What I Believe: Christian Marriage

My beliefs about Christian marriage are, of necessity, shaped by my own experience of marriage. My first marriage took place in a church when I was not a practicing Christian. That marriage lasted fourteen years. My second marriage was a brief ceremony in a pastor’s living room when I was living a committed Christian life. That marriage has lasted many years and my full intent is that it will last as long as we both shall live.

A Christian marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman that they will live in a lifelong exclusive relationship. To do so is a gift from God because there are many things, I believe, that war against the durability of a marriage. A public profession of promised love and faithfulness must be supported by an acceptance of the Christian view of marriage by both parties.

Christian marriage has practical as well as spiritual benefits. It seems obvious that two people working together to deal with the issues of life will have a better chance of coping with whatever may come.

When Paul used marriage as a picture of Christ’s love to the church (Ephesians 5:22- 23), he brought Christian marriage into the realm of the spiritual blessings given to Christians.

Advertisements

What I Believe: Common Marriage

What follows is a letter that I wrote to Touchstone magazine and that was printed in their May/June 2016 issue. The post following this one will tell you my beliefs concerning Christian marriage.

David J. Theroux in his article “Higher-Order Marriage” (Touchstone January/February 2016) showed us that Martin Luther was wiser than we might have otherwise known. He writes that Luther believed marriage should be a function of the civil government. Now, why might Luther think that? Well, if we go back before Jesus, Moses, Abraham, and Noah we arrive at Adam and Eve and the first marriage. Marriage was given to our first ancestors as a common good for all of humanity. It occurred in a manner open to the whole human race: cohabitation.

Theroux’s argument that Christian marriage is a higher-order relationship is true—and a truism. Everything of Christianity is a higher order of living. However, this does not deprive others of the common goods God has provided for the human race. For marriage to be available to all male/female couples it must be a function given to the civil authorities for they are the only institutions with universal jurisdiction. This I think might have been Luther’s logic.

Our civil authorities have failed in their responsibilities to God in the realm of marriage, and in many other ways. They will pay the price. In the meantime, I think we need to look very carefully at ourselves to see if we have pushed people away from finding a higher-order marriage in our churches by raising too high the standard required for a valid marriage.

What I Believe: Christian Maturity

Immature Christians are sometimes described as being like babies who are not yet weaned and thus unable to feed on the solid food of Christ’s teaching. So what are we to about this situation? I believe we can expect our spiritual maturing to proceed as our physical maturing did. That is, it moved sometimes slowly and sometimes rapidly over a considerable time period. Nonetheless, our body had a plan for what the finished result would be.

I think I have taken the eating and physical growth metaphor as far as it will go as there is no end in this life for our need to continue maturing in Christ. There also seems to be no end to suggestions as to how Christians are to mature, many of them involving events and/or products.

To get anywhere with God in any attribute, I believe, we need to put our Creator in charge. After all, he made each of us unique and only he knows what he has in mind for each of us. There is an old joke that goes “The trouble with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar.” However, this witticism may bring us close to the problem of maturing. Most of us may prefer doing something rather than being something, such as a willing servant of our Lord. Yet we will only become more mature as we allow ourselves to be made more and more in the image of Jesus.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians that “[T]his slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17 RSV). We may find rather more than slight affliction is required as we take on the weight of eternal glory but in the end I am sure we will think it worth it.

What I Believe: Forgiveness

Most of the time when we think of forgiveness we think of God forgiving us. However, at the end of what we know as the Lord’s Prayer Jesus gave the people he was speaking to this teaching about forgiving others. “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15 RSV).

The need for forgiveness among people comes from us having to live as imperfect people in a fallen world. Fortunately, Jesus gave us two commandments that form the basis of right-minded forgiveness. Love God with all our being and love everyone—including ourselves. Forgiveness should be based on love not on a desire to get right with God by obeying a commandment. Also, I think Jesus had in mind that our love should be as clear-sighted as his and not fogged by cultural constructs. Be that as it may, commandments are always impossible for us to completely obey. This brings us to how we go about the matter of forgiveness.

To be able to truly forgive others, and ourselves when we fail to do what is right, we must ask God to grant us the ability to love in a way that exceeds our present capacity. We need from the Holy Spirit a filling of love so we can forgive others and ourselves not on the basis of their or our righteousness but because we have been enabled to have in us more of God’s love

I also believe following the guidance of the Lord’s Prayer keeps us from asking God for mercy and refusing to grant it to others.

What I Believe: Eternal Life

All those who are justified, sanctified and glorified will live forever. I envision getting to this eternal state as involving a multistep process involving our lives both on earth and in heaven before we arrive at this final condition. The first step is justification in this life as we receive eternal spirits through the work of the Holy Spirit. Next there comes physical death when our physical body and living spirit are separated. Our bodies return to their elements. Our spirits go somewhere in the heavenly realm.

