There Are Two Marriages – Part One

There Are Two Marriages – Part One September 6, 2011

Historical Background

Christianity has a long and distinguished history of differentiating between the realm of God and the realm of creation. Jesus said that his kingdom was not of this world. And the Apostle Paul expands this idea in the book of Ephesians, writing about the spiritual realm as opposed to the physical.

In The City of God, Augustine took the occasion of the fall of Rome to the Visigoths to write a lengthy treatise on the differences between the City of Man and the City of God. Augustine was no fan of the former, and he uses the first dozen chapters of the book to criticize Roman culture, politics, and mores.

A thousand years later, Martin Luther said much the same thing his doctrine of two kingdoms. God rules the earthly kingdom — all secular and ecclesiastical authority — though the imperfect vehicle of humankind. The spiritual kingdom, on the other hand, is ruled exclusively by God’s gospel of grace.

The two realms idea of Augustine and Luther were adopted by political theorists from John Calvin:

There are two governments: the one religious, by which the conscience is trained to piety and divine worship; the other civil, by which the individual is instructed in those duties which, as men and citizens, we are bound to perform.

to John Locke:

There is a twofold society, of which almost all men in the world are members, and from that twofold concernment they have to attain a twofold happiness; viz. That of this world and that of the other: and hence there arises these two following societies, viz. religious and civil.


In general, I’m an advocate of holism. That is, I tend to see the work of God as integrated with the work of human beings. Being a panentheist, I believe that God indwells all of creation, so I usually don’t draw hard lines between things human and things spiritual.

But that’s not really what Luther was up to, either. He was simply differentiating the ways that God works, and the imperfection that is inevitable when humans are the conduit of divine intentions. While it may have been a slight misreading of Luther, this concept is behind the Lockean and Jeffersonian idea of the separation of church and state.

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  • You can even go as far back as Saul and Samuel. Saul was not suppose to do the sacrifice, and got in trouble when he didn’t wait for Samuel to preside over the it. Separation of church and state goes back to separation of priest and monarch of ancient Israel, then. There may even be the possibility that John Calvin was right in the division of the Law into three categories of moral, civil, and ceremonial law. A budding of separations, we can go back even further, to when God created the earth and certain separations were pronounced to be good (major separation theme of Gen. chapter 1 and 2 – completely disregard if an evolutionist).

    You are driving a hard line between civil authority and religious authority. I think that in the case of the state you live in, Tony, it should be seen that the state imparts recognition of a religious clergy’s authority to preside over a verbal agreement. The state isn’t paying the clergy a check for its services. In some states a simple unordained person (any human being) to have witnessed the vows (or verbal agreement) is enough for state recognition.

    Also, you state,” And, having gone through a divorce, I can tell you that extricating oneself from the legal contract that is marriage in our society is no mean feat.” Should you have to endure an ordeal of this magnitude again (hopefully not), then your “sacred ceremony” will carry a lot of weight if the spoils of marriage were to be divided up by civil legal policy.

    As you move into these posts on two marriages, please take notice that while many people disagree with the concept of same-sex marriage, they are not perusing state policies to prosecute any religious community that performs these ceremonies. The religious communities are free to perform them.

    This push to tamper with the traditional marriage in the name of equality can throw us back into the acceptance of polygamy (which I think you are open two). The U.S. moved away from polygamy at the same time it was moving away from slavery. Polygamy as an acceptable social construct can easily be used to subjugate women, and I guess I would have to think if polygamy’s default position subjugates women.

    • CJ

      “As you move into these posts on two marriages, please take notice that while many people disagree with the concept of same-sex marriage, they are not perusing state policies to prosecute any religious community that performs these ceremonies. The religious communities are free to perform them.”

      Perhaps you could also take notice that those who seek to allow civil same-sex marriage have no desire to require religious communities to perform ceremonial same-sex marriages.

      Also, in this context, any discussion of polygamy or the possible subjugation of women is a red herring. The arguments are for or against changing the legal definition of marriage to two persons of any gender. Changing the number of persons is not a part of the discussion.

  • Christopher Byars

    Tony,
    The one issue you fail to address is the fact that all have upheld that the ultimate authority for the civil realm is given by God. The concept of separation is not that the church or faith have no influence on the civil realm but vice versa. The separation of church and state, which does not appear in our constitution, first appeared in a letter to the Baptist church stating that the state could not establish a state church that was written by Jefferson. Luther relied upon the protection of the state to protect him and the early reformers from Rome and saw the power of the state as ordained by God but ultimately to protect the Gospel and to be influenced by the Gospel without any authority to change it. The Gospel is the entirety of Scripture in which the law of God which only kills and destroys drives the sinful heart to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ to die and come to new life as followers of Christ walking in their baptism. The issue that you miss is the fact that at no point does Scripture support the state influencing the Church, but the Church is called to influence state. Samuel corrected Saul, Nathan corrected David, Daniel gave guidance to Nebuchadnezzar, and all the prophets. No where is worldliness promoted. Fornication is always seen as sin and marriage is only defined as man and woman. Luther believed that the two kingdoms separated the marriage contract of the state and the blessing of that union in the Church which meant for him that the state could allow for a marriage that could not be blessed in the Church. The one error Luther did make in judgment for political expediency that he later regretted was the bigamous union of Phillip von Hesse to his mistress because his wife would not grant him a divorce. Luther regretted it even though there is biblical support for plural marriage in the OT because Jesus’ own words in the NT would not uphold this.

    • FYI, the NT doesn’t promote polygamy, but it does allow for it to be in the church, just not in the Pastor or Bishop.

    • CJ

      I do not recall any passages from the Christian Scriptures that call upon the Church to influence the State, let alone dictate the operation of the State. In fact I recall one passage that seems to address the exact opposite. Perhaps you would be so kind as to provide some references?

  • Charles

    Comments 1 and 2 are examples of why the church is irrelevant to so many of us. Hardline conservative voices drive people away from the church more than ever. How someone believes they have insight into what our creator has in mind for the rest of us is absurd. People, their well being and their lives MUST trump dogma.

    • Charles,
      It is true that the church seems to be in decline, at least in the West. But the examples given in to the bible lift up people that broke relationships to maintain divine truth (e.g. Daniel in the lion’s den; Ananias & Sapphira didn’t leave the church but were carried away dead for having lied to God). I think if I was getting bent out of shape over a fellow Christian drinking a beer while working on his car on a Sunday so he can go to work the next day, I think this would be an example of some kind of nauseating dogma that people should turn away from. If the Bible was absent of certain passages and narrative structures, then I would be all for Tony’s position. Some people are I think are sincere in there desire for “social justice” and don’t want to repeat past social sins like those pressed onto Black Africans. I do think that in regards to sex there are Christian norms that need to be held onto. Once gender is deconstructed I believe the next topic of deconstruction will be age norms. Once gender is fluid and norms do not exist for it, just think what the argument about Mary being 12 to 14 years old when pregnant by God will do to argumentation (I am sorry, conversation). The Church isn’t called to be popular.

      • Charles

        In my view you are confusing what the church has told you to think with Jesus’ teachings – sometimes they are not congruent. My main problem is the teachings of many/most churches becomes dogma and get in the way of the compassionate message of Jesus.

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