Position Paper Marriage, Divorce, and Single Celibacy

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1 Position Paper Marriage, Divorce, and Single Celibacy The Lord Jesus Christ showed his approval of marriage when he performed his first miracle at the wedding of Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-12), but he also taught that marriage does not hold ultimate importance and must be placed underneath the priorities of discipleship (Luke 14:26). In a discussion with some Pharisees, Jesus affirmed the pattern for marriage given by God at creation when he asked them, Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. (Matthew 19:4-6). Marriage is the foundation and basic unit of society, but more than this, marriage serves as an important biblical metaphor pointing to the gospel and its benefits (Ephesians 5:25-33). The Lord Jesus Christ also showed his approval of celibacy when he affirmed the value of eunuchs to the kingdom (Matthew 19:10-12). And the Apostle Paul affirmed this calling and even expounded upon its benefits (1 Corinthian 7:17-38). Because of the increased confusion and sinful distortion of marriage and the family in the world and even in the church, the elders of Trinity Church have written this paper to explain our understanding of marriage and the practices surrounding how we deal with matters of family. We begin by outlining our doctrinal conviction and practice concerning singleness, marriage, and divorce. The remainder of the document more thoroughly explains and defends our conviction and practice. Our Position: Marriage is a permanent (lifelong), exclusive, sacred covenant bond that comprehensively unites a man and a woman. It is instituted by God and publicly entered into before him (whether acknowledged or not), normally consummated by sexual intercourse. The purposes of marriage include joyful companionship, the bearing of children, and symbolically portraying the union of Christ and the church. Marriage is a gift from God, and it is the normal calling of God upon men and women to be married and to begin families. Singleness is also a gift from God, an equally noble calling when carried out in celibacy. Polygamy, same sex unions, and divorce are all sinful distortions of God s design for marriage and family. Because of what marriage is (as a comprehensive union between a man and a woman), men cannot marry men, nor can women marry women. Any sexual union or union of lifelong companionship between members of the same sex cannot be considered marriage. However, non-sexual and non-exclusive lifelong friendships between members of the same sex may be a helpful and joyful way to carry out the single and celibate calling of God. Marriage is an institution created by God and given to all people in all nations regardless of their religious convictions. Marriage belongs neither only in the church nor simply in the civil realm according to the laws of nations but is a covenant relationship publicly established before God. Our Practice: Because it is a good gift from God, we encourage every unmarried man or woman who desires marriage to pursue it along with all its joys. Marriage is for Christians and non-christians 1

2 alike, and therefore we encourage non-christians to marry one another rather than engaging in sexual relationships and bearing children outside of the covenant bond. Christians are instructed by God s word to marry in the Lord, that is, only to marry another Christian. Divorce is always the result of sin. It is only permitted as a last resort when one partner (the man or the woman) abandons the marriage through persistent negligence, infidelity, and unrepentance concerning marital duties. In the case of such abandonment, the offended partner is free to remarry. If a Christian finds that they are married to a non-christian (either because they have converted to Christianity or because the other apostatizes), they should do all that they can in their power to remain married. If a Christian is abandoned by his or her unbelieving spouse through repeated sexual union with another, then the Christian is not bound and is free to accept a divorce and remarry. Unrepentance regarding any ongoing distortion of marriage within our church membership will be treated as sufficient grounds for church discipline because it throws into question the genuineness of a person s confession of faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the corresponding repentance that is fitting. This discipline culminates in treating the unrepentant one as a non-christian, in the loss of his or her membership privileges, and in exclusion from fellowship at the Lord s Table. Singles are encouraged to commit themselves to the family of God and to live celibate lives. They should pursue deep friendships with others, married and unmarried alike, and they should be welcomed into family life by the church community so that though they are not fathers or mothers biologically, they can be fathers or mothers in the faith. They should utilize their freedom from obligation to one partner by devoting themselves to other godly concerns and not use their freedom for self-indulgence. What is marriage and what are its purposes? Marriage is a sacred covenant bond that comprehensively unites a man and a woman, is marked by permanence and exclusivity, and is entered into by a public vow. This definition is not found in any one place in Scripture but is clearly taught by the whole when we take different passages together within the larger narrative of redemption history. The key and most clear texts concerning marriage are found in Genesis 2, in Jesus teaching in the Gospels, and in 1 Corinthians 7. We will briefly explain why we believe this definition derives from these passages. Genesis 2:18-25 [18] Then the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him. [19] Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. [20] The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. [21] So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. [22] And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. [23] Then the man said, This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. [24] Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. [25] And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. This passage describes the creation of Eve and the marriage of Adam and Eve, our first parents. We are taught that God brought Eve to Adam that they might be united (Genesis 2:22), 2

