God & the State

Friends, in looking at the discussion about marriage, I am astonished that so many of you are willing to throw out Two Kingdoms theology, the doctrine of vocation, and the state itself just because you don’t like our current government! There are lots of misunderstandings here, but it’s important that we get this right, especially today with all of our governmental woes. Also, I realize that the Reformed, Anabaptists, and other theological traditions will have a different take on this (though I believe Calvin would agree with Luther on much of this), but here are the basics of a Lutheran theology of the state:

According to Luther, God established three “estates,” three human institutions in which we all have vocations: the church, the family, and the state.

The state in this sense is not just the local political establishment. It has something of what we today call “culture.” Luther was aware of the different kinds and qualities of human government–from the pious German prince to the tyrannical Sultan of the Turks, from the Roman Republic and the free, self-governing German cities of the Hanseatic League to the Emperor–and he knew how they could go wrong. But the state itself has more to do with community, social customs, and life in the world. Call it the “civil order.”

The family and hence marriage, which can be defined as starting a family, are certainly part of the civil order. In fact, it is the foundational vocation of the civil order and of the state itself. Marriage comes under the laws of the civil order; that is, the state.

It was objected in the discussion that God made Adam and Eve married before there was a state. First of all, Adam and Eve in Eden constituted a state! Second, it is ALWAYS God who joins men and women in holy matrimony so that, as Jesus said, no man should put them asunder. God doesn’t have to work through means. But now He has chosen to work through means, including human vocation. It’s God who gives us our daily bread through farmers, heals us through physicians, creates new life through parents, and protects us–and establishes marriage–through the authorities He has established in the state.

To make the church rule in marriage gives the church a temporal and civil authority it must not have. Yes, Christian marriages are better, just as all vocations become true callings and more than mere offices in the light of faith, but God works through the earthly realm, including the state, just as He works through the church, though in different ways.

This, at least, is the Lutheran view. Isn’t it?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Trey

    You are exactly right in your presentation of the Lutheran view. I would add only that in the secular realm God seeks to govern through the authorities to punish evil by His Law. There is no Gospel in the secular realm that is reserved exclusively for the Church to preach. Basically, the state preaches Law and punishes the evil doer and the Church preaches God’s forgiveness in Christ.

  • Manxman

    Is it the Lutheran view that God gives the State a blank check to order culture in any way it sees fit, and that Christians in their “vocations” are to roll over and play dead when the State seeks to redefine God’s order of creation? I hope not.

    Luther’s theology of the different estates is incomplete. It is merely a human attempt to try to increase understanding about how God may have ordered this world. The same is true of the Lutheran theology of vocation. It is not an absolute, infallible, complete set of ideas. Like so many other denominational doctrines, it is only an attempt to logically explain how a person is supposed to view his life in this world. You can’t shoehorn all of God’s creation into a little box using things like theories of vocation and estates.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    “It was objected in the discussion that God made Adam and Eve married before there was a state. First of all, Adam and Eve in Eden constituted a state!”
    To build on what Trey writes, there was no “state” in Eden. There was not evil to punish so there was no need. There was marriage and the ecclesiastical realm, but no kingdom of the left hand as there was not need for it. So according to luther Adam and Eve would not have constituted a state in Eden. Adam, though, would have been the supreme authority under God after the fall. The “State” kingdom of the left is an institution created by emergency, which will be abolished in heaven. Where we will all live the Anarchist’s Utopian dream.

    Veith,
    I don’t know many here who are trying to get rid of two kingdom’s theology. I think we are merely debating to what degree the “state” and not the whole kingdom of the left, has the ability or authority to regulate something like marriage. It is becoming more and more problematic especially in a pluralistic society that recognizes the freedom of religion.

  • http://lutheranguest.blogspot.com/ Jim

    There’s been a little pushing on the take of the “Lutheran” view of the state.

    Prof. Cameron MacKenzie, of CTS, published an article, “The Challenge of History – Luther’s Two Kingdoms Theology as a Test Case, in the CTJ in 2007 (as I recall) questioning whether the Lutheran Confessions so unambiguously separate the two kingdoms.

    For example, in the Preface to the Small Catechism, Luther identifies banishment as a consequence of reject pastor counsel:

    Luther’s Small Catechism [Preface].

    “If any refuse to receive your [godly pastors’ and preachers’] instructions, tell them that they deny Christ and are no Christians. . . . In addition [to denying them the sacrament and other Christian privileges], parents and employers should refuse to furnish them with food and drink and should notify them that the prince is disposed to banish such rude people from his land.

    “Although we cannot and should not compel anyone to believe, we should nevertheless insist that the people learn to know how to distinguish between right and wrong according to the standards of those among whom they live and make their living. For anyone who desires to reside in a city is bound to know and observe the laws under whose protection he lives, no matter whether he is a believer or, at heart, a scoundrel or knave.”

    Other passages of the Confession blur any airtight distinctions:

    Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXI (235.44).

    “It is your [Emperor Charles] special responsibility before God to maintain and propagate sound doctrine and to defend those who teach it. God demands this when he honors kings with his own name and calls them gods (Ps. 82:6), ‘I say, “You are gods.”’ They should take care to maintain and propagate divine things on earth, that is, the Gospel of Christ, and as vicars of God they should defend the life and safety of the innocent.”

