There is much consternation over the state of marriage today. The institution itself has suffered serious social diminution-so much so that same-sex marriage appears inevitable. But the blame for this lies less with the culture at large than with the church in America. How so, you ask?
We seem to have forgotten an essential truth about the world and the nature of man. The world is fallen: all that was once good has been bent or broken, and something has gone seriously wrong. The nature of man is unremittingly inclined toward selfishness and sin and away from obedience to God. There are some who have, by God’s grace, been saved from this condition, their old nature replaced with a new inclination to obedience and righteousness. Thus a war is raging in the world between the darkness and those who walk in the light of Christ.
Given these facts, the world will always drift in the direction of degradation and self-destruction. However, God in his mercy has come into the world to bring about the restoration of all things, calling men and women to repentance and the church serves as an instrument by which this redemptive work occurs. Where the church is faithful-to love the Lord their God and love their neighbors-there follows a power greater than that, which is in the world. The kingdom is made manifest and light pierces the darkness. Hope replaces despair, peace replaces turmoil, and freedom displaces oppression. Conversely, where the church is lackluster in its pursuit of the kingdom-indifferent to God and his purposes-the wicked rule and darkness will, for a time, subdue the light. Hope appears to vanish and disorder and oppression seem to reign everywhere.
Such is the case when it comes to marriage. How can the church expect the world to honor the marriage covenant when we do not? While I certainly believe that citizens of a free society should oppose all legal and public policy measures that undermine the biblical design for marriage and the family, these efforts will ultimately fail if the church does not collaterally create a culture of marriage. This “culture creation” occurs when the church demonstrates what life under the reign of God looks like-and under the reign of God, marriage is a sacred covenant, not to be broken. Furthermore, this demonstration of life lived under the loving rule of God is essential to our bearing witness to the gospel of the kingdom. Our lives, lived under the lordship of Christ, communicate to the world that there is a God who has acted in history and that this God is loving and merciful … but also that this God calls us to abandon our rebel ways and return to his lordship.
When we live in obedience to God, the church provides the moral gravity that orders the world under God’s design. The church remains distinct from the world-and where it touches the world, there follows personal and social transformation. However, when the church abrogates this responsibility, the moral orbit of the society will naturally deteriorate. The church becomes indistinguishable from the world and the world begins to transform the church.
Beyond currently lacking the moral authority to preserve marriage, the church seems generally indifferent to the idea, especially when it comes to tampering with no-fault divorce. This past week I spoke with my friend, Kelly Shackelford of the Free Market Foundation about my desire to abolish no-fault divorce and the FMF’s ongoing efforts to do the same in the Texas state legislature. Kelly, a respected attorney who has worked for years on this issue, told me, “So far, the biggest problem has been the apathy of the church on this. If they rose up, we could do this in one legislative session.” The biggest problem is the apathy of the church! This sentiment is shared by many Christian activist organizations.
Do we not see the inherent sinfulness of this deplorable apathy and indifference to human suffering and injustice? Do we realize that it is our apathy that has contributed to the establishment of a system that operates in direct opposition to God’s kingdom principles and commands? It is likely our apathy that seduced the church into its wanton participation with divorce on nearly the same scale and frequency as the unchurched.
We are the only force in the world possessing the true nature and understanding of marriage, and as such it is our responsibility to first demonstrate and then press this understanding into the world as we seek first the kingdom. In the absence of such an effort, the world will naturally descend into a self-centered approach to marriage, which by definition erodes the essential characteristic of true marriage.
I realize there are many in the church that have suffered divorce, perhaps even pursued divorce in defiance of biblical justification. I myself experienced a divorce many years ago while in my twenties. I believe this divorce was very clearly allowed under the provisions of 1 Corinthians 7:15, which refers to an unbelieving spouse who seeks divorce. While most Christians would agree that divorce under these conditions is indeed permissible, some would argue that my remarriage was unjustified and therefore sinful. Suffice it to say, there is much debate on the issue. Regardless, we can repent and seek forgiveness from a grace-giving God and make every effort to sin no more.
What we cannot do is remain bound to our sinful past by reluctance to speak against unrighteousness because we were once unrighteous. We were all unrighteous until receiving grace and forgiveness! In fact, our past experience with sin can serve to bolster our opposition to the very same offense. Consider the case of John Newton, the former slave-ship captain, who despite once being an advocate and practitioner of this horrendous evil became, by God’s amazing grace, a powerful voice for abolition.
The time has come for the church to take the Bible seriously, to become the creator of culture rather than its victim, and to establish as one of its priorities a culture of marriage within the church first. There is no shortcut to cultural transformation, no easy way. It is only from this hard-won beachhead that the church can then begin to shape our culture and its institutions in ways that honor marriage and exalt the supremacy of Christ!
S. Michael Craven is the President of the Center for Christ & Culture. Michael is the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress). Michael's ministry is dedicated to renewal within the Church and works to equip Christians with an intelligent and thoroughly Christian approach to matters of culture in order to demonstrate the relevance of Christianity to all of life. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, visit: www.battlefortruth.org. Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.