3 and we learn that this union sets the paradigm or pattern for marriage since the author explicitly draws this conclusion from this historical moment (Genesis 2:24). This verse not only tells us that Adam and Eve s marriage is the pattern for all marriages; we learn what marriage is from it as well. First, we learn that marriage is a covenant bond. The phrase describing the union as the two becoming one flesh is covenantal language. It suggests a comprehensive union of mind, body, and life. Additionally, in the Bible, to hold fast (or cleave as some translations put it) is to unite to someone in covenant. 1 We see throughout Scripture that covenants are entered into through vows or oaths between two parties. So marriage is a covenant bond entered into by public vow. Second, we learn that marriage is a permanent or lifelong bond because we are told that the two shall hold fast to one another as those brought together by God. And by leaving their father and mother, the two form a permanent family of their own. Third, we learn that marriage is an exclusive relationship. The union of two as one flesh suggests covenantal union enacted by bodily sexual intercourse. This is why verse 25 tells us that the two were naked and not ashamed. There was bodily intimacy and joy, and this should mark all marriages. Two other key verses from the Genesis 2 passage speak to why marriage is between a man and a woman. In verses 22 and 23 we learn of the complementary compatibility of a male and a female. God made the woman Eve from Adam s rib because, unlike the animals God had made, Adam had no one in his likeness and no helper suitable to aid him in his task to be fruitful and multiply so as to exercise dominion over the earth as God s representative. In making Eve from Adam s rib, God provided a helper who was like Adam though different, literally corresponding to him. Men and women are different, but similar such that they fit together, both adding what the other cannot provide on his or her own to the mission God has given. This is nowhere more obvious than in sexual reproduction. Both a male and a female contribute with their bodies what neither can do on their own such that they function together as a single organ that produces another life. This is why marriage is a comprehensive union where two willing people, male and female, unite their lives, wills, and bodies in such a way that they are ordered toward something that was not previously possible. We are to rejoice in the differences between men and women while also celebrating with Adam that we are of the same flesh or likeness and thus different and compatible. Matthew 19:3-6 [3] And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause? [4] He answered, Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, [5] and said, Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? [6] So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. This passage demonstrates that Jesus affirms the interpretation of Genesis 2 given above. Jesus taught that marriage is a union between a man and a woman that is made by God and entered into before him. Commenting on Genesis 2:24 in verse 6, Jesus says, What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. Jesus interprets the marriage of Adam and Eve as paradigmatic, and he concludes that all marriages come about because God joins a man and a woman in a permanent bond. 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 [7:1] Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman. [2] But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. [3] The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. [4] For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the 1 Deuteronomy 10:20 for instance. 3