    Treatise on the Power and the Primacy of the Pope (329.54)

    “For the first care of kings should be to advance the glory of God.”

    Treatise on the Power and the Primacy of the Pope (ibid.)

    “Especially does it behoove the chief members of the church, the kings and the princes, to have regard for the interests of the church and to see to it that errors are removed and consciences are healed.”

    And, of course, the First Use of the Law is for the restraint of evil, and is not limited to the second table of the law or limited to ecclesiastical discipline.

    My point is only that the modern Lutheran position is “a” Lutheran position, but it’s not necessarily “the” Lutheran position.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    Veith:
    From my pov, I’m not trowing out the state, I’m just engaging in looking at the history of the matter. The vocation of the state is, amongst other things, law and order. Thus it should protect the rights and safety of those within the institution of marriage. However, historically, state control over marriage is a new thing – as is Ecclesiastical control.

    Again I repeat my observation: In the West, Ecclesiastical control over marriage started at Trent (for a marriage to be legal, you need one priest and two witnesses). State control was phased in over the next 300 or so years. My observation is that we need to think how much we assume when we discuss these matters. I certainly don’t deny the State’s role in maintaining law and order, and protecting its citizens. But are we not taking certain modern conventions as the de facto model for “traditional marriage”?

  • WebMonk

    Voila! Now THIS is philosophy and/or theology! Anything can be brought to mean anything with a bit of work!

    The powers of Las Vegas, Nevada to declare marriages either valid or invalid is drawn from the culture that happens whenever two people are together, specifically the culture/state that came into existence when Adam and Eve were together in their original sinless state.

    Ta da!

  • Gulliver

    When God instituted marriage, neither state nor church existed. After the Fall, both church and state had in interest in maintaining marriage. The state, in order to have a peaceful society and to maintain property rights. The church, in order that believers live under marriage according to God’s will and insitution given in Genesis 2:24.
    Most of the laws God gave to the Israelites regarding marriage and its violations are civil in nature (governmental laws), not ceremonial laws (dealing with religion) or moral laws (except for the sixth commandment, “You shall not commit adultery”).
    In Europe, separate ceremonies by both state and church are “required.” That is, a couple is not considered married if they only have a church ceremony; they must also be recognized as legally married by the state by appearing before a state official.
    In the United States, the state made clergy temporary agents of the state in regards to marriage. In the State of Minnesota, no clergy may marry anyone unless they are registered with the state officials. The filing of marriage certificates by the clergy and sending them to state officials is part of their civic duty as agents of the state. The wedding service and sermon the clergy do as representatives of God. Perhaps it is this dual role of the clergy in weddings that causes some confusion.

  • WebMonk

    Gulliver, I think the discussion is centering more along the lines of whether or not the state has the fundamental right to be the arbiter of marriage.

    I agree with comments in the previous post in this series, that since the government/state asserts authority over the institute of marriage, then we ought to obey in this area.

    But, that’s a different question from whether or not the government/state OUGHT to have the power of determination over the institute of marriage.

  • EconJeff

    I’m not sure I follow the argument that there was no church or state in Eden. Why not?

    Did Adam and Eve ever meet to discuss God’s work and Word? Were they not two believers who met together? Did they ever receive God’s grace? We don’t really know the answers, but if they did, why is that not a church?

    Similarly, did Adam and Eve ever meet to discuss how they would relate to each other? Why would that not be a state?

    Let’s not look at this from a limited definition of church or state–I don’t buy that the only reason the state is there is to deter and punish evil. And let’s not pretend that these institutions are never wrong, or usurp the duties of the other institution, or cannot be in error for a very long time. (Note, the Church will never be error, but the church can be.)

  • Peter Leavitt

    The Lutheran Large Catechism states: They condemn also those who do not place evangelical perfection in the fear of God and in faith, but in forsaking civil offices, for the Gospel teaches an eternal righteousness of the heart. Meanwhile, it does not destroy the State or the family, but very much requires that they be preserved as ordinances of God, and that charity be practiced in such ordinances. Therefore, Christians are necessarily bound to obey their own magistrates and laws save only when commanded to sin; for then they ought to obey God rather than men. Acts 5, 29.

    The Calvinist Westminster Catechism is even more stringent on the importance of preserving state and family through ordinances of God. The fact is that however parlous an existing state might be , a serious Christian has an obligation to make sure it upholds the ordinances, or, if in extreme cases, to fight it, as did Bonhoeffer.

    The fact is that many Christians, trying to avoid the hard reality of the present cultural war, are copping out by evading their serious Christian responsibility to fight those who wish to destroy the family by weakening marriages law and putting in place “civil” union laws. Declaring a pox on the parlous condition of the modern state solves nothing; in fact it plays right into the hands of the militant secularists.

  • WebMonk

    Which way should we fight though, Peter? Should we fight to remove the State’s influence over marriage, or should we fight to reform the State’s influence over marriage?

    Depends on whether or not the State has authority over marriage in the first place.

  • http://blog.higherthings.org/wcwirla/ wcwirla

    The Lutheran three ordos under the 4th commandment might be the more appropriate distinction.

