Our pesky American culture is really forcing our churches to rethink our perspective and understanding of marriage. On the surface, this sounds as if we’ve given in – saying we have to rethink marriage. After all, the argument may go, it was ours first. However, as with all of life, when you see actually talk with sit down and talk with individuals about specific situations, you quickly find out that our tried and true understandings may not be so clear cut.
I suppose there are many aspects of this discussion, and I am really try to cut down the length of my posts (I’m always a wordy guy), so I’ll try to hit on a few of the more relevant issues that have come up in my life experience lately.
The real issue underlying what I’m reflecting on is premarital cohabitation. Yeah, this is the big one. It’s one that we really struggle with as church leaders. What to do with that one? It has become common thought among young people in our culture to pursue a live-in relationship prior to the official wedding ceremony/marriage license. The tradition within the church is strongly opposed to this line of thinking. For many years, this prevailing thought has been at the church’s doorstep, but now has totally blown our doors open. Regardless of your upbringing, this is a prevailing wind of thought that seems to be a viable option for all.
The church is affected as the children we are raising opt for this choice, visiting non-members are often in this situation as they enter our communities, as they come to our ministers seeking marriage . . . how do we respond? How do we communicate a positive, godly perspective of marriage and yet not come across judgmental, abrasive, and unmerciful? That seems, to me, to be at the heart of the matter.
There are two extremes we must seek to avoid. One is to allow our surrounding culture to dictate marriage values where the church simply echoes that perspective. On this extreme, the church has lost her distinct voice. However, equally problematic is allowing the church to offer such a direct and strict understanding of marriage that it allows no grace in the midst of difficult circumstances. In my observations and discussions with others, it seems the church is more likely to err on the side of the latter than the former . . . though the tide, I think, is turning.
In my mind, the big missing component in many of the discussions on this topic in the church is the recognition of individual circumstances. The church has long had this problem in regards to our understanding of divorce. We like to offer universal tenets that are timeless, applicable to every situation and circumstance. It doesn’t take you too long to realize that this is impossible when it comes to people. There are too many x-factors. Too many factors to consider. After all, what is grace, but a cure to the inadequacies of law.
I would like to see more of a rethinking of marriage. Some of these questions seem to be begging for discussion:
* When is a person “married” in the eyes of God?”
* What constitutes “marriage”?
* What is the relationship between the civil and spiritual aspects of marriage?
* How does our understanding of divorce impact our understanding of marriage?
* How do we understand through the lens of grace?
Just some thoughts . . .