A bill to legitimise same-sex marriage has passed a first vote in the
New Zealand. The legal system already allows Civil Unions for same-sex
Christians seem to be leading the opposition to same-sex
marriage, just as they led the opposition to civil unions. However,
Christians are only ten to twenty percent of the New Zealand population,
so this is probably a lost cause. In a secular society with a democratic
political system, Christians have only a very limited ability to influence
When Christians are a minority in their culture, they have to be
careful to get their strategy. A few things can be done.
There is a place for being prophetic. Some Christians with a
prophetic calling should get involved the public opposition in an effort
to expose the risks and dangers that arise from the change I the law.
However, they should be careful not to become too strident, because a
public campaign to change a law can easily become a turn off for a gospel.
They should understand that their efforts will almost certainly fail, and
be willing to lose gracefully, if that is the outcome.
Those who oppose the law change should be careful about the way that
they present their message. In the last twenty years, Christians have led
a number of political campaigns opposing social change. In every case,
they lost the battle. Worse still, the message heard by the people of the
world is that Christians want to take away their freedom and impose
Christian morality on them. They assume that Christians want to use
political power to impose Christianity on people who do not like it. This
is the message that is usually heard, when Christians get publicly
involved social issues, but it is totally opposite to the gospel.
When Christians are a minority in a secular society, the best way to
change the situation is to preach the gospel and change the numbers. As
the number of Christians increases, the Kingdom of God should spread
through society and slowly change it from within.
The most practical solution to this problem would be for Christians
to reclaim marriage. We may have to re-package and re-brand it to achieve
this result. The best way to take back marriage back would to be create an
alternative for Christians that aligns with God’s standards. We would
probably need to give it a different name. For clarity, I will call it
covenant marriage to distinguish it from legal marriage. However, it does
not matter to much what the name is provided it is clear that we are
speaking about something totally different from the legal marriage
legislated by the state.
Marriage is a gift from God, so in the past, marriage was organised by
the church. People went to the church to get married. All weddings were
recorded in a marriage registers that were kept in every church. These
registers were the only record of a marriage. A couple wanting a divorce
had to get it approved by the church controlling the register in which
their marriage was recorded.
The church began handing over this role over to the State a long time
ago. The first step was letting the state take responsibility for the
record keeping. Unfortunately, when the state gained control of marriage
records, it also obtained the right to define marriage, and God was soon
squeezed out. When no-fault divorce was introduced, Christians became
uneasy. Now same-sex marriage is being proposed, they are getting upset.
We should not be surprised, as this last change is just one more in a long
series of changes that have been made since the church handed marriage
over the state. If you give away something that you treasure, you should
not be surprised when it gets wrecked.
When a society rejects Christian faith, a slide away from Christian
marriage is inevitable because civil marriage is defined by government
legislation and not by God’s standards. In a secular society, the law
often slips behind public opinion, but it eventually catches up.
Christians failed to hold back the rapid change in sexual practices during
the sixties and seventies, so we are unlikely to prevent the changes in
legislation that make those change in behaviour legal.
The state has taken over marriage and turned it into a pale shadow of
its former self. That is not a problem for Christians, because marriage is
a covenant between two people based on the standards of God. It can
function without government legislation, as marriage law has very little
impact on the quality of a marriage. Most married people have never read
the Marriage Act, but that does not matter, because marriage is a
relationship and not a legal entity. The law is only becomes relevant when
a marriage breaks down.
Christians should take marriage back and reshape it according to God’s
word. Instead of looking to the state to legislate marriage, Churches
should develop marriage contracts or covenants that reflect the word of
God. Christian lawyers could develop a standard marriage agreement to be
used by churches to make marriages independent of the state. This contract
should be given a different name so that everyone is clear that it is a
Christian institution and not a creation of the state.
This new marriage covenant should clearly define the rights and
responsibilities of husbands and wives according to God’s word (1 Cor 7;
Eph 5:22-33). It should also define the responsibilities of parents to
children. The impact on property rights should also be specified. The new
contract should also specify the conditions for divorce and provide a
process for disputes to be resolved using Christian elders.
Christian marriage is a covenant relationship, not just a contract
between two people. The vows declare to each other are also a vow to a
God. They are not just committing each other, they are committing to God.
The covenant vows are also a declaration in front of the church that
is recognising and recording the covenant marriage. The elders of the
church are also committing to support the couple and help them growing a
strong relationship, so that they can serve God in unity.