    The Church blesses and extols marriage (between a man and a woman) as a gift of God in the first article, but the Church does not establish marriage. Marriage is established by the public covenant a man and a woman make to live together as husband and wife. This covenant originates in the home and is overseen by the state. The Church is certainly free not to bless unions that do not meet the biblical criteria for marriage.

  • S. Bauer

    Seems to me there is still a lot of confusion stemming out of various people using the word ‘state’ in different senses. If the ‘state’ is narrowly thought of as what we also call the ‘government’ whose only purpose is to punish evil-doers and guarantee a certain level of order in society, then there was no state before the fall. But do Lutherans really say that this punishing authority is the only purpose of the left hand kingdom? Sometimes Luther talks of the state and the left hand kingdom in the narrow sense. But, as Dr. V. pointed out, Luther can also talk about the ‘state’ or the kingdom of the left as comprising a great many other institutions/realities that regulate or “order” life on this earth. In this sense the ‘state’ did exist before the fall with the first man and woman, but this ‘state’s’ main purpose was not punishing evil. If we could use one word to refer to that part of the left hand kingdom that wields the sword and whose primary purpose is maintaining justice in human society and another word to refer to those other aspects of the left hand kingdom which also order human life (maybe ‘government’ and ‘culture’). Things like marriage or the education of the young have moved over the years from the responsibility of ‘culture’ to the responsibility of ‘government’ and back again in the flow of history.

    And concerning the reality that “marriage gives rise to state and state undergirds marriage”: this kind of circularity is rife in Scripture. In fact, I would say this circularity is something the the two kingdoms share in common – maybe it even lies at the core of both. It is why Paul can set up the comparison between husband and wife and Christ and His Church in Ephesians 5. It is why in 1 Corinthians Paul notes that man is the “head” of woman and yet every man comes from woman.

    I just finished reading the MacKenzie article, Concordia Theological Journal, January 2007, Volume 71:1, p. 3. In it he shows that the view expressed from Walther, (“During its initial period…the Lutheran Church held firmly to the doctrine that the government has neither the right nor the power to assume control of the church”) to the CTCR’s recent Render Unto Caesar, does not take all the evidence from Luther and the Confessions into account. There is a real difference between what confessional American Lutheranism has expressed as the distinction between the two kingdoms and what the “original” Lutherans said. Which is the Lutheran position?

  • S. Bauer

    Whoops! I missed a tag.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Econ Jeff,
    There was Church in the Garden of Eden, there was Marriage in the Garden of Eden. There was no state, as there was no law, and no evil that needed to be punished and or regulated.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    wcwirla – exactly. And the historical evidence prior to Trent supports that.

  • S. Bauer

    Rev. Cwirla (#12),

    Where in Scripture does it say that marriage is established by the public covenant a man and woman make to live together as husband and wife? Sure the Old Testament is full of examples of marriages in which a man and a woman move in together under the watchful eye of parents and tribe and we know that a marriage has occured. But there is no evidence that I can find that a formal covenant or agreement has even been made (we assume it has but is that not more from projecting back in time from what we do?) much less that it is this covenant that actually makes the marriage come into being?

    I think the Scriptural evidence is much stronger that it is in two families’ public action of giving (as God’s stand-ins) their son and daughter to each other and the son and daughter willingly receiving each other as gift from God (which the mutual consent naturally makes evident) that the two become married.

  • S. Bauer

    Then again, in reading over what I have written, if one understands the whole action that I outlined as the public covenant, then I really am not taking issue with what you wrote, after all. As RoseAnn RoseAnna Danna used to say…”Never mind.” :-)

  • Pingback: God & the State — Cranach: The Blog of Veith | Outer Rim Territories

  • WebMonk

    S. Bauer, I agree almost entirely down to the point where you said a marriage comes from the families’ public action in giving and the two willingly receiving.

    A not-unheard-of issue is two people who get married without any approval by their parents – they run away to get married. Are these people not married because their families didn’t/don’t approve? Hmmm, I don’t see that.

    I can see that the two willingly accepting each other as husband and wife constitutes a marriage. That acceptance might be begrudging like in marriages of state or finance, but it’s still there. I don’t see the families being an absolutely necessary part though.

    Generally:
    In dealing with the culture-state portion of the whole State, does the culture-state have an authority over marriage, as in stating a marriage exists or doesn’t exist? (the government-state being an outgrowth of the culture-state, so they can be combined into the State, though the government portion of the State may not always exist)

    Where would culture-state’s authority over marriage come from? The answer seems to need to stem from Genesis, Adam, and Eve.

    What was it that shows the authority of the culture-state to declare marriages? I can see the co-existence of the culture-state and marriage in Adam and Eve, if it is assumed that a culture-state exists any time two people come together. But, the idea that the culture-state gave legitimacy to Adam and Eve’s marriage seems to require a whole host of other assumptions.

    Maybe all those other assumptions are solidly based, but I REALLY don’t see that.

