Marriage: The church and the state

Discussion in the post yesterday about civil unions came around to the notion that the state should get out of the marriage business, that it should just be a matter for the church.

I can see that if you are a Roman Catholic. But if you are a Protestant–especially if you are a Lutheran–that seems problematic.

Lutherans don’t believe that marriage is a sacrament. After all, non-Christians can get married. It’s a matter of the Kingdom of the Left. It’s a matter of state law, not the law of the church. At least that was the case Luther was making against the technicalities and restrictions of canon law.

It’s true that marriage is a matter of “what God has joined. . .” And that Christ is hidden in marriage. Still, it’s an example of God’s working in His earthly kingdom, not that of the church. That is to say, marriage is a vocation.

God works through the lawful authority of the state to create marriages. A couple with a marriage license who got married in Vegas are married in the eyes of God. A couple who had a church ceremony without that license are not married. A married couple who have been divorced in court are divorced. The Church of Rome can say that since divorce doesn’t exist under church law, they are still married, but Protestants don’t say that. Pastors presiding at a wedding declare the marriage “by the authority invested in me by the state of _____”

That doesn’t mean the state can invent marriages of people whom God has not joined together. That would be a violation of the ruler’s vocation. Still, it seems to me that it makes a very big difference how the state regulates marriage, and that Christians cannot just opt out of that.

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.

  • REE

    Two quick comments. First is the emphasis on the word “state.” Most of the laws involving marrage, here in the U.S. of A. are regulated by the states. In the case of pologamy in Utah it was Federal pressure prior to statehood. Thus we are not dealing with the Christian’s relationship just with the “state” but literally with the complexity of the states.

    Second, some years ago, when I lived in Minnesota, I was required by state law, to present a seperate copy of the wedding licence to each party. After I have just annonce them to be one in marriage, I had to treat them as two in contract and present each of them with a copy.

  • Manxman

    Marriage between Christians is NOT merely a working of God in the earthly kingdom. If the state did not exist at all, two people coming together to form the marriage/family bond would still be creating a relationship that is vastly different from singleness and which would have a number of purposes and obligations and restrictions that are Christ/church centered. It is entirely appropriate that this new relationship be formalized within the Church whether you call it a sacrament or an institution or whatever, so that other members of the Body recognize and support the union with all its duties and responsibilities.

    Marriage in the secular kingdom is only a pale, anemic, legalistic shadow of the beauty and dignity of Christian marriage. It is “marriage lite.” Secular marriage is concerned with things like property/inheritance issues, public health matters, taxation status, etc. Christian marriage can also be about such matters, but it also intended to be God’s object lesson that models the relationship of Jesus Christ with His Church and prepares the next generation for God’s kingdom.

    Mr. Veith, you have sold Christian marriage way short. There may well come a time when the state puts such ungodly baggage on its bastardized form of marriage that real Christians may not in good conscience be able to participate in it.

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

    Veith,
    You write: “God works through the lawful authority of the state to create marriages. A couple with a marriage license who got married in Vegas are married in the eyes of God. A couple who had a church ceremony without that license are not married.” I’m not sure that from a biblical speaking it matters at all if you have a license or not. Walther, Peiper and company always maintained that marriage began with the promise to marry. That is an engaged couple was already married. Though they would have encouraged the couple to make it legal. But the legal side was more a formality.
    As for you last comment on the other post. my experience shows alimony and child support are hardly protections, they act more as an incentive to divorce. I don’t much mind paying child support though what I pay is maybe a bit more than I think is needed. I do mind when I see it being spent frivolously, and without much thought to my son’s welfare.

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

    This is tricky territory. As I indicated in my post yesterday, for the first 1500 years of Christendom, Marriage was a function of neither State nor Church, and unless we believe in Doctrinal Develolment like our Catholic Bretheren, we cannot dogmatise marriage into something it is not. The developments at Trent precipitated developments elsewhere, for sure. But when two people today engage ina solemn promise to each other, and proceed to live as husband and wife, why would we deny them from a Christian pov the married status – we did not do so for 3/4 of the Church’s history, why do so now?

