By / May 13

Don’t you love a free trial—a no-strings-attached chance to try something out before you shell out your hard-earned cash? Most of us do.

When it comes to a new car, a test drive is a wise idea. If you’re thinking about investing four years and a wad of Benjamins into a college, it’s a good idea to spend some time on campus first. Before you sign on the dotted line for that new house, you ought to go over the place with a fine tooth comb a time or two. But what about marriage? Is it a good idea to enjoy a free trial without the commitment of a permanent arrangement?

Some people think so.

Beta testing your relationship

In fact, somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 percent of people between the ages of 18 to 34 said they like the idea of a “beta marriage.” If you’re a non-techie like me, that phrase might not mean much, but it’s connected to the practice of “beta testing.” That’s geek for simply testing a product before its official release. If you’ve ever done a free trial download of software or been given a free sample of something and asked to provide feedback, you’ve been a beta tester.

In our culture of constant feedback, some people think that beta marriages are a good idea. This is an arrangement where a couple takes the marriage for a “test spin” before committing for life. They give the marriage a trial run and then decide to formalize or dissolve the marriage after a two-year trial period. Besides being terribly unromantic . . .

“Do you promise to love, honor, and cherish this woman for at least the next two years?”

“I do.”

Do beta marriages fit into God’s plan for marriage? Is giving the marriage a “trial run” by living together first a wise and holy idea?

Before I answer those questions, a few disclaimers:

It may be that not many readers of this blog are running out to sign up for a marriage trial run. And the social data isn’t all bad; 31 percent of young people surveyed said that they are still in favor of traditional marriage—the kind where a couple is committed “until death do us part?” But I still wrote this post (and hope you will read it) because . . .

  1. More and more couples are choosing to live together before marriage, including Christian couples. When I see a trend, I always want to filter it through God’s Word.
  2. Sometimes we give marriage a “trial run” in ways that don’t include moving in together. (For more on that, check out this great post Divorced . . . at 18?). Because of that, it’s good to remember what God’s plan for marriage looks like.
  3. As the culture moves toward wider acceptance of cohabitation, it is wise to know where God stands and to be able to articulate that well and with love. Those of us who are specifically in the trenches of speaking truth to the next generation (parents, pastors, teachers) need to look this trend in the eye and have compelling biblical reasons to choose to stick with God’s plan.

So, with that in mind, is it a good idea to live together before marriage?

The facts don’t lie

Here’s a snapshot of this trend.

  • 1950: Nine out of 10 women married without first living with their partners.
  • 1990: One-third of couples lived together before saying “I do.”
  • Today: Half of all marriages are preceded by cohabitation.
  • Since 1980: The number of couples who live together before marriage has increased by 1,000 percent.

But, cohabitation rarely leads to “happily ever after.”

  • 40 percent of people who cohabit break up before marriage.
  • Of those who make it to the altar, couples who live together are almost twice as likely to divorce as compared to those couples who don’t live together before marriage.

Why? What is it about living together that impacts marriage so negatively?

Simply put, it is not God’s plan.

The permanence and holiness of God’s design

We see our first description of marriage in Genesis 2:24.

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

In Matthew 19, Jesus was teaching about marriage when He said, “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (v. 6).

God’s plan for marriage is a permanent merger. It’s combining two people into one new family through a covenant. It’s intended to endure. There is no way to have a “free trial” of the kind of commitment God designed to be enjoyed between husbands and wives.

Couples choose to live together to get a foretaste of what marriage will be like, but the very things that make marriage work are absent in that situation. Specifically, the commitment that allows couples to weather the trials of life together. There’s no way to fast track a lifetime commitment.

From a human perspective, living together may seem like a good idea. It allows couples to spend lots of time together. It is economically cheaper than maintaining two households. Most couples see it like a “trial run” to determine if their relationship can stand up to the day-in and day-out challenges of life without the total commitment that marriage requires.

Some will argue that they need to make sure that they are “sexually compatible” before agreeing to share a bedroom for life. But I’m just going to say it, “sexual compatibility” is hogwash. The Bible calls men and women to refrain from sex outside of marriage and enjoy it after. Even non-Christian researchers have found that the most sexually satisfied among us are those who stick to this plan. In contrast, those who choose to have sex outside of marriage, bring to the altar the baggage that comes with sexual sin.

Take it from someone who has been married for more than a decade, these are things best practiced within the context of marriage. My husband Jason and I had no money, terrible communication, and zero sexual experience when we got married. If we had beta tested our union, we might have quickly decided it wasn’t a match made in heaven.

But God’s design is that we learn those things within the loving protection of a lifetime commitment. The goal isn’t to have a perfect marriage from day one, but to grow into the people and couple God wants you to be together.