  • WebMonk

    I need to type faster or shorter. One of the two. I continually come in behind the conversation it seems! Some of my stuff is “never mind” like SBauer said. :-D

  • Peter Leavitt

    WebMonk, Both the church and the state have crucial interest and authority on the subject of marriage, just as we as individual Christians and citizens have a serious obligation to maintain and uphold proper marriage law. The Lutheran and Calvinistic catechism are rather clear on this subject, notwithstanding the post-modern “narratives” that are being bandied about on this thread.

    One can’t avoid either the vocation of citizenship or Christian witness here. Neither can one avoid being manly in fighting this issue for the sake of serving the women and children who suffer the most from decadent marriage law.

  • EconJeff

    Bror Erickson, I think we have different definitions of “state”.

  • WebMonk

    Peter – both church and state have authority on the subject of marriage based on what? What sort of authority do they have – absolute, partial, situational? We are supposed to uphold “proper” marriage laws, but what is that “proper” standard and type of law?

    Since you apparently know the one, True standard of the authority of Church and State over Marriage, then perhaps you would be so kind as to enlighten me as to what it is.

  • WebMonk

    For that matter, Peter, what is “the Lutheran view” on these issues? I’ve heard at least three differing views which would each say they are in agreement with the Lutheran view(s).

  • Booklover

    God is always bigger than we make Him out to be. Everything in His Moralia defended the sanctity of the family. God is the originator and definer of Hope. Those of us who divorce too soon cast aside this Hope. What *God* has joined together, let man not rip asunder.

    Those men who are inflamed at their ex-wives are so because they are still bound to them. They are still one flesh.

    This is not to say that divorced persons are not forgiven. Only that we take marriage too lightly. Homosexual activists did not first redefine marriage. Those who allowed easy divorce did.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    Peter – your use of the word “postmodern” is a guilt-by-association argument. Webmonk is trying to argue from first principles, I think. I am thinking of historical occurrence. Rev Cwirla used the Ordo’s under the fourth commandment.

    Nobody is trying to be innovative. But we are critiquing the modernist assumptions on “traditional marriage”, showing that the extent of State and Ecclesial control over marriage is in essence, a modern phenomenon.

  • kerner

    Wow. This is such a good discussion that I can’t think of very much to add. But I do have a couple of things.

    First, unlike Hmong culture, American culture is extraordinarily based on formal, written rules. As a governmet of laws, not men, we have LOTS of laws. Therefore, for our public commitments to mean anything, they HAVE TO be very formal. As a lawyer I know this well, but anycitizen knows as much: verbal promises don’t mean squat in this society. If a set of mutual promises is important, it had better be written down and signed by all parties concerned, and if it’s really important, the written promises are taken down to the local courthouse or other seat of public authority and filed in the public records. That way nobody forgets what they promised. This is why it is important for marriage to be treated this way in our particular culture. Marriage IS one of the most important set of promises anyone can make. If our culture ever goes back to doing business on handshakes and unwritten customs, maybe we can re-think this, but not now.

    So, yeah, WebMonk. If the State of Nevada doesn’t think you’re married (assuming you live in Las Vegas) then you’re not. And it the State of Nevada DOES think you’re married (i.e. you’re mutual promises have been duly made and recorded), then you are. And generally speaking, the Church should recognise what the State does.

    Generally, what the promises of marriage are, and how they can be gotten out of, are also a matter for the culture/state to decide. Christians are bound by a morality that may very well be different that that of the general culture. In New Testament times, The general culture of the Roman Empire was certainly different from the morality Christians are called to live by. Nowadays, this is becoming more and more the case for us as well. We can try to influence the culture as to how the rules develop, but we are in the culture, not of it.

    Where the problems come up is when the government seems to want to monkey with the fundamental definition of what marriage is, as in Massachusetts and (briefly) California. Christians should recognise THAT as destructive of God’s creation and resist it with all our strength. Although I notice that it is not the culture generally that seeks to change the fundamental definition of marriage, just courts (and these are organs of government that answer to the general culture the least).

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Econ Jeff,
    You state the obvious. But where there is no sin, there is no need for law and order to be enforced. Therefore there is not “State”.
    Was there family yes? Would that might have grown into culture? Probably, but we would hardly think about it as it wouldn’t be distinct from anything else we know. Culture is the outgrowth of language confused at Babel.
    We might have then followed God’s law, as we will in heaven, but we would not know it as law.
    So to talk about how the state should regulate laws regarding marriage, which are the outgrowth of particular traditions. And the say that there was a state in the garden but that it was not concerned about laws it really just going around in circles. Perhaps there was a “state” in the garden, but it would have been radically different than the one we have now, that is here for law and order. There would have been no such concern in the Garden. The “state” definately would not have had to concern itself with divorce.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    on an aside note, 9 of the thirteen bishops in the Church of Sweden have asked that the church be deposed of its right to marry for the state in light of the recent laws their permitting homosexuals to marry, or at least be given civil unions. This is monumental as the Church of Sweden is about the most liberal institution to go by the name of church in the world. But even they are starting to see this union of church and state as problematic. The bishops have differing reasons for asking, not all of them have to do with objections to homosexual activity either.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Kerner,
    Brings up a good point about our culture returning more and more to what the culture was like in the days of the Roman Empire, when being a Christian was against the law.
    As this happens we are going to have to re-examine hard what a christian and biblical definition of marriage is. We are not going to be able to blindly sign off on whatever the state does. We should not have been doing that any way. But it was easier to get away with a few years ago.

