Marriage, Divorce and the Church

Text: Mark 10:1-16

The catechism teaching on sacraments says they all have three things: 1) Instituted by Jesus, 2) For forgiveness of sins and 3) containing a physical element. The Roman tradition carried seven sacraments spanning birth to death: Baptism, Confirmation, Lord’s Supper, Marriage, Ordination, Confession, Last Rites. The Lutheran tradition, using those 3 points struck down or maybe I should say collapsed those to two: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Confirmation, Confession and Last Rites are reflections or rememberances of baptism. None are explicitly instituted by Jesus. In the C.F.W. Walther Lutheran understanding, Ordination is like a super-confirmation so it to is a remembrance of baptism in a way. (There are Lutherans who would howl at what I just said about ordination. I’ll just say they are significantly misguided and if you are interested leave a comment or give me a call.)

All of that leaves marriage. Lutheran’s immediately say marriage isn’t for the forgiveness of sins. That is true, but…. It is instituted by God. Out text today makes that clear. Splitting hairs it might not be instituited by Jesus, but “what The LORD GOD has joined…” makes it pretty clear who instituted marriage. The physical element is clear – it is our own bodies. The Word has joined them together in one flesh. Justification, forgiveness of sins, is the central Lutheran plank, so marriage is not a sacrament based on not forgiving sins. But, marriage is the only divinely instituted way to engage in sexual and procreative activity. It doesn’t forgive sin, but it avoids sin by living in the way God created it.

All of that also avoids the fact that the biblical metaphor of Christ and the Church is that of Groom and Bride in marriage. Marriage represents in our bodies and ceremonies the relationship of Christ and the church. The Augsburg Confession Article XIII on the use of the sacraments says, “Our churches teach that the sacraments were ordained, not only to be marks of profession among men, but even more, to be signs and testimonies of God’s will toward us…” The vast majority of other mentions of marriage in the confessions are specialized around the marriage of priests. Marriage was just not an issue in that time. Especially like it is today. When something becomes an issue it is usually because the church does not have the proper (i.e. God’s) understanding of it.

All told, enough stuff to make you go hmm…

I’m not going to solve marriage in 500 words, but there is something about the church’s understanding of marriage that is out of focus. When catholics can buy annulments to paper over it, and protestants divorce at the same rate as the external culture to just ignore it, but Jesus says: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adulter against her…”, we have something wrong. And that something wrong is one of the fundamental images of how God interacts with His people. In other words it is important.

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