    The function of the state in marriage licences etc can be seen as a development in attempting to maintain law and order, like building codes and inheretance laws and speed limits. It is done for the orderly function of an increasingly complex society – ie as part of the states’ vocation. Therfore I would take exception to your statement “God works through the lawful authority of the state to create marriages. ” Neither the state, nor the Church, creates marriages. Two individuals do. The state, and the church, recognise marriage, for the purposes of order and protection of the individuals concerned.

  • Manxman

    I think the best way for Christians to look at Christian marriage is to put it into the context of its Jewish/Old Testament roots where individuals entered into the institution of marriage together as part of a God-ordered community, with all the duties and obligations to themselves, to the community and to God that these actions implied.

  • Mary

    I wonder if marriage is in the realm of the “public” more than the “state.” Dr. Marquart said that people in common law marriage are married if they publicly affirm they are husband and wife. That would be both personal agreement for marriage and interaction with others as people married.

    But would we say people are married by common law if they expressly deny their responsibilities to each other?

    What statement does civil union publicly make? I think people who leave civil unions may still likely be splitting themselves in half, but who can say if there is always marital union?

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

    more directly, should marriage be a thing of the state or the church? I mentioned that marriage is a secular thing yesterday. I got some flack for it, but it is true. If you don’t see it that way. Then you end up seeing all couples that aren’t christian as not married, just fornicators that have happened to stay together for 40 years plus and put 3 kids through college together.
    Hindu’s get married, Muslims get married, pagans get married. It is God’s gift to mankind, all of man kind. So it isn’t strictly speaking a church thing. Though your church might have a few things to say about it. If you want to be a Christian, and a member of a local christian congregation, then there will be added rules that apply to your marriage in so far as you want to be a member of that congregation. That is so because Christians tend to differ with the state on valid reasons for divorce. Leaving the cap on the tooth paste tube open is not a valid reason for divorce.
    However, given the laws that the state has put in place today. Laws in which the state seems intent on using to destroy the state of marriage by ipso facto punishing the man in case of divorce for being stupid enough to get married in the first place. I think the church might be wise to reconsider the issue. I still encourage couples I find living together to get married in the eyes of the state. They are married in the eyes of God. But I am having more and more trouble with this situation. According to the state what they are doing is less a crime than tooling along 5 miles over the speed limit. The shrewder and wiser choice for the male is to just shack up, and consider yourself married. It may not be the Christian thing to do though.

  • Mary

    #2 Manxman – Didn’t “secular marriage” (non-church/Israelite) lead Ruth to stay with her mother-in-law?

    Secular marriage may be different than Christian marriage, but let’s not dis a gracious gift from God.

  • Mary

    #7 Bror Erickson – “Married in the eyes of God” — is that because sex creates marriage?

    Scripture is clear that there is a joining of flesh in sex, yet when Jesus talked with the woman who’d had five husbands, the man she currently lived with was not her husband. Was she not having sex with him? It seems to me that sex is not what creates marriage either.

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

    Mary,
    I agree with you that sex does not constitute marriage, though according to Paul even a liaison with a prostitute creates a one flesh union. I had in mind a specific case I don’t want to get into. I do tend to think though that a couple that gets engaged and moves in with each other is married. Or that if they consider themselves to be married, then they are.

  • Manxman

    Mary

    The point I am trying to make is that marriage is NOT an institution that belongs to the state and arises out of that context.

    There are indeed different kinds of marriage, and I think it’s important to make the distinction between secular marriage & “church” marriage. They are not equivalent.

    Secular marriage may be a “gracious gift from God” in the sense that it tries to bring order and justice into society by setting up rules/regulations in an important area of life. But it is becoming more and more man-centered, and as time has gone by it is becoming a sinful farce, and deserves to be dissed.