  • Peter Leavitt

    WebMonk, Since you apparently know the one, True standard of the authority of Church and State over Marriage, then perhaps you would be so kind as to enlighten me as to what it is.

    I don’t claim to know any one true standard. I follow the authority of the Bible, along with Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin and many other Christian authorities that acknowledge the sacredness of marriage and the authority of both the church and the state to ideally uphold marriage between a man and a woman for the purpose of bearing and properly nurturing children.

    Scylding, in my admittedly amateur understanding of the Bible, Christ made it clear that lifelong marriage between a man and a woman is a sacred proposition. While historically assorted societies have handled the matter differently with respect to the law, in my view there can be no doubt that the great Christian thinkers understood that marriage was part of the the backbone of any culture and that both the church and state had a responsibility to maintain strict marriage law in order mostly to protect women and children from the depredations of lecherous and treacherous men, which is not to say that that women and children are without guilt.

    In this whole debate we need to distinguish between the ordinary tendency of fallen natural men and women to fall short of necessary high religious and state standards of marriage, though this is no excuse to cave into the decadent standards that the militant secularists are attempting to establish.

  • WebMonk

    kerner, I tend to agree with all your facts, but not with the conclusions you’re coming to, or rather, the conclusion you stop at. If you take your discussion a bit further, such as your statement about the State (as represented by our US culture and government at the moment) monkeying with marriage.

    I agree that since we exist in our culture and government’s laws, that yes, if Nevada (or wherever) says my wife and I are (not) married, then we are (not) married.

    But why is that? Is it because Nevada is properly deriving its authority from the principle that the State (abstract) has authority over Marriage, or is it because we are called to obey the laws of the government we are in?

    This makes a difference in how we should try to influence our State. Should we try to influence it toward a fundamentally non-authoritative role over marriage, or should we try to influence it toward a “proper” authority over marriage (and argue over what the “proper” is).

    At what point did the monkeying with marriage start? When the State (as culture and govt) starts saying a marriage can exist between same-sex people? When the State says only it can dissolve a marriage through divorce? When the State started requiring written contracts submitted to the government to be a valid marriage?

    Where did the monkeying start? What should we be trying to influence the State toward? I see why the State does what it does toward marriage, but should it have that authority in the first place? (in an ideal world – obviously this isn’t an ideal one)

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    Peter – nobody argues with the definition of marriage . What we do argue with is “there can be no doubt that the great Christian thinkers understood that marriage was part of the the backbone of any culture and that both the church and state had a responsibility to maintain strict marriage law “, especially the “maintain strict marriage law” and interpreations of that statement. This is apparent especially when it comes to issues like marriage licences etc. The MO, as I keep on saying, is modern, and follows innovations instituted by the Council of Trent.

  • WebMonk

    Peter, in several cases those authorities were in conflict with each other on this topic, so I’m in doubt as to how you can follow all of them. It sounds nice to claim, but not possible.

    What exactly do all those authorities agree on about marriage?

    “there can be no doubt that the great Christian thinkers understood that … both the church and state had a responsibility to maintain strict marriage law….”

    Uh huh. I’ve got a lovely bridge in California to sell you. Great location! Cheap!

    Anyway, I’m totally with you that God set marriage as a very sacred matter and that State and Church ought to support it and encourage it. Where the difference comes in is whether or not State and Church should be in authority over it – should they have the authority to declare a marriage to be valid or not? Should they have the authority to define it in the first place?

    What does the Bible say on the topic? What do all those authorities agree on about it? (hint – they don’t agree with what you said they do)

  • WebMonk

    Shoot! I really need to speed up or shorten up! Scylding beat me. Part of my post goes to the “never mind – somebody already said it” category.

  • Peter Leavitt

    WebMonk, could you back up your ipse dixit remark that Christian authorities, including presumably Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin, differ significantly on the subject of marriage.

    As to what most great Christian thinkers agree on is that, beginning with Genesis, marriage is a one flesh union between a man and a woman for the purpose of fruitfully bearing and properly nurturing children. Further that the state, however like fallen and limited men , has good reason to uphold its strict marriage ordinances. Paul has rather a bit to say about this in Romans Chapter Thirteen, especially with his reference to the awful sword of the state, which we nice, timid Americans and Canadians blanche at.

  • kerner

    Another aspect of this issue I would like to address it how the Church should exert its influence. I have brought this up before, and I realize that some commenters here seem to long for the good old days of a “Christian America”, and see that concept as under attack by militant secularists. They seem to believe that Christians should try to get the government to establish laws that are in accord with Christian morality. Up to a point, I agree with that idea, but I think it can be taken too far such that it confuses the two kingdoms. I think that there are articles of Christian thought that are also the bases for preserving peace and property and civil order, which are legitimate functions of government. But I question whether government getting too involved with trying to get people to be moral is a good idea.

    Um, I have and appointment who just arrived…to be continued

  • EconJeff

    Bror Erickson-Let me try to be more to the point, then. I think your definition of “state” is wrong. Just because there is no sin, doesn’t mean there is no state. Sin has nothing to do with the definition of state.