Jason and I have counseled many couples who didn’t wait to have sex until their wedding night. They bought the lie that sex was something best explored before saying “I do.”  Ten, 15 and 20 years into their marriage, the consequences of stepping outside the guardrails of God’s best in this area of their lives is still wreaking havoc. There is absolutely no way that sinning together before marriage can do anything but hinder the holy union God designed marriage to be.

Does your marriage need a “test run?” The short answer is no.

There is no such thing as “no strings attached” love. God’s design is for our hearts to become so tethered to our spouse that it’s as if we are “one flesh.” In fact, there is a deeper, mysterious, spiritual union that takes place. When it’s time for you to say “I do,” opt for the not-so-free trial by saying “no” to living together and reserving the most intimate parts of yourself for after you’ve made a lifetime commitment.

Note: Portions of this post are taken from a book I wrote with Josh McDowell, The Bare Facts: 39 Questions Your Parents Hope You Never Ask About Sex.

By / Apr 29

This week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on whether the U.S. Constitution requires the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples. It was an historic day. While no side can predict how the Court will rule, all evidence suggests the justices remain deeply divided on the issue of same-sex marriage.

Below are the top ten most important questions that Supreme Court justices asked lawyers from each side of the cae. We’ve provided brief answers to these questions in hopes of helping Christians think through marriage’s importance to the common good. [Note: These questions are summarized and not exact quotations from the justices.]

1. Chief Justice Roberts asked whether expanding marriage to include gay couples would lead to marriage’s redefinition.

This gets to the core issue of the debate, an issue on which many Christians and political conservatives have expressed grave concern. Indeed, once marriage is defined to include same-sex couples, marriage is no longer considered a “gendered” or “complementary” union.

The idea that men and women are different has been the singular factor that has made marriage distinct from all other human relationships. Moreover, once the male-female complementarity of marriage is removed, what is to stop additional elements of marriage—including permanency and exclusivity—to come up for debate? A Supreme Court decision to include same-sex couples in marriage would mean marriage is no longer defined according to the natural understanding or to an understanding that gives primacy to the welfare of children.

2. Justice Kennedy expressed concern about whether it was prudent for the Supreme Court to step in and change the definition of an institution that was as old, to use his language as “millennia.” In short, he asked whether it was imprudent and unwise to suggest that the Supreme Court knows better than ancient history and its belief about marriage.

Tipping his hat to the importance of history, Kennedy rightly expressed concern about rapidly advancing an idea that isn’t rooted in history. Same-sex marriage is an institution less than two decades old. There is no ideologically free social science to suggest redefining marriage will not lead to future social harms. Remember, the core issue to keep at the front of this debate is whether same-sex marriage is ultimately about elevating the desire of adults over the needs of children, because same-sex marriage denies, as a matter of principle, the ideal that children have a right to both a mother and a father. To insist that we can redefine an institution as venerable as marriage simply because Americans’ attitudes about marriage and sexual morality has changed is unwise.

3. Justice Alito expressed skepticism at the idea that traditional or biblical marriage “demeans” gay people. He asked the lawyer in support of same-sex marriage whether that was a “primary purpose.”  

This introduces an idea that has been a major point of discussion: Whether opposing same-sex marriage amounts to “animus” or “dislike” of a particular group of people. This is undoubtedly not the reason most people support traditional marriage. Support for male-female marriage is rooted in a simple observation: Men and women are different, and those differences complement one another in a relationship that is unlike any other relationships. Only the union of a man and a woman can produce children. And once children become a reality, it serves the interest of the child for there to be a permanent union between their mother and father.

That’s why marriage has always been about binding men and women to any children their union produces. To make an observation about human nature is by no means to attribute bad motives to those who support male-female marriage. It is right and proper for the law to make accurate distinctions where such distinctions are warranted. And since same-sex couples cannot unite to form the complementary type of union of a man and woman, it is right and just for the law to recognize this distinction.

4. Along this same line of questioning, Justice Alito observed that while ancient cultures like Greece embraced homosexuality, they still held marriage as distinct. He asked, “So their limiting marriage to couples of the opposite sex was not based on prejudice against gay people, was it?”

Alito makes an important observation. Even sexually permissive cultures held that marriage was something altogether different. This is a point that biblical marriage advocates cannot emphasize enough. Marriage is a distinct and unique pre-political institution. It is not an institution whose reality is determined by a majority of people—or a majority of justices.

Marriage is the unique union in which a man and woman come together as husband and wife, and to be father and mother to any children their union may produce. Marriage is based on the truth that men and women are different; on that biological fact that reproduction requires both a man and a woman; on the social reality that children need the differentiated love and care of a mom and dad; and on the political necessity that requires states to protect its youngest citizens. Marriage also connects each generation to the others, reminding us that we are the result of previous unions and pointing us to those who are yet to come.