  • Joe

    Bror

    I am curious about this statement:

    “I do tend to think though that a couple that gets engaged and moves in with each other is married. Or that if they consider themselves to be married, then they are.”

    Are you saying there is no role for the State and/or the Church?

  • Joe

    Or are you saying that you incure all of the obligations of marriage even though you are not “technically” married?

  • Mary

    Manxman, you think secular marriage is only a gift from God in order to bring order & justice into society? I would have thought that would have been a nice side effect, but not the only blessing God gives through it.

    An ideal of marriage isn’t a messiah that’s going to save our culture & restore justice. If traditional marriage apologetically triumphs, we are still ultimately talking about people. It’s people who are man-centered, not God’s gifts.

  • WebMonk

    What creates marriage an what is marriage? Those would be the two primary questions needed to be answered.

    The Bible doesn’t explicitly say. Even the rules God gave to the Jewish nation about marriage and divorce weren’t creating the state of marriage, but rather creating rules about it. Marriage existed long before.

    Neither does sex create marriage as you mentioned in #9 – how could there be adultery if sex created marriage? If sex created marriages, then people would be guilty of bigamy and things, but the sex would always be with your married partner because the sex would make them your married partner.

    I’m not sure I could state what marriage really IS in a short blog comment. My long answer would be along the lines of a joining of a man and woman to form a family unit. (please don’t go all lawyer on that definition, it’s a VERY general concept statement)

    That isn’t something that is dependent on Church or State, though it is impacted by them both. I don’t see that any actions of a State can ‘destroy’ marriage, though the State can certain encourage or discourage the frequency and duration of marriages (and the aftermath of broken marriages). The State’s actions can have all sorts of effects, and it should deal with those effects in a very pragmatic manner.

    The Church is primarily involved with the moral behavior of Christians in marriage (and out of it) and the order to be a blessing to all people.

    Adhering to a simple set of rules about marriage, such as saying that the State creates marriages, can make things simple to deal with, but the idea that people are married by the legal decree of the State is profoundly wrong. “By the power vested in me by the state of Arizona, I hereby declare you man and wife,” is a statement of the state recognizing one’s marriage, not the creation of the marriage, despite what the words say.

  • WebMonk

    And yes, as Bror said from Paul, even sex with a prostitute does join two people, that joining doesn’t constitutes a marriage though.

    (I’d go so far as to say lust without sex after someone can form a one-way joining of sorts too, but that’s an aside.)

  • David T.

    #2 Manxman
    Dr. Veith never denied that there is something unique about the Christian marriage; your charge is unfair. The thrust of his comments had to do with the essence of marriage — that is is a divinely instituted estate that each married couple belongs to regardless of their profession of faith or lack thereof. They are all, Christian and non-Christian, “joined together” by God. Therefore, no marriage is merely “marriage lite” since it is his doing. The fact that most married couples are not Christian is sad, one reason being that they miss how their imperfect marriage points to the perfect marriage between Christ and his church, something they should try to imitate and let their light so shine. But viewing that perfect marriage should also lead them to daily repentance.

  • David T.

    For your enjoyment, here’s a portion of what Luther said regarding the high calling of marriage:
    “God has therefore most richly blessed this estate above all others and, in addition, has supplied and endowed it with everything in the world in order that this estate might be provided for richly and adequately. Married life is no matter for jest or idle curiosity, but it is a glorious institution and an object of God’s serious concern. For it is of the highest importance to him that persons be brought up to serve the world, promote knowledge of God, godly living, and all virtues, and fight against wickedness and the devil. Therefore I have always taught that we should not despise or disdain marriage, as the blind world and the false clergy do, but view it in the light of God’s Word, by which it is adorned and sanctified. It is not an estate to be placed on a level with the others; it precedes and surpasses them all, whether those of emperor, princes, bishops, or anyone else. Important as the spiritual and civil estates are, these must humble themselves and allow all people to enter the estate of marriage, as we shall hear. It is not an exceptional estate, but the most universal and the noblest, pervading all Christendom and even extending throughout all the world. (Large Catechism, 6th Commandment)

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    There’s a lot of good discussion here, and I’m not sure I’ve fully grasped it all, but it seems to me that wrangling over which entity truly controls (or whatever) marriage misses the point.

