Roger Olson on the Religion and Marriage Issue

There are 14 Comments

DavidO's picture

I think there are several problems with Olson's proposal.

1.  It doesn't provide adequate legal protection should one party fail to uphold their end.

2.  In cases of the above, it makes the church the only court of recourse, potentially overburdening/distracting them from the primary mission.

3.  Opens the door for a more "respectable" polygamy.

4. Removes church opposition (or motivation thereto) to homosexual unions/marriages.

5. It potentially denigrates the the legitimate authority of the powers that be. 

It seems simpler and just better to speak the truth in love, let the gvmt do what they do, and deal with member/potential members according to the truth, and let the chips fall. 

 

 

Fred Moritz's picture

Perhaps we will come to the practice in Europe.  The couple goes to City Hall and has a civil ceremony and then comes to the church facility for a religious ceremony. 

Rob Fall's picture

I assume will happen.

Fred Moritz wrote:

Perhaps we will come to the practice in Europe.  The couple goes to City Hall and has a civil ceremony and then comes to the church facility for a religious ceremony. 

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

DavidO's picture

Fred/Rob,

In the European practice, do the churches involved require a church ceremony in order for the couple to be viewed as married in the eyes of God?

TylerR's picture

Editor

I really like Olson's suggestion. It seems to make a great deal of sense. It removes the local church from the "government" side of the marriage issue altogether. The person can do what they need to to square things with the state, and the local church can perform it's own private religious ceremony to square things before God. The government is cut out, and the local church simply walks away from the issue. 

 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

DavidO's picture

Why does a wedding ceremony performed by a Justice of the Peace not "square things with God"?

TylerR's picture

Editor

It can "square things with God;" but the point is that if folks want their minister to marry them, churches could escape from this morass by simply making their marriage ceremonies completely separate from the state function. It will make them private ceremonies, rather than having ministers acting as agents of the state while conducting weddings. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

DavidO's picture

So if it can, that sounds like it doesn't always.  In what cases wouldn't it square things spiritually?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Please don't be silly. I believe you understand what I'm saying, and I pray that you'll forgive my lack of written precision, given that post was written at 0250. If you are honestly confused about what I think, then please give me a call @ xxx-xxx-xxxx  so we can spare the world this unnecessary back and forth. We could have a quick conversation, and it would be faster than writing endless comments here, and we'd probably understand one another better. Win, win for us both. Call anytime in the late afternoon CDT.

---- Moderator Update: I blanked out the phone #. .  

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

DavidO's picture

I don't feel like I need to forgive you.  And I wasn't trying to be silly.  Imprecise language is recognizable only by those who know to a fair degree of certainty the thoughts behind it.  Not trying to troll you.  

Furthermore, I think it is a fairly prevalent error in thinking to believe that one must get church married to be married in the eyes of God.  Just wanted to nail down what was being espoused. 

Be well. 

p.s. You might edit your ph# out above.  I won't be using it (not having to make long distance phone calls is one reason God gave us the internet [/silly]) and, given the subject of this thread, you might get some unappreciated phone calls. 

DavidO's picture

If a couple wants the civil privileges and responsibilities of marriage they would need to obtain a civil marriage license; if a couple wants the privileges and responsibilities of covenant marriage, which would be defined by the church, they would need to satisfy the church’s criteria for that.

So couple N gets married by the state, but not in church and comes to ABC Baptist for their covenant ceremony.  They meet ABC's criteria and are joined in ABC's version of covenant marriage.  Years later the Ns move on to XYZ Community Church, which has different criteria the couple did/do not meet.  Do they need to work to meet XYZ's criteria and get married again?  Should XYZ grandfather them?  

A better question is, why do we want our churches to take on (more of*) the administration of this potentially messy arena?

*this probably happens on rare occasion already in some divorce/remarriage situations.  

pvawter's picture

I'm curious if anyone can enlighten me as to when exactly the church got in the marrying business? Unless I'm mistaken, there is no NT mandate giving pastors the authority to marry, so when and why did this all come about? And is there any compelling reason that the church should be in the marriage business anyway?

