WMLTblog — What’s Your Definition of Marriage?

July 13th, 2012 Post by

Found on Witness, Mercy, Life Together blog:

 

Which is better?  To enter into marriage or to take a vow of celibacy to serve God as a priest? That was the question at the time of the Reformation 500 years ago. In the medieval church it was thought that taking a vow of celibacy put you on a higher spiritual plane than the common folk.

Our Lutheran forefathers, however, in writing Article XXIII of the Augsburg Confession, took the position that it is better to marry. They pointed to many grave vices and scandals that took place when priests were required to be celibate (sound familiar?).

More than that, they also point to the command and blessing of God, saying “Since God’s Word and command cannot be altered by any human vows or laws, our priests and other clergy have taken wives to themselves.” (Tappert, Theodore G.: The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2000, c1959, p. 52). Indeed, they say, in Holy Scripture “God commanded marriage to be held in honor” (Tappert, p. 54).

How is this an issue among us today? Our pastors are all allowed to marry, in fact, are encouraged to do so, the same as all the rest of us. But what is the condition of marriage as a gift and command of God among us?

You and I know that marriage is under attack on several fronts today. How many people, even in our churches, live together as though they were husband and wife before they are married? We have not always done a good job teaching our children. How many divorces are there among Christians? Sadly the rate is nearly the same as the rest of society.

What about gay marriage? What should be done about that? Any denigration of marriage is an abomination before God, but let’s dig into the issue just a little more deeply.

First of all, marriage was established by God, the Creator, at the beginning with Adam and Eve. God designed marriage to be the union of one man and one woman for life: “A man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

The government, as God’s left hand instrument, enacts laws regulating marriage, requiring a license, etc. Even so, we believe from Scripture that marriage is God’s creation, a gift of God to us for our good, for mutual care and the establishment of the family.

Now what if the state begins to allow people of the same sex to apply for marriage licenses and “get married?” Does that mean such people are really married? No. It may, perhaps in the eyes of the state and society at large, but no, not in the eyes of God.

For example, if I have in my hand an onion, but I call it an orange, does that make it an orange? No. Calling the onion something it is not does not change it.

What should we Christians do about what is going on today? We have the freedom in our country to make our voices heard. We seek to do so in a faithful and caring manner, letting our elected leaders know our thoughts.

However, there is a dual trap here we need to avoid. There is the trap of the gay lifestyle itself. Pray for those involved that God would provide repentance and healing for the sake of Christ. We must not simply be the “church of no.” We are people of God’s Word and are called to help people burdened with homosexual desires (and their families) with loving care by means of God’s Law and Gospel.

There is also the trap for us that we might think we have done our job if we write our congressman or protest or vote against “gay marriage.” Yes, we do what free citizens of this country can do, but that never takes the place of our witness for Christ.

That’s why we don’t want to allow anything to keep us from bringing the good news of Jesus to others. As important as it might be, any work we do in the church to speak to the issues of society is secondary. Our primary job is to bring Christ to people, to plant and to water the seeds of God’s Word wherever and whenever we can. Only God changes hearts – and He does it through His Word.

Then our next job is to look to our own house, to teach and to help our children see the importance of waiting for marriage, to help each other, husbands and wives, keep our marriage vows to live together in holy love until life’s end.

This becomes even more important when we realize faithfulness in marriage is actually a reflection of God’s love and faithfulness for us, His people. God calls husbands to “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her … this mystery is a profound one, and I am saying it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself…” (Ephesians 5:25, 32-33).

And that cannot be done without the Spirit of God refreshing us each day with the forgiveness of sins for the sake of Christ!  May He, by His faithfulness to His promises, keep us faithful to ours.

+ Herbert Mueller
LCMS First Vice President


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  1. #4 Kitty
    July 13th, 2012 at 09:32 | #1

    Now what if the state begins to allow people of the same sex to apply for marriage licenses and “get married?” Does that mean such people are really married? No. It may, perhaps in the eyes of the state and society at large, but no, not in the eyes of God.

    If this married couple later joined an LCMS church should the pastor counsel them to get a divorce?