    As has been noted above, there are, perhaps, three aspects to marriage — personal, religious, and governmental — which we tend to refer to, at least here and now, all with one term, “marriage”. But they are not all a single, atomic entity, even if we often pretend so.

    At the personal level, a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife (more than merely sexually, though that comes next), and the two become one flesh. So it was with Adam and Eve — would anyone doubt that they were married, though there was no state or church? Just them and God, who joined them.

    Churches necessarily glom onto this union for the purposes of regulating or enforcing it according to their beliefs. Naturally, the Church instituted by the God who joins men and women together has an interest in educating its members about the duties of husbands and wives, and God’s view of divorce. But other churches also have their own reasons for being interested in marriage.

    And states necessarily glom onto marriage, as well, for the purposes of maintaining society as they see fit. And Veith is right in saying that the state can use marriage for its lefthand-kingdom purposes. Though it is not merely a matter left to the state.

    Now, these purposes are not completely orthogonal — they overlap to a large degree. Or, they used to. Lately, the state’s actions have caused me (and others, it would seem) to question its role in all this.

    Consider a different, more banal type of contract between two men — say, some sort of business arrangement. We certainly agree that two men can enter into such a contract all on their own. If they break it, they are left only to their own recourses and consciences. If both are members of the same religion, they may take a contract dispute to their church to resolve, though that church would be foolish to claim the right to resolve all contracts, even between non-members. Finally, the state offers its own laws on contracts, for the purpose of maintaining a well-ordered society in which people are honest with each other and don’t kill each other when they aren’t. These two men may avail themselves of these laws if they wish — especially to seek its protections. They don’t have to. They can keep their contract at whatever level they wish. But we shouldn’t deny that they have a contract if they only keep it between themselves, or within their church.

  • S. Bauer

    This is a fascinating conversation about an issue with so many loose ends to try to nail down. I think we need to clarify exactly what we mean when we use the word ‘state’. Marriage was around for thousands of years before the modern state, even though much of the responsibility for regulating marriage has fallen to the state in the modern age. So maybe we should be talking about some other social reality as the real ‘left-hand kingdom’ guarator of marriage (as some have already suggested, I believe).

    I think the discussion of what makes a marriage actually ‘happen’ is even more important. It is often noted that the creation of human beings last of all in Genesis 1 shows that they are the culmination and crown of God’s creative activity. I would suggest that the fact that Genesis’ 2 puts the gift of marriage last shows it is the highest and most important of all that God does for and gives to Adam (and Eve).

    How do Adam and Eve get married? God does not give Adam the mission of “winning” his mate (insert obligatory picture of caveman with club dragging woman by the hair. Eve is not told she gets to choose her “Prince Charming”. God brings Eve to Adam and Adam exclaims, “Wow! Look what God gave me!” The emphasis is wholly on spouse and marriage as a gift of God. All grace!

    So how does marriage happen after this first one? After all, God isn’t matching us up together directly like Rev. Moon. I think the biblical text says that God hands the responsibility over to family. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife.” A man is given up or “born” from the womb of his family and a woman is given to him by hers and they become husband and wife, “the two shall become one flesh” and a new family is created. God puts mother and father, with the whole extended family behind them, in His place, and says, when you give your sons and your daughters to each other, that’s what marries them. That little ritual in the marriage ceremony, “Who gives this woman to be wed…” almost totally abandoned today, is actually the spark that ignites the marriage.

    And no, I do not think that this view requires that we go back to arranged marriages.

