Theology

What Jesus Would Say About Marriage if He Appeared on the BBC’s Question Time Panel


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Why Bother Writing?

The main purpose of this article is to empower Christians to be able to think about the philosophies of our modern culture that produce the anti-Christian atmosphere hanging over virtually every tabloid and headline. It is also to empower expression as to why the proposed (so-called) ‘redefinition of marriage’ is absolutely wrong.

I would like this article to also be more about strengthening the prayers and meditations and stimulating the conversations of Christians rather than about stating the biblical definition of marriage or just to make a positional statement within the debate. While this position will become clear in what I say, my main hope is that it will inject boldness and courage in the Christian to be able to explain in front of a watching/listening world why this movement in our society to dismantle the definition of marriage is anti-Christ to the very core.

If you are anything like me, you’ll feel frustrated and deeply bothered by the lack of robust (by that I mean prophetic and of the Holy Spirit) Christian response in the public domain. And you might struggle to know how to effectively express yourself, especially in front of aggressive attitudes that accuse you of being wrong/intolerant/out-dated etc. for the convictions you have. This is my attempt to articulate what I feel and believe and I hope it might help you do the same with increasing strength and clarity as the occasions arise.

Who are the Christians?

To begin with, I would like to explain why the term Christian is inadequate, without definition, when writing about this issue of marriage and why it is important to offer an alternative.

Perhaps to the world at large, but certainly to the post-modern, secular West, the term ‘Christian’ is now nothing more than a generalised religious label given to some people regardless of any actual religious or spiritual belief, conviction or lifestyle. Instead, it’s applied to some people based on their nationality and possibly even the colour of their skin. You may have noticed this if you watched the BBC’s Question Time programme on 23rd May, 2013, during which John O’Dowd (Northern Irish Minister for Education) suggested that members of the English Defense League were ‘Christian’ because they were English. Evidently, the term Christian now seems to be virtually meaningless.

Instead, when I use the term Christian, I’m using it to refer to someone who worshipfully professes that Jesus Christ is God and who seeks to whole-heartedly follow and obey Him (His Word) as the Leader of their lives and as the Lover of their soul (Rom.10:9). When I refer to Christians what I am really referring to are lovers of Jesus. And it’s because we love Jesus, (we love God), that we must articulate why some things really do matter, why some things really aren’t acceptable and why some things really can not be redefined in reality, even if they are by law.

Jesus’ Persecution

Within 21st Century society, there is currently a significant amount of pressure on Christians (lovers of Jesus). Some of this pressure is from the governments of the world, popular post-modern opinions, gay-rights campaigners, equal-rights lobbyists, media celebrities, broadcasters, ministers, historians and (tragically) from within nominal, small ‘c’ ‘Christianity’ itself. Perhaps the sharpest point of the spear-head of persecution felt by anyone professing true Christian faith (as I define above) revolves around the actual, historical and biblical definition of marriage:– a faithful, committed, permanent and legally sanctioned relationship between a man and a woman, as central to the stability and health of human society*. This is what the word marriage actually means, not according primarily to the Church of England but, crucially, to God Himself. Today, as a Christian, you will likely be accused of being intolerant, unloving and even bigoted if you object to the redefinition of marriage motioned by the UK government.

Understanding Exactly What is Being Proposed

The reason that recent changes passing through governments of the world translate into persecution on Christians (whether you feel persecuted or not) is because proposals to redefine what marriage actually is equates to redefining the most fundamental pointer that society has to God Himself. More than this though, in making moves towards redefining marriage, (a copy of the original), society is unwittingly attempting to redefine God Himself. So massive is the gap between the actual sacredness of marriage and society’s relative estimation of its value (in any age) that society now prides itself in being able to mess with the bedrock of society (God) and justify the milieu as being a campaign for ‘our own rights’. As believers in Christ, surely the question for all of us is, ‘As a Christian, what can/will I say in response to this?”.

monalisa

Mona Lisa and da Vinci

Perhaps you’ll find it helpful to think about it in these terms: Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is displayed in homes in different forms around the world. Hundreds of thousands of different prints exist as copies of the original masterpiece. If any one of these prints were altered in anyway, no-one would think too much about it because it wouldn’t affect the original. Everyone would still know what the original Mona Lisa looked like. But if the person who altered their print then tried to redefine what the original work by da Vinci looked like, based on their own preferences, it would cause an outcry – it would dishonour the artist and, if permitted (as ludicrous as that would be), confuse the original work that he painted in 1519 and totally undermine the protection and conservation of his work.