And related, because the marriage debate is accused of being solely religious in nature, it should be noted that this is not a debate about religion. It encompasses religious convictions about marriage, but it goes much deeper to debates about the common good. Countless civilizations, both religious and irreligious, extending to back to the beginning of recorded human history, have all held special regard for the union of one man and one woman. They understood that only one type of relationship brought forth children. Diverse cultures and ancient philosophers—such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Plutarch—have disagreed on matters of religion and yet all reached the same conclusion about marriage.

As Christians, we shouldn’t be surprised by this consistency. Genesis reveals that marriage is a creation ordinance (Gen. 1:27-28, 2:24). The law of God is “written on the heart,” Paul tells us, so that when even those who don’t have or who don’t accept biblical revelation sometimes do the right thing, it is due to God’s self-disclosure (Rom. 2:15-16).

So the question the Court is weighing concerns the wisdom of casting aside an institution that precedes our Constitution. Are we really to believe that we’re more enlightened than all previous cultures? Should we ignore the witness of history and its testament to marriage’s uniqueness?

5. Justice Breyer hinted at perhaps the most important aspect of this particular case: Letting the states decide. He suggested that this debate is working itself out in the states, asking why not “wait and see whether in fact doing so in other states is or is not harmful to marriage?”

Breyer’s question captures a sentiment that many constitutional scholars are continuing to debate. Nothing in the Constitution requires the redefinition of marriage, and marriage policy has historically been an issue left to the states to decide. Moreover, even for those who want to redefine marriage, it should seem prudent to wait and see what happens in states with same-sex marriage and whether the radical change causes demonstrable harm. That would be a more prudent approach than rushing to nationalize the issue altogether and short-circuiting the debate.

6. Because marriage policy should always be based on sound principle, Justice Alito questioned whether redefining marriage to include same-sex couples would allow polygamous couples to marry. He asked: “What would be the logic of denying them the same right?”

Alito’s line of argument often gets scoffed at in the media, but it is an important question worth considering. If, as noted above, marriage is no longer uniquely complementary, why should marriage’s definition be restricted to only two persons? Once you adopt the revisionist philosophy there are no answers based in sound logic on why marriage should only be between two persons.

Sadly, there are now cultural movements afoot that desire to bring cultural legitimacy to polyamorous relationships (relationships with any number of partners). It is not hyperbole to suggest a future court proceeding will consider whether marriage must include such multi-partner relationships. The lawyer in defense of same-sex marriage offered a thin, unsatisfying answer to this question, one that wouldn’t pass scrutiny based on the very principle she’s using to advocate for marriage’s redefinition.

Critics dismissively call this a “slippery slope” argument. But hasn’t this slope proven to be slippery? Critics called Justice Scalia’s warning in 2003 that the Court was heading toward consideration of same-sex marriage a “slippery slope” as well, and yet here we are. Less than two years ago, the Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act because, they ruled, marriage is a state issue. Now, the Court is considering whether to take the issue away from the states, because marriage is, it’s argued, a constitutional issue.

7. Referencing Bob Jones University’s wrong and sinful banning of interracial dating, Alito asked whether redefining marriage would eventually pose risks (such as the loss of tax-exempt status) to the religious liberty of religious institutions.

This was the most shocking moment in the arguments, one that should give people on all sides cause for concern. The Solicitor General said the question of tax exemption might well be an “issue” to be considered later. This demonstrates just how perilous the American principle of recognizing the natural right of religious liberty has become.

If a revisionist view of redefined marriage is treated as a matter of civil rights, then the government could seek to use its tax power to coerce religious institutions to violate their own God-given consciences and their constitutionally guaranteed free exercise of religion. The Founders warned us that the power to tax is the power to destroy. The Solicitor General is signaling that at least this Administration is quite open to destroying those who hold a view of marriage held by the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox, evangelical Protestants, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, many Sikhs and Buddhists. It was even a position held by the President himself until his most recent idealogical evolution.

8. Several of the Court’s more liberal justices pressed what the actual harms are of same-sex marriage. They seemed insistent that redefining marriage to include same-sex couples will not result in tangible harms to society. In short, they thought the state lacked sufficient purpose to deny same-sex couples the right to marry. Along the same lines, they argued that there are “dignitary harms” of denying children the opportunity to grow up in a married same-sex household.

First, the “harm” of same-sex marriage needs careful qualification. How a particular same-sex marriage will affect your marriage may indeed be very limited. But this isn’t just about the direct effects on your marriage. It is about what certain visions of marriage bring to society and teach society over time through law, culture, and academia.

