The Church and Marriage

Well this is a provocative way to restart my blog after a break for work obligations and a long weekend vacation! Ben Myers of the Faith and Theology Blog has a very thoughtful post that argues that the Church should get out of the marriage business, and return our concept of marriage back to its true sacremental roots. I have my doubts, but the post is well worth a read. You really need to read the whole post, but here are some highlights:

The investment of marriage with a pseudo-religious quality has long diminished the witness of the church: the state authorises a legal union, and then calls upon the church to bless this union with a thin veneer of religiosity. Here, as elsewhere, the church proves itself to be the state’s faithful servant: yes, we will validate state authority with a harmless blessing; yes, we are only too pleased to sanctify the wedding ceremony, and to clothe the social functions of romantic love and family life with a saintly aura.

Notice that the church is not invited here to proclaim its own proper message of judgment and grace. The church is not invited to bear witness. Instead, we are simply asked to add God’s blessing to the social order and to the state’s authority. Here the situation is just the same as in those churches where all infants born into the nation-state are provided with baptism: the church’s witness is undermined completely by its willingness to serve as the state’s lapdog. . . .

If there is anything distinctively Christian to say about marriage, then the first step should be the church’s flat refusal to co-operate in the grim and desperate business of wedding ceremonies, and a flat refusal to provide the state with any so-called “marriage altar.” As Karl Barth has put it, marriage “must be completely divested of the character of a religious doublet to the civil ceremony” (CD III/4, p. 228).

. . .

If we begin to refuse church participation in wedding ceremonies, perhaps the way will be opened for a renewed sacramental understanding of marriage. The church refuses to recognise the marital relationship – or, for that matter, “the family” – as the fundamental social unit. Instead, the Christian community recognises the body of Christ as the fundamental social order of the new creation. And within this new society, within this economy of friendship and hospitality and self-giving, the church also bears witness to particular instantiations of Christian friendship, to specially gifted loci of generosity and hospitality and self-giving love.

Here, Christian marriage is sacramental precisely because it bears witness to the incursion of the new creation. It interrupts the existing order with the glad tidings of God’s new world. It interrupts marriage itself – and all the parasitic violence of romantic love – with the joyful and generous reality of the peace of the body of Christ.

In short: let’s say No to church-sanctioned weddings, No to the culture of romance-at-any-cost, but Yes to the sacrament of marriage, Yes to the body of Christ. To paraphrase St Paul: For in Christ Jesus, neither marriage nor singleness is anything; what counts is a new creation.

Read it all here.


Michael said…
This is pretty radical stuff. I am not saying I think he is wrong, but it sure seems radical. I will have to think about this for quite some time.

My wife and I were married in a civil ceremony, but we both took those vows very seriously. Our marriage and love for each other is the most important thing in our lives. Yes, even more important than our relationship to God.

Maybe this is the wrong attitude, but it is ours.

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