Salvation By Marriage Alone
Internet Monk asks, from a 2010 entry (at least I think it’s from 2010, I may have the year wrong), have evangelicals and Baptists placed too much emphasis on marriage?
To which I would reply: Does the Pope wear a funny looking hat? Do bears crap in the woods? Is water wet?
And, on that page, I.Monk links to:
(Link): Is Singleness A Sin?
Excerpts from “Have We Said Too Much? (About Marriage, that is)”
Recently, my daughter returned from a conference at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. She had a fabulous time, but she mentioned something unusual. She said that every public prayer contained a request for God to guide the conference participants in finding a spouse. This wasn’t the theme of the conference, but the conference was primarily single young college students. Was this odd?
It didn’t surprise me. Southern has become increasingly visible in the culturally confrontational Christianity of its President, Dr. Al Mohler. (A personal hero of mine, and nothing that I write here changes that, I assure you.) And Dr. Mohler is on a crusade to get Christian young students to make marriage a priority.
In August 2004, President Mohler gave an address to a group of (primarily) Christian singles under the auspices of Josh Harris’s New Attitude conference. Mohler’s summaries of the address can be found at his web site: Part 1 and Part 2. The audio of the address is also available on the site.
The address created a bit of a firestorm, as Mohler did not just endorse marriage, but specifically criticized those who delay marriage.
[snip obnoxious quotes about singles by Mohler]
This debate is a small part of what I see as a major evolution within evangelicalism; an evolution toward overemphasizing marriage at the expense of much that is Biblical, good, healthy, balanced and normal in human and Christian experience. From the best of motives, some bad fruit is appearing.
…How can we over-emphasize marriage? Let me suggest some trends that disturb me, and make me want to suggest a larger, more critical discussion of the current “family values” emphasis before we buy everything that is being sold in all the current rhetoric.
1. Saying that delaying marriage is bad is overemphasizing marriage. This is too simplistic, and we all know it. Don’t get me wrong. Mohler sees a legitimate problem: singleness as an excuse for immaturity and rejecting legitimate adult responsibilities. There are such people. I’ve met them. Kick them in the pants.
On the other hand, there are so many other legitimate, good reasons people delay marriage, it’s almost beyond belief that they are ignored. Mohler is speaking to the culture that he sees influencing America in sitcoms like “Friends.” Let me speak about the single’s culture I see at our ministry here.
…thers are single because they have no real marriage prospects. Some are delaying marriage to care for parents or to pursue a larger career path beyond OBI… Of course, we also have divorced and widowed singles as well.
Frankly, many of the singles I know are more mature than I was when I was first married at 21. I absolutely encourage our high school students to delay marriage until they have matured in many different ways. Mohler is right to point out that marriage is a maturing experience, but it is not the only maturing experience, and it is not an automatically maturing experience. …
…Sometimes, listening to the current advocates, you would think that marriage is unfallen, or at least a refuge from the fall. While I agree it is a common grace, and even has sacramental qualities, it is thoroughly fallen and is not our salvation.
2. We overemphasize marriage when we say only “spiritually gifted” singles are truly in God’s will. Again, when Mohler talks about those called and gifted to be “single” as the only “normative” singles, he is running along a very narrow path, with plenty of ways to fall off.
The contemporary concept of spiritual giftedness has proven to be far from perfect or even helpful in many cases. I have done far more counseling with individuals who were confused about their spiritual gift than those who were finding assurance and joy from knowing their spiritual gift. How does one know he or she is called to celibacy and their delaying or passing on marriage is approved by God? In particular, given the differences in male and female sexuality and sexual development, how does a young man know that he is called to celibacy?
The concept of being “called to celibacy” occurs in the Bible in two ways: purposeful vows to be single, and pastoral advice to those who are single. Where in the New Testament do we see a “gift of celibacy” being considered by young singles in the way spiritual gifts are discussed in today’s church?
I have total respect for all those who believe God has called them to a life of celibacy, but I have to be honest. I know many who concluded God called them to singleness who later married. Our Roman Catholic friends could tell us a lot of stories about this.
3. It is an overemphasis of marriage when marriage is automatically called a “priority” for the unmarried Christian. Here is where I hope my readers will think carefully along with me.
…Does this mean that every Christian young person needs to make “finding a spouse” their major business? I say this as a youth professional and a youth minister who is watching many Christians- especially females- literally make finding a spouse the priority of their lives. Instead of boy crazy teenager girls, we have spouse-obsessed girls, who are seeing marriage as the most important, all consuming principle for living their lives. It is the focus of their prayers, the basis of their reading, the guiding principle of their involvements and a priority in all decisions. This concerns me.
