Who defines marriage? (a repost, sort of)

Note: This bulk of this post originally appeared on March 4, 2008. The introductory paragraph has been changed to fit the context of June 2011.

The state of New York has officially legalized gay marriage. Now, it is always heartbreaking to see sin defended and celebrated as if it were not only legitimate but also honorable, but it’s not new. This should not be surprising to anyone. You can always count on sinful men to behave sinfully. The Bible makes this abundantly clear.  We should not be shocked when we see news reports to that effect. Neither should we get bent out of shape when sinful men feign to declare something evil as good.

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! — Isaiah 5:20

Quite frankly, I could not care less what the state of New York has to say about the definition of marriage.

canofworms.jpgDon’t get me wrong, I firmly stand with the Scriptural teaching concerning the sinfulness of homosexuality and the definition of marriage, but I think conservative, orthodox Christians are making a terrible mistake in arguing the theological points with politicians. To argue the theology of this issue is to miss a much, much larger point and accept a premise we ought to reject.

Liberals have been pushing for federal government recognition of same-sex marriages and “civil unions” while conservatives have advocated a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman consistent with Scripture. This fight has spilled over into the state level — as recent events attest. However, fighting the battle in this context assumes that the state has the authority to define what is and is not marriage — and it does not.

Marriage was instituted by God, Himself. He created it. He defines it. The state has no more authority to define marriage than it does to define salvation. The matters are just not open to debate. God has spoken. It is settled.

I really could not care less whether or not any state recognizes my marriage to my wife. It’s not open to their scrutiny. What matters is whether or not God recognizes our marriage. Do our brothers and sisters in Christ see our marriage as consistent with Scripture? Did our church authorize our union? These are the things that matter. I’ve always wondered why marriage licenses even exist. Marriage does not belong to the state so why does the state need to issue permission in the form of a license to anyone? It’s ridiculous.

Most Christians would agree that the issue of salvation is a more important theological issue than same-sex marriages. We don’t have state licenses for salvation. The state does not recognize anyone’s conversion. Why not? Because it’s not their business.

I have friends who adhere to different religious beliefs than I do. I can share my faith with them and they with me. But we don’t try to force our beliefs on one another through the power of state coercion. If we did we’d cease to be friends. Our freedom to choose for ourselves how we will conduct our lives is paramount in a free society.

weddingrings.jpgI don’t mind if two men get “married” in a ceremony by someone professing to represent God as a priest or pastor. I think they should be free to do that and the state should butt out. Is that form of “marriage” an abomination before God? Yes. Will I recognize their “marriage” as legitimate? No. No more than I will recognize someone’s professed salvation through Buddha. But, according to 1 Corinthians 5:12, it is none of my business to judge those outside the church for their sinful behavior. God handles that. I am accountable to my brothers and sisters in Christ and am to hold them accountable in turn.

But we all should agree on one point: In matters of theology — whether it concerns salvation or marriage or whatever — politicians should never be allowed to operate under the illusion that they are the ones who define such matters.

They are not.

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About Chip
Chip is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, AR and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, TN. He served more than five years on the staff of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana as Director of Communications and Public Relations, editor of the Indiana Baptist newsjournal, and regular contributor to the Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. He currently earns his living as a writer. He serves his local church as a teacher and deacon and his local Baptist Association as a Seminary Extension instructor and supply preacher.

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