Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Biblical Concept of Dual Citizenship  ~ An open letter to clergy

There has been a lot of discussion about how biblically committed clergy should respond to our culture’s recent re-definition of marriage. Initial suggestions, which have been implemented by many, include changes to bylaws and practices related to how churches perform marriages. For example, marriages should only being performed for those who are members of the local church. Facilities are rented or made available to members only. These measures appear to provide a short-term solution to these concerns.

Recently I preached a message addressing the subject of a believer’s Dual Citizenship, that is, being citizens of both heaven and the US. As I was preparing, in light of reading a number of articles and having discussions on the above issue, I have come to believe we are missing the main issue in focusing on marriage. But I’ll get back to that specific point in a moment.

So what is this bigger issue? For the first time in many years, the differences between biblical and US cultures are so obvious they can only be ignored intentionally. And this isn’t the only problem. Too often the church at large has accommodated the country’s cultural values because in the early to mid-twentieth century the differences didn’t appear all that great. 

Scripture has always made it clear that the church is a distinct entity from the world around it. So what we are seeing here is nothing new. But in emphasizing the dual citizenship aspects of the Christian walk, we are able to present a balanced and committed Christian life. It isn’t our responsibility to fix a pagan culture. And yes, as citizens we do have the right and responsibility to influence the culture, but that isn’t to be our primary focus.

One of the most obvious examples of the differences between the two cultures, and the one that has generated the most heat, is the re-definition of marriage. And this is where emphasizing the dual citizenship model puts things back into perspective.

While I was looking for graphics for my PowerPoint I came across this graphic. Now I certainly can’t agree with the final thought as it misapplies the concept of civil rights, and, as citizens, we do have a say in affecting laws if we so choose. But I think the distinction between holy matrimony and marriage clarifies the discussion.

Holy matrimony should be used as the label for God’s definition of marriage, the only institution created before the fall and therefore applicable to all people. The word “marriage” can be used as the word for society’s contractual relationship which, apparently, it can define any way it wants.

Holy matrimony is based on vows made before God and therefore unbreakable, with God defining the only exception: adultery. Marriage is made under contract law, an agreement between individuals which can be defined and broken in any number of ways.

There are obvious benefits to being clear about these distinctions. First, this allows us to have discussion with the culture, making it clear that we are talking about two radically different institutions when using the word “marriage.” Hopefully this can reduce emotional heat and allow for a constructive conversation.

Another benefit is that we can address, with even greater clarity than before, the difference between the world’s view of marriage and God’s. I believe the difference has become muddied because of clergy trying to integrate the perspective of both cultures. Thus we have presented a mixed message: defining marriage as vows before God and at the same time signing off on marriage licenses, solemnizing them under contract law. The only way to avoid this is to only perform holy matrimony services and then have couples, if they choose to do so, also marry under contract law.

Parenthetically, to reinforce the above choices, it might be a wise decision for clergy to consider whether or not they want to continue individual licensing which, if they only perform holy matrimonial ceremonies, would no longer be necessary.

If clergy makes the choice to no longer serve as instruments of the state, then if someone does choose to get “divorced” under contract law, we can make it clear that according to the vows they took before God, He (and we) cannot consider them divorced. What they have done under contract law has nothing to do with the vows they took before the Lord.

As we consider the implications of the dual citizenship model in clarifying the distinctions between marriage and holy matrimony, I suspect we will find many other ways to apply this biblical view. And hopefully, while we can legitimately address our concerns for our nation, we will affirm our primary responsibility to love God, love others and make disciples, not to change the behavior of a pagan culture. We aren’t called to whitewash tombs. We are called to offer the Gospel, the message that cleanses hearts.

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