The UK Bible Students Website
Christian Biblical Studies
(Part I can be found here)
All Scripture references are to the New International Version,
UK edition unless stated otherwise.
IN A SONG made famous by Frank Sinatra, love and marriage go together ‘like a horse and carriage’. The simple truth of the catchy ditty is made obvious by reversing the thought – who would marry someone they didn’t love? Certainly marriage is still popular, as shown by the multi-million pound wedding industry. Couples are prepared to make the most of their big day and the average cost of the entire arrangement is around £20,000. This figure is estimated at double what it was ten years ago. Superficially, this suggests a growth in the commitment bride and groom are willing to make in preparation for their life together.
The United Kingdom’s booming wedding industry is overshadowed by a high divorce rate, with one third to a half of all marriages ending in separation. This ugly fact is amplified by the decreasing number of marriages. The number of couples tying the knot today is nearly half of what it was in the seventies. The few that do get married have less success. Neither do the official government figures include the couples who live together as though they were legally married.
These transverse trends underscore the modern outlook, in which love has become highly idealised, as signified by the grand and costly celebration, and yet the recipe to make a marriage work has been lost sight of, as shown by increased numbers of divorce and cohabitation.
The tried formula has been put aside, in which the husband went out to work and by his labour secured the means through which his wife could run the home and raise the children. It was an arrangement fashioned on the heavenly pattern where Jesus as the bridegroom gave His life for the bride, the church (Ephesians 5: 25):
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
And in return the church gave up the life given to her (Romans 6: 3):
As the church takes on the manner of death of the bridegroom, Jesus Christ, so a heavenly marriage is pictured, out of which come forth children, those that have a part in the earthly resurrection (Revelation 22: 17):
The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.
This beautiful picture of corresponding sacrifices, Jesus dying for the church, and the church dying that others might have life, is what God had in mind even before the creation of Adam and Eve, the first husband and wife. When God divided Adam into male and female, He had already designed how the two should be united again.
During the Christian era, when church and state were one, the only recognised form of marriage was the one sponsored by the church. Today, the widening gulf between government and the Christian communion raises the question – is marriage essentially a religious or a civil arrangement?
The Civil Partnership Act of 2004 gives ‘same-sex couples’ in such a partnership practically the same legal rights – income benefits, inheritance rights – as traditionally-married men and women. In other words, a civil partnership is marriage in all but name. The act was introduced under Labour’s equality agenda with a view to ending perceived discrimination against homosexuals in this regard. The act is seen by its supporters as an expression of society’s ideal: equality before the law regardless of sex. It is the natural result of a democracy in which the laws made by Parliament purport to reflect the minds and hearts of the nation. Whether it is a homosexual or heterosexual couple that separate and fight over possessions, the law must necessarily intervene to keep the peace and enforce fair treatment. The civil dimension of marriage is the most easily recognised, and is almost forced upon society by the necessity of all persons to live together without injury.
However, the religious aspect of marriage is beyond the powers of a court of law to rule on. The view that men and women are two independent halves of a union, equal in all cases but that of child bearing, suits well the shrewd division of funds in a divorce case. It is a harder matter to weigh up the sacrifices and acts of submission that each partner is obliged to give the other. Those seeking a Christian marriage must recognise God’s rule in their hearts. While many follow the natural instinct to love one another in the first years of marriage, to sustain love in the face of opposing feelings requires patience, long-suffering, unselfishness and forgiveness – all manifestations of the Divine likeness in mankind.
Marriage has always had religious and secular components, and the laws of the United Kingdom allow for both. Churches and registry offices alike are granted licences to marry. But civil ceremonies are not permitted to express religious content; a religious union must take place in a church. So while same sex partnerships are recognised by the state, churches across the United Kingdom only sanction weddings between a man and a woman. If Christian churches are to remain faithful to Scripture it should be no other way.
The Word of God portrays marriage as a union proper only between male and female. Such a union is at the core of the family unit, a solid committed relationship in which to raise children. And, of course, no other combination can naturally bring forth offspring. God had this purpose in mind when forming Adam and Eve and allotting the various attributes of male and female character. The discussion of ‘gender’ differences may today draw accusations of discrimination, but to the unbiased mind there are clear and obvious anatomical and biological distinctions which fit a man and a woman to their respective roles as father and mother.
Those opposed to God’s privileged arrangement between husband and wife claim that ‘love’ sanctifies any partnership regardless of gender, even quoting Scripture in support of the position. For example, 2 Samuel 1: 26 is often cited in support of homosexual love: ‘I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.’ The claim is a clear case of reading back into the text whatever interpretation one fancies, and is often done by those who otherwise have no interest in Biblical authority. David’s love for Jonathan was like the manly affection formed among soldiers whose lives become intertwined through a shared and dangerous duty, in which each is prepared to die for the other. Such a bond can be a life-long (non-sexual) devotion.
To the Christian man or woman seeking Biblical permission to form a homosexual union, there is none. The increasingly general acceptance and encouragement by statute for such unions is an outgrowth of the increasingly liberal attitude towards sexual matters. C.S. Lewis addressed the question in his correspondence with Sheldon Vanauken, an American ex-naval officer.[fn1] Lewis’ reply contains several points worthy of consideration.
Lewis concludes that the physical satisfaction of the homosexual desire is a sin. This puts the homosexual man or woman into a situation in which they are no worse off than a heterosexual man or woman prevented from marrying for whatever reason. He asserts that speculation on the causes of homosexuality is not important. As with other matters of faith, Christians can be content without knowing why a person is made the way they are. For example Jesus’ disciples were not told the exact cause of the man’s blindness in John 9: 1-3:
As [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.’
The disciples were told merely that the blind man’s situation was an opportunity for God’s work to be made manifest. From this account Lewis reasons that blindness, homosexuality, or any other tribulation is occasion for God’s saving grace to shine through, transforming the believer’s character. St. Paul, suffering with poor eyesight, expresses the right attitude (2 Corinthians 12: 9, 10):
But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul’s disability concealed a vocation. Headstrong and zealous, the apostle’s faulty eyesight made him dependent on others – a life-long affliction from which the Lord did not release him. Many individuals find their peculiar situation gives them a vocation, too; that through prayer and the earnest plea for Divine strength and guidance they have come to realise that their sexual impulses can be suppressed and the energy re-directed to unselfish service.
In the final analysis, the Christian ought not to fashion his or her behaviour on that of the unbelieving world, nor take permission from government laws to enter into practices or unions contrary to the Word of God.
[fn1] The letters between C. S. Lewis and S. Vanauken are published in Vanauken’s biography of his religious experiences titled, A Severe Mercy. To come to terms with his wife’s death, Vanauken sought Lewis’ advice on a number of subjects. Extracts from the Lewis letters are published in Vanauken’s book. A Severe Mercy is available from a number of different publishers.
Article copyright May 2011 by ukbiblestudents.co.uk
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