  2. Jeff
    July 13th, 2012 at 09:53 | #2

    Since the couple is not really married how could they get a divorce?

  3. July 13th, 2012 at 10:45 | #3

    The “married couple” would not become a member of a faithful Christian congregation to begin with, but the two persons involved might become a member after they have repented of and ended their sinful relationship.

  4. Michael
    July 13th, 2012 at 11:54 | #4

    It seems as a synod we condemn homosexuality, but we ignore couples living with one another is ignored? Why? In our synod, I would say couples living with one another is far more common.

  5. helen
    July 13th, 2012 at 12:06 | #5

    How is this an issue among us today? Our pastors are all allowed to marry, in fact, are encouraged to do so, the same as all the rest of us. –VP Mueller

    In fact, “like all the rest of us” our single seminarians and Pastors are sometimes harassed because they have not found a wife, or choose not to have one.

    I realize that Pastor Mueller was making a defense of marriage as God arranged it but Article XXIII also says this:

    “Nevertheless we do not make virginity and marriage equal. For just as one gift surpasses another, as prophecy surpasses eloquence, the science of military affairs surpasses agriculture, and eloquence surpasses architecture, so virginity is a more excellent gift than 39] marriage. And nevertheless, just as an orator is not more righteous before God because of his eloquence than an architect because of his skill in architecture, so a virgin does not merit justification by virginity more than a married person merits it by conjugal duties, but each one ought faithfully to serve in his own gift, and to believe that for Christ’s sake he receives the remission of sins and by faith is accounted righteous before God.

    40] Neither does Christ or Paul praise virginity because it justifies, but because it is freer and less distracted with domestic occupations, in praying, teaching, [writing,] serving. For this reason Paul says, 1 Cor. 7:32: He that is unmarried careth for the things which belong to the Lord. Virginity, therefore, is praised on account of meditation and study. Thus Christ does not simply praise those who make themselves eunuchs, but adds, for the kingdom of heaven’s sake, i.e., that they may have leisure to learn or teach the Gospel; for He does not say that virginity merits the remission of sins or salvation.”

    Neither marriage nor single celibacy “save” anyone; Christ does that. But it behooves us to have respect for each other’s gift (or, as the case may be, a little sympathy if someone desires to marry but hasn’t yet found a spouse. This applies to singles in the congregation, too.)

  6. #4 Kitty
    July 13th, 2012 at 12:11 | #6

    @Michael #4
    That’s a good point. Could we with right and conscience exchange “married couple” for “unmarried heterosexual couple living together” in Rev McCain’s response above?

  7. Michael
    July 13th, 2012 at 12:21 | #7

    Rev. Paul T. McCain :
    The “married couple” would not become a member of a faithful Christian congregation to begin with, but the two persons involved might become a member after they have repented of and ended their sinful relationship.

    Why is this “married” couple actions worst then the unmarried man and woman living with one another.

  8. helen
    July 13th, 2012 at 12:24 | #8

    @#4 Kitty #6
    Could we with right and conscience exchange “married couple” for “unmarried heterosexual couple living together” in Rev McCain’s response

    It would be a novel (and perhaps salutary) thing, if the older ladies of the congregation who persist in asking, “Why isn’t a nice girl like you married by now?” would instead ask, “Why is a nice [girl/boy] like you living with someone without marriage?” (!)

  9. July 13th, 2012 at 12:33 | #9

    Note: We are speaking about the challenges of same-sex marriage in this topic, so obviously, my remarks are speaking to that topic.

    There is no “better” or “worse” sins.

    Reminds me though of the highway patrolman who pulled a guy over and the guy’s first comment was, “But look at everyone else going faster, most of them faster than me!” And the officer said, “That may be, but I got you.”

    : )

    I know I might be a real oddball, but when I was in the parish, I informed couples shacking it up playing house that unless and until they stop they were unwelcome to receive the Lord’s Supper. That got some people’s attention pretty quick, fast and in a hurry.

  10. Michael
    July 13th, 2012 at 13:16 | #10

    So you refused to marry them?