A view of marriage that de-couples children from the state’s interest in marriage will serve to promote a vision of marriage that views it primarily as a vehicle for consenting adults’ desires. Same-sex marriage will probably cause no greater harm to marriage than has already happened as a result of no-fault divorce. But there’s a parallel illustration: No-fault divorce very subtly worked to redefine marriage by making marriage less permanent. Over time, that vision of marriage saturated American culture to the point of making marriage more a matter of convenience and personal fulfillment than an institution wedded to society’s stability. Unlike the era before the 1970s, divorce is now a normal feature of America. There have undoubtably been harms to the institution brought about by making marriage more dissolvable. Likewise, same-sex marriage communicates a vision of marriage that is primarily based on adult companionship. This will, over time, communicate that marriage is more about adults than about children.

Very briefly, the supposed “dignitary harms” of children who grow up in same-sex households that cannot marry does not require redefining the meaning of marriage. The democratic process can work to resolve problems in the law by overcoming issues of hospital visitation, property rights, etc, through legislative solutions. A redefinition of marriage is not required to resolve these problems. 

9. Justice Sotomayor stated that marriage is a right embedded in the Constitution. Her question was how to continue exercising that right and finding a just cause for excluding some groups from marrying and not others.

Justice Sotomayor’s question is very important and gets to the issue of equal protection provided by the Fourteenth Amendment. The question, however, is whether “equality” as proscribed means “sameness.” Opposite-sex couples, as we’ve noted above, are categorically distinct from same-sex couples. It is not an indignity or judgment to recognize they are not the same or to draw conclusions based on observations humanity has always recognized. Nor is drawing necessary distinctions a discriminatory measure when the disqualifying distinctions fail to meet the criteria for what constitutes a marriage.

Everyone agrees marriage policy should be based on equality. But every marriage policy draws lines of distinction. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that we don’t make arbitrary distinctions that serve no rational purpose. For example, individuals cannot marry their children or their cousins. The question then becomes, what makes certain distinctions just and unjust? In the common law tradition, marriage was always viewed as between a man and woman. If America wants to vote to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples that should be an issue done so through the legislative process. It is not a question for the Supreme Court to decide, because the Constitution is silent on whether equality requires the redefinition of marriage.

10. Justice Ginsberg questioned the attorney defending traditional marriage by asking whether a procreative definition of marriage required prohibiting 70-year olds from marrying (on the biological assumption that elderly individuals cannot and will not procreate).

The answer to this is quite simple. Marriage exists between a man and a woman. Not all marriages will have children; but all children need mothers and fathers. Public policy is always based on principles, and not exceptions. There is no inherent need to invalidate the marriages of elderly individuals simply because of their age. Elderly men and women still possess the essential attributes that make marriage intelligible, namely that they are male and female. Men and women do not cease being men and women simply because of their advanced age. The stability of an elderly marriage serves as a witness to coming generations of the importance and uniqueness of the one-flesh union of marriage.

By / Apr 28

Today the United States Supreme Court hears oral arguments regarding the institution of marriage in our country in cases that will have long-term ramifications. As we join together to pray for the justices who will rule on these matters, it is worth looking at why many Christians believe this is such a momentous decision.

In John 13-16 we find Jesus and his disciples gathered in the upper room, breaking bread together as Jesus imparts wisdom to them one last time before his death. He tenderly cares for them, promises to them the gift of the Holy Spirit, and tells them they will be hated for his sake. And he says something hopeful at the beginning of Chapter 14:

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

We tend to miss the symbolism here, but Jesus is referring to the symbol of marriage. In Jewish culture, the bride and groom would come together for a betrothal ceremony, and then the groom would return to his father’s house in order to prepare a place for his bride to live with him. So here Jesus is comforting his friends with a promise they understood—the promise that he was their Bridegroom, and that he would return for them.

Indeed, the disciples knew the prophets spoke of God’s people as his “bride,” but they could not know the depth of this symbolism. Marriage is God’s common grace gift to humanity—the union of a man and woman for the good of creation and the blessing of society. But while an example of common grace, it is also a picture of something more beautiful than we could imagine. The union of a man and woman, from creation onward, was intended to signify the relationship of Christ with the Bride he would buy for himself at the price of his own blood. From Eden on, marriage was meant to be a picture of God’s love for his people.

If marriage was intended as a glorious symbol, seen at first in shadows, then gloriously revealed in the kingdom-inaugurating life, death, and resurrection of Christ, then it is vital that this symbol not be altered. This does not mean our own marriages will be a perfect representation—they are but a shadow of the reality—nor does it mean that everyone will get married. Yet the shadow is a true one, representing the union of one man with one woman, just as Christ is the one true Bridegroom who will one day come for his one Bride, the Church.

The #PrayForMarriage initiative is about recognizing the grace of God in giving us marriage as a picture of his love. As we pray, we look together to the great marriage feast of the Lamb described in Revelation 19, when we will at last be together with Christ, our Bridegroom. It is then that the shadow will pass away and we will enjoy a marriage beyond our imagining.

We trust that as Jesus referred to himself as the Bridegroom in that final discourse with his disciples, he was teaching us as well—teaching us that his promised return will come to pass. And we trust that God’s plan for marriage is right and good, and we are right to stand for it today by falling to our knees before him.

By / Apr 23

If we could rewind the clock to 1973, would the outcome of Roe v. Wade have changed if churches fully embraced the sanctity of life and rallied together to pray for its protection? It is impossible to know.

But what we do know is that our nation may be facing the Roe v. Wade of marriage as the Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments on several same-sex marriage cases on April 28. The question that confronts us now is whether evangelical churches will fully embrace the sanctity of biblical marriage and rally together to pray for its protection.

“Isn’t it pointless to pray?” some will ask. After all, cultural momentum seems like an unstoppable train headed down the track toward same-sex marriage. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision in the Windsor case a couple of years ago seems to set the framework for a Roe v. Wade-type decision on marriage. And frankly, marriage in America, they’ll say, is already in shambles amid the wreckage of the sexual revolution and no-fault divorce. Is it really worth the fight?

  1. The ERLC is calling Christians to #PrayForMarriage because we believe marriage is worth fighting for. As the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on several marriage cases at 10:00 a.m. EDT on April 28, we are asking Christians around the country to gather together to call on God to protect marriage.
  2. The ERLC is calling on Christians to #PrayForMarriage because marriage is a picture of the gospel designed to show the way God works in rescuing a bride for Christ through his self-sacrificial love.
  3. The ERLC is calling on Christians to #PrayForMarriage because every child deserves to grow up in a home with a mom and a dad. It is the best environment for them to flourish in as one who is made in the image of God.
  4. The ERLC is calling on Christians to #PrayForMarriage because marriage serves the common good by encouraging family stability in a way that engenders community stability.

Forty years from now, Christians may look back at this Supreme Court decision as the Roe v. Wade of marriage. Or, 40 years from now, Christians may look back at this Supreme Court decision as a moment when God preserved the dignity of marriage against the onslaught of the culture. Either way, the ERLC hopes that Christians will look back and be encouraged by the way we prayed for God to work during this important time. Will you join us?

By / Apr 22

The only reason the State recognizes my right to officiate a wedding and sign a marriage license is because a local Christian church ordained me as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus, I do weddings as a gospel minister of a local church, and not as a civil justice of the peace. That fact must shape how I understand my responsibility to God and to my congregation as I decide whether or not to officiate a wedding.

Marriage is a creation ordinance, given for all people for public good and human flourishing (Gen. 2:23-24). Believers and unbelievers marry for their own good, the good of their children, and the good of society as a whole. Nevertheless, as a representative of the church, I call the couple in a wedding I officiate to public accountability before assembled witnesses through a biblical charge and wedding vows, and the body of Christ can only hold Christians accountable. If I refuse to officiate a wedding, I am not preventing anyone from getting married; I am only saying something about what weddings I think I have the authority to officiate based on my gospel-informed conscience.

When a couple asks me to do their wedding, I tell them I will be happy to meet with them to see if I would be able to officiate the wedding. Below are the questions I ask each couple (no matter how well I know them) to decide whether or not I will be able to lead the wedding ceremony.  Based on the answers to these questions the answer may be yes, no, or not now.

  1. Salvation/personal testimony?
  2. Which local church are you an accountable member in good standing?
  3. Have you been married before?
  4. Do you have any children?
  5. How long have you courted/dated? How long have you known one another?
  6. Are you presently living together or have you previously lived together?
  7. Are you presently engaging in sexual relations? Have you been previously engaging in sexual relations?
  8. Why do you want to get married? Why him/her?
  9. How many children would you like to have?
  10. Is there some significant issue in your past that you have not shared with one another?

This was originally published here.

By / Mar 31

Dan Darling sits down with Matt Chandler to discuss the biggest difference between the marriages between lost couples and redeemed Christians.

Chandler is the lead pastor of teaching at The Village Church in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. He is also the president of the Acts 29 Network.

Twitter: @mattchandler74

By / Mar 20

The headlines since March 17 have been crystal clear: Presbyterians approve same-sex marriage. By a majority vote of its presbyteries (regional bodies), the Presbyterian Church USA  (PCUSA) ratified an amendment to its constitution sent down last summer by its General Assembly that allows ministers to perform and churches to be used for same-sex weddings. In immediate response, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) affirmed its support for traditional marriage in hopes of avoiding the kind of confusion that often results when people hear the word “Presbyterian.”

Which Presbyterians did what?

The Presbyterian Church USA, based in Louisville, Ky., considers itself the “true” church when it comes to Presbyterians. They see all other Presbyterians as imposters and wannabes. If it sounds arrogant, it is. It is the PCUSA that boasts seminaries in Princeton, Pittsburgh, Richmond, Atlanta (Columbia), Louisville, San Francisco, Austin and Dubuque. Candidates who attend seminaries like Reformed (RTS) are often barred from ordination in the PCUSA until they do at least a year at an “official” seminary.

It is the PCUSA that boasts a multi-billion dollar endowment, the income from which funds much of its social witness agenda at the United Nations, in Washington DC and at the World and National Council of Churches. It is the PCUSA that is often in the news for its left-leading political advocacy. It is the PCUSA that considers the ordination of women an essential, allows for the ordination of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people, and now allows for same-sex marriages by its pastors and in its churches.

Parsing out the Presbyterians from one another is a little bit like parsing out Baptists. There are no longer “Southern” Presbyterians (although some remember the PCUS) but in addition to the PCUSA there are the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), Reformed Presbyterians (RP), Associate Reformed Presbyterians (ARP), Cumberland Presbyterians. The list goes on and on. Each follows a Presbyterian (elder based) form of government, and each claims to follow Reformed theology. But that’s where the dividing lines are drawn.

The vast majority of Presbyterian denominations worldwide use The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) as their primary confessional document. The WCF helps define the doctrine of “Reformed” theology.

The PCUSA, however, has a catalogue called The Book of Confessions—eleven different confessional documents that will be supplemented this year by a twelfth, Belhar. With so many confessions it’s hard to know what to believe, which is precisely the point. When the PCUSA adopted a catalogue of confessions, it did away with a mutually agreed upon list of essential tenets of the Reformed faith. So, whatever an individual embraces as essential is essential for them. That is the standard of theology for ordination in the PCUSA.  

“Reformed and always being reformed, according to the Word of God” has morphed into “reformed and always reforming.” Reformed theology as an identifiable corpus of doctrine becomes a self-determined evolution of thought and practice that is subject to every wind of doctrine, people’s trickery and their deceitful scheming.  

Always reforming

Reformation of thought and deed according to the Word of God has yielded to a spirit of reforming the church to conformity with the felt needs and desires of people. A perverted theology of “justice” and “love” literally out-voted the call to holiness, righteousness, submission and obedience to the revealed will of God.

The passage of the amendment also creates a clear conflict between the way marriage is consistently defined throughout the Confessions (“one man and one woman”) and the other part of the denomination’s constitution called The Book of Order (“two people”). The Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Gradye Parsons, has noted the tension and said that “the tension will exist until it doesn’t.” People in the PCUSA are just going to have to learn to live with the shades of grey now present in their constitution.

So what?

The decision to repudiate the Word of God will have percussive effects for the PCUSA.

1. The first effect is a further confusion in terms of witness in the world. The vote demonstrates a complete accommodation to the prevailing winds of our culture. Any prophetic voice that the denomination may have once had to speak truth and call people to repentance is now lost. All she can do now is echo the voices of the world for she has abandoned the clarion call to bear faithful witness to God who has clearly spoken on this matter.

2. The second effect will be the migration of more members and congregations out of the PCUSA into the EPC, ECO, PCA and other faithful expressions of the Body of Christ in the world. Hundreds of churches and millions of members have left the PCUSA in the past 50 years. The denomination experienced a 10 percent decline in the past two years alone. The decision to redefine marriage will not help stem that tide and may accelerate the pace of departures.

3. The third effect will be global. The PCUSA boasts a huge number of relationships with global mission partners. Many of those international denominations will likely sever ties with what they see as an apostate denomination. They will need reassurance from others in the Presbyterian family of denominations that there are faithful Presbyterians in the U.S. who desire continued ministry and partnership with them.

What now?

We mourn, we call for repentance, we work for reform, and we pray for revival.

The length of the battle should not deter us. God will not be mocked, and those who substitute their own felt desires for God’s unchangeable Truth will not be found guiltless before a holy God. The Presbyterian Lay Committee will continue to call for repentance and reform: repentance of those who have clearly erred and reform of the PCUSA according to the Word of God.

Those who want to be equipped to stand against the ever-rising tide of cultural accommodation are invited to visit layman.org where you will find resources to facilitate faithful Christian witness in an unfaithful time.

By / Mar 16

“Marriage under fire”

“Government to hear testimony on the re-definition of marriage”

“Biblical definition of marriage questioned”

I didn’t rip these headlines from today’s blog roll. Not yesterday’s either. Yes, I know they are an accurate description of the state of the marriage debate our country is currently facing, but we’re not the first society to wrestle over the subject of marriage.