A marriage occurs when a man and a woman promise before God to love
each other with an unconditional love. God responds to this commitment by
making the two people one. Their sexual relationship is a consummation of
God joining them together. This why the marriage service often speaks of a
man and woman being "joined by God".
The couple making a marriage vow will be agreeing to live together,
or recognising that they have been living together. They are committing to
sacrificial love (agape), in which they put each other’s needs before
their own.. They are promising to submit to each other so they can become
one (Eph 5:21). They are agreeing to give up their personal benefits for
the sake of the unity as a couple.
Churches should develop a new method for recording covenant
marriages. A few Christians with technical skills could serve the by the
churches by setting up an electronic database for recording marriages.
This would provide a record of all marriages between Christians. No one
would have to use this of course. Christians would not need to make their
marriage public information, if they do not want it in the public domain.
When a Christian couple commit to marriage, they are bringing together
the inheritance that they have received from their own families and
joining it together to establish a new in inheritance and heritage by
establishing a family. This inheritance is not just material wealth. More
important will be the inheritance of character, wisdom and calling.
The couple are not just starting a family, but establishing a new
legacy that will be carried by their descendants. When Jacob passed on his
blessing, he did not just giving a blessing to each son and daughter. He
looked down through several generations to see the large family groups
that we be part of his inheritance (Genesis 49). A Christian couple should
look at their future descendants in the same way. They are creating a
long-term family heritage that can be part of the Kingdom of God. They
should train their children to protect and develop their calling.
My family used to be good at caring for sheep. This is why my family is
no longer living in Scotland, as enclosure reduced the opportunities for
caring for sheep. I do not know if my ancestors were good at teaching
sheep, but current generations seem to be skilled at analysing information
to see the big picture. As a family is a skill that we need to develop,
with each generation being better at this role than the previous way.
The Christian couple may receive some financial support from their
parents. The worldly approach is to enjoy the parent’s wealth when they
die. The Christian approach is to preserve and perpetuate the family
inheritance and heritage. Parents may pass some of their capital to their
children, while they are living and able, to encourage and train them in
the family calling. A capital inheritance should not be seen as a boost of
income to pay off debt. It should be used to advance the family calling
and heritage, and advance the kingdom of God.
If Christians take back marriage, most of the paraphernalia of the
modern marriage ceremony that make it so expensive will be redundant.
There will be no need for cars, suits, wedding dresses, groomsmen,
bridesmaids and wedding receptions. Wedding vows should be made in the
presence of God during a meeting of the church that the couple will
Isaac and Rebekah are an example of how simple a wedding ceremony can
be. Abraham had sent a servant to look for a wife for his son. The servant
was led by God to Rebekah. She had demonstrated the character that a good
wife would need. When the servant returned with Rebekah, Isaac accepted
his commitment and took her into his family tent.
Rebekah also looked up and saw Isaac. She got down from her camel…
she took her veil and covered herself. Isaac brought her into the tent of
his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he
loved her (Gen 24:64).
This was all it took for them to be married in the eyes of God.
The family existed before the state, so human governments did not
establish marriage. God established marriage and gave it as a gift to the
world. Since marriage is an institution established by him, it should be
based on his word, not on government policy. God established marriage
before the state existed, so he alone has authority to definite the way it
Human governments do not have authority over marriage. They cannot
change something that God has established, so Christians should not allow
them to define marriage for them. God has already defined marriage and
human governments cannot change God’s word. Christian marriage should be
based on God’s word and not on legislation established by a human
government. Christians do not the state to define marriage for them.
Only God can create a marriage. When two people commit to marriage, he
makes them one. The state cannot marry people, because it does not have
the ability to join people together and make them one.
In a world dominated by the state, we should not be surprised that
people want their relationships “recognised” by the state. People who
reject God usually choose to be slaves of another god, so we should not be
surprised that secular people choose to be slaves of the state. If the
people of the world want the secular state to bless their relationships,
that is their business, but God’s standard is not changed.
From the point of the state, a covenant marriage will appear to be a de
facto relationship. Since the state has no control over it covenant
marriage, it would not recognise its existence. That would not matter
much, as modern governments have plenty of laws for dealing with de facto
Some Christians may want their marriage recognised by the legal system.
There is no reason why they could have a second marriage within the civil
system. This is what happens in some European countries. Church and civil
weddings are distinct events. On the other hand, some Christians may
prefer to remain separate from the world system. If the state refused to
acknowledge their marriage and treats them as if they were in a de facto
relationship, they would take it as a badge of honour.
The people of the world may want the state to bless their
relationships, but we do not need to join them. Christians have the
blessing of God on their marriage, so they have no need for the
recognition of the state. Recognition by the state is nothing compared to
the blessing of God.
A Christian marriage covenant could re-establish a biblical form of the
bride gift. In most Asian cultures, a dowry is a payment that a father has
to pay to get a man to take one his daughters as wife. This is a
perversion of the biblical bride gift, because it devalues women and
causes parents in these cultures to prefer sons, because daughters cost
them in money.
The biblical model is different. The purpose of a dowry to provide
security for the woman who leaves the protection and support of her family
to marry into another family. In the scriptures, a man must provide a gift
to the father of his prospective bride (Ex 22:16,17). His ability to give
a gift proves that he is capable of providing for his wife. For example,
Jacob worked seven years to establish that he was worthy to get Rachel as
his wife (Gen 29:18). Abraham’s servant gave costly gifts to Rebekah’s
brother and mother, before they agreed that she could marry Isaac (Gen
The father of the bride decides the value of the gift required for the
Let me find favour in your eyes, and I will give you whatever you ask.
Make the price for the bride and the gift I am to bring as great as you
like, and I'll pay whatever you ask me. Only give me the girl as my wife
Saul required David to kill one hundred Philistines, before he allowed
his daughter Michal to become his wife. This demonstrated his ability as a
soldier (1 Sam 18: 23-27).
The bride gift is a good test for potential husbands. A man who can
give a good gift has proved that he can save money and build up his
capital. The gift assures the bride’s parents that he will provide for
their daughter and that she will not become dependent on them.
In modern culture, casual attitudes to sex have allowed males to drink
the milk without buying the cow, and females have been left holding the
baby. A requirement for a bride gift would be a strong counter to these
The father does not keep the bride gift for himself, but holds it in
trust on behalf of his daughter. He might lend it to the couple to enable
them to buy a home or start a business. This ensures that a bride bring
some capital to her marriage, even if she and her father are poor. If the
bride is widowed or her husband deserts her, the bride price belongs to
her. This provides her with continuing economic security while she is
caring for their children.
Rachel and Leah were frustrated by their father Laban, because he did
not use the bride gift that Jacob had given him for their benefit. They
considered that he had stolen their dowry (Gen 31:14-15).
Does he not regard us as foreigners? Not only has he sold us, but he
has used up what was paid for us (Gen 31:15).
A Christian marriage covenant should also specify the conditions for
divorce. These should not be decided by the civil government, but should
come God’s word He created marriage and he makes two people one, so he
is the only one who can say when a marriage union has been dissolved.
The biblical teaching on divorce is quite straightforward. The starting
point is that God hates divorce (Mal 2:16). Marriage is the foundation of
godly society, so any attack on marriage is an attack on the foundation of
So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined
together, let man not separate (Mk 10:8-9).
This is why God hates divorce. It is treason against the basic
institution of society.
This does not mean that divorce is totally forbidden. Jesus explained
that God understands human weakness, so he allows divorce in certain
circumstances. Moses allowed divorce for hardness of heart.
Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were
hard. But it was not this way from the beginning (Matt 19:8).
This was sensible. Moses was leading people who did not have benefits
of the cross or gift of the spirit, so they could not live up to God’s
standards. They needed a way out of marriage when sin made a mess of their
lives. When people’s hearts are hard, divorce is sometimes necessary,
even though it was not part of God’s original plan. However, it should
always be the last resort.
Jesus ministry on earth ushered in a new age. His death on the cross
dealt with the problem of sin. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit opened up
the way for a new standard of holiness. The fruit of the Spirit would
soften hard hearts, reducing the need for divorce. That is why Jesus
reminded his people of God’s original intent. There should be no
divorce, except in cases of adultery (Mark 10:11).
I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual
immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery (Matt 19:9).
God has made two people one. Adultery destroys the oneness that
marriage establishes, so it destroys the marriage. God does not like
things he has joined being broken apart, so divorce among Christians
should be rare. However divorce will sometimes necessary, even with the
Holy Spirit at work.
Grounds for Divorce
In the scriptures, there are two grounds for divorce.
- A person has grounds for divorce if their marriage partner commits
adultery or engages in other immoral sexual activity. Jesus said,
I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital
unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries
the divorced woman commits adultery (Matt 5:32).
Although this is a warning against divorce, the implication is that
divorce is allowable in cases of adultery. The Greek word for marital
unfaithfulness is “pornea”, which covers a broad range of sexual sins,
and not just adultery. All forms of sexual immorality are grounds for
divorce, because they break the marriage union.