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

    Joe,
    I’m saying I don’t know what “technically” married is. Marriage at its most fundamental essence is between the man and woman getting married and God. The typical Lutheran concept, (Though it may not apply as well in today’s society, as it did for Walther, Pieper, and even Koehler) is the marriage begins when the couple gets engaged, (leaving the Bride at the altar was the same as divorce, but with much less headache.) the state merely gives it legal recognition, and the church blesses it the same as it might a new home.
    This is one reason I don’t much agree with making Bride and Groom separate when an engaged couple has moved in with each other. Bless the marriage and let them get on with life.

  • Mary

    Except that those engagements were public. It wasn’t the “I will” moment, but the engagement after the public was notified–exactly because the public could bring up charges as to why the two should not be married.

    I don’t think the engaged couple need to separate, but they need to GET MARRIED. It is, after all, an important step.

  • J

    Bror, apply your thoughts to a real life case, like that of Sarah Palin’s daughter Bristol and the father of their child. Are they married?

  • Manxman

    Gene Veith wrote – “God works through the lawful authority of the state to create marriages.” I think this is giving the tail the power to wag the dog – especially in an apostate country like ours where the state no longer ties its “lawful authority” back to God’s moral/Biblical law. This is what the whole homosexual marriage issue is all about – the power of the State to defy God and declare such sinful unions “marriages.”

    To use tODD’s contract analogy – our culture is close to the point where it is going to allow two men or two women to make a state-sanctioned “marriage” contract with one another. When we go further down the slippery slope and polyamory becomes normalized, we will see different combinations of men & women, with the state’s OK, entering into a “marriage” contract. Eventually we may see “marriages” between people and their pets. As much as these people may claim that these are private, personal matters/contracts legitimized by the State, they are certainly not “marriages” & the effects of such unions carry over into the rest of society – especially when there are children involved. I feel the Church has the power and obligation to challenge the State in these matters and refuse to accept these unions as legitimate.

    Clearly, at least to me, God wouldn’t let the State, especially one which saw itself as the final authority, be the entity which originates and controls the institution of marriage. The ultimate power must lie somewhere else.

  • kerner

    Bror:

    I’m sorry to keep picking on you, but you’re driving me crazy with all this “men are stupid to get married because secular laws make married men vulnerable” talk. I mean, thank you Rev. Hugh Hefner. On one level, men have always been “stupid” to get married. Why take on all these life long obligations just to have sex and other benefits of female companionship, when you could get the same things by force or deceit and not have any obligations? Since when were divorced men the only men who have had to pay through the nose to take care of their women and children? And what about women? Isn’t it prettly “stupid” for them to let some man (who will never be smart enough or interesting enough or neat enough, and might be violent or unfaithful to boot) paw them just because he seems willing to give them a little security and make them pregnant? And the resulting parenthood? Boy, talk about signing your lives away!

    My point is that every marriage in any society involves a whole lot of risk. If anyone (man or woman) decides to give up a totally self centered life to form a family he or she is building a team that is supposed to unite for mutual support and defense. It requires you to trust the other members of the team. They will come to know all your weaknesses. It will really hurt if one of them betrays you. But it would hurt just as much if you were still living with her as she betrayed you on a daily basis.

    Reading this comment over, I sound cynical, but I’m not. I’m actually kind of a romantic about love and marriage. But love in marriage is giving yourself away for both parties, and it is a mistake to think you can legislate away the effects of giving yourself away to the wrong person.

  • S. Bauer

    The bottom line is that as fewer and fewer citizens of this country hold the Christian view of marriage, the “State”, as a representative democracy, is going to be less and less dependable in upholding that view of marriage. Unless we can develop some non-theological, left-hand kingdom arguments that will convince citizens on the basis of reason, the votes just won’t be there. And there may no longer even be enough consensus in our society on what is reasonable for even this approach to work. The church has no other power over the state to make it do what is right other than Christian citizens pursuing their vocation as citizens.

