Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sacramental Marriage

In my last post I discussed civil marriage and how it has fallen in the eyes of society. I left off discssion of the religious aspects of marriage or the Sacrament of Marriage so as not to confuse the two issues.

Marriage is "the union of husband and wife in body, mind, and spirit." (BCP p. 423) It is not a partnership where each contributes 50% to the outcome. It is a union where each person surrenders to the other person completely (or as much as possible). As Holy Scripture says, the two become "one flesh." There are no longer two distinct people in a marriage - there is "one flesh."

I've heard some rather terrible marriage sermons in my time. The worst talk about a "partnership of equals" where "both need to work to make the marriage work." This makes marriage sound like a business plan, not a "union in body, mind, and spirit."

In the Church Catholic, Marriage is a "Sacrament" - "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as a sure and certain means by which we receive that grace." (BCP p. 857) In marriage, the minister of the sacrament is not the priest or clergy person officiating at the wedding ceremony. The ministers of the sacrament are husband and wife. The grace given is the grace to surrender your will to the combined will of the marriage - to seek your spouse's good above your own.

The Church blesses marriages, not because we like marriage or we like married people or because we want society ordered but because of these four reasons (BCP 423):
  1. God Ordained marriage in Creation
  2. Jesus adorned marriage by his presence and first miracle at the Wedding feast in Cana
  3. Paul stated that marriage symbolizes the union between Christ and the Church
  4. Holy Scripture commends marriage to be honored among all people.

Sacramental marriages work to conform to the images of marriage given in Holy Scripture. When it comes to blessing same sex unions, we have no biblical warrant for doing so. I have challenged many people who support the blessing of same sex unions (including our Presiding Bishop) and no one has been able to show me where any of the four reasons is true for same sex unions.

Until we can show, objectively, where God condones and blesses same sex unions, the Church lacks the authority to bless them, let alone call them "marriages."


Phil Snyder


Dale Matson said...

I regret that marriage is not considered one of the sacraments in Anglicanism. A sacramental understanding of marriage is similar to me to the concept of the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Both understandings provide a much deeper personal meaning for me. To be at odds with my wife is to be out of fellowship with Christ. I know this is true of my brothers and sisters also but I reside with my wife.

plsdeacon said...

Well, if you read the 39 Articles, you can read 2 or 7 sacraments. The two Dominical Sacraments (Baptism and Holy Communion) are of a different nature than the other five (Unction, Marriage, Penance, Confirmation, Ordination) because the other five are not ordained by Jesus in the four canonical Gospels. I could make the case (and many have) that these five are indeed ordained by Jesus by example, if not command. Jesus did not command us to marry, but he did bless a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jesus did not command us to ordain deacons, priests, or bishops, but he did call the 12 and the seventy and the Apostles appointed Matthias to succeed Judas. Jesus did not command us to anoint for healing, but he healed many. Jesus did command us to forgive sins. Confirmation is the only sacrament that I cannot (right now) bring dominical support to bear on.

Phil Snyder

bls said...

First of all, Marriage was not a Sacrament in the church until the 11th Century. So, quite obviously, the Church has not, in fact, been "of one mind" about the topic for its entire existence, and is open to new thinking about it.

And as a matter of fact, the 1662 BCP said that marriage was ordained for 3 specific purposes:

"First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.

Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ's body.

Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined.

Although they cannot procreate between themselves, gay people can and do have children - via adoption, or via former marriages, perhaps in other ways, such as via surrogates or in vitro procedures (all things that heterosexuals do as well). And of course the second part of Point 1 would still hold in any case, whether or not the couple - gay or straight - can procreate between themselves.

Point 2 is interesting, and seems to say that marriage was indeed ordained at least partly "because we want society ordered" (i.e., as a "remedy against sin" and so that "such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ's body").

And of course Point 3 certainly applies to gay couples as well as it does to heterosexual ones. In fact, not one of these points argues against same-sex marriage; all very clearly do apply, or could apply. So if we are arguing from this particular Book of Common Prayer, same-sex marriage clearly falls within the given boundaries; this book spells out exactly the reasons for which Marriage was ordained.

The 1979 Prayer Book doesn't do that. And that, along with the fact that Marriage was not a Sacrament until relatively late in the church's existence, says very clearly that doctrine and teaching about Marriage can and does change over time. And neither Book has anything to say about gay people, so one can't really argue that because Jesus didn't preside at a gay wedding in first-century Cana, this implies he was anti-same-sex marriage. He did preside at the joining of two people's lives in marriage; there's nothing in there that says they have to be a man and a woman.