Ultimately, this is exactly what’s happening within our time in history. When we think that God’s original masterpiece that He calls marriage (the union of His Son, Jesus Christ, to His bride, the church), is pictured/copied in the definition of human marriage that God gave us in Genesis 2:24, when this very definition is threatened, what is happening is more profound than a change to societal values or an expansion to so-called human rights.

In his book This Momentary Marriage, John Piper says “Most foundationally, marriage is the doing of God. And ultimately, marriage is the display of God**.” This being true, the redefinition of marriage is not acceptable or even possible based on the fact that this would mean changing what God looks like. I highly recommend Piper’s book for further reading – see bottom of article.

The Core Problem With The Debate 

Because our definition of marriage in society is God-given, like the definition of God Himself (i.e. He reveals Himself as a Triune God), the current debate around marriage isn’t primarily sociological or philosophical in nature, it is theological. It’s important to see that marriage isn’t primarily a sociological construct. It is ultimately a theological reality (See Genesis 2:24). Ultimately, because it is true that marriage is first a theological reality, and therefore a God-given one, the issue of the morality around the proposed redefinition is absolutely key. To deny this is tantamount to denying that God is holy. To question God’s holiness should make any sensible, rational human being tremble and so should, therefore, this current proposal to redefine marriage. May I challenge you? How deeply to do you feel troubled about this? Ask God to stir you and use you as His voice.

Which Absolute Truths?

The biggest hurdle in expressing how you feel about this is that we live in a society in which absolute morality is largely not recognised. Sure, people generally see right from wrong but based upon whose values? For example, is something wrong to us because it violates our own learnt sense of right and wrong, or because it violates what we know to be true about what God says about something being right or wrong regardless of how we may feel about that? Surely whether we agree with God or not is irrelevant? He is God! I think even His Name has shrunk in society’s mind to mean very little. For example, so godless has our society now become that standing up for the cause of Godly values and the Name of Christ is now met with accusations of bigotry. Surely criminal prosecution is a darker part of the future of the church. Who have we (society) become if we feel it is our ‘right’ to question God’s decisions (and definitions) of His creation? I think Genesis 11:4 may give some insight into this.

Also, our problem in expressing objection to marriage being redefined is not only that society does not see what is wrong with the redefinition themselves (as explained above) but, at the same time, conclude that it is absolutely wrong (morally) for Christians to say that it is absolutely wrong (morally). Christians are accused of being arrogant about claiming a monopoly on the (moral) truth by those arrogant enough to conclude that Christians are actually wrong. This is because ungodly people are discussing Godly realities – remember marriage is first a theological reality before it is a sociological construct. It’s like listening to an atheist preach from the pulpit. Large parts of society simply do not see what’s wrong with tampering with the fine details of something that God Himself has decreed and so therefore announce that it can’t be or shouldn’t be wrong. Society is making decisions and reaching conclusions based on what they see and understand rather than on what God Himself declares to be right and wrong. This hasn’t always been the case but secularisation is currently having its very ugly way.

Our society vomits out of its mouth the notion of something being absolutely right or absolutely wrong because of the pluralist philosophy by which it is controlled. “Who are you to say that something is wrong?” or “Who are you to deny gay people their rights?”. If we understand what marriage truly is we will recognise that it’s not about rights at all, or about equality. It is simply about recognising what God Himself says about things that He has created. You can no more redefine the God-given gift of marriage and still call it marriage than you can redefine the physiological purpose and functioning of an eye ball and then expect it to work according to this alternative way.

The Way of Dagon

At the beginning of the book of 1 Samuel (1 Sam. 5), the Ark of the Covenant is captured by the Philistine army and then placed next to their demon god, Dagon. The Ark of the Covenant not only represented the actual Presence, the Shekinah Glory of the Lord, but it served as the only physical manifestation of God on the earth at that time. The sacrilegious act of placing the Presence of Yahweh next to a demonic idol is comparable with society’s placing of the reality of marriage (as defined by God) next to the demonic, post-modern philosophies of 21st Century culture.

