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Monday, 20 July 2015

Mariage, Definitions and Disputes.

In a follow up to my previous posting, Same Sex, Same Jesus? I was also thinking about our current definitions of marriage. This again is hotly disputed territory. So it may help if we try to understand what we're talking about, what we're thinking and why we think it.

I have done a small amount of research on this subject in the interest of clarifying some of my own definitions. However, most of what I write here are my own understandings of the subject at hand. i.e. How do we define marriage?

Let's start with the simplest and most common term of all. Holy Matrimony.

Straight away we have a problem, because I seriously doubt that many people, and possibly this is especially true of Christians from a traditional denominational background, have a correct definition of what it means to be "Holy".

Most readers will automatically have some idea of purity or piety, maybe even celibacy. Even an idea of a man with god like status. Perhaps some notion of someone so close to God that they are nigh on unapproachable. (Such a view is actually borderline idolatry) This is most likely the product of traditional church thinking/teaching. It perhaps stems from images of Moses, his face shining, coming down from the mountain with the ten commandments. Blend in with this the idea that we are all essentially sin-stained and unacceptable to God.

Most of this however is false, or at best a bad interpretation of the truth. It is why we have a problem with verses like 1Peter 1:16 and Lev 11:44-45, "be holy even as I am holy". Given the above (mis)understanding. This is of course impossible. Because of our fallen nature we can never, in this life, be pure and sinless as God is. So what does holiness mean?

Holiness is best described as "separation to God's purpose". In it's simplest terms, the Holiness of God refers to his dedication to seeing his word come to pass. Of all the things that God could be doing today, his primary focus, is you. He is unswerving in that, wholly committed, unshakeable. He has devoted his existence to the benefit of mankind, reconciling man unto himself. This devotion, this holiness was fully expressed on the cross. The work of that cross, the salvation of humanity, restoring us into relationship with himself is his primary focus, this is his holiness, the task he has separated himself to. So when God asks of us to be holy, he asks that we unswervingly dedicate ourselves to his purpose.

The Biblical concept of marriage is properly found in the language of the "covenant". I am going to address this topic in a post to follow later. So I won't spend too much time on it here. Suffice to say that a covenant was an "equal" agreement. Both parties to the covenant agreed to lay something of their-self aside in order to benefit the other. That is why in the marriage vow, it is often said, "forsaking all others". It is the wholehearted commitment to the other, the laying aside of self, that makes the union "holy".

There is however another problem with marital terminology. It is the idea of sanctification from sin. This is largely due (I believe) to the teachings and practices of the medieval church. Where sexual intercourse was seen as sinful, the result of our base and lustful human nature. The only way to sanctify the act was in the marriage bed, a concession thrown to the uneducated masses, held in the thrall of the all powerful priestly elite. This was again the result of the misinterpreting and misapplication of scripture, in particular the writings of the Apostle Paul and his statements about marriage. Yes, biblically speaking, sexual intercourse outside of marriage (fornication) is a sin. It represents the benefits of the covenant, without the commitment to it. It is self serving. But marriage itself doesn't save us from sin. The medieval interpretation was quite simply, an abuse of power.

So how should we view marriage?

Essentially marriage is intended as an image, or reflection; of the unity and harmony of the Trinity. Also, of the relationship between Christ and his Church (the bride of Christ). This is all a bit tricky now as Paul describes these things as mysteries. I fear a lot of people are uncertain of how to describe the relationship of the Trinity. Let alone reconcile the idea of us all becoming one heavenly corporate body described as "a Bride". Most simply, it is the language of unity, harmony, agreement, oneness with Christ, "he in us and us in him". Eternal, unbroken fellowship.

Now there is a third problem. The dilution of the meaning of marriage.

Over the years divorce has become more common place, de-facto relationships are the norm, in certain countries you can get a temporary marriage license. Try it for five years and if you don't like it you, have a "get out of  jail free" card. No divorce, no lawyers, you're free to try it with someone else. Much of society now views marriage as an archaic unnecessary formality. Even in the church, some statistics would suggest that divorce rates are very similar to those in secular society. From my own personal experience. I have seen two divorces in my own family. Many of my friends, probably about 45%, that married more than 20-25 years ago are now separated or divorced. I have one friend now in their fourth marriage. Many of my friends have divorced parents. Sadly, the idea of "two becoming one" is increasingly lost. Marriage is more and more the simple co-habiting of two individuals.

So if this is all true, then why all the hue and cry over same sex marriages? Why is there such vigorous lobbying for something that is viewed as archaic, outdated and temporary? Mostly it's about legal rights to medical consent, pensions and inheritance etc. They want the same legal protections over wills and such like as other couples. Even a co-habiting de-facto relationship has legal standing after just three months. It has more legal recognition than a same sex union of ten years. Unfortunately, there is the more militant, highly vocal and litigious side of this debate that wish to pursue the issue purely on the grounds of discrimination. This element does more harm than good to their cause.

I read this article by Amanda Vanstone today on this very subject. Mostly it is about party room politics and conscience votes. But she does make some salient points and observations on the decline of marriage values. I don't necessarily agree with all of them. But she does defend the right for religious institutions to refuse a wedding ceremony on the grounds of their beliefs.

Society has been bombarded with assault after assault on the institution of marriage. It's meaning and symbolism has been eroded. You can have an Elvis impersonator marry you at a drive through booth in Las Vegas. We see courtship and marriage as prime time T.V. "reality" entertainment. The Bachelor(ette), The Farmer wants a Wife. Bridezillas and others that are much worse. What was once sacred and special is itself now base, ordinary, the subject of public derision. More effort is put into planning, or rather staging, elaborate ceremonies, than is put into developing the relationship.

Perhaps, for so many people, the reason a same-sex marriage looks no different? Is because we have lost sight of what it is, that makes marriage so special.

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