This story got me wondering about all of the grief Christians are displaying over the institution of marriage (some of which I share). It is about the government of Israel not recognizing the marriages of some evangelical Protestants.
Hundreds of Israeli evangelical couples have traveled out of the country in order to get married because the Jewish government does not officially recognize their faith. Church leaders are escalating efforts to change that.
The Council of Evangelical Churches in Israel (CECI), which includes 51 churches and organizations such as Campus Crusade and the Bible Society, formally requested in August 2011 that Israel recognize four denominations on behalf of nearly 5,000 followers. More than a year later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—who must approve the request—has yet to respond, says Michael Decker, chief counsel for the Jerusalem Institute of Justice (JIJ).
The reporter goes on to supply a quote from a from Mr. Decker: “”We’re dealing with a basic civil right. . . . It really is degrading for large groups of people that have a religion and want to get married according to their religion.”
From one angle, it is useful to recognize that once the state is the one responsible for legitimizing marriage, some groups may be excluded, such as gays in the U.S. and evangelicals in Israel.
But from another angle the notion of Christian marriage or being married “according to [your] religion” as a basic human right is odd. The first Christians (I’m supposing) didn’t enjoy a state that sanctioned their marriages. And the New Testament (the whole Bible for that matter) is remarkably silent on which institution — state, family, or church — is responsible for allowing access to marriage.
For instance, here’s the best the OPC could do in its proof texts for the Confession of Faith’s chapter on marriage:
a. Gen. 2:24. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. Matt. 19:4–6. And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. Rom. 7:3. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. Prov. 2:17. … which forsaketh the guide of her youth, and forgetteth the covenant of her God.
b. Gen. 2:18. And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. Eph. 5:28. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. 1 Pet. 3:7. Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.
c. Gen. 1:28. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. Gen. 9:1. And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. Mal. 2:15. And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.
d. 1 Cor. 7:2, 9. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.… But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.
e. Heb. 13:4. Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.
The proof texts go on, but the point is that none of the biblical material supporting a Christian view of marriage say anything about whether the state has a role in recognizing or granting marriages, or that believers should seek the state’s approval of their religious convictions about marriage. That contemporary Christians view biblical teaching on marriage through the lens of politics is a further indication of how Christian political activism skews the reception of Scripture and the practice of Christianity.
By the way, of the major Reformed confessions, the Standards are the only one to devote an entire chapter to marriage.
And yet, Protestants continue to look to the state to baptize their marriages when the early church knew no such blessing or use Christian norms for marriage as leverage for spiritualizing political debates. This does not mean that Christians in the United States should not think about the civil institution of marriage or voice objections to proposed changes in marriage laws. But it does mean that Christian marriage has endured a variety of political and legal conventions. The Bible may teach what form marriage should take but it says practically nothing about the legal and political arrangements.