By Pastor Roy Mohon
How are Christians to react now that the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act has been passed? Concerning marriage, the Westminster Directory for the Public Worship of God begins: ‘Although marriage be no sacrament, nor peculiar to the church, but common to mankind, and of public interest in every commonwealth etc.’ These words speak right into our modern secular age concerning any Christian strategy for the defence of marriage. They caution us against any course that suggests that marriage is exclusive to the church or that private arrangements are marriages.
The Bible makes clear that marriage was given to mankind and is not unique to the church (see Genesis 2.18-25). In Church marriages, God is honoured as the one who gives, regulates and blesses marriage. This does not mean that civil marriages conducted according to Biblical principles are not valid, even if the God of scripture is not recognized in the ceremony.
It can no longer be taken for granted that those who profess faith will automatically understand that there is only one relationship recognized by God as pure in connection with physical love (Hebrews 13.4) When a newly ‘converted’ young couple, living together, request church membership, the pastor must ask if they are married. We can illustrate his response from three different cases that we might now expect to be encountered when the question is posed.
(1) If the couple answer, ‘Yes, we were joined together by a secret vow we made to one another’, the pastor must advise the couple that they are not married because God requires public ceremony in the presence of witnesses. He must add that they need to regularize their relationship.
(2) If the couple were of the same sex, the pastor must explain that the church cannot accept their union as marriage and that they need to separate to avoid sin. He can point out that Biblical marriage is synonymous with Holy Matrimony, which involves heterosexual union. Matrimony (from the Latin mater) points to “motherhood” and requires no more and no less than one male and one female in order to procreation. It may be that the specific man and woman involved are not capable of reproduction by reason of age or disability but such incapacity does not affect the validity of the marriage even though the ‘marriage’ has always been a synonym for matrimony.
(3) If the couple answer, ‘Yes, at the registry office before we were converted’, the marriage will be accepted as long as what took place was public, promise-based and attested by a marriage certificate. We do not regard any offspring of the union as illegitimate nor do we see another marriage as being necessary before membership of the Church.
The question arises how it is that the Church, believing in Holy Matrimony, acknowledges a marriage where an unholy man and an unholy woman promised before an unholy registrar to live together as man and wife? We can reply that there would be a great difference between the Jewish wedding in Cana of Galilee and those in Rome but the honouring of God in the former and the absence of it in the latter did not enter into the validity of the marriages. A secular marriage meeting the Biblical criteria for marriage is as valid as one in an Evangelical church.
It is clear from the foregoing that the way forward for Christians is not by forging an unreal distinction between Christian marriage and civil marriage but to insist upon the reformation of the latter to conform to the God-given minimum criteria evident in services of holy matrimony in which a heterosexual couple make public pledge of fidelity for life by solemn vows.