There Are Two Marriages – Part Four

There Are Two Marriages – Part Four September 8, 2011

The Church’s Interest in Marriage

Yesterday, I argued that the state’s interest in marriage has nothing to do with sex.  The church, on the other hand, has a great interest in sex between human beings. Put more sensitively, it matters to a pastor whether and how a member in the church is being intimate with another person.  That intimacy affects the individual spiritually and emotionally, and intimacy between persons affects the dynamics of the community.

In other words, the church can go where the state cannot — into the bedroom.

A church is a semi-private organization, and as such, it has a vested interest is how its members treat one another.  If two members are being sexually intimate, or are considering that kind of intimacy, the other members of that community have a compelling reason to solemnize that intimacy in a ceremony that gives the imprimatur of the community.

Further, the church community carries within it the very designs of God for humanity.  The state cannot justifiably speak to God’s design for sexuality and intimacy, but the church can.

There is, of course, great diversity across churches about the God’s ideals for human sexuality and marriage, but that diversity does not mitigate the church’s responsibility to discern God’s will in this matter and then propagate the results of that discernment.

Some faith communities will choose to solemnize marriage between same sex partners, and others will not.  Churches should be able to civilly debate the nature of sacred marriage and even attempt to persuade other faith communities to join them in performing, or not performing, same sex weddings.

Regardless, the sacramental marriage that is recognized by a faith community has very little overlap with the legal marriage that is recognized and licensed by the state.  The two marriages are distinct in principle and purpose, and they should be distinct in our minds and in our practice of marriage as well.

See all the posts in this series here.

"Have you considered professional online editing services like ?"

The Writing Life
"I'm not missing out on anything - it's rather condescending for you to assume that ..."

Is It Time for Christians to ..."
"I really don't understand what you want to say.Your"

Would John Piper Excommunicate His Son?

Browse Our Archives

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Bill Colburn

    What the state offers in legal benefits to a married couple should never have been part of a marriage ceremony. More, who is and who isn’t ‘married’ should have always been the decision of the couple, not the church nor the state. The church, though, for those who are ‘members’ rightly celebrates the joining of a couple – announcing, rather than pronouncing, the fact to community and offering its blessing upon it. I don’t see how the church should have any more interest in the ‘bedroom’ than should the government. A sacrament simply confirms that what ‘is’ represents a love for God and for other – i.e. that the couple live their ‘marriage’ by faith in God’s grace.

  • Robert

    We’ve inherited a historically narrow, state-imposed understanding of marriage, which says you’re not ‘married’ without a ceremony and a certificate. We’ve made marriage into something which has more to do with the wedding than the relationship. In earlier times, in Britain, any couple living together as man and wife, and declaring themselves to be married, were married in the fullest sense. It has its faults – there’s obviously no safeguard against bigamy – but a stance along those lines would enable us to develop a healthier understanding, and recognise the relationships of people who for financial or other valid reasons haven’t got the magic piece of paper.

  • Aaron

    The real question is not who sanctions marriage on here. The real question is, what is the purpose of marriage? According to Scripture a marraige is to give a physical example of the relationship between Christ and the church and in doing so brings glory to God. By separating the ‘two marriages’ as you are attempting to do you Tony are once again showing what little respect you have for Gods glory. God set marriage up and intends it to be for His glory. You are once again attacking that and making it all about us as humans.

    Gods glory, not our happiness or feelings, is what matters. And by promoting a lifestyle that attacks Gods glory, we can see where you truly stand.

    • Sundown


      Tony isn’t the one separating marriage into two concepts. There already have been two marriages for a long time; in any country that has the separation of church and state, that is the case. And that is for the best; I, for one, do NOT want a theocracy.

  • Elliott


    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this important matter. I’ve been wrestling with these same issues that you address in your series on “Two Marriages.” I am saddened by how often our faith becomes conflated with politics. The major issue that I am currently struggling with is what role Christians play as citizens of a democratic republic. So far I think I recognize two dominant streams that Christians often take in the U.S. The one side you might call “Exiles in Babylon” and the other “theocrats.” The exiles in Babylon do not view the U.S. as a Christian nation, but a secular-humanist-pluralistic nation that has Christian roots. Hence, they view themselves as “foreigners in a foreign land” much the way Daniel was in Babylon. They seek to live out their faith as best they can within the culture, while also allowing others to live according to their own faith. The theocrats on the other hand either believe that the U.S. was or can be a Christian nation at some point, and being responsible citizens bearing the right to exert influence on their government they believe it is their duty to do all they can to influence this nation’s government “for Christ”–meaning that they should do all they can to make this nation’s government look like God’s kingdom on earth. I struggle to honestly know which way is the “right” or more “Christian” way. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, or even see you write a blog on it 🙂 Blessings.

  • Political and religious bickering over the issue of same-sex unions has caused us to lose sight of marriage’s much broader sociological purpose beyond religious ceremonies and warm fuzziness shared between committed partners, gay or straight. In the public square, marriage is not merely about religion or sexual orientation. It’s about the fundamental need for societies to gauge the comparative significance of human relationships.

    As someone who cringes at the conflation of God and country, I can understand why some people would like to throw the civil marriage baby out with the political bathwater. But just because the word “marriage” (a perfectly good and practical concept, even for non-religious folk) has become associated with culture war carnage does not mean government recognition for lifelong partners is a bad idea. Judging by the eagerness of gays and lesbians to obtain government validation and not merely sign a private contract, maybe there is something special about marriage licenses after all.

    I’ve written more about this here: