MARRIAGE THE ORDINANCE OF A DIVINE UNION
Marriage, the entrance into a legal, legitimate and exclusive lifelong union of one man and one woman originated with God, was instituted by God, is blessed by God, is legitimately dissolved only by God and will, we believe, be preserved unto the end by God.
God made only one woman for a suitable and adequate companion (help meet) for only one lonely and inadequate man whom He had previously made.
Marriage is the closest of all physical unions on earth. The closeness of the union was expressed by the first man, Adam, when God made the first woman, Eve, and gave her to him in marriage. Quoth Adam, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh." The divine record follows with the injunction, "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh" (Gen. 2:23, 24).
The term "one flesh" suggests that marriage is basically a physical union. For this reason, when one of the marriage partners dies physically the marriage bond is divinely terminated (Rom. 7:2). This would also be a reason why the marriage of non-Christians is an honorable marriage relationship (Heb. 13:4) and why the marriage bond of a Christian and a non-Christian is binding on the persons involved. The Apostle Paul declares the legitimacy of such a union when he says that children born in this context are clean (I Cor. 7:14). Perhaps the meaning here is that they are not born in harlotry or whoredom.
If marriage were basically a spiritual union then only those persons who are born again could be consistently or legitimately married. Neither could physical death put asunder such a union.
When marriage is consummated within a Christian context it is a Christian ordinance. When it is consummated outside of a Christian context it is a divine institution intended by God for the blessing and benefit of society in general. Non-Christian marriages between one man and one woman, without any former marriage partners living, therefore constitutes a respectable relationship for the enjoyment of each other in companionship, and is a consistent and wholesome union for the propagation of the human race (Heb. 13:4, I Cor. 7:14).
The more seriously and sacredly the ordinance of marriage and its exclusive bond between one man and one woman is maintained and promoted by the church, the more respected the institution of marriage will be in a non-Christian society. The lightness of marriage and the high rate of marital casualties in the world of today is a sad commentary on the professed church of today.
For the Christian, whose aim is to glorify God and find the highest fulfillment in marriage, the holy commandment is given to "molly only in the Lord" (I Cor. 7:39). Although marriage is basically a physical union, its greatest joys and highest achievements can only be realized when spiritual life and ideals are an integral part of the marriage relationship. Marriage to an unbeliever or to one of basic differing doctrinal beliefs should never be considered by one who purposes to be loyal to the Lord and to the church. There is perhaps no harmony so sweet in the marriage union as the harmony of spiritual life and ideals, and perhaps there is no discord so bitter as the discord of different religious life and interests.
An illustration of the uniting value of common spiritual interests is indicated by a survey taken a few years ago which revealed that only one divorce in 500 marriages took place where there was regular Bible reading and prayer in the home.
While it is the general rule and expectation of the normal young man and the normal young woman to marry, the Bible recognizes the exception to the rule. Since we believe that God leads dedicated young men and young women together into marriage we must also believe that God leads some dedicated people into lifelong singlehood. Remaining unmarried is declared by the Apostle Paul, under certain circumstances, to have an advantage over marriage (I Cor. 7:8, 28, 38). It is wrong. therefore, to assume that every normal person will be or should be led by God to a life of marriage. Those persons who, by the providence of God, find their lot one of singlehood should take advantage of the special and particular opportunities they have to please and glorify God in their calling (I Cor. 7:32, 33).
Whatever the reasons may be for singlehood, loyalty to God and to the principles of righteousness should never be compromised for the sake of marriage. It is always better to be single and desire marriage than to be married and desire singlehood as is sometimes the case when principle is laid aside for the privilege of marriage.
Marriage is for persons who have reached a degree of maturity in manhood and womanhood. The Scripture says that "a man" shall be joined to his wife and that the younger women" shall marry. Statistics prove that teen-age marriages are fraught with hazards far above that of the more mature persons who marry. More than 50% of marriages under the age of nineteen end in divorce within five years. Far too many marriages are consummated today at about the age, or even before the age, when the marriage partners should be thinking of beginning their dating and courtship privileges. This would suggest, of course, that some young people are beginning courtship too young.
As an ordinance of the church we believe that it is proper for the marriage union to be consummated by a properly ordained, authorized administrator of the church. This person is God's representative to whom the bride and groom are responsible to make their marriage vows. It is indeed a very solemn moment when the bride and groom join right hands and the administrator places his right hand over their joined hands and makes the pronouncement of their husband-wife relationship and wishes the blessing of God on their lifelong union.
Marriages are therefore solemnized. The wedding day is not a time for foolishness and a vain displaying of lust and pride. When an outward displaying of vanity is needed on the wedding day it is an evidence that the inner qualities that contribute to meaningful and lasting relationships are lacking.
In the marriage ceremony as the bride and groom each in turn say "I will" they are in substance saying to each other, "Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon my arms" (Song of Solomon 8:6). Each one then becomes a seal on the other's heart and arms to seal out the intrusion of any strange love or any move or action that would seek to put them asunder.
The closeness and permanence (as long as you both shall live) of the marriage union is further implied in Ephesians 5 where the husband and wife relationship is spoken of as a type of Christ and the church. In this context the wife is called upon to submit to her own husband (not another's husband) as unto the Lord and "as it is fit in the Lord" (cf. Col. 3:18) and the husband is to love and care for his wife (not another's wife) even as Christ loves and provides for the church. To love and care for his wife "even as Christ" loves and provides for the church is a big order for husbands and perhaps needs more emphasis than it generally receives.
Today is the espousal period of Christ and His bride, the church. There is a blessed closeness to Christ that the true church experiences now for He is dwelling in the midst of her. But the ultimate closeness of Christ to the church will only be realized fully when the marriage of the Lamb is finally come. And that marriage will never be marred by a bill of divorcement. It will be a divine union in an eternal love relationship.
Aaron M. Shank Myerstown, Pa. December 1976