    If there is no sin, then there is no forgiveness (b/c there is nothing to be forgiven). Forgivness doesn’t come from the state. That is the realm of the Church, a completely different kingdom.

    The state, in my view, is the rules by which each of us relates to each other. So, if Adam and Eve had any guidelines by which they interacted with each other, then they had a state. (It may have been that this state coincided with the family and the church, but that is neither here nor there, all three can coexist.)

    I also disagree that “Culture is the outgrowth of language confused at Babel.” This implies that none of the decendants of Adam and Eve would have had any “culture”, which I disagree with.

    The question at hand is whether the state or the church defines marriage. Both may have something to do with it. I would argue that they need to work together for marriage to work as it was intended. But since we live in a sinful world, one has to take the reigns.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    Peter – how many times do we have to say it? Prior to Trent, in the West, there was no State or Church control over marriage. 1 Man, 1 Woman exchanged vows, and society considered them married. As to the externals, there were traditions, and rules, and laws. But that was in RECOGNITION of the married state, not in CONTROLLING THE CREATION of a married couple.

    Therefore you assertions are chronologically out of whack.

    I have no problem with the sword of the state. I obey it wrt the marriage ordinaces, even though I question the desirability of the State, or the Church, controlling the creation of the marriage covenant. I believe the state is to maintain law and ordr, and protect its citizens. My reading of those responsibilities are maybe different than Webmonk’s (I see a more active role in Economic law and order than say a libertarian / laissez faire capitalist does, for instance).

    Also I believe it extremely important to examine the historical record and development of these things. Hence my harping on Trent etc. When we discuss how the state uses the sword, we should examine our preconceptions, especially our historical preconceptions. This might be helpful, especially in the dust-up over civil unions etc.

  • Mary

    If marriage consists of two consenting/promising individuals, without anything else, then I don’t see how a) the state can say anything against civil unions or b) how marriage isn’t entered into & left on a day to day basis. Many 13 year old couples would be married, daydreaming about being together always.

    I simply don’t see anything so individualistic about marriage in Scripture. Yes, I suppose two people can run off & get married–God working outside His normal way of joining from families, but is argument from exception really the way to go on this one?

    God makes marriages, even among the unbelievers. God works through parents giving away their children. God works through the state to ratify it. God works through the church to pray & bless it. Yes, the state can lie about what a marriage is, confirming things it shouldn’t. Yes, the church can try to bless something not blessed by God. But God makes marriages & God works even through screwy governments.

    “The state” as Dr. Veith has used it is talking about more than government, more than punishment–it’s one way God works, namely through “secular” or “civil” means. Would some of you really equate all civil/ secular matters only with sin & punishment? I think that would make the church the only true kingdom.

  • kerner

    OK, I’m back. There is certainly overlap between morality and peace/civil order. Not killing, not stealing, not lying (at times when it disrupts governmental functions) come under this heading. But there are plenty of immoral acts that are not usually considered to be the government’s business (coveting , for example). gotta go again.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    Mary, of course things are oversimplified here. There are a number of unspoken assumptions in all these situations – cognitive ability etc etc.

    But, what you are ignoring is the historical change. We should not assume that because something is the norm now, it is necessarily the best thing. Sure God works through the state – including Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus et al. But that doesn’t justify everything Cyrus did – from historical record, he wasn’t exactly a nice fellow. Yet he was used of God.

    What I’m trying to say is that there is a lot of assumptions here. And I, personally, are questioning our assumptions on the right of the state to validate/invalidate a marriage, within normal bounds (as you say, let’s not argue from the exceptions).

    Also, if you read about historical marriage within the Biblical context, there is no record of the State or the Church validating or invalidating the fact of the existence of a marriage. But there is a lot of record of admonition and judgement regarding the violation of the marriage covenant as defined by God – like adultery, neglect etc etc. Reading the Mosaid laws, and the history of individuals is quite interesting. But I do not see grounds for the creative control over marriage as exercised by Church and State. Maybe by family, though, to some extent – I’m not sure.

    However, as a Lutheran, I cannot see commandments regarding Ecclesial and Governmental control over the act of creating a marriage. Therefore we can suggest, and we can preach, but we cannot require absolutely that two individuals get married in front of either a judge or a preacher, as a Commandment of God. But we can preach being law-abiding citzens, even though the State might be over-reaching its authority, as long as it does not require sin.

  • WebMonk

    Nice Peter, you made an unsupported statement and now you want me to disprove it. Lovely. I’ll try to undertake the Herculean task of proving a negative.

    Augustine, condemned the sin of divorce, but he didn’t condemnation or suggest such laws or any marriage laws. As for Aquinas, good luck finding anything from him about how government ought to be regulating marriage – it ain’t there. He was interested in marriage as a good thing, as a sacrament, etc, not the role of government in creating laws.

    Then Luther and Calvin, they wrote so much that I wouldn’t dare to state firmly what they held as the secular government’s role in marriage, but given what they seemed to support in other areas, I’m pretty sure they would have differed significantly on the level of government’s role.