M. Osborne's picture

pvawter wrote:

I'm curious if anyone can enlighten me as to when exactly the church got in the marrying business? Unless I'm mistaken, there is no NT mandate giving pastors the authority to marry, so when and why did this all come about? And is there any compelling reason that the church should be in the marriage business anyway?

I just wrote a paper on the doctrine of marriage and divorce in the Westminster Confession of Faith, particularly what roles the Puritans saw the church and state having in solemnizing, recognizing, supporting, and adjudicating marriage issues.

When I researched the historical aspect, I didn't dip too far back in time, but the general consensus is that within Christendom, the Roman Catholic church gradually grew in its authority over the marriage institution. The church was willing to call a clandestine marriage still a marriage, but of course frowned upon purely private arrangements. When marriage was declared to be a sacrament at the Council of Florence (1439), it naturally supported the conclusion that the church ought to govern marriage. The Council of Trent (1563) asserted that only church marriages were valid.

The Reformation broke up all this consensus. From the Westminster Divines' perspective, there were very good reasons to ask the questions pvawter has asked. First, the Roman Catholic and Church of England ecclesiastical courts had been terribly corrupt, casuistically granting anulments for all kinds of spurious reasons. Second, the Puritan sensibilities (regulative principle and all that) balked at assigning any more responsibilities to the church than the Bible allowed. And last, the doctrine of marriage had shifted away from the sacramental view and toward that of a creation institution / covenant relationship / miniature commonwealth. Since marriage had such a foundational role (both in creation order and in society in an ongoing sort of way), there was no prima facie reason that the church (or even the state) had to govern it. There was considerable agitation (especially among the Independent Puritans) to hand the marriage institution over to the civil magistrate and leave the church out of it.

The minutes of the Westminster Assembly show that several of the members would have been OK leaving marriage out of the Directory of Public Worship, but the final draft of the Directory gives their rationale for including marriage, even though marriage is not under church jurisdiction as such:

"Although [it starts with a concession] marriage be no sacrament, nor peculiar to the church of God, but common to mankind, and of publick interest in every commonwealth; yet, [here are the reasons why it's still OK to include marriage in the directory] because such as marry are to marry in the Lord, and have special need of instruction, direction, and exhortation, from the word of God, at their entering into such a new condition, and of the blessing of God upon them therein, we judge it expedient that marriage be solemnized by a lawful minister of the word [expedient is the operative word], that he may accordingly counsel them, and pray for a blessing upon them [the church has a pastoral role toward marriage]."

Going on any more about the Puritans would go beyond answering your question. Re: the original article, I'm not really in favor of the proposal, although I appreciate what he's trying to do. I think insisting on a particular method of marriage solemnization and refusing to recognize state-solemnized marriages may undermine the more fundamental fact that lawful marriages are lawful marriages by God's design and institution. When the state gets it right (godless as they are), they still get it right, per God's Word (even though they don't acknowledge it).

If you are really interested, I'd recommend John Witte, Jr's From Sacrament to Contract, as a historical overview of the different marriage models. It was very interesting reading. I'll send you my paper if you think it would help, but I'm focused very much on the 1640s in England.

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

pvawter's picture

Michael,

Thanks for your response to my questions. It would seem, then, that affirming the church's role in marriage is for merely practical reasons rather than Scriptural ones. There's nothing wrong with practical reasons, of course, but I wonder if we should reevaluate the church's role in light of the current cultural shift toward a contra-biblical definition of marriage. Certainly, it is still possible for pastors to counsel soon-to-be-married couples along with those just married and those who are celebrating decades of matrimony. Pastors must also be faithful to teach the principles concerning marriage to the congregation as a whole, according to God's word. These ministries would seem to fulfill the Westminster Confession, at least in principle, without the church having to acknowledge any so-called gay marriages.

I've never really thought this through in any depth, so I'm wondering if anyone else has any input or ideas on this, especially from a historical standpoint.

Paul