Sunday, November 17, 2013

Why I cannot accept the Redefinition of Marriage

It will be May before the House of Bishops can meet and issue a formal statement on the topic of marriage, but I think I can 'in the safety of my own blog' do some of the preliminary reasoning ahead of the discussion. There is absolutely no doubt that the UECNA will come down in the orthodox camp, but the "hows and whys" may well get left out of the final statement.

The first reference to marriage in the Bible is in Genesis in the second account of creation. God makes the animals and beings them to Adam and he names them, "but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him." (Gen. 2.20) So God causes Adam to fall into a deep sleep, he removes one of his ribs, and makes woman. Adam is delighted with the result

"And Adam said, 'This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man.' Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh." (Genesis 2. 23-24)

God bids the Man and his wife to be fruitful and multiply. St Paul's references to marriage are rooted in the doctrine of marriage expressed in Genesis - so this is important!

At this point I need to bring is Noah. Now this may seem a bit surprising, but there is a reason for this (underlined by the fact that this evening's OT at Evening Prayer was Genesis 19) having to do with the commands that God gives to the descendants of Noah. Now remember that according to Biblical history, Noah is the common ancestor of all those now living. This makes God's instructions too him very important in that God's moral requirements of Noah and his sons are binding on all humanity i.e. the Gentiles. Noah is given seven 'commandments' forbidding among other things idolatry, the taking of meat with the blood, theft, and sexual immorality. It is this last which ties into story of Sodom, where sexual mores seem to have been lax to say the least. Noah and his sons, like Adam and Eve before them are bidden to be 'fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth.' (Gen 9.1)

The third aspect takes us back to Adam and Eve once more, and it comes from his delighted comment, "At last, bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh...." St Paul makes a lot of this in his references to marriage. For a start, let's look at what is taken as one of the classic "anti-woman" passages in his Epistles - Ephesians 5.22. Now if you are still listening after St Paul's initial exhortation "Wives be subject to your husbands" what you actually have is an extraordinary passage (Ephesians 5, 22-33)in which Paul glories in the mutual interdependence of husband and wife. His key exhortation is "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church and gave himself for it. This points to a very high doctrine of marriage indeed, even though St Paul is usually portrayed as being anti-woman!

Now you may be wondering where I am going with this...

In the 1789 preface to the Book of Common Prayer we are assured that 'this Church is far from the intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline or worship; or further than local circumstances require." (1928 BCP page vi)

Sadly, the 1789 Marriage Office is a bit anaemic, mainly because the causes of Matrimony contained in the revisions of 1549, 1552, 1559, and 1662 are omitted. These ran as follows:

"First it was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and the nurture of the Lord, and the praise of his Holy Name. "Secondly, it was ordained as a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ's body. "Thirdly, it was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that one ought to have to the other, both in prosperity and adversity."

Now these points are echoed elsewhere in the service, so I assume, based on the disclaimer above, that the omission of the causes of matrimony was to make the service shorter. Certainly there was no desire on the part of the Church to alter the nature of the institution of marriage.

The State has a different appreciation of marriage. If you look at Roman Law, marriage is about property, legitimacy, and inheritance. The two institutions - the sacramental relations of Holy Matrimony and the State's marriage contract - coalesced into a single institution. This, I firmly believe, tended towards the greater stability, integrity and morality of society, but I believe we need to be clear what belongs to which aspect of the institution of marriage.

So far as the Church is concerned marriage is routed in Genesis. Man and woman are complimentary and help meets the one to the other. Marriage is instituted - and here the BCP makes a sideways reference to Genesis - "in the time of man's innocence" for the procreation of children, the avoidance of sin, and the mutual help and comfort of the one to the other. These causes of Matrimony - which are contained in the inerrent Word of God constitute an immoveable bar to the Church redefining marriage. Holy Matrimony is what it is. No amount of judicial activism will alter this, and if this means that the Church no longer can accept the State's definition of marriage, then so be it. Christians answer to God, not man!

Like I said, these are preliminary thoughts, and have yet to be systematically worked out. With not quite a third of States allowing "Gay Marriage" I thought it was time to lay out the bare bones of the argument that undergirds the traditional - that is, God given - position on what constitutes Marriage.