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 institution 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 careful 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.