But of course, we aren't talking about "Marriage" at all, in any case. We're talking about "Same-sex unions"; you yourself made the distinction very clear above. So I'm not sure why any of what you wrote pertains to this topic in any case.

bls said...

And please note Point 2 again: "that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry...."

This pretty clearly says that "continency" is the default position - not marriage, whether same- or opposite-sex.

See these two articles about celibacy for more about that.

plsdeacon said...

There is a difference between the purposes of Marriage and the definition of mMarriage.

Can you show me where, in Holy Scriptures, any of the four reasons for blessing marriages are true for same sex unions?

While Marriage has not always been defined as a "Sacrament" it has always been held in honor.

Phil Snyder

bls said...

OK, I'll try it again. The 1662 Prayer Book enumerates "the causes for which Matrimony was ordained," as above; none of which is inapplicable to same-sex unions. I'm not clear why this section should be ignored in favor of your four points; please explain your reasoning here.

And let me point out again: you are arguing here about "marriage," when the topic is actually "same-sex unions." You state openly that you don't believe that they are the same thing; why then do you demand that the "reasons for marriage" match up with the "reasons for blessing same-sex unions"? When a rite is developed for same-sex unions, presumably it will have its own set of justifications - which may or may not be coterminous with those of marriage. Please at least let's not mix apples and oranges and then try to call everything an orange; stick to the topic.

Of course, I don't really see why the four points you enumerate don't apply to same-sex unions, anyway. Please explain why you think they don't.

plsdeacon said...

Let me try again myself.

First, there is a difference between the definition of Marriage and the reasons for it. The reasons vary according to the culture. You will note that the 79 BCP and 1662 BCP list different reasons and in different order. "Homosexual Marriage" cannot occur in the Church because it overthrows the definition of marriage (one man, one woman, for life).

Second is the reasons that the Church (through her priests and bishops) bless Marriages. All four reasons I laid out come straight from Holy Scripture. Before we bless any homosexual analogue, we should list the reasons from Scripture for doing so. Since you seem to favor blessing homosexual unions, I am asking for the scriptural basis for doing so. Where does God ordain it? Where does Jesus bless it or even attend one? Where does Paul say it signifies the union between Christ and the Church and where does Holy Scripture comment it to be honored among all people?

I am willing to support the blessing of same sex unions if you can show me where Holy Scripture says anything positive about them.

Phil Snyder

plsdeacon said...

"Of course, I don't really see why the four points you enumerate don't apply to same-sex unions, anyway. Please explain why you think they don't."

If you cannot see the difference between marriage between men and women as discussed in the Creation Stories or in the Wedding Feast at Cana or in Ephesians, then you either need education in basic English or you are willfully ignorant of the differences. You don't see them because you don't want to see them.

Phil Snyder

bls said...

Phil, I hate to tell you, but you are engaged in a completely circular argument.

You claim that your four points prove that "marriage is only between a man and a woman." But those four points make no such claim; the claim is simply not there. Instead, your four points are based on the assumption that "marriage is only between a man and a woman."

In other words, you assume at the beginning what you set out to prove in the end. No wonder you can't get anybody to "refute" you; you've rigged the game. Be as nasty as you like about my "ignorance" and "need for education," but the problem is yours.

bls said...

(I should actually say that your interpretation of the four points is based on the assumption that "marriage is only between a man and a woman."

As I note, the points themselves make no such claim. Read them yourself; there's nothing there that says what you think it says. All of those points could equally well apply to same-sex marriage, given what they actually say. I think it's up to you to explain why you think they don't or can't.)

bls said...

I'd also ask you this: can you show me where Scripture says anything positive about, say, kidney transplants? How about free elections in a Democratic society?

And if not - how do you know they are OK?