… Should I be advising my daughter to put finding a husband as first on her list of priorities? Should my kids be, literally, pursuing mates in their relationships? (I use that word because I see this increasingly happening, and it’s not particularly spiritual.) Is there no value to a social activity with the opposite gender except what may lead to marriage?
In fact, shouldn’t the priority of general Christian character and growth be clearly ranked above any specific matter like marriage or missions, especially for a young person? Am I wrong to tell young people to pursue general Christian growth as the foundation of understanding God’s will in other areas? And will that general Christian growth always indicate that, yes, marriage should be the assumed priority for their life, even though Jesus wasn’t married and the New Testament shows a remarkable openness to single people in ministry?
4. We overemphasize marriage when those who are not married are out of the “center” of the Christian community, thus violating clear implications of the ministry of Jesus. I am extremely concerned that the emphasis on marriage in contemporary evangelicalism has created an imbalance within the body of Christ. I am already sensitive to this because of my own life experience.
I grew up in a fundamentalistic Baptist Church where the divorced were ostracized, baited, humiliated and blamed at every opportunity. (No, I am not exaggerating. Drinkers and divorced people were what was wrong with the world. Oh….and anyone who married a Catholic was bad, too.) This is why my dad only heard me preach, in person, five times in his life. What is outrageous about this is that 1) it was done by elevating never divorced families to the center of the church community, and 2) ignoring Jesus’ ministry to the marginalized and broken.
Jesus would have included- even preferred in some instances- the divorced, the single and the rejected in his community of followers. It is inconceivable to me that a church pastored by Jesus would put the emphasis on marriage that I saw in my childhood- or in many circles today. Today’s mega-churches specialize in that traditional family with two kids and a dog. Yes, many of them also successfully minister to singles and other groups, but am I the only one who hears such an incessant drumbeat of teaching on marriage, threats to marriage, crisis in marriage, marriage success principles and so forth that it can sometimes appear the church is preaching the “Good News of Marriage and Family” a bit louder than the Good News of Jesus?
I know single people can be whiners. Every pastor has those single members who don’t want to be single and annoyingly keep complaining that God is unfair. But are singles wrong when they say the church looks so much like a club for families that they don’t feel like they are normal, whole and blessed? Are so many family-oriented events and ministries done with serious thought to how Jesus did ministry? Did Jesus emphasize marriage as we do in most churches?
(Please click the “read more” link to read the rest of this entry)
I only mention this because I know we all would agree that Jesus endorsed marriage, but I do not believe Jesus over-emphasized marriage. In fact, Jesus’ own words about family don’t sound much like any guest on Dobson that I have heard. You know the passages I mean. Jesus does recognize an idolatry of family, and he frequently challenges it. This is in a culture that reads the Ten Commandments and concludes that family is perhaps the highest earthly priority. A culture that practiced arraigned marriages as a way of promoting Godly living. Yet Jesus refuses to go to the door and speak to his mother in Mark 3, instead saying that his followers are his family.
Do our churches reflect this? Or do they reflect an over-emphasis on marriage?
5. We overemphasize marriage when a gospel of “salvation by marriage and family values” is confused with the Biblical Gospel. I will admit to being confused by the current evangelical emphasis on cultural renewal. I am confused on several fronts.
First, I do not see this at all in the New Testament. In fact, if anything, I see almost a complete lack of anxiety over the moral state of the Roman empire or the Greek cities where the epistles were delivered.
Yes, the Christians have their eyes open, and the corruption of the culture is the background of much moral reasoning in the New Testament.
What I see in the New Testament is the church offering an alternative culture where marriage has its proper place, but I do not see any concern to rescue pagan culture from itself. I do not see the emphasis on cultural renewal that I see in men like Dobson or Mohler.
Second, the political involvement of the church in America is closely tied to the issue of marriage and family.
I understand that Christians are protecting and promoting what God has created, but the culture in which we are told to present an inviting community gathered around Jesus sees and hears a community gathered in opposition to gay marriage and abortion, and for the promotion and protection of marriage.
Yes, our culture needs to hear about marriage, even as a basis for evangelism.
But the overemphasis is doing a lot more than attracting people to our view of marriage. It is confusing many as to what we are all about.
There is quite obviously a vital connection between God, the Gospel, human life and family life. My concern in this essay is with an overemphasis on marriage. I am not trying to disassociate these cultural concerns from the church’s theology. But I am arguing that we have talked to the culture and to the media about marriage and family issues to the point that there is confusion about the Gospel.
Evangelicals are very good at obscuring the Gospel in the midst of other legitimate concerns. The shift of perceived evangelical leadership from Billy Graham to James Dobson is significant. Both men probably believe much the same things, but their perceived messages are quite different.