  11. July 13th, 2012 at 14:01 | #11

    Michael: I would only perform a marriage after there had been repentance, amendment of life, confession and absolution. Frankly, I was not asked to marry too many couples shacking up after I made it clear what my expectations were, they just found some other preacher to do it, I guess. But, in my circuit in Iowa, they had to go outside the Lutheran Church to find one, since all the guys in my circuit supported one another so they could not play one Lutheran pastor off another.

  12. Joe Olson
    July 13th, 2012 at 15:53 | #12

    It seems that every time someone brings up same sex marriage on a Lutheran blog someone trots out the hetero’s shacking up issue. I agree its an issue, but its not the issue at hand and even if we do a really bad job with dealing with that issue that is not an excuse for getting same sex marriage wrong.

    Moreover, I have never seen any actual evidence that we as a Synod do a bad job with hetro-shacker-uppers. I hear stories about a pastor at some other church, etc. But do we have any kind of numbers on this? Do we know how many folks are actively living in sin are getting hitched in our congregations?

  13. Michael
    July 13th, 2012 at 16:44 | #13

    Joe Olson :
    It seems that every time someone brings up same sex marriage on a Lutheran blog someone trots out the hetero’s shacking up issue. I agree its an issue, but its not the issue at hand and even if we do a really bad job with dealing with that issue that is not an excuse for getting same sex marriage wrong.
    Moreover, I have never seen any actual evidence that we as a Synod do a bad job with hetro-shacker-uppers. I hear stories about a pastor at some other church, etc. But do we have any kind of numbers on this? Do we know how many folks are actively living in sin are getting hitched in our congregations?

    I’m 100% against homosexuality. Which do you think is a bigger problem in the LCMS? I’m going by what I have seen in my own church. The homosexual couple got banned from communion and left the church. I think most homosexuals would go to other churches where they and their sin are accepted.

    I think it varies on the pastor. Some stand firm and others go ahead and marry.

  14. Robert Franck
    July 14th, 2012 at 15:14 | #14

    I don’t think we as a synod ignore couples living together. Our synod as a whole has some good materials available, and many faithful pastors who administer marriage faithfully. I know I don’t simply marry couples living together without repentance and change. That is sometimes not well received, but frequently it is appreciated. And yes, I preach about it too.

    One time I preached on the importance of marriage (on the text of the wedding at Cana) and how I don’t marry couples living together, and a woman came to me (later) to confess that sin and correct her situation. (She was a student in Duluth. She called her mom and told her the “problem.” Her mom’s response was, “you got yourself into this problem.” Another couple I married in a small ceremony, and their planned ceremony became a celebration of their previous wedding.

    Many reject this, of course. One young woman didn’t want the small ceremony–she wanted a big wedding many months later. I refused, and she left for the ELCA church. Before releasing her membership, I called that ELCA pastor, an older many who seemed a little frustrated at the situation in society as a whole, but said, “what can you do?” I told him what I do, but he wasn’t willing to do it.

    The irony of that situation is that her fiance was in the military reserves and got suddenly called up to active duty. So that he could be legally married in the government’s eyes–yes, they got married in a quick quiet ceremony. I thought that that showed their real priorities–they didn’t want to right before God but were willing to do “right” for their government benefits.

  15. Michael
    July 14th, 2012 at 18:39 | #15

    @Robert Franck #14

    Good to hear. I can only go by what I have seen in my own church.

  16. Rev. Weinkauf
    July 14th, 2012 at 22:44 | #16

    @Michael #15
    Michael, you are obligated to engage your pastor/board of elders on this. If they refuse to listen to the truth regarding cohabitation, find another congregation.

  17. Chris Schelp
    July 17th, 2012 at 14:27 | #17

    Here is another problem (in my opinion) that we should address, from the other side of the coin: couples getting divorced for unbiblical reasons. “Fighting all the time” is not sufficient cause for divorce, and I’m of the opinion that those who attempt to gain a divorce on grounds such as that (or one spouse who attempts, without reason, to gain a divorce against the wishes of the other spouse) would be “living in sin” just as much as those who live together while unmarried. Discuss.

  18. Michael
    July 17th, 2012 at 15:22 | #18

    @Rev. Weinkauf #16

    My church has a new pastor and he hasn’t married anyone yet so we will see.

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