The completion of the process of our sanctification might be in a “purgatory” of the enjoyment of the presence of God. Perhaps this part takes place as we sing in the heavenly choirs and thus learn the truth about the Trinity and absorb what we need for our coming glorification. Frankly, I think instant total sanctification might be too much of a shock to our still earth-stained spirits at the time of our death and that there is a stage of spiritual growth necessary before we are ready to live as fully glorified people.

Glorification is when our sanctified spirits are joined to our resurrection bodies.

I believe we can know what our glorified bodies would be like were we to return to earth. We would be in bodies of such power that we would be as radiant as Jesus, Moses and Elijah were on the Mount of Transfiguration. We do not know what our bodies will be like when we go to live in the New Jerusalem.

When we fully exist in heaven we will be justified, sanctified and glorified. We also will be in the very presence of God so as to enjoy him forever. However, as to what our activities will be other than worship and celebration I find only hints in the Bible. Apparently, we must wait to find out about our eternal purposes, probably ones shaped in God’s mind before the creation of the earth.

What I Believe: Justification

Justification is when God the Father accepts us as righteous through the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in us. Justification precedes sanctification and glorification. As far as I know, it must be provided to us by God’s grace before we leave planet Earth.

Justification appears to have the characteristic of a “legal fiction.” We are never totally righteous until we are finally glorified in heaven but we are treated as such on earth because our glorification is a sure thing. I believe that once justification is granted to us, it will never be taken away. One reason for this is that justification does not come from us nor is it given for what we are or think or for what we do.

By his sinless life and total obedience to his Father’s will, Jesus made it possible, I believe, for the Father, in justice, to provide righteousness to those who are effectually called.

What I Believe: Election and Divine Calling

The problem here for me is how to reconcile election and divine calling with the freedom of human will. This has been a problem in theology for a long time. As for me, I am very fond of election because I know I never would have had a chance to become a child of God without it.

Election

Election is always for God’s purposes but it is not always about redemption, as we normally think of it. The Old Testament contains numerous examples of elections in both directions. Joseph was elected to save Israel from starvation while Nebuchadnezzar was elected to destroy Jerusalem and send the Israelites into exile. In turn, another pagan ruler, Cyrus, was elected for the return of the exiles, and the rebuilding of the city and the Temple.

Eleven of the twelve apostles were elected to do Christ’s work on earth and then go on to eternal glory. One was elected for infamy on earth and annihilation as his eternal destiny. Jesus said of Judas that it would have been better for him if he had never been born.

Those who are elected will eventually do what God wills them to do. Even if as in the case of the Egyptian pharaoh, it takes ten plagues. Or as it was with Jonah a whale of an adventure.

Apparent Contradictions

Election and divine calling do not negate human will. No one comes to Christ or rejects him except by his or her own choice. So how can God ensure that people make the choice he means them make. This seems a hard problem unless we believe that God is active in our world. Once we accept that, we can see there is no limit to the forms of persuasion that can be applied to convince one of the elect to choose what he or she had always been meant to choose. Human will is malleable not sovereign. On the other hand God can leave those who reject him to have what they desire—the absence of God. In either case, God’s will is certain to be accomplished. Thus we rightly pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven and, sure enough, it is.

Universal Offer

As to the question of why Christ’s work needed to be sufficient for all humanity although not everyone would avail their selves of the offer. I believe this is to ensure that no one who rejects God or willfully believes in false religions, philosophies or ideologies can claim that they were not able to be redeemed.

Jesus’ work on earth in its power and scope was sufficient that anyone who seeks God will find redemption. This is because they are one of the elect. This means that those who refuse to seek God, as they should because of the evidence of God’s work and creation all around them, are responsible for their earthly and eternal destinies.

The gospel and the entire message of Christ are to be brought by Christians to as many people as possible that they might be encouraged to do in regard to God what they are responsible for doing. Those who do not have an opportunity to receive the gospel will be, I believe, judged rightly according to how each of those persons would have responded to the gospel. Justice will be done in each case.

Effectual Divine Calling

Each person who comes to an effective faith is Christ arrives there by a different chain of experience. This is not to say all paths lead to God. There is one Way and each of us walks on our own portion of that narrow road.

It is the work of the Holy Spirit that gets us on the right road by convicting us of our sins and enlightening us in regard to the actually of Jesus. Then, at the proper time, I believe, we are brought to offer our lives to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Our offering will be accepted, as Jesus promised, and we will be received, redeemed, and reconciled. The other good things of the Christian life will start happening at that point.