I’m Will McGarvey, Teaching Elder from San Francisco Presbytery, serving a Presbyterian-UCC union congregation.
The Word is fundamental to our faith, so we must consider what Scripture says about marriage. Biblical marriages come in many different forms. But there are three consistent, underlying principles throughout the Biblical record that inform the theology and practice of Christian Marriage.
First, in the Creation stories, we’re told that God wants people to live together rather than in isolation.
Next, God’s commandments enjoin us to live in community where we can mutually care for each other.
Last, emerging with the story of Ruth and culminating with Jesus, God invites all people to participate in the inclusive fellowship built on God’s boundless love.
Putting these principles into practice in particular cultural settings, the people of God developed several different patterns of marriage. Many of the original rules governing marriage were meant to ensure the survival of God’s people and to protect against outsiders, or “others,” who might subvert the faith of the people of Israel. Today, many of those ancient Biblical practices are forbidden, unnecessary or understood as outmoded. Broadly and Biblically stated, scripture bears witness that all who trust in Christ stand in the circle of God’s grace and scripture charges us as believers to do justice, act with kindness, and walk humbly with God. (Micah 6.8)
In light of these enduring principles, the concept and practice of Christian marriage has been redefined often in response to changing cultural norms. People of faith have interpreted the institution of marriage and adapted to the prevailing customs as they discerned God speaking to their time. Yet we have not wavered from the Biblical principles of fellowship, community, family, and inclusiveness, summed up in Jesus’ command to “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13: 34).
The meaning of marriage was at the heart of the Reformation. Martin Luther declared that priests could marry: a group to whom marriage was previously forbidden and now authorized – indeed, encouraged – to marry. John Calvin held that the regulation of marriage was not the province of the church, but of the state, with guidance from the church, of course, where the actual marriage ceremony was performed, and a minister acted as an agent of the state.
photo: Rev. Will McGarvey; feature photo thanks to Rev. Janet Edwards