    Since you have done such extensive studies, perhaps you can show where they so strongly support strict marriage laws. Or, if that takes too long, perhaps you can just summarize their reasonings as to why they held their views. That would be much more helpful than a simple list of quotes.

    I shall bow to Scylding’s superior knowledge of history about Trent and its statements about marriage, but what he says is certainly backed up by the church fathers’ silence on the matter, and my own incidental knowledge of marriage customs in the first millenium AD. (I read a history of marriage book before I got married. For some reason the topic was of interest to me. Can’t imagine why!)

    Yech. This has devolved into authority-listing.

    Hey! I refreshed before posting, and there’s all sorts of comments I could incorporate into my posts, but alas, I’ve got to go. The ONE time I finally check for new comments before posting, and it doesn’t do me any good! Ha!

    A lot of it would be – yeah, what Scylding said.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    Actually Webmonk, my knowledge is not all that superior – basically I looked up some of these things because of other things I read in well-researched historical fiction.

    But this discussion has certainly proved stimulating.

  • Peter Leavitt

    John Witte Jr. in a paper, Church, State, and Marriage:Three Reformation Models, writes as follows about Lutheran reformers:

    As part of the earthly kingdom, Lutheran reformers argued, marriage was subject to the civil law of the state, not to the canon law of the church. To be sure,marriage was still subject to God’s law, but this law was now to be administered byChristian magistrates who were God’s vice-regents in the earthly kingdom. Churchofficials were required to counsel the magistrate about God’s law and to cooperatewith him in publicizing and disciplining marriage. All church members, as part ofthe priesthood of believers, were required to counsel those who contemplated mar-riage, to admonish those who sought annulment or divorce, and to aid in the rear-ing of all children as their collective baptismal vows prescribed. But principal legalauthority over marriage and family life lay with the state, not with the church.This new Lutheran social model of marriage was reflected in the transforma-tion of marriage law in Germany and other Lutheran polities of Western Europe.Civil marriage courts replaced church courts. New civil marriage statutes replacedtraditional canon law rules. Lutheran jurists published scores of treatises on mar-riage law, affirming and embellishing the new Lutheran theology of marriage. Thenew Lutheran marriage law, like the new Lutheran marriage theology, remainedindebted to the Catholic canon law tradition. Traditional marriage laws, like prohi-bitions against unnatural sexual relations and against infringement of maritalfunctions, remained in effect. Impediments that protected free consent, that im-plemented biblical prohibitions against marriage of relatives, and that governedthe couple’s physical relations were largely retained. Such laws were as consistent with the Catholic sacramental model as with the Lutheran social model of marriage

    Note the close intertwining of the Lutheran Church and civil authority on the subject of marriage.

  • WebMonk

    Good for you Peter, you can copy and paste. Never a peep about the assortment of previous assertions you’ve generated. Nothing about the other arguments brought up. Not even any examination of WHY the reformers thought that way.

    What were they reacting too?
    Could they have been influenced by their culture to take a less than Biblical approach?
    How might the author’s own beliefs color what he reports of the Reformers? How accurate is he?
    Were the reformers correct? What was their reasoning? How true was it?

    It’s easy to go out and find quotes from people to support all sorts of positions. That’s not a substitute for reasoning.

    Have a good weekend.

  • Ryan

    I think Luther in Veith’s initial post is correct as to the orders of society: Family, State, Church

    Here is my take.

    The State is to regulate evil (as well as curb sin) to that end the state regulates marriage, but does not establish it. Thus Moses does not establish marriage but he does give permission for divorce… for the hardness of hearts. Also the Commandment against Adultery.

    The church does not establish marriage, it is about forgiveness. God forgivning sinners that we may forgive each other. Marriage is a great training ground for loving your neighbor, your spouse.

    Thus while the State holds marriage together with threats, the church holds marriage together through forgiveness and love.

    God is good, the Apostles acknowledge the estate of marriage is tough (Matthew 19:10), and so God uses the two other kingdoms to bolster this all important one. In fact, in a way, the messiah would come through this kingdom (family) so Satan would try to destroy it all the more. And he still hates it. So again the two other kingdoms help uphold this one, double protection.

    I’m sure the discussion will go on past my post, but when we are all finished I think the most definitive thing we can say about marriage is what Paul says in Ephesians 5:32 – This is a profound mystery.

  • http://lutheranguest.blogspot.com/ Jim

    There would be need for civil government in an unfallen world. There is more than criminal law to civil government.

    For example, someone needs to announce whether we drive on the right side of the road or on the left side of the road. That is a civil affair that falls under the jurisdiction of neither familial or ecclesiastical government.

    The civil government has many such coordinative functions independent of whether it punishes sin. Even in a sinless world, we would need to coordinate on common measures, standards, and habits or norms (like driving on the left or right side of the road).

    The person endowed with the authority to make and announce these decisions would be a “civil authority,” even if everyone obeyed without coerction once the decision was announced.

  • Peter Leavitt

    WebMonk, Veith with this thread brought up the question of God and State regarding the question of marriage law. He asserted that Luther and probably the Calvinists believed that God worked through both religious and state realms, neither of which can be neatly separated.

