Dear Church Family,
Throughout history, many have questioned the proper place and role of the institution of marriage. In our day, marriage – as ordained by God in the Scriptures – has come under attack with a renewed vigor. So, it is helpful to be reminded of what the Bible teaches about the special place of marriage and its purposes. This past Sunday, we studied this topic in chapter 24 (“Of Marriage and Divorce”) of the Westminster Confession of Faith.
WCF 24.1 – The Definition of Marriage
Marriage is to be between one man and one woman. This is how it’s been from the beginning (Genesis 2:18-25), and was confirmed by Christ in the New Testament (Matthew 19:4-6). Polygamy is condemned in Scripture (Deuteronomy 17:14-17; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6). And, this definition of marriage precludes any notion of “same-sex unions.” In the Scripture, homosexuality is clearly defined as sin (Genesis 18:20, 19:4-7, Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Timothy 1:8-11). I’ve written previously on what our Biblical responses to the current attack on marriage ought to look like and the ‘givenness of human nature.’ You may also read our denomination’s official response to the Supreme Court ruling on “same-sex marriage” here.
WCF 24.2 – The Purposes of Marriage
While we may speak of the many benefits of marriage, including its illustration of Christ’s love for the church (Ephesians 5:22-33), the confession lists three specific purposes of marriage: (1) the mutual help of husband and wife, or helpful companionship (Genesis 2:18); (2) the raising up of godly children (Malachi 2:14-16; Acts 2:39); and (3) sexual protection (1 Corinthians 7:1-9).
WCF 24.3 – Who Marriage Is For
The blessing of marriage is a gift for all peoples, for unbelievers and believers alike (1 Timothy 4:1-2), and the institution of marriage should be held in honor among everyone (Hebrews 13:4). It is for all who are able with judgment to give their consent (Genesis 24:57-58).
For believers – and especially for those who “profess the true reformed religion” – they are only to marry and be joined to other believers (Deuteronomy 7:3-4; 2 Corinthians 6:14). This is why the confession warns against believers marrying with “infidels, papists, or other idolaters.” To some, this may seem like overly harsh language, but as G.I. Williamson points out:
It may be argued that a person could conceivably be a true believer and yet be an adherent of a false religion. We believe that this is a false abstraction. A person’s faith is not to be judged part from his profession and walk, and in this case the profession and walk would be contrary to the judgment that he is a believer. We cannot so separate between personal and corporate responsibility. (The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes, 237-238)
WCF 24.4 – The Parameters of Marriage
The teaching of this paragraph is simple: incest is sin. Or, as the confession puts it, “Marriage ought not to be within the degrees of consanguinity or affinity forbidden by the word” (Leviticus 18:6-9; 1 Corinthians 5:1).
WCF 24.5 – Adultery, Divorce, and Remarriage
There are some who teach that the bond of marriage is insoluble. Yet, while it is true that the Lord hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), there are certain instances in which there are legitimate and biblical grounds for divorce. Adultery or fornication is grounds to dissolve an engagement to be married (Matthew 1:18-20); and, adultery after marriage is grounds for the innocent party to sue out a divorce (Matthew 5:31-32). In such a case, the innocent party may remarry (Matthew 19:8-9).
WCF 24.6 – Adultery and Desertion
Because marriage is both a creational ordinance (Genesis 2:18-25; Hebrews 13:4) and a concern of the church (1 Corinthians 7:39; Ephesians 5:22-33; Titus 2:1-8), both the State and the Church have a vested interest in upholding and protecting marriages. As I tell every couple in pre-marriage counseling, the two people who are the least objective about a marriage are those in the marriage; therefore, it is often necessary to pursue outside help.
As we’ve already said, God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16) and divorce is never required or mandated (1 Corinthians 7:12-13). At the same time, however, there are two Biblical grounds for divorce: adultery (Matthew 5:31-32; 19:8-9) ad willful desertion by an unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:10-15).
The last paragraph in this chapter of the confession points out that the corruption of man is such that it is “apt to study arguments unduly to put asunder those whom God hath joined together in marriage.” Thus, we must be careful to not follow the way of the world by looking for any and every excuse to break the bonds of marriage. We must do all that we can to respect and uphold marriage, our own and others’.
For further reading on this topic, I recommend Jay Adam’s book, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Bible. And, for those who find themselves in the very difficult position of seeking to reconcile a marriage that has been corrupted by marital infidelity, I recommend Dave Carder and Duncan Jaenecke’s book, Torn Asunder: Recovering From an Extramarital Affair. But, I especially recommend that Christian couples not seek to ‘go it alone’ but seek the help of other believers in the church – especially the pastor and elders of the church who have the responsibility to shepherd the flock entrusted to their care (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-3; Hebrews 13:17).
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch