by Glenn Stanton
This might seem like a very strange title. How can marriage not be Christian? The answer is critical to understanding the role that marriage has played in human experience and in recognizing it as a gift from God.
John Calvin taught that creation is and has been sustained moment by moment since its beginning by God’s sheer delight in it. That is a beautiful truth. The fact that the first thing God does with the first two humans is to join them as spouses says a great deal about the pleasure He derives from seeing a man and woman come together in every way in marriage. This is true of your marriage (if you’re wed), and the marriages of your parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, co-workers and neighbors. It is certainly a divine institution.
This is why the church has taken a uniquely serious and intense interest in marriage through the ages, to the point where many believe that marriage is a Christian institution.
While certainly created and ordained by God, marriage is given to all humanity as a common grace – as is water, sunshine, juicy apples or friendship – made for all people in all lands at all times. If marriage was solely a Christian institution, it would have existed historically only after Pentecost and only in those lands where Christian missionaries have gone and established the faith. But this is not the case. Where God puts humans, He puts marriage, because of our design. No culture or community can exist without it.
This is no small truth
This was God’s intention from the very beginning, as Jesus tells us in Matthew 19:4. It is what He does with humans by His own sovereignty and holy delight. How does this mold the way you should view your own marriage, those of your children and others around you? We must be passionate about and delight in what God is passionate about and delights in. Marriage is one of these things, and why God’s Word tells us that marriage should be “held in honor among all” (Hebrews 13:4).
Whether we realize it or not, we change to an important degree as we enter marriage and issue forth from the union of our mother’s and father’s marital love. This is what the great church father John Chrysostom is saying when he makes this bold and stunning proclamation:
When husband and wife are united in marriage, they no longer seem like something earthly, but rather like the image of God himself.
And this is because, as Theophilus of Antioch, in his Apology – an ancient effort to show how the Christian story of creation was superior to the pagan creation myths – taught:
God created Adam and Eve that there might be great love between them, reflecting the mystery of divine unity.
Marriage is absolutely divine and indeed reveals a bit of the nature of God in the world. But it is not a purely Christian institution. It is a common grace that God has given to all people in all lands at all times as a great blessing.
Learn more about God’s irreplaceable design in The Family Project® – a 12-session DVD curriculum that explores why God’s plan for families matters today. Take your small group on a life-changing journey to strengthen and encourage families! Get The Family Project® curriculum today.
Glenn Stanton is the director of global family formation studies at Focus on the Family, and the co-author/co-creator of The Family Project, as well as the co-author (w/Leon Wirth) of The Family Project book.