Over the last month+ we’ve been going through a series of posts on the Church, singleness, marriage, and the family. The first in the series was a brief overview of it all. In the second I shared my story of being alone on Valentine’s day, as well as the stories of some friends. Next I looked at the modern nuclear family and consumerism, asking if we haven’t joined those two a little too tightly. Then we moved from the family to the Church, which I think is the most important institution on earth. In my last post, I talked about the three-in-one-ness of God, and how that forms the identity, purpose, and actions of the Church-family.
This whole time time we have been focusing on two central points:
- The Church has wrongly viewed itself as a voluntary association whose ultimate allegiance is at times to the nuclear family, headed by a married couple.
- Our ultimate allegiance is to God, in Christ, through the fellowship of the Church, by the Spirit of God.
Get ready for a ridiculous run-on sentence: When we see that the Church is a covenant-community, created in the outpouring love of God’s community (the Trinity), and bound to one another in adoption, through the Spirit, in Christ, to the Father, we start to see some deficiency in how the Church views marriage and the family, as well as how that changes our understanding of Church.
Once we understand that the Church is joined to God’s family as the bride of Christ, how we understand kinship and marriage has to change. One diminishes in importance, and the other grows exponentially. (I am reminded again today of Jesus words about his mother and siblings: “…whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”) When we get the full story about our participation in God’s life as the body of Christ, how we view the Church is going to transform. If Christ is our head, we don’t come together for our own needs or desires, but for him.
This understanding of the Church as a covenant-community, created by the Triune God, stands in stark contrast to certain conceptions of the Church I have seen in the US.
As theologian C. Normas Kraus notes, for many in America a denominational (us vs. them, what is important is what makes us different) or consumeristic (this is for me, what is important is what holes this group fills for me) understanding of the Church is what people first go towards.
These understandings of the Church follow from John Locke’s concept of the ‘social contract’. They both see “the church as a voluntary society formed by contractual arrangements between individuals who share commitments and goals. The contract is voluntary, legal, and functions to preserve the freedom of equality of individuals,” while at the same time fulfilling the self-perceived desires of the individual. Their both centered around the individual’s thoughts on the group. In contrast, Kraus says, the early church “…organized its life on the principle of commonality and the conviction that the individual self can find realization and fulfillment only in the shared experience of the reconciled community.”
In many ways the modern concept of marriage is a reflection of the Lockean ‘social constract’ and thus reinforces antithetical values to the church. Increasing isolation and consumerism in society has made the romantic marriage an idealized goal for much of society. Lacking significant relationships with others marriage is increasingly seen as the ‘last great hope’ by singles. Relational fulfillment, for many moderns, only happens in the shared experience of marriage. Marriage is then a voluntary society [of two] formed by contractual arrangements between individuals who share commitments and goals. The contract, again, is voluntary, legal, and functions to preserve the freedom of equality of the individuals, while at the same time giving some relief to their relational needs. The American Evangelical church reinforces this hope, when it misjudges its basis for existence, and sees itself as a place to create, sustain, and prosper families/married couples, instead of seeing itself as the family of God.
Humanity is meant to find ultimate significance in others, but not in marriage. It is only in Christ, as His body the Church, that we are brought into the family of God, participation in God’s community, and find ultimate significance. Marriage doesn’t fill the hole. It has a different purpose. But before we discuss that, our next post will be on a sure sign of the Church’s approach to marriage and the family: how it treats singleness.