The Christian View of Marriage (Mennonite Church, 1959)
The Christian View of Marriage (Mennonite Church, 1959)
The Christian View of Marriage
A Statement Adopted by Mennonite General Conference, August 27, 1959.
In the face of serious disintegration of marriage and the home, the church is humbly seeking to intensify its protest against contemporary social evils. Realizing the great damage that follows marital discord and estrangements, it seeks to point the way to better living and stronger homes. It vigorously denounces the unbending self-righteousness and undisciplined self-indulgence that break open so many homes to illicit relationships and darkening hostilities. It calls husbands and wives back from their flights away from responsibility to creative leadership in bringing light and love into marriage and home. This message calls for the full recognition of marriage as having been instituted by God. It regards marital relationships as major channels of insight to achieve wholeness of life. In it, men and women can realize the relation of God to man and Christ to the church. It calls for a lifelong commitment of love that endures to the end. It provides the broadest context where duty, love, forgiveness, and sorrow teach the dearest lessons of life. The church must be ready to help married couples to be Christian in life's most intimate relationship, to achieve personal maturity in life's most delicate emotional expressions, and to assume full responsibility in family life and home.
Origin in God
Marriage is the union of a man and a woman, as husband and wife. It was instituted at the beginning of the human race according to God's own plan and purpose. Originally the woman was taken from the substance of man and was given to him as a suitable complement (helper) to his nature and being. Genesis 2:18. They lived together in purity and honor, reflecting the very image of God. They fulfilled the divine thought and purpose in companionship, parenthood and industry. From the very beginning, the pattern of human nature was so designed that a man and a woman united in love can realize complete satisfaction and happiness. This being the most intimate of all human relationships, it has always required mutual understanding and love.
Christ supported the original intent of marriage and reaffirmed its sanctity. Mark 10:6-9. He recognized the complementary elements of masculine and feminine natures and gave to each companion responsibility for a constructive contribution to marital unity and purpose. He restored the original intent of marriage to be monogamous and permanent. The union of two lives constitutes a separate social unit. Each is to leave his parents to be joined to each other with the full intention of living together until death separates. Each is to recognize the element of permanence and pledge faithfulness until death dissolves the union.
Jesus went beyond the human factors in His definition of marriage to emphasize the divine aspect. He refers to God as an active agent in effecting marriage; it is a God-joined union. In this context He confirmed the origin of marriage as haying been initiated as a part of the creation. It came about by God's interest in man to propagate the race under favorable conditions such as can be achieved only by a properly "joined" man and woman. He identified the union of two lives as having been instituted by God. This means that marriage cannot be properly understood apart from its relation to God. It is more than a civil institution or a secular contract. It is a divine and therefore, holy and sacred institution.
Mutual Consent and Commitment
The teachings of the New Testament are all in agreement with the importance and sanctity of marriage. The very nature of this union speaks of permanence. Marriage involves the intention of both parties to "leave father and mother" and to cleave to each other. This mutual consent and commitment forms the basis of a lifelong relationship. The unity of spirit it represents is a mutuality sustained by powers of the will and love. The self-giving of each to the other involves the spirit as well as the body. It rests on the principle of absolute fidelity, in which there is no reservation of human affection and no division of personal devotion. Love binds the union with a faith and loyalty that makes marriage a rich and happy experience. It is a oneness of spirit, soul, and body. The two persons are so completely open to each other in every aspect of life that they are no longer two
The physical union in marriage is a sex relationship to be expressed in mutual consent. As a physical expression of love, sex experience forms a bond which ties the whole partnership living into one. Complete physical unity, when it represents marital harmony, becomes a vital source of sustained happiness and mutual respect. In addition to procreation, sex experience has other functions in which the husband and wife express to one another their exclusive and mutual love. When it is an act of mutual agreement and enjoyment, it becomes a symbol of success, a means of deepening love, and a perpetual source of marital happiness. It sustains confidence and commitments confessed in the marriage vow. Within the Christian ideal it becomes a definitely spiritual experience.
Sex union can achieve its full purpose only between two people who are already committed to each other for all of life on all levels of human experience. Coming together with no prolonged interest in each other is a mere animal pattern and fails to achieve any spiritual significance. It attains spiritual meaning only to two people who feel they belong to each other, who have exclusive claims upon each other in deeper and wider dimensions of human experience. For this they have entered into the exchange of vows to each other with the full intent of living together in a permanent union. They are one in spirit, outlook, dedication, and purpose.
Christian marriage is a growing experience sustained by divine goodness and mercy and maintained by a committed purpose to succeed. Both husband and wife are so yielded to each other and to the will of God as to make of all marriage experiences a series of refinements and enrichments known only within an indissoluble union. The spiritual aspects of marriage are deeply implied by requiring all marital unions to be effected "in the Lord." The relationship between husband and wife is to be a living symbol of the relationship between Christ and the church. The husband demonstrates the self-giving spirit of Christ in real expressions of love. The wife shows respect for and agreement with her husband as a pattern of the church' s loyalty and devotion to Christ.
The integrating forces of Christian faith and living have a vital bearing on the marriage relationship. In addition to personality adjustment and physical compatibility, the husband and wife