4 husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. [5] Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. Paul likewise affirms the definition of marriage given above. Marriage is an exclusive sexual relationship where each spouse has the obligation to give themselves to and receive from their spouse alone. From these passages and the definition of marriage they provide (along with the testimony of the rest of Scripture), we learn that there are several purposes of marriage. First, we see that marriage is a gift from God to enjoy companionship and sexual pleasure. Second, we learn that marriage is for the procreation and faithful rearing of children. The third purpose of marriage has a pedagogical purpose. It teaches us about the nature of the relationship between God and his people. Just as God made Eve in the likeness of Adam, we are told that we were made in the image of God. There is a difference and compatibility between us and our creator such that our joyful companionship is ordered to spiritual procreation. As mankind walked in faithful fellowship with the creator, the fruitfulness and multiplication of image bearers would have shown forth the beauty and wisdom of God throughout the earth. However, the rebellion of mankind distorted this purpose. But we learn in Ephesians 5:25-33 that Jesus Christ, the faithful groom described throughout the Old Testament, gave himself up in death on the cross to wash his bride clean and to give her new life and holiness. So the final purpose of marriage is to teach us of the mysterious union of Jesus Christ and his church. How should marriage come about? Marriage is an institution created and established by God and given to all people in all nations regardless of their religious convictions (Genesis 2:18-25). As a common grace institution, marriage belongs neither only in the church nor simply in the civil realm according to the laws of nations but is a covenant relationship publicly established before God in a culturally appropriate way. We reject the idea that marriage is a special grace that belongs only to the church, for God s gift is to all and his law is for all and demands everyone to be faithful to their spouse (Exodus 20:14). In various ways, almost every nation and culture around the world throughout history has recognized marriage in some way fitting to its time. Likewise, each culture corrupts and distorts marriage in some way because of sin. Though the way each culture recognizes how a couple marries and the purposes and customs surrounding marriage may differ to various degrees, that marriage is a publicly recognized comprehensive union between a man and a woman remains true everywhere. Therefore, men and women who desire to be married ought to conform to the cultural habits and customs that constitute public recognition of a marriage and then remain faithful to their spouse. Likewise, each nation and culture ought to maintain by law and/or custom the definition and purposes of marriage given by God. For those seeking marriage, each person ought to consider the cultural customs fitting to pursue a spouse in that context. Christians must only pursue marriage with other Christians, for Paul instructs us to only marry in the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:39). This prohibition to marry non-christians is due to the fact that marriage is a comprehensive union of mind, body, and will. If two people are united in this way, each spouse will be strongly influenced and even determined by the faith of the other. Additionally, since marriage is ordered toward procreation, Christians who marry non-christians will face difficulty in raising their children in the fear of the Lord if their spouse is not a Christian. So Christians should only marry Christians. However, since we are sinners who disobey God s law, and because some people become Christians after they are 4

5 already married, those Christians married to non-christians should not despair or feel obligated to leave their spouse but stay with them if the person will still have them (1 Corinthians 7:12-16). Christians married to non-christians are in a particularly advantageous position to bear witness to Christ and his gospel (1 Corinthians 7:14, 16). All those who desire to marry and are seeking to find a spouse ought to pursue a person who is faithful, wise, honest, kind, hardworking, and trustworthy. Love as a character trait of a whole person s life should be pursued and not simply the emotional excitement we feel when someone desires us (Ephesians 5:25). How may marriages end? Marriage is a covenant bond that lasts until death or divorce. Death is a sad but fitting and appropriate end to a marriage covenant (Romans 7:1-3; 1 Corinthians 7:39). When a spouse dies, the living spouse is free to remarry. Because only God is faithful and we are not, marriages often end in divorce. God hates divorce, but he has graciously instructed us how to handle and approach it (Malachi 2:14-16; Deuteronomy 24:1-4). No one should pursue a divorce (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). For a person to walk away from his or her spouse and move on to another is adultery (Matthew 5:32). To embrace this unrepentantly indicates a forsaking of God and should result in excommunication (1 Corinthians 5). However, there are times when divorce is a recognition that a marriage covenant has been broken by the other without any concern for reconciliation. In other words, Jesus himself permits divorce in cases where a spouse commits adultery (Matthew 5:31-32; 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18). Paul permits divorce when a spouse abandons the marriage (1 Corinthians 7:10-15). What Jesus and Paul both have in view is not one act of infidelity but a determined and consistent movement away from fidelity and toward uniting with another. All of this means that each person should pursue his or her own spouse faithfully, even if the other sins and falls into infidelity, until it becomes clear that no restoration will be possible. In such cases, those who have been abandoned by their spouse are free to remarry (1 Corinthians 7:15). In any case, those who repent of their failures, trust in Jesus, and pursue reconciliation as far as possible with others can be sure of God s forgiveness. Therefore, divorce is a concession due to sin, and it should never be carried out apart from significant attempts to reconcile a marriage. However, when divorce has occurred, remarriage is permissible but should be pursued with caution, self-examination, and the counsel of others who can speak with wisdom and honesty. Distortions of Sexuality and Marriage: God designed mankind to enjoy sexuality within the confines of marriage. The Scriptures do not explicitly mention every form of perversion. Instead, God has outlined the proper context for sexual experience. Each man ought to have his own wife, and each wife ought to have her own husband (1 Corinthians 7:2). Some have argued that because certain sexual experiences are not explicitly condemned by Scripture, they may be permissible. This, perhaps, would be the case if there were no clear principle or pattern laid down sanctioning our sexuality. Likewise, marriage cannot be redefined on grounds that it is merely a social construction because God has given us the pattern of marriage in Adam and Eve and related this pattern to Christ and the church. Very little is explicitly said in Scripture to condemn polygamy for instance, but this practice clearly deviates from the pattern of one man and one woman, and it violates the principle of exclusivity given for 5