The second ground for divorce is wilful desertion by a non-Christian
spouse. Paul addressed the problem that arises when one of a married
couple becomes a Christian.
If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to
live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who
is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce
him (1 Cor 7:12,13).
Being married to an unbeliever is not grounds for divorce, because the
unbelieving spouse is sanctified by the faith of the believing spouse (1
Cor 7:14). However, Paul goes on to say,
But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman
is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace (1
Paul uses the same word “bound” in Romans 7:2-3 to explain that a
widow is free to marry again. He explains to the Corinthians that a
deserted spouse is “not bound”, so they are free to marry another
When a person becomes a Christian and their spouse refuses to continue
living with them, the Christian is able to seek a divorce. On the other
hand, if the non-Christian is willing to stay, then the Christian cannot
divorce. The expression “be willing stay” is quite strong. The Greek
words mean “be glad to make a home with.” This is not mere toleration.
It means making a home together. If the unbelieving husband is willing to
stay, but keeps on abusing his wife, she would be entitled to leave.
The marriage covenant should allow for temporary separation. The second
ground for divorce is not available if both spouses are Christians. Paul
does not condone divorce where both spouses are Christians.
To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must
not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried
or else be reconciled to her husband (1 Cor 7:10-11).
A Christian married to a Christian does not have access to divorce,
unless their spouse commits adultery. If they have to separate, they must
seek to be reconciled or remain single.
Paul allows a Christian wife to have a spell apart from her husband, if
things have turned sour. However, the separated wife must try to reconcile
with her Christian husband. She must remain unmarried until they are
reconciled. If the Christian husband committed adultery while they are
apart, she would be free to remarry. Temporary separation provides an
escape for a Christian wife who is being abused by their Christian
Paul does not seem to offer temporary separation as an option to
husbands. In his letter, he is quite specific about what applies to men
and what applies to women, so we cannot use an argument from silence. He
offers women the option of temporary separation, because they are more
vulnerable. Christian men do not get this option, because they often have
economic and physical power. This continues the protections for woman
provided in the Old Testament.
If the separated Christians cannot be reconciled, they should remain
single. If they are walking in the Spirit, they are expected to resolve
the issues that would drive them apart.
Divorce represents a failure of love. Christians are required to love
each other, as Jesus loved us. That sort of love should be able to
overcome most obstacles. The reasons commonly given for Christians
divorcing are relatively lame:
- We have different interests;
- We are going in different directions;
- We have become different people to what we were when we married.
These are all things that agape love should be able to overcome. There
will be failures of love among Christians, but this should not be taken
lightly, as it represents our failure to live out the love of Jesus.
The implication of the letter to the Corinthians is that divorce is
allowable for non-Christians, because the Holy Spirit has been shut out of
their lives, but it is not an option for Christians. Nevertheless, a few
Christians will need a divorce, when hardness of hearts prevents the Holy
Spirit from changing their hearts.
Administered by Elders
As covenant marriage takes place before the church, the people of the
church must be involved in the administration of divorce. A Christian
seeking a divorce would apply to the elders of their Church. These elders
would have the gift of discernment and would know the person’s
characters, so they would be in a good position to decide if divorce is
justified. Their goal would be to restore the marriage, so they would only
approve a divorce as a last resort. If they agreed to a divorce, they
would also advise the elders in the church where the couple was married.
Failure of the Church
Given the current state of the church in the western world, it is not
surprising that divorce and remarriage are almost as common in the church
as it is in the world. When the church is ambivalent about the God’s
standards and lacking the fullness of the Spirit, we cannot expect
Christians to be walking in his ways. When the spirit of the world is
rampant in the church, divorce naturally follows.
This is not just an issue for those whose marriages have failed. The
“hardness of heart” of the church is a greater problem for church
leaders. The modern church provides inadequate discipleship, so it
produces weak Christians, so it is not surprising that they fall into sin
and want divorce. The modern church, does not understand spiritual
protection (partly because it has bought into the “covering” lie) so
the spiritual forces of evil are often free to tear couples apart. The
increase in Christian divorce represents the failure of the church, not
the failure of the people being divorced. If the church does not have the
spiritual power to protect couples from attack, it does not have the right
to prevent them from divorcing.
Widespread divorce amongst Christians is a serious problem for the
church. It undermines our gospel witness, as it implies that the gospel
and the Spirit are not very effective. Instead of accepting divorce as
normal, Christians leaders should be seeking to understand why evil has
gained such a strong hold on the church.