I can also show you many places in Scripture where the lending of money at interest is absolutely forbidden. As C.S. Lewis writes:

"There is one bit of advice given to us by the ancient heathen Greeks, and by the Jews in the Old Testament, and by the great Christian teachers of the Middle Ages, which the modern economic system has completely disobeyed. All these people told us not to lend money at interest: and lending money at interest-what we call investment-is the basis of our whole system. Now it may not absolutely follow that we are wrong. Some people say that when Moses and Aristotle and the Christians agreed in forbidding interest (or "usury" as they called it), they could not foresee the joint stock company, and were only dunking of the private moneylender, and that,therefore, we need not bother about what they said. That is a question I cannot decide on. I am not an economist and I simply do not know whether the investment system is responsible for the state we are in or not This is where we want the Christian economist But I should not have been honest if I had not told you that three great civilisations had agreed (or so it seems at first sight) in condemning the very thing on which we have based our whole life."

So, again: how do we know that home mortgages are OK?

These things - and many others - are either expressly forbidden in Scripture, or make no appearance at all in Scripture. So how do we determine whether they are within the bounds of what we as Christians should do? Well, we debate about them, and decide whether or not they are within the spirit of what Christ (and the church, too, I suppose) taught and has taught. And same-sex unions certainly look a lot like marriage, to me. Here's what the Episcopal Church has to say about them, officially:

"....we reaffirm Resolution D039 of the 73rd General Convention (2000), that "We expect such relationships will be characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God," and that such relationships exist throughout the church."

That sounds like marriage, to me.

plsdeacon said...


First, the assumption that marriage is between a man and a woman is made in Holy Scripture, not by me. In Genesis 2 it is the man and the woman, not the man and the man. "For this reason, a man will leave is father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will be one flesh (Gen 2:24). The word for "wife" is actually "'ishsha" and is also used for "woman." That's not my interpretation, it is the author of Genesis' interpretation.

In Matt 19:5 Jesus quotes this, but word in Greek is "gyne" which also refers to a female.

So, marriage (by biblical definition) involves men and women, not men and men nor women and women.

What I am asking for is the biblical warrant behind blessing same sex unions or calling same sex unions "marriage" within the Church.

Nice attempted mis-direction on usury (you can read the history of the Church's stance on usury elsewhere. That's another topic). Is our Economic system unjust? Yes. But I don't see the church trying to write liturgies for blessing mortgages or lender or borrowers.

When the Church (or the priests or bishops of the Chuch) bless something, they are giving thanks for it and asking God to insure that it works to the fulfillment of His plan. So far, the official Church teaching is that homosexual sex is sinful and, thus, not part of God's plan, but part of the rebellion against God's plan. We cannot bless rebellion. So, what I am asking for is biblical evidence that homosexual unions are part of God's plan and not part of the rebellion against His plan. All the biblical evidence I see concerning homosexual sex points to rebellion, not to participation in the plan of salvation.

Phil Snyder

bls said...

Again, you're missing the point. We all know what the Bible says about marriage. And the fact that it talks about the marriage of men and women says nothing at all about whether or not same-sex partnerships can be included within the definition of marriage, or in some other marriage-like category. That is a different question, which the Bible does not answer. The Church is simply wrong about homosexuality being "rebellion" - that's not at all my experience or that of the vast majority of gay people I know - as it has been wrong about other things in the past.

The issue for us is whether or not what the Bible says about marriage can be extended to the kind of same-sex relationships we're talking about. And since you mention it, one of the Creation stories states that Eve was made as a "helpmeet" for Adam - an idea which certainly does extend to same-sex relationships.

Any chance you might ever answer some of my questions? How do you know that kidney transplants are OK, if we can't point to Scripture that specifically allows them? Nice misdirection, yourself.

BTW, I don't believe Adam and Eve were officially married, either before or after the Fall. And given that fact, I'd be interested in knowing exactly how "marriage was ordained in Creation." It might be nice to actually define some of these things, instead of making arguments that assume at the outset what they set out to prove.

bls said...

Going back to another of your points:

"First, there is a difference between the definition of Marriage and the reasons for it. The reasons vary according to the culture. You will note that the 79 BCP and 1662 BCP list different reasons and in different order. "Homosexual Marriage" cannot occur in the Church because it overthrows the definition of marriage (one man, one woman, for life)."

First, I'll note again that the four points you point to do not define marriage as "between one man and one woman." Leaving aside the fact that marriage throughout the Hebrew Scriptures often involved "one man and many women" (which implies that the "definition of Marriage" as you give it was "overthrown" long ago, and right in the Scriptures themselves), the thing you want to make the "definition" does not do the job you want it to do.

