which remains a mystery to the unbelieving mind. I rest! I love the so many great minds here. Pls. no bigots!

  45. Howard

    Lewis Smeades, in his useful study, "Sex for Christians", looking at Christ's words in Mark 12:25, raises the issue of sex and marriage in the new creation. Noting that a person is a bodily/sexual person in maturity whether they currently marry or not (so what is expressed is maleness and femaleness), there clearly is sexuality without marriage. Some read the Mark statement to mean that this will no longer be so, but Smeades suggests the new estate transcends the present, not by a diminishing or omission of these gifts, but by their glorification - a sexuality that is deeper and richer than currently possible. There is certainly something to consider here, particularly in regards to our being bodily persons forever, and the fact they we are resurrected in our own flesh (as Job declared), but a flesh that is glorified. Any thoughts?

  46. RainbowWarrior

    Here's the thing. I don't respect Christians who don't proselytise. If you thought that I was going to hell, would you let me go down this road?

    I don't believe you guys are even convinced that marriage should be between a man and a woman. Because if you were, you'd not only want that for yourselves, you'd want that for the whole society.

    And when I look at you guys, I'm absolutely unimpressed. This article just confirms it.

    Think about that.

  47. RainbowWarrior

    That's why I think you guys are motivated by nothing but bigotry and hatred towards people like me.

  48. Cal

    This is your argument:

    1) Christians should spread their faith
    2) The Faith defines marriage as between 1 man and 1 woman
    ** Therefore the Christian ought to make society define marriage as between 1 man and 1 woman

    The underlying assumed premise is that society can be made "christian" or that the Church is to assume, consume or master society. There are quite a few who would take issue with that premise.

    The other, mildly scary, latent premise is that a community ought to try regulate and be dominant, be it some Christendom or Liberal Westernism. Even if that Liberal world-order denies all absolute truths besides that there is no absolute truth! I'd frankly rather be pegged a bigot than an imperialist.

  49. RainbowWarrior

    How does (**) even follow from (1) and (2)? The correct conclusion should be (3), Christians should spread the idea of marriage as between 1 man and 1 woman.

    Here's Logic 101, Cal.

    This just proves that Christians are ignorant bigots who can't think beyond their Bible-thumping trash. And this article already proves it.

    I'm done here.

  50. Glen

    RainbowWarrior, you've made unsubstantiated accusations of bigotry and then left. Do you see the hypocrisy?

    This article is about Christians *not* imposing their morality on non-Christian culture. Yet even that you find unacceptable. What exactly is 'bigoted' about proposing a sexual ethic different to that of the culture?

  51. Si Hollett

    From dictionary.reference.com: "big·ot [big-uht]
    noun
    a person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion."

    It is bigotry to demand that only your position is obeyed by all. Rainbow Warrior: you call us bigots because we don't behave like bigots and try to use the law to enforce our position as being the only one which can be acted on. My question is this: how does that make sense?

    Rainbow Warrior said "How does (**) even follow from (1) and (2)?" That is Cal's point! You state (1) then doubt (2) as (**) isn't happening. Cal tries to answer it by trying to guess the unstated (3) that is needed to get to (**) from (1) and (2), however he doesn't buy (3), so can not see why, with (1) and (2) you need (**).

    PS: Here's another helpful definition: "tol·er·ate [tol-uh-reyt]
    verb (used with object)
    1. to allow the existence, presence, practice, or act of without prohibition or hindrance; permit.
    2. to endure without repugnance; put up with: I can tolerate laziness, but not incompetence."

  52. John B

    The presupposition that underpins Christian opposition to homosexuality is that it's a "disordered condition" (a term that's a polite euphemism for the more traditional term "perversion"). In the absence of this presupposition, opposition to homosexuality is reasonably perceived as bigotry. Now that homosexuality has become culturally legitimate, many pro-gay supporters relish asking the question, "So, who's disordered (or perverted) now?". And they're not willing to let their opponents off so easily now that the tide has turned in their favor.

    Churches seem to view homosexuality as a unique high-level "disorder" for which there is no redemption in this age. Even the celibate homosexual in the church, though he does well, is serving out penance, because, at root, his very nature is so badly corrupted. There's no little "puppy dog" sins here. There's none of the easy solace that comes from expressions like, "Oh well, we're all just sinners here!". Unlike any other category of sin, homosexuality seems to be more a matter of being than of doing.

  53. John Thomson

    J B

    You are right. Christians do view homosexuality as disordered or perverted. And they do so primarily because the Bible says so. I say 'primarily' for natural reason ought to show us homosexual intercourse is 'unnatural' - it does not use the sexual organs in the way in which nature intended (the anus is not intended for the penis). The Bible also assumes this sense of the 'natural' is obvious to all (Roms1).

    You are wrong, however, to think that Christians view homosexual corruption as the worst of all corruptions. Indeed Christians view their own nature as utterly corrupt and worthy only of death. Sin is in all of us firstly a matter of 'being' before it becomes 'doing'. Christians are not claiming higher moral ground - we are all level before the cross.

  54. John B

    Hi John,

    I agree that all sin is a matter of being, non-being. The doing is only the fruit of the sin. I'm sure that we haven't frequented the same churches, as my perspective is quite different as to the matter of claims being made to the moral high ground. When churches aren't judging corruption by degrees, then homosexuals will be welcome there, too. Seems to me that there's much work to be done on this. I'm glad if you find the situation more sanguine where you are.

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  57. Jon Bergdahl

    Excellent stuff on here as ever. A purely civil / non-spiritual point.. if laws & statutes are created that reflect the will / pulse of societies as at the time of statuting, the odds on there being *any* laws which any Christian could say are "compatible with gospel teaching" are pretty slim.. and now we're on to gambling which is a whoooole different kettle of fish.. as is Pescetarianism..

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