This post is part of a series walking through the third volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace
The distinction between the religious feeling that God should be involved in marriage and marriage between believers (the difference between “religious” marriage and “ecclesiastical” marriage) that Kuyper highlighted in the previous chapter has been largely overlooked, possibly because of the rejection of “marriage as sacrament.” (411) The overlooking is also somewhat related to the separation of the marriage ceremony from the church service, and so from the congregation. [A separation which we should undo, as far as I’m concerned–10 minutes at the end of a Sunday morning service is more than sufficient for a marriage.] Eventually marriage even left the church building, moving into a secular context.
Rome has (falsely) united church and marriage as a sacrament, part of which we need to restore. we can see something of this in Paul’s discussion of the “mystery” of marriage. it is not just a parallel with the Gospel, it is a unity/union. This is not a metaphorical union, it is “an essential oneness.” (413)
Kuyper’s explanation of this oneness is that the unity of church and marriage is found in God’s decree:
“… these two acts of God–the unifying of husband and wife in marriage and the unifying of Christ and the church in his mystical body–are not two separate things that are only parallel and are broadly comparable; rather, they stand in organic unity. Marriage on earth is the impress of the bond that links Christ and his church, and it is precisely there that the mystery lies–the mystery we confess but cannot fathom.” (413)
But, doesn’t marriage predate the church? How then can marriage be a picture of it? Certainly the church came first in God’s plan, but we need more than that. It is this original created unity between Creator and creation that marriage images. Yet Paul draws the parallel with redemption–which is in turn based on creation and now accounting for sin by redemption. Kuyper summarizes this:
“…everything fits when viewed theologically. There is first the mystical union between the Mediator of creation and humankind. It is this mystical union that finds its reflection in marriage between husband and wife. And when sin comes, and with sin redemption, the mystical union with the Mediator of creation is then enriched and deepened in the mystical union with the Mediator of redemption. Concomitantly, marriage too receives this richer and deeper notion that the bride of Christ becomes the example of the woman and the bridegroom of he church becomes the example for the man, in order that it may maintain itself in the midst of a fallen world.” (416)
This explains Ephesians 5 in Kuyper’s view, and accounts for both Adam and Eve’s perfect marriage and post-fall marriage. This view is of Christian marriage, but we must also remember the church’s authority here as “only through marriage is the church perpetuated.” (417) [Insert baptist objection here.]
So marriage falls under the jurisdiction of the church–though it is not the only jurisdiction for marriage. The family, society, and the church are all organically tied to a marriage and have authority here. A legitimate marriage must be affirmed by each of these–one sphere cannot dictate to the others.
Obviously this raises questions. What is one sphere refuses? What about divorce? We need to answer these, of course, but the church must stay faithful and so has to go its own way at times.