Christian Marriage: An Image of the Church

The following is a disputation I wrote on Christian marriage. The form is like Aquinas’ Summa. If you are unfamiliar, only the “I answer” section and below are my arguments. The previous are common arguments that I am in discussion with.
The footnotes are lost in the copy and paste from my word processor. If you would like the full document, then just comment in this post with an e-mail address.

Whether it is better for a Christian not to marry
Argument 1 It would seem that it is better for a Christian not to marry. The ascetic practice of celibacy is considered not only an act of worship unto God, but also prevents the body from becoming dependant on lustful desire. Denying the body of pleasure seems to strengthen the spirit and bring one closer to God.
Argument 2 Again, the goodness of procreation that is found in the command to be fruitful and multiply is not necessary for the Christian. New Birth has replaced the biological birth as entrance into the people of God. New Birth is how you entered the Kingdom of God and how all who will believe shall enter the Kingdom, therefore procreation is no longer necessary.
Argument 3 Again, as the Apostle has said, “the time is short” and “the world in its present form is passing away.” It is better for a person not to marry because the aim of one who is unmarried is to be devoted in both body and spirit. The married Christian is devoted to pleasing his or her spouse. The devotion of a Christian should be undivided.
On the contrary, marriage is one of God’s holy institutions founded at the creation of the world. It is good for a person not to be alone. For this reason, marriage is like a sacrament of the Church. For in marriage the grace of God is shown in and through the marriage partner. Marriage has three goods: the restraint of sexual lust, faithfulness is nurtured and grown, and procreation and the blessing of children. It follows that it is better for a Christian to marry.
I answer: Christian marriage functions as a smaller and more intimate form of the Church in both mission and function. When God created man He said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” He created woman and brought them together so that neither man nor woman would be alone, and He said that the two should become one flesh. It is also written that “the man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” God had created them in perfect union with one another in such a way that no enmity was between them. When the created choose to sin, the consequence was that perfect fellowship was broken. For God spoke to woman, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” It is also written, “God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” Therefore, God created humanity with a desire that they would be in close community with one another and those relationships would be a blessing to them.
God instituted the church to be the reconciling agent in humanity. For the Lord Jesus Christ said, “by this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The relationships that Christians have with one another would be a great testimony of God’s love for the world. When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “let (the) Kingdom (of God) come on earth, as it is in Heaven” and He said “the Kingdom of God is at hand,” He proclaims that the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated and that is still to come. The Kingdom of God is here, and the Kingdom of God is yet coming. The perfect restored Kingdom of God on earth would have creation in perfect harmony with itself, as in the Garden of Eden story. This New Heaven and New Earth is the blessed hope of all who call Jesus “Lord.” He is coming to make all things new. If the Kingdom of God is yet coming, in what way is the Kingdom of God already at hand? This is the role of the Church in the earth. The Church is to be loving one another and trying to achieve that perfect fellowship of God’s created order. As God’s chosen communion, the Church is to be a reconciling agent of God and a witness to God’s love.
In the same way, marriage is to function as a witness to God’s perfect love for the church. For the Apostle said, “For this reason a man should leave his father and mother and be united to his wife–the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the Church.” God’s plan for marriage is to be like a small cell of the church that gives testimony of God’s love. Where the Church gives testimony to the whole world, it is surely flawed and will surely give testimony to the sinfulness of humanity as well. The marriage has a smaller witness, for it is limited to those who know the man and the wife, but the small is able to be greater, for the intimacy of the marriage is greater than that of the Church. The husband and wife are able to trust one another more fully and give themselves to one another more wholly, for “there is one flesh, there is also one spirit. Together they pray, together they prostrate themselves, together they fast, teaching each other, exhorting each other, supporting each other.” Even our local congregations recognize a need for greater intimacy to give a more full testimony of God’s love, for we continue to make smaller and smaller groups in which the church is represented, so that the levels of intimacy are greater. Where the modern church institutes small group ministries, God has already instituted the smallest group ministry of all, marriage.
On the first point: Ascetic denial of the body is acceptable for a time for the Apostle, to devote one’s self to fasting and prayer, but, unlike the Gnostic, the Christian professes the inherent goodness of both sex and the body. God created the body and he gave marriage for the two to enjoy perfect fellowship with one another. Only in this relationship can the two be truly “naked and not ashamed.” The sexual relationship of husband and wife brings glory to God as the two exist in perfect fellowship with one another.
On the second point: While it is true that the Kingdom of God no longer advances by the biological growth of the Church, growth is the inherent effect of a healthy, thriving Church. The telos of the Church is not growth, but rather loving one another and restoring that community that was lost at the fall of humanity. However, a healthy Church that is moving towards its end of loving each other will grow as an inherent effect of that healthy community. In the same way, procreation is the inherent effect of the healthy, thriving marriage. In modern times, certain people are unable to have children because of physical abnormality. This does not negate the good of the marriage, for its telos is love and witness. This inability to procreate is a consequence of the deterioration of creation that was caused by the fall of humanity. For some congregations, growth has become their telos, causing those congregations to lose their true telos. For some marriages, procreation has been said to not be a inherent effect of their relationship, denying the need for or blessing of children. Neither of the these positions participate in God’s full intention for the institutions of sacramental community.
On the third point: Celibacy is a viable option for the Christian, precisely because the telos of neither the Church nor marriage is procreation. As the Apostle has said, celibacy is a gift of God that allows the gifted the opportunity to give his or her whole self to the larger community. When the celibate gives themselves wholly to the community, the celibate fulfills the call to fellowship of marriage and the Church. The Apostle does not argue for celibacy so that the celibate can be alone for reasons of selfishness. Celibacy provides the celibate the opportunity to better serve the church, because the need is urgent. But, the Apostle recognizes this as a gift of some, not all. For he says, “I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God.” In their service to the whole community, the celibate is also able to give witness to the world of God’s great love for creation. “Both marriage and monasticism are for sanctification; both involve a commitment to living with others in which one cannot escape being transformed.”

Related Post: Double Standards, Women, And The Church

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  1. John Meunier says

    Reblogged this on John Meunier and commented:
    I’ve wondered from time to time whether our conversations would be different if we adopted the modes of disputation from earlier ages of the church.


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