    The only other thing Christians and the church can do is “right-hand kingdom” stuff (cf. First Peter): proclaim the truth – with gentleness and respect. As we saw in California with the gay marriage prop there, the response will be persecution. We must not fall into the trap of reciprocating and picking up the sword or demonizing those opposed to what we are saying (“if you suffer for doing evil why are you surprised? but if you suffer for doing good…”).

  • WebMonk

    kerner, just to play extreme devils advocate, and to also point out a couple serious issues:

    “Why take on all these life long obligations just to have sex and other benefits of female companionship, when you could get the same things by force or deceit and not have any obligations?”

    Guys get a lot more sex and it’s much better sex than they would acquire otherwise. I have a single friend who was bragging that he took a girl home one weekend from the bar. I laugh when comparing his statement that he’d managed to convince a girl to have sex with him once after a couple months of trying, to the “typical” married couple goes at it between 1 and 3 times a week, or whatever the average is supposed to be.

    (that’s the devil’s advocate part)

    The serious part: I don’t think Bror is saying that marriage itself is stupid for men to join in, but rather the legal trappings and societal accompaniments to marriage today make the decision to enter a marriage a very risky thing. Not just because of marriage, but because of all the other nasty things that can accompany marriage through the legal and social attachments present today.

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

    J,
    I don’t know are they? I have never met them, or talked to them. I don’t know where they are.
    On the other hand I have applied my thoughts to real live cases.

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

    Kerner,
    What I am saying is as webmonk points out only in view of the current governmental in balance of justice when it comes to divorce.
    I too am a romantic about love and marriage. Perhaps that is why I have taken on the risk twice now. And you are right there are inherent risks for both parties entering a marriage. I don’t doubt that. But as long as the state refuses to consider that the father might be the better parent, etc. And blindly defers to the woman when she files for the “no fault” divorce. The state is discouraging the man from getting married, and enticing the woman to leave the minute the toothpaste dries in the cap. I’m not saying I want the woman to stay against her will, but she ought to have good reason for leaving if the court is going to reward her for doing so. The court, and the bias leaks out here even in some of Veith’s comments, that the divorce is the man’s fault. It is presumed to be the man’s fault. The “no fault” is just a clause that allows the woman not to have to prove her case, and the court to presume the man is guilty of something heinous.

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

    I think it’s interesting that the first questions are about the definition of marriage. Then whether or not Genesis says something about that. Or how other Scriptures apply. What if we worked the problem in the other direction? What does Genesis say about a man and a woman coming together? What do we learn from Deuteronomy that is applicable? Or Romans?

    As to the original question of whether a couple who are divorced by a court are divorced, that is tough. Jesus seemed to suggest that Moses had authority to allow couples to divorce when in fact they were, according to the intention of Genesis, still one flesh. Are they really divorced? Yes. Are they one flesh? Yes. Both have meaning. It seems the church is to recognize that the state can come up with rules to regulate a less than perfect situation. But it is also to remind people of the realities behind what is regulated.

    I would like to see the state out of the marriage business, as its regulation seems rather harmful. It could, however, do more in ensuring contracts were honored. There are other tools that might be better to ensure what the state claims to ensure with its marriage laws.

  • kerner

    One of the reasons we are talking Church vs. State here is because the USA is one of the most religious, and definitely THE most highly regulated society in the world. On the opposite end, take Hmong culture or other similar cultures. The Hmong language has no written alphabet as is the case with some other Asian and many African languages. So back in Southeast Asia, when Hmongs got married, nobody recorded it anywhere, and there were no written laws devoted to marriage or property or what happened if there was a divorce; just unwritten custom. Nor was there Christianity or any religion other that animist paganism. So, in the hills of Laos there was no Church, nor was there any State; there was only heathen tribal custom. 4k-5k years ago, that was the way it was for virtually all marriages. But we still consider such people married. I had a Vietnamese client who told me that this is the custom with most Southeast Asian marriages, which is why, when he got married in Wisconsin, he and his wife never bothered with a license. I had to explain to him that no American agency would recognise his marriage unless he got a license and made an appointment with a judge. For a long time the same was true of Muslims. They got married according to their own religious laws, and only got a marriage license when they were reminded of some practical reason to record the marriage. In the last 10 years or so, I believe that the Imams in my area have figured out that their followers are much better served if they just fill out the forms like other clergymen do.