Second, I've already said - it was one of the main points in my own argument, in fact - that the 1662 and 1979 differ in this way. And these differences have the effect of changing church doctrine - which says that even in the church, and even on the topic of heterosexual marriage, the matter is not settled. So why is it so impossible to imagine that it might change again? Is the 1979 Book of Common Prayer the Ultimate Word on all things Christian, then? Also, if the "reasons differ according to the culture," then we can certainly assume that cultural events are indeed relevant to Church doctrine. And we can assume that some reasoning about meaning had to go into these changes in thinking.

So why, then, should we not do some reasoning on the issue we're considering presently? (And I don't mean "reasoning" of the sort that claims that "gay marriage destroys the world.") Obviously, the question continues to be an open one - which is perfectly legitimate, since this is in no way a matter of core doctrine.

plsdeacon said...

I've never said that gay marriage would destroy the world. I don't think that gay marriage would destroy heterosexual marriage. No fault divorce and serial monogamy have done that effectively enough.

The Book of Common Prayer and all Christian sources attest to marriage being one man and one woman. You want to change that. It is not encumbant upon those who wish to keep the same teaching regarding the definition of marriage as has existed for at least 2000 years (closer to 2500) of Christian and Jewish history.

It is the task of those who wish to change the teaching of the church to show why, from Scripture, Tradition and (not or) reason that how their proposed change is closer to the Mind of God and God's plan of salvation as it is revealed in Holy Scripture and to the Church.

So, I await your reasons, based on Holy Scripture, as to why homosexual sex is not sinful when Holy Scripture clearly says it is.

Phil Snyder

bls said...

"So, I await your reasons, based on Holy Scripture, as to why homosexual sex is not sinful when Holy Scripture clearly says it is."

OK, now we're on yet another topic, I gather: "Why is homosexual sex not sinful, when Holy Scripture clearly says it is?"

OK, I'll bite. First, Holy Scripture does not "clearly say it is." The Scriptures you're no doubt referring to, those in Leviticus, Corinthians, and Timothy, pointedly address men alone. They do not address female homosexuality at all. There is only one candidate in the entire Bible that could possibly be referring to female homosexuality, and that is in Romans. However, neither Origen nor Augustine read it that way, so there is no undisputed, clear-cut condemnation of homosexuality, per se, in the Bible at all. There is no clear condemnation of lesbianism, at any rate; one disputed (disputed, let's not forget, by some of the world's best theologians) verse does not a "condemnation" make, in any sense.

In other words, I dispute the statement you've made; I don't think it's accurate. If you'd like to talk about why the Bible appears to condemn male homosexual sex, I'll be glad to.

However, given the above, I don't believe that is what is at issue, either. Clearly, in Romans, the topic is "idolatry," and the plainly-stated problem is men "burning with lust for one another." Not what we're talking about here at all.

The Corinthians and Timothy verses have been translated in many different ways - and not until the twentieth century were the words used translated as "homosexual." They do clearly refer to some kind of male-male sex, as far as I know; one of the words used refers back to the Levitical prohibition, and of course Paul does recapitulate the Hebrew Scriptures in his writings, quite often.

Leviticus does condemn some kind of sex between males - but it also condemns wiseacre children, couples who have intercourse during the woman's menstrual period, and astrologers in the very same terms. Perhaps this group of commandments are of the class meant to differentiate Jews from the cultures around them. (As in: "Do not conform, therefore, to the customs of the nations whom I am driving out of your way, because all these things that they have done have filled me with disgust for them." Many cultures have not liked homosexuality and deny it exists in their own, even today.) Jews are commanded to obey these commandments, even if they don't understand the reason for it - but Christians aren't. We don't obey most of the rest of the 613 mitzvot, so one wonders why this one should be the exception.

In any case, I take issue with the way your question is presented; I don't agree that it is an accurate statement. If lesbianism is not condemned, then clearly neither is "homosexuality." Something else is at issue, and we should discuss what that might be.

bls said...

(Also, please note: while sex is part of a marriage, it is only that: a part.

So reducing a partnership to sex alone is part of the problem here. Since gay unions can and often do show forth the "fruits of the spirit," as enumerated in Galatians: "Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance" - and since the Scripture further states plainly that "against such there is no law" - then it seems clear that one has to infer that the premises you're arguing from are, simply, wrong.

Which is another reason to dispute the terms of your claims here, and why same-sex unions probably do fall under the "marriage" rubric.)