by Hadley Robinson
Jesus repeatedly taught that marriage is both made and unmade by God alone (c.f. Matt. 19:6). Neither the State nor any man has a lawful role in undoing what God has joined together.
Since the most ancient times, civil government has overstepped its authority given to it by God. Our government has instituted laws that protect wives and children if they are abandoned by their husbands -- what is an accident of marriage. However, this has nothing to do with the making and dissolution of the marital relationship.
Marriage precedes the establishment of the civil power. It is thusly not bound by nor subject to government authority. Like King Herod, the state has a perpetual desire to usurp God's authority every chance it can.
However, the State can exercise authority over the accidents of marriage, such as assault, abuse, and abandonment. This is granted in Romans 13, among other Scripture (Exod. 20:14; Lev. 20:10; Matt. 19:6; Rom. 7).
The success or failure of lifelong monogamous marriage in a culture largely determines whether that culture will have any long term future. It is of first importance that we – the leadership of the Church – insist that those among us hold marriage to the Biblical standard without compromise. For example, long ago the authors of the 1662 Anglican Book of Common Prayer believed this. The Bible teaches the same from cover to cover and so must we. For example, the relationship between parent and child will always exist no matter what the state may do in separating them. The child will always have the same biological parents even if they never see one another again. One can no more dissolve the parent-child relationship than he can dissolve the husband-wife relationship – they are now "one flesh", the strongest relationship there is according to Gen. 2:24. Contrary to popular opinion, it is only dissolved by the death of a spouse.
C. The ceremony should be True to Scripture
Here is a translation of the marriage ceremony in the 1662 edition of the BCP into modern American English: The Ceremony of Marriage. The 1662 BCP ceremony is very ancient and is faithful to Scripture where later versions of the BCP began to introduce humanistic and anti-Christian elements into the ceremony.
It is beneficial to keep in mind the essentials that constitute a marriage in the eyes of Him who created it. (1) The woman must give her consent to the marriage – she must enter it entirely of her own free will. (2) The marriage must be ratified by witnesses. (3) The marriage must be consummated. (4) The parents of the man and the woman should agree to the marriage. If there is not agreement, it is still a marriage but the new couple cannot expect God to bless the union. A godly marriage must not be some sort of concubinage as characterizes many unions in our culture today. If any of the first three essentials are missing, it is fornication, a rape, or concubinage and not a marriage. Here is a more detailed discussion of these essentials required for a marriage.
Explicit instructions are given concerning what was once known in medieval times as the banns – a public and formal notification of the proposed marriage. This was done to help ensure
that no one was hiding material facts that could later affect the union. Fraud and deceit are nothing new. With more than half of all marriages ending in divorce or separation
including in the Church, knowing as much as possible about a future spouse is vitally important.
For example, this writer investigated the history of a man who intended to marry a woman who had taken refuge in our home and was under his protection and care. It was revealed that he had a wife and family in another country. Suffice it to say, the proposed marriage was nixed. Objections to the banns are the very reason it should be done. Does one or the other have something to hide? Prospective grooms and brides that are offended by an investigation of their personal lives have – ipso facto – confessed that they are hiding something. Too often one in a proposed marriage is hiding a material fact that would give the other grave doubts as to the future success of the marriage. If objections to the marriage become known but all choose to proceed, no one can claim, “I did not know....”
It is strange, for example, that applicants for jobs in a daycare face much greater scrutiny than a couple wanting to be married. Should such important investigations as to a man’s character and history be left to a woman madly in love? What experience do most parents have in this regard? It follows that if some material fact emerges after the marriage has taken place that would, if known previously, have either prevented the marriage or given one of the parties clear reason to refuse the union, the marriage is unlawful and invalid. It is a form of concubinage, at best, or a rape, at worse. Such things as misrepresentations of one's Christian faith, an undiscovered previous marriage, or a child by another are grounds for annulment because there never was a true marriage in the first place. Undisclosed matters, such as an abortion, mental illness, criminal convictions, sterility, and bodily diseases such as STD's, are additional grounds for annulment of the marriage. Anything that prevents true consent from being exercised prior to the union is fraud. This is why the Church must take every measure to ensure that the parties to a proposed marriage are dutifully informed of the particulars of the other party. If a man knows that his future wife is mentally ill and sterile, for example, he has no excuse to protest the marriage at some later date. Young women can be exceedingly silly and fall in love with a scoundrel whose true character and history only comes to light after the marriage ceremony has taken place. For this reason, a father is given the authority to nullify a vow or oath of a daughter under his care and this includes a marriage (Nu. 30:3 ff).
It is not so much the existence of past sins that hurts the prospects for a successful marriage but the covering up. But covering up evil is the principle mode of operation of the detestable leaders of the culture in which we find ourselves so it is hardly any surprise that people follow their example. When sin is brought out in the open, it can be confessed, repented of, forgiveness received, counsel given, and God’s blessing obtained. However, this does not mean that the consequences of such sin are erased in this life.
The ease with which persons can move from state to state (even from church to church) has weakened the general knowledge the local church has of people in the congregation. One has to marvel at church leadership of the 16th century for implementing the banns as it was then far more difficult for people to hide important personal facts, such as mistresses on the side, compared to today. In these times, extreme privacy, enforced by a godless heathen government and accepted by the public, has greatly damaged the institution of marriage by allowing people to maintain secret lives, past and present. The shepherds of the flock have mostly gone along with the government's usurpation of that which belongs to only God and His Church.
Nonetheless, if sinless people are required for a successful marriage then none should marry and those who are, are doomed. Thankfully by God's magnanimous grace, this is not the case. Nonetheless, we may still have trouble. The sufferings that Christ promises we will experience can include such things as a life of celibacy in the wake of an adulterous spouse (Mt 19:10-12). Hopefully, our spouses will not abandon us for others. But if this does happen, we are not alone nor without comfort. Our Savior knew and shared the repeated pain caused by His adulterous bride, Israel.
Sadly, the churches are largely culpable for adding to the tidal wave of divorce and immorality by marrying virtually anyone who can fog a mirror. There has also been a lack of courage among shepherds with respect to confronting sin and folly. Nonetheless, there are still a few churches that remain committed to the permanence of marriage but this must be improved.
Marriage is not some personal relationship that is no business of the society at large – a common view during these times of extreme social decay. Most nations and cultures in the
world solemnize marriage in one way or another. Those who do not are lands of perpetual disorder, confusion, and corruptions. Troubled marriages cause horrific problems for the
children they conceive – from suicide to criminal behavior and other pathologies. The Chalcedon Report once summed up the importance of marriage and the family very well in an
advertisement they placed in a magazine:
“The family is the child’s first school, where he receives his basic education; his first church, where he is taught his first lessons about God; his first state, where he learns of law and order; and his first vocation, where he is given his first work and responsibilities.”
Tantamount to a successful marriage is also the requirement that Christian young men and women remain chaste until they become married. That is, it is foolish and dangerous to engage in activity that, in marriage, is for the purpose of bringing the cells of life together in order that a child, by God’s creative power, might be conceived. Most shepherds of today's flock do not hold the youth accountable to that which God hates: Immorality.
While no ceremony can, by itself, guarantee a successful and happy marriage, it can be an effective tool of instruction for the couple and those attending. It can also help both
friends and family hold a couple accountable that is undergoing difficulty. The couple's future happiness can only be found in themselves and not with anyone else – a radical departure
from the current heathen view.
“What God has joined together, let man not separate.” Matt. 19:7
Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. – Heb. 13:4