God demonstrated His power in this situation by dismembering the powers of darkness in that Philistine shrine. I think it is right that we pray and expect that God will do the same in the age in which we live, especially around this issue of marriage – the graciously-given copy pointing to the original masterpiece of God’s love-sick union with His people.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Phil.4:8

*www.churchofengland.org

** http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/books/this-momentary-marriage – free download

13 Comments

  • Thanks for all this clear, passionate thinking Nick. I think you’re spot on that the nature of marriage as a parable of the gospel and God’s own nature is absolutely key to the whole debate. In terms of current society, we do seem to have moved into post-postmodernism – no longer is everything cool and everything relative, now there is a definite right and wrong but it’s defined by explicitly, aggressively anti-God secularism. And in terms of your last point about Dagon – I’m reminded of Christopher Ash in his great book on marriage pointing out that we are not seeking to defend marriage (as if it’s a weak, fragile institution that is in danger of passing away) – no, marriage is the great, eternal, God-solid reality and we’re seeking to save a society which is in great danger of being shattered by abandoning it – and more importantly (but relatedly) abandoning the God of spectacular grace, the fountain of life. Finally, I’m reminded of a recent article I read in Evangelicals Now which very helped reminded us that while we must be deeply grieved by what is going on in terms of law and politics, the best arguments for Biblical marriage will be the witness of beautiful gospel-shaped Christian marriages and of course the reverse is also true. So I guess this should all send us back to our own wives to love them as Christ loved the church…

  • Really like your points here, Andy. Post-postmodernism. I see what you mean. Would you say though that these definite right and wrongs that you mention are rooted in post-modern pluralism that I mention…i.e. the absolute sense of right and wrong appearing as anti-God secularism is actually still a species of the overall relativist perspective?

    Our marriages telling the story of the message is such a humbling thing! What grace!

    • Yes Nick. I think it is still relativism / pluralism that rules the day. It’s just that the tolerance-of-everything-but-exclusive-claims-about-God side of things seems to be coming out more and more strongly. There was a time in the heyday of postmodernism when it did seem to be genuinely cool to believe anything at all (I remember a professor at university who was utterly relativist to the degree that he thought even death was a social construct). I think 9/11 was the beginning of the end for that extreme relativism. It’s hard to see people fly planes into buildings and 3000 people die on live TV and say ‘Good and bad are all relative’ or ‘All beliefs are equally valid’. I think that moment was probably the seed of a lot of the New Atheism which says, actually, you know there are some things that are wrong and bad. Of course the problem is that they have a very hard time grounding their sense of right and wrong in anything because they’ve already ruled out God and see belief in him as the root of all our problems. They try science (that sounds like something solid) but as CS Lewis pointed out you can’t move from the fact of something existing to the ethical question of ‘so what shall I do with it.?’ without divine revelation of values and purpose. So yes – ultimately they are left back with relativism – but trying to desperately to find a justification for their rage against God.

  • A timely piece, Nick – Coalition for Marriage encouraged contacting MP’s and peers with one of the peers saying that she abstained to force a second reading so that she had more time to consider all the views such as ‘2/3rds of young people dont know what all the fuss is about..’ – a euphamism for ‘you old fuddy duddies’, perhaps?
    The opposition’s main thrust is that it’s about time such an archaic ancient institution was re-defined to make it fit for purpose in the 21st century.
    It’s well worth watching author Ryan Anderson’s defence of marriage on the Piers Morgan programme.
    God bless you and keep you strong in your work, you are in my prayers.

    • Marcia, thank you! Sorry for not replying earlier. I have heard that Ryan Anderson’s interview is worth viewing, so that is on my to-do list. We need more credible, Spirit-filled communication that resonates with the young people we’re trying to inspire and lead. Bless you, N.

  • A timely thought for my side of the Atlantic (US) as well – especially liked the Mona Lisa application – appeals to EVERYONE’s sense of injustice despite their worldview. That said, far too many believers are attempting to argue on behalf of Biblical marraige by applying secular arguments. While I will never criticize solid apologetics, I love that you pointed out that this is a “theological issue” (not merely secular), and its defense by the Christian must be FIRST on a Biblical footing (too often I’m guilty of not starting there…). Just discovered your blog this morning while reading a blog on the WEC website. Our hearts are knit in Christ.

    Keep the faith.

    • That’s encouraging, Jerry – thank you, mate. I’m glad it resonates. I’d encourage you to read John Piper’s This Momentary Marriage (free to download as an e-book) – he communicates things around the sensitive issue much better than I could. I like what Piper says in chapter one, “There never has been a generation whose general view of marriage is high enough. The chasm between the biblical vision of marriage and the common human vision is now, and has always been, gargantuan”. God bless, Nick

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