These headlines describe what was happening in 16th century England during the English Reformation. In case it’s been awhile since you sat in a world history class, here is a crash course. Pay attention to the parallels between what was happening then and what is happening now.

  • King Henry VIII wanted his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled.
  • Catherine had not yet given Henry a male heir, and he had a sudden and passionate interest in a new lady, Anne Boleyn.
  • This ignited a frenzy of public debate about marriage, government’s involvement in marriage, and the limit (if any) of the Bible’s authority in our private lives.
  • It became a political affair centered around a theological dispute.
  • Because of the invention of the printing press, more words were written and circulated than ever before. If you had an opinion, you had the option to share it beyond your immediate circle.

Ultimately, Henry split from the authority of the Pope and the Catholic Church and created the Church of England to get his annulment. Why am I taking us so far down this ancient path?

The battle for biblical marriage is not new

Let’s take a slightly shorter trip into the history books and hop back a few decades. In the 1970s and 80s cultural forces converged to create skyrocketing divorce rates. The “no fault divorce” was introduced, and the effect worked like tidal wave in American homes. Almost half of couples who got married in the 70s and 80s divorced. That number stuck in the American psyche and caused much hand wringing, especially in the church.

I was a preschooler in the 80s, too young to be aware of any debate in the public sphere. As the 90s hit, I still didn’t care much about public opinion and was not yet a Christian, but I knew that my parents were divorced, and it was devastating. I started paying very close attention to how people talked about marriage. I picked up on a tone that seemed to say, “Marriage is a doomed institution and married people are more likely to win the lottery than to stay happy.” Needless to say I headed into my own marriage with great fear and low expectations for success.

Now sociologists are telling us there is good news. The divorce surge is over. But for those of us in the church, there is still a great deal of hand wringing and head shaking.

The definition of marriage is still being debated. Is marriage strictly between a man and a woman? Can it be between two men? Two women? One man and multiple women? Is marriage forever or just for now? Is divorce healthy or devastating? Should individuals have the freedom to choose what marriage looks like or do we need to agree on a consensus?

Just like in Henry VIII’s time, the government is involved in the discussion. The church leaders are involved. The public is involved and fractured. Yet, as Christians, we know that, though people have been trying to re-define God’s plan for marriage for centuries, God’s plan still stands.

A house that must be built

Several months ago, I read through the book of Ezra. It’s a short Old Testament book that outlines the rebuilding of God’s temple by a ragamuffin crew of exiled Jews. God’s people begin to rebuild his place of worship. They stake their claim. Draw their lines in the sand and declare, “We will do what God calls us to.”

“Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia” (Ezra 4:4-5).

The general public tried to block God’s people. They wrote accusatory letters, convinced that the remnant was intolerant. There were decrees from kings to cease and desist. The cause looked hopeless more often than it looked hopeful. And yet Ezra 6:16 says, “And the people of Israel, the priests and the Levites and the rest of the returned exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy.” Despite resistance from kings, the pushback of public opinion, and the unpopularity of their cause, God’s people were not stopped.

As I finished the book of Ezra, one theme came into clear focus: The plans of God cannot be stopped.

When it comes to marriage, that’s the good news, but of course there is bad news. Marriage may always be in the sights of the enemy who seeks to kill and destroy all that God has made (John 10:10). That’s because it’s a picture of God’s unbreakable covenant with his people (Eph. 5:32). There have been and will continue to be causalities, marriages that break or miss God’s mark, but all of history will end with the marriage between God and his people. Marriage will stand.

But what should we do in the meantime?

Committed to the Word, prayer and God’s people

Ezra takes the lead in rallying the people toward God’s purposes in the book of Ezra. As Christians in an anything goes world, we’d be wise to take our cues from him.

“For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). Ezra studied God’s Word and taught it faithfully. Even when that was unpopular.

He also prayed like crazy. In fact, at the dedication service for the temple that cost so much blood, sweat, and tears to build, Ezra is deeply broken on the issue of marriage. He realizes that God’s people have intermarried with the pagan people around him and his reaction is anything but passive. He tears his clothes and yanks the hair from his head and beard (Ezra 9:3). He fasted and then he fell on his knees and prayed this prayer: “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted to the heavens.”

Verse after verse, Ezra goes on about the sin of his people, but this is not a “get em’ God” prayer. There was no “us” versus “them.” Ezra lumps himself with his people and asks for mercy in spite of the prevalence of marriages that don’t stick to God’s plan. What happened next?

“While Ezra prayed and made confessing, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly.”

The people repented.

They committed to marriages that honored God.

The tide turned.