    Analyzing your various contributions to this thread, you apparently question the basis of state involvement in marriage, though instead of stating any clear reasons for this you have thrown up a lot of skeptical smoke, as with the following in your first post:

    Voila! Now THIS is philosophy and/or theology! Anything can be brought to mean anything with a bit of work! This may sound arch, though it really says nothing.

    In my last post, using Prof. Witte’s remarks, I supported earlier statements that serious Christians ought to be concerned with the issue of marriage both in religious and state terms. The post was far from a mere cut and paste job.

    The reason that Luther, Calvin, and most other serious Christian thinkers, going back to and Augustine and Aquinas, wrote about the crucial cultural institution of marriage is that they understood its importance both religiously and legally. If you wish to argue otherwise, say so clearly and back it up with your own sources.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Please excuse the awkwardly stated last paragraph above.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    I would be happy to drop the word ‘state’ from such discussions, whether or not we need a state (whatever that means). Does Luther use the English word ‘state’? Or did some translator assign our word to his discussion? Was this an appropriate translation choice?
    When I read discussions of translation philosophy, whether in C.S. Lewis or on the Better Bibles blog, it is common to note that if the majority don’t understand the word, it is a bad choice, even if you can justify it on historical grounds. It just confuses the man on the street.

    When I’ve read Luther, I see the term ‘the sword’ used a lot. It’s a good term, and seems to be picked up by Jesus and Paul as a way of translating Genesis 9:6 into their current situation. God does (at least) allow the death penalty for those who murder.

    When philosophers speak of the state, they sometimes have much broader meanings which do include the “cultural” ideas mentioned in the post. Though some of them confine it to use of power. One definition I like is the monopoly of the use of force over a geographical area. Some anarchists mostly reject THAT idea when they reject a state. They may accept that various groups have the right to use the sword for retaliation.
    (Their view can be figured out from breaking apart the term about as well as Amillennialism can. That is, it cannot.)

    I don’t think the move from concrete terms like ‘sword’ to abstractions like ‘state’ was a good one.

  • Pingback: Topics about Christian life and Bible readings » Archive » God the State

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    I don’t expect non-Lutherans–like Manxman and Webmonk–to BE Lutherans, so of course they disagree with Lutheranism. I appreciate Peter for stating, from a scholarly source, the historical position of Lutheranism.

    Scylding, even before Trent, marriage was a sacrament of the church.

    You are right, though, that “consent” was the critical factor in creating a marriage. It was said that marriage is the one sacrament lay people could enact by themselves. And, according to something I picked up in grad school, you could get married simply by two lovers “plighting their troth,” as 13 year olds might do, as Mary points out. There were thus complaints about the problem and irregularity of “secret marriages.”

    One difference between Lutherans and others is that Lutherans do see a good, positive, God-inhabited role for the secular realm, including culture and the state.

    Bror, I can’t see how the state in the civil order sense exists only to punish evil. God gives many other blessings through it. Also, Eden didn’t have any sin, at first, but it did have law (don’t eat the fruit of that one tree).

  • Peter Leavitt

    One difference between Lutherans and others is that Lutherans do see a good, positive, God-inhabited role for the secular realm, including culture and the state.

    This is a key point that applies to all orthodox Christian faithful. However disappointing or corrupt we find the secular realm, as Luther and Calvin, did, serious Christians need to be strong and mix with it. Otherwise, just now the dominant secularists will have a clear field.

  • allen

    In Genesis 2:15 we read, “And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.”

    The Hebrew word translated “to keep it”, means to have charge of, guard, keep watch, retain, restrain, observe, preserve, protect.

    That sounds like government, even without a sword. Perhaps state preceded family?

    And is marriage as much a merger of two families as it is a start of a new one?

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    The “state” especially as it was introduced to this discussion on marriage, is about law. It is law. Law is about establishing order and punishing wrongdoers.
    Does it give us roads? And a lousy educations system? sure it will do that. But that is not what it is about. Especially when we are talking about Marriage LAW. So I sense that those of you who want to maintain that there was a “state” in the garden even if there was no need for one, are talking out both sides of your mouths. We are talking about laws here, laws have punishments.
    Luther in “On Secular authority” makes the claim over and over again that Christians would have no need of the state if it wasn’t for wrongdoers and sin. Etc. As Rick Ritchie points out Luther often uses the term Sword where we are using the word state. Swords are not road building or educational tools. Though what peace and prosperity a government is able to give it citizens it gives through the use of the sword. Ultimately it has nothing else.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Allen,
    The problem is it can mean any and all of those, or just one. But if there is no sin, what would they guard it from? what would they have to keep watch for? What would they have to restrain?

  • allen

    Bror Erickson,

    Yes, it could just mean something like pinching off the bottom leaves of the tomato plants when they get about knee high. Somebody has to do it.

  • WebMonk

    “One difference between Lutherans and others is that Lutherans do see a good, positive, God-inhabited role for the secular realm, including culture and the state.”

    And other Christians or Christian traditions don’t? Come on, you know better than that.

  • http://thoughts-brigitte.blogspot.com Brigitte

    I think Luther sees authority in light of the “Pater Familias”. So the father, the Prince, Ceasar, the state act like pater familias. The alien work would be to punish, the proper work would be to prosper.


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