    But my question (which I am still thinking about) is, if all these people throughout history and the world who recognise neither the Church’s, nor any government’s role in making a marriage are all truly married, what makes them married?

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

    Kerner – as to your observation, that was my observation in comment #4, for pre-Trent Western Europe. What seems to be the case is that God honours the words/promise of a man and a woman to each other, irrespective of Ecclesiastical or Governmental sanction, both of which are modern creations wrt Western Europe. Thus a “common-law” wife/husband still constitutes a marriage.

    Personally, I tend to favour Rick’s approach, where the state recognises contracts, and stays out of the concept of marriage.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    If there were no state, and two people got married, then there would be a state. Marriage is THE fundamental institution of the kingdom of the lefthand. According to the Large Catechism, the state, as an earthly government, derives its authority from that of the family.

    Could someone give a LUTHERAN discussion of marriage in terms of the two kingdoms?”

  • FW

    #33 veith

    here is the Lutheran discussion:

    marriage is a strictly civil state and function. it is not something of the church.

    the term “holy matrimony” seems to have been borrowed from the anglicans. it is confusing, implies that marriage is somehow sacramental and should probably not be included in church agendas. matrimony is no more (and no less!) sacred than ANY other vocation. period.

    Yes marriage is divinely instituted. so is government, eating meat, and a bunch of other things.

    Yes marriage is used as a metaphor for our Lord´s relationship to his church and to his creation. So are grape vines. ok.

    Marriage (contrary to mormon belief) is a temporary estate that will not exist in the new creation. It can therefore be logically assumed to be an accidental (=non-essential) rather than an essential part of what it means to be fully human.

    Interesting that most all Lutherans posit that sex is sin outside of marriage, and yet there is some considerable disagreement as to the definition of marriage.

    as an interesting aside….black slaves could not marry in the us. they jumped over a broom together as the marriage ritual. the man was then often sold and moved away from his family…so upwards of 60% of the humans in some states were forbidden to marry…

    interacial marriages were forbidden in some states until 1972 when the supremes ruled in loving vs state of virginia. does this mean that those couples were not really married?

  • FW

    marriage has been traditionally about property rights.

    in the old testament those property rights looks at women AS property.

    in most of christian history, only the rich and politically powerful “married” in civil terms, and those marriages looks very much like a contract.

    it was not until victorian england that marriage started to be seen as a romantic coupling. up till then marriages were almost universally arranged marriages.

    so the definition of marriage has changed greatly over time. it has rarely followed the ideal of the model of christ and his church. not even remotely close. not even today. and of course, non christians would not find any common sense in that model. they would find it non-sensical. just as they find the holy gospel.

    where do these facts take us.?

  • http://www.christlutheran.net Jeff Samelson

    Two items that might be helpful to this discusssion:

    1) “Consensus facit matrimoniam.” That’s the old definition: Consent makes marriage.

    Luther said: The estate of marriage consists essentially in consent having been freely and previously given to one another. (LW 44,11).

    This is the source of the confusion as to whether or not engagement was tantamount to marriage (which, believe it or not, was a big issue in Lutheran circles (Synodical Conference/Missouri Synod) early in the 20th century). In biblical times, betrothal was a public statement by both parties of their consent to be married to each other (not merely a consent to have a wedding) — this is why Mary is referred to as Joseph’s wife (with supposed need for a divorce when she’s found to be pregnant) even when they were still betrothed and not yet formally married. The wedding was the formality that signaled the beginning of the couple’s life together.