6 marriage (Genesis 2:24; 4:19-23; 1 Timothy 3:2). Likewise, while there are few passages that condemn homosexual practices and unions, they clearly deviate from the pattern of one man and one woman and the principle of a comprehensive union ordered toward procreation (Genesis 19:5; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:10). Single Celibacy: Since God designed our sexuality to be experienced within the confines of marriage, and since he has explicitly forbidden sexual immorality, those who are not married must remain celibate. For everyone, singleness is a temporary calling that ends on their wedding day, and no one should remain single who cannot control their sexual desires (1 Corinthians 7:8-9). During this time, abstinence from sex is mandatory (1 Corinthians 6:18-20). But for those called to a life of singleness, celibacy (enduring abstinence) is mandatory. Though this requirement seems extreme to our contemporary ears, we must remember that we were created to need intimate relationships, but we do not need sex. Therefore, those called to single celibacy should pursue deep involvement with the life of God s people in the church. They should be welcomed into families and their homes. They should take part in the instruction of children. And they should be valued as a gift from God to the church (1 Corinthians 7:32-35; 12:12-20). This needs to be said because the church has sometimes overemphasized the importance of marriage in reaction to the cultural decline of marriage and, in the past, in reaction to the Roman teaching on the superiority of singleness. Those who experience same sex attraction are encouraged to live faithfully to God by remaining celibate. However, some with same sex attraction may find it possible and preferable to marry someone of the opposite sex and to have sex with their spouse. We think it is important to point out that all Christians must battle their sexual desires because we are all sinners whose sexual desires are distorted. Some wrongly desire to have sexual experiences with those of the same sex. Others desire to have sex with multiple partners, to have sex with their neighbor s spouse, or to engage in self-stimulation (masturbation). So there is a real sense in which homosexual desires are not unique. But of course, the experience of same sex attraction comes with its particular struggles of feeling different, insecure, and confused as to what is normal in addition to being required to deny all their sexual desires. And so we encourage those with homosexual desires to be open with their home group leaders and eventually their home group community so that they, along with everyone else, can have the support and love needed to engage in a life of fidelity. Summary Remarks: Trinity Church seeks to be a community that is faithful in our callings (in marriage or singleness) in the face of our various struggles with sexual desires. We are a repenting community and not a perfect community, but we strive both to believe and live as the church has taught on these matters throughout its history. Husbands and wives are to love, cherish, respect, and honor one another. They are to be faithful to one another as long as they both shall live, always ready forgive and to pursue reconciliation with all the appropriate steps necessary to rebuild intimacy and trust. Single people are to remain celibate while pursuing intimate friendships. 6

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