I’m a preacher, so where my expertise if I can say I have any, is with the scriptures. If you want a non-scriptural argument on what they call conjugal marriage, these guys have that nailed down at book length. But I am also like this guy more or less conceding that our surrounding culture has rejected those arguments. That rejection will lead to problems down the way. One of the biggest is that just like so many other things the culture will no longer help the church in teaching truth. The church will be forced to preserve and teach the truth by itself. Given that the church became very lazy and its muscles have greatly atrophied from ill use, that will be painful. What I want to explore for a second in writing is what certain distortions in the understanding of marriage will be telling people that we will have to preach and teach against before you even get to more serious matters. Repent means to turn around. In C.S. Lewis’ famous observation, if you have been going in the wrong direction, repenting means retracing some steps. There is also a philosophical concept that I will be exploiting. The way Paul in Ephesians 5:32 talks about marriage assumes a Platonic understanding of the relationship. The real or the ideal thing that we are talking about is Christ and the church. The picture, representation, mystery, accident that we talk about is marriage. Changes in the picture or the mystery do not alter the reality, but they do speak falsely about it. Those falsehoods give rise to certain tendencies.
So what are the essential traits of the real – the relationship of Christ and the church? 1) There is a covenantal relationship meaning that Christ and the church have made unbreakable promises. Christ has promised love and sanctification (Eph 5:26). The church has promised submission to following Jesus (Eph 5:23-24). 2) There are two natures in one body. Just as Christ himself is God and man, in the body of the Christ we have the Spirit of God and the human nature. The church is not Christ and Christ is not the church, but the two are yet one. 3) That union is fruitful. It takes the naturally rotten fruit producing sinful human and makes the new creation by water and the spirit which brings forth good fruit. 4) It has an end point, or maybe a fulfillment. In the resurrection we will have the reality of Christ and the church together, so the picture is no longer needed. The shadow passes away. (Matt 22:30). 5) That relationship is exclusive in this life. Christ is the way, truth and life, and as the church has long taught there is no salvation outside of the church. He is the vine and we are the branches. Neither the vine nor the branch go around connecting themselves willy-nilly (John 15:4). There may be more things, but that is a good start.
The next question is how do those realities find expression in marriage? I am going to just follow my order from the above paragraph. 1) The covenantal relationship is one that is life long. Divorce should be unthinkable. 2) The two natures find expression in the complementarity of man and woman. 3) The fruitful union finds its expression in children. 4) The end point finds its expression at the death of one of the partners. A widow or widower might remarry because the original partner has entered into the fulfillment. 5) The exclusiveness finds expression in a monogamous relationship.
So the next question is what can we expect from a blurring of the image? The first one might be the easiest. If you live in a culture where divorce moves from being a rare shameful act to being commonplace, what falsehood would that teach about the reality? I think what you would see is great doubt about the faithfulness of God, doubt about the teaching of the church, a rise of a variety alternative covenants and a weakening of the demands of the covenant . If the image tells you that covenants can be broken for little or trifling reasons, then the natural conclusions are doubt and investing little in the relationship. And as no-fault divorce spread is this not what we have seen? The rise and glorification of doubt. Deep questions about fundamental doctrines. The hesitancy to invest in both marriage and the church. And, the rise of alternative arrangements. The marring of the image we see in marriage has had immeasurable impact on the witness of the church.
I want to jump to number 5 for a second. What could we expect if the image has been blurred to accept all sorts of fornication and adultery? If the image teaches that the reality is not exclusive, then we would expect to find all kinds of other relationships vying of for the church’s attention. No longer focused upon the Word of her Lord, the church would find all sorts of consorts in politics, in money, in cultural projects. We would expect the promotion of ideas such that their are multiple paths to salvation or all roads lead to the same place. We would also expect a turning away from the other toward a looking only at the self. Again I think we can easily see all these things in the church today from the prosperity gospel to the social gospel. None of them the real gospel.
Those first two have been a long time stewing and have done the most damage. What I would say is that only if you have taken those out (which we have) would any of the rest come around. What would you expect if the image no longer projected the fruitfulness of the reality? I would expect something like a lukewarmness as the concerns about fruitfulness are no longer necessary. I would also expect an inability to think in future terms as all emphasis is turned inward and on the now. If children are no longer an expected part of marriage, if the future generation is not in the picture, why would we maintain and build upon what has been given instead of consuming everything?
Last one I want to think about. What would you expect when the image marriage offers no longer includes complementarity of sexes? I would expect the return of major Christological heresies and major confusion about core doctrines like justification. The church is justified and sanctified by Christ. If the image says that there is only one nature, then a natural conclusion would be something like we are God and God is us and there is no difference. We can justify ourselves and God will like our justification, because we are actually the same. In some ways this leads to the Hindu or Eastern notion of Brahman finding Atman. Also, since the image denies two natures, the cultural picture would teach a Christ that is man only or God only. Either an eternal spirit with secret knowledge (gnostics) or a man we should seek to follow on our own (adoptionism, pelagianism, arianism).
Just some musings. As I said, I have consigned myself to living in a culture that has grossly distorted the picture in marriage. What does that mean for pastoral practice and what will I have to teach and preach about to correct that image and the false conclusions drawn from it?