    In more recent western and Christian conditions, there was still some similarity of custom to the biblical model, such that an engagement was very much a public declaration, by both parties, of the consent to be married to each other. But in today’s society, engagement is private and much more like “we’re taking this relationship to the next level before marriage” or even “let’s have a wedding”. It’s not until the actual wedding vows that we have/hear the public consent given, and thus the couple is not married until that point.

    Most “live-in” situations I’ve come across, even if they claim to have a long-term or even lifelong commitment to each other, would not describe their relationship as based on the mutual (let alone public) idea or statement, “I intend and promise to be married to you, as your spouse, with all that this signifies.” Thus it would be hard to say that there is marriage-making consent between the two.

    (That’s the difference between the situation today and couples who were married without the action of church or state in the past or in other cultures — when they moved in together, or had their cultural ceremonies or whatever, that act was equated with (and usually stated as) agreement to be husband and wife. The two gave their consent — made their marriage contract, if you will — in the way that was appropriate to their society. )

  • http://www.christlutheran.net Jeff Samelson

    2) Don’t forget the fourth commandment here, either. Even if we establish to our satisfaction that a couple living together is essentially married even though they never had a ceremony or a license, there’s still the matter of obedience to the laws of the state (and respect for society). If the government says, “You have to do this to get married,” a Christian, as much as (if not more than) any other citizen is obligated to obey.

  • Pingback: Topics about Christian life and Bible readings » Archive » Marriage: The church and the state

  • WebMonk

    Well, sure, if we redefine “state”, then sure we can make a marriage a function of a state. However, making different definitions of “state” work with each other will take a bit of work.

    Take these next two statements. I’m sure that in some way they can be twisted to be compatible, but it takes some massaging:

    “A couple with a marriage license who got married in Vegas are married in the eyes of God. A couple who had a church ceremony without that license are not married.”

    “Marriage is THE fundamental institution of the kingdom of the lefthand. According to the Large Catechism, the state, as an earthly government, derives its authority from that of the family.”

    I realize that we’re discussing philosophy, and so anything can be forced to mean just about anything else if enough effort is applied, but don’t expect me to believe it. Outside of some “interesting” machinations, those two statements are contradictory.

    In the first, the pre-existing government creates a marriage and a marriage can’t exist without the governmental approval. In the second, a government only has authority derived from the family, which requires a marriage to exist.

    Must have a government to have a marriage. Must have a marriage to have a government. Must have a government to have a marriage. Must have ….

  • S. Bauer

    I think one of the points I,and some others, I believe, are trying to make is that yes, the Lutheran position is that marriage is the fundamental institution of the kingdom of the left hand from which stems all earthly structures and governance. Yet it is important to recognize that to call that fundamental reality arising out of marriage the ‘state’ is to use the term much more loosely than we have been doing in this thread. When most talk about the ‘state’ creating and regulating marriages, they are talking about a well-defined, centralized, bureaucratic, political establishment by which a society seeks to regulate life together. By the Lutheran definition, this narrow understanding of state does not comprise the whole of the left hand kingdom. In different cultures and at different times, varying aspects of the totality of human activity in the left hand kingdom has fallen under the responsibility and control of rulers and governments. As kerner notes in #31 in regard to the Hmong, for many centuries marriages did not fall under the control (or even the interest) of the human powers that governed the lives of a people (state in the narrow sense) but marriage was still regulated – by family, taboo, ritual, etc – other left hand institutions. Through the historical development of Christendom, marriage was brought more and more under the oversight of the government (state in the narrow sense). Now perhaps we have to deal with the fact that government is once again losing interest in maintaining a proper stance toward marriage in our society. So other institutions of the left hand kingdom are going to have to be employed to maintain the proper practice of marriage.

  • Allan Schwarb

    Mr. Veith stated, “A married couple who have been divorced in court are divorced.”

    However, the Holy Scriptures state this about marriage: “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Mark 10:9 KJV)

    Therefore, what Bible passage authorizes a secular judge to “put asunder” a marital bond?

    Finally, how can a divorced Christian marry another without engaging in polygamy?


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