Marriage will stand, but there is a battle to be fought for it. God’s plans will not ultimately be thwarted.  Kings cannot stop the plans of God. Neither can angry mobs. Cultural trends do not change his mind or dilute his message. That knowledge is enough to stop the hand wringing. And yet, there are many who would come against God’s plan for marriage? What should we do about them? Lets pray like Ezra and watch for the tide to turn.

By / Mar 13

“People would be mortified if they went to a marriage and their vows were contractual.”

Matt Chandler responds to the culture of marriage that demands a 50/50 partnership rather than an unconditional love that we see modeled in Christ Jesus.

Chandler is the lead pastor of teaching at The Village Church, in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. He is president of the Acts 29 Network.

Twitter: @mattchandler74

By / Feb 16

If you are just setting out in the process of planning a wedding it's easy to become overwhelmed (and stay that way) from the very beginning. So my mom and I developed a list of “10 Ways to Have a Christ-Centered Wedding” in order to aid couples in thinking through options and prioritizing the process.

Now let me tell you what this is not. This is not as simple as checking off a list of “Christ-Centered Wedding Tips” to ensure the gospel is proclaimed and at the heart of the wedding. As with other aspects of life, it’s our hearts that matter. So in the following list, you will see 10 ways to look at your heart as you plan a wedding. We believe a “Christ-centered wedding” flows from these things.

1. Pray. A Christ-centered wedding begins with a Christ-centered heart. So pray for some of these to be realities:

  • That God will draw you and others closer to himself during your wedding planning
  • That he will drive the beauty of gospel truth deeper into your heart
  • That you will reflect his grace and love to others
  • That you will, by his grace, better understand your identity in Christ
  • That your marriage will begin at the foot of the cross, where you experience the freedom only found through Christ’s sacrificial love on your behalf

2. Know Christ. In order for weddings to reflect Christ, we must first truly know him. Spend time in his Word, learning what it means to be part of the church (Christ’s bride!) and what he has done for you. Your wedding will be a reflection of what you believe about your true Bridegroom.

3. Receive Christ-centered pre-marriage counseling. Begin counseling early, and meet with your counselor often. It’s easy to put it off, but the chaos of wedding planning is easier to keep in check when you are focusing on marriage more than wedding.

4. Make gospel proclamation the goal. Revelation 19 pictures our future wedding–the Marriage Feast of the Lamb–when the church will be gathered with our Bridegroom, Jesus. When we focus on this, our present weddings become pictures of this future reality. One of the benefits of having your local pastor perform the ceremony is the freedom of trusting him to share the gospel during the ceremony. But there are many other ways couples can proclaim Christ to their witnesses, beginning with number 5 below.

5. Have a wedding of worship. One of our favorite things to see in weddings is the bride and groom standing together with the bridal party and witnesses, all focused on the same mission–worshiping their Creator God together. Congregational song worship, Scripture readings, foot-washing, circle prayers–these are all ways to focus the wedding on worship, not of the bride or groom, but of their Savior.

6. Treat others with the love and mercy of Christ. Whether it’s family, friends, vendors, pastors, future family or anyone else you come in contact with during wedding planning, you have a choice as to how you will treat each person. Over and over again, you will have opportunities to lay aside your own “rights,” sacrificing out of love for others. And when you do this, you are giving these people a glimpse of Christ in you, who laid aside His own rights in order to serve and love us (Philippians 2).

7. Look for opportunities to serve others as Christ served you. You will be surrounded by people who want to serve you—vendors, shower hostesses, the bridal party and more. But instead of demanding everything be about you, you have the chance to serve others. Bring gifts to hostesses, talk with friends about their lives instead of just your wedding, get to know your vendors. And when you do this, once again you are representing Jesus, who did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

8. Continue to nurture love for your future spouse. Planning a wedding can take a toll on all relationships, especially with your future spouse. Schedule date nights when you can go through a Christ-centered marriage book, or even fun nights when wedding talk is off-limits. Protect your relationship and don’t let the wedding take over.

9. Prepare for a Christ-centered marriage. Spend personal time in prayer leading to the wedding, asking God to work in your heart through his Holy Spirit to make you the husband or wife he would have you be. Study the life and words of Jesus, and pray for grace and strength to live in the freedom and joy of what He has done for you.

10. Distinguish between the essentials and the non-essentials. When you make the presentation of the gospel the over-riding essential, it’s easier to determine what things are not essential. There is a freedom in letting the other stuff go, rather than stressing over every tiny detail. When you want people to be impressed with Christ, not with you, it frees you up to focus on the most important things, like having a wedding of worship.

These are just 10 things to do in setting out to plan a wedding. For more details and practical applications, take a look at my book A Christ-Centered Wedding: Rejoicing in the Gospel on Your Big Day.