Thirdly, as a Reformed Christian with tremendous sympathies for covenant theology, it appears to me that we are seeing the triumph of a covenant understanding of marriage and family as a primary means of evangelizing the culture. It is now common to hear young singles state that they want to marry on order to have Christian children. … [snip rest of his discussion of this issue]
6. Finally, there is an overemphasis on marriage when normal experiences not leading up to marriage are viewed, at best, as worthless, and at worst, evil. I experience much of this discussion in the context of questions about dating and courtship.
Many- most- of the Christian young people I know are in tremendous confusion over these topics, and it is no wonder. The messages coming through evangelicals today are confusing. It is not at all unusual to hear [of dating – word seems to be missing here by I Monk, I assume he means ‘dating’] spoken of as an invention of the devil for the purpose of sex before marriage, and courtship spoken of as a divinely ordained plan for arranging a certain to succeed marriage.
So I’ll show my cards and say I think we have some serious problems here. I’ll list them in no particular order.
1) Courtship is far from a Biblically established and ordained way of finding a spouse. Ever since post-Josh Harris youth speakers began saying “Don’t date. Court!” there’s been enough confusion on this topic to fill a warehouse. This essay won’t attempt to straighten that out, other than to say this: The view of family and adulthood I read in the courtship movement would be quite at home in medieval Islam. If an individual wants a parentally supervised or arranged marriage, then by all means they should have it, but nothing in the Bible compels such a thing. If we are going back to the view of women in Leviticus, please let me know.
2) Dating is not a dirty word. In fact, what I am learning is that there is so much mass confusion over single people of opposite genders spending time together that condemnation of dating is no longer a fringe activity. It is mainstream. Parents of small children confidently assert their children will not date. Those who have dated imply that it was sex, 24/7 and ruins marriage. Dating leads to depression, suicide and certain divorce. All this is said routinely.
Where are they getting this? Some have suggested that evangelicals are totally convinced that single life in America is a “Friends” or “Real World” episode that cannot be escaped. Certainly, the sexual revolution has changed everything.
Pagans are sexually active, and Christians are tempted to join in. But am I to believe that we are left with nothing but the belief that dating is a certain road to a preview of hell?
Must I be convinced that my children cannot become mature young Christians who can enjoy a date? Do I have to believe that dating, and breaking up are unmanageable tragedies that must be avoided, so bring on the marriage brokers?
Must I believe that those who date have such “emotional baggage” that their marriages are doomed?
Good grief! Such pessimism. I believe the information age has done a number on us. Dating has always been an activity that tested our morals and maturity. That’s part of the point. I was never confronted with underaged drinking till my 8th grade dance. I passed. I had never been alone with a girl until I got my license and started dating. I wasted a few evenings abusing that opportunity, but we all navigated the experience with our virtue and sanity intact. In fact, the real cruel weirdness in went on at all those group youth activities, where no one knew who was going with whom. You needed a program guide! With a map!
3) My daughter wants to date for fun, to enjoy male company, for the experience, for friendship and, somewhere down the list, for the consideration of marriage prospects. Should I go and disavow her of this insane and worldly plan? Is she wasting her time when she could be conducting interviews with potential mates?
Dating is an American cultural phenomenon. Wise parents don’t buy into all it’s romanticism and rules, and we should beware of the possible folly. But if we can’t bring up our children to go out on dates as a part of growing up we are a sorry bunch of parents! There I said it! (Now I’ll change my email address.)
American Christians are afraid of the sexual wasteland that surrounds them and threatens their children. Eliminating dating and emphasizing marriage seems like a spiritual and rational response. I respect those who differ with me on this one, and yes, I am the same guy who thinks public schools are not quite the hopeless cesspool many other Christians do. I see kids do stupid things in relationships- including make terrible sexual choices- all the time. I have counseled hundreds and hundreds of teenagers with issues that go back to choices they made in .
…The very idea of overemphasizing marriage seems ridiculous. Christian radio, television, publishing….they all increasingly emphasize the importance of marriage. Pundits and preachers are sounding the marriage alarms. Christian families are more and more looking to marriage as the best solution to the problems of adolescence. Courtship is replacing dating, going steady and engagement for serious evangelicals.
Christianity is about Jesus. Marriage derives its meaning and beauty from Jesus. Is it possible to emphasize marriage too much and Jesus too little? Let the reader decide.
Related topic(s) this blog:
(Link): How Married Christians, Churches, Conservative Christianity and Christian Dating Advice Books and Teachings about Sex, and Sexuality Purity are Keeping Christians Single Into Their 30s, 40s, and Older
(Link): Salvation Army Bans Duggar / Quivering Cult’s ‘Retreat’ (Called ‘Get Them Married’) that Promoted Arranged Marriages for Teen Girls – Quivering Advocates Are Anti-Adult Singleness and Anti-Celibacy