The church appears hypocritical when it is vehemently hostile towards
homosexuals and intolerant of homosexual marriage, but accepts the
widespread adultery and divorce among Christians.
Adultery is a more serious sin than divorce. When Christians separate
or divorce, they are deciding to stop loving each other. That is not good,
but it is a sin of omission rather than commission. Adultery is serious,
because people committing it are uniting themselves with another person,
when God has made them one with their spouse. Adultery divides something
that God has created.
On the other hand, the Bible does not have a hierarchy of sins. Sin is
sin. Divorce is no better or worse than other sins. The cross can deal
with divorce, just as effectively as any other sin. There is no sin too
tough for the cross.
The pastoral reality that we have to deal with is a world that is all
messed up and many in the church are messed up too. So if divorced
Christians are acknowledging their failures and wanting to make a new
beginning, we should encourage them. If they are willing to commit to
marriage, Christians elders and pastors should be willing to marry them.
Churches should be willing to support them.
On the other hand, if they want to continue living a selfish lifestyle,
we might need to challenge them. We should not encourage those who a stuck
in selfishness to enter a new marriage, because they will probably just
get more of the same.
This is not a drift in the biblical principles. It is a Christian
response to the situation that has emerged in a sinful world. Our calling
has always been to work with the cross and the Spirit to clean up the mess
that evil has made in the world. Christians should be skilled in sorting
Pauls describes the ideal in 1 Cor 7:10-11. If Christian separate from
their spouse, they should ideally remain single, or be reconciled.
However, this ideal includes a church that provides the same level of
emotional, spiritual and monetary support, as it would provide to a widow
of a martyr. The separated person should still have a fulfilled life
supported by their Christian community. In our world, life often does not
work out like that. The modern church is not capable of providing the
level of support needed after the separation, or before it for that
matter. People left on their own often get drawn to others of the opposite
sex. We were created to relate to others, so it is natural for a person
living in isolation to get entangled with another.
Once it has happened, Christians have to deal with the situation as it
is. When a separated Christian comes and asks their pastor, if they can
marry again, they are not usually asking a theoretical question. They
already know who they want to marry. They have already committed adultery
with them in their hearts by choosing to unite with another, so they are
technical divorced in God’s eyes and free to marry. So the pastor/elder
does not need to feel guilty about marrying them.
Christian Marriage and the World
The institution of marriage legislated by modern governments is very
different from Christian marriage. These differences affect
Who can get married. Many governments are moving towards allowing
same sex marriage. Anyone can get married provided they are over the
required certain age. Christian marriage is for couples who have reached a
level of maturity.
The nature of the relationship. Marriage legislation does not care
about how couples behave. It does not care how the couple treats each
other, provided they do not engage in violence. Christian marriage
requires mutual love and submission.
Who can get divorced. Most government allow no fault divorce and
serial marriage. The splitting of income after divorce is proscribed. In
Christian marriage, love should cover most differences, so divorce is
limited to adultery and wilful desertion. Where divorce is the only
course, wealth is not split equally, but the women gets back the Bride
Gift and its increase, which means that she will often be better off than
The differences between legal marriage and Christian marriage are
already significant, and will become much starker in the future. This does
not matter. It is just one more difference between the church and the
world. If legislated marriage moves further way from Christian marriage,
we should not fight it, because we cannot expect the people of the world
to live by Christian standards.
The decision to enter a Christian marriage should always be a free
choice. We should not force Christian marriage on those who are not
Christians. Some may see God’s blessing on Christian marriage and freely
choose to live that way because they want the benefits. That is fine if
their choice is free, but unwilling people should not be forced into
Christian marriage, if they want a different type of relationship. God
does not want us to force biblical marriage onto an unwilling world.
We cannot demand that non-Christians commit to the unconditional love
that God requires of Christian couples. It is impossible to live that way
without the forgiveness of the cross and the blessing of the Holy Spirit
anyway, so we should not try to expect it of those who do not know him.
Likewise, the biblical conditions for divorce only apply to Christians.
People who have chosen to ignore the Holy Spirit can do what they like. We
should not expect them to live up to God’s standards. Where sin abounds,
divorce will be inevitable, for a huge variety of reasons. Moses principle
of allowing divorce for hardness of heart will always apply in the world.
I am disappointed that same-sex marriage will become legal in this
country, but fighting against it is not the most important challenge
facing Christians at this time. It is far more important that we are
demonstrating the love of Jesus, walking in the power of the Spirit, and
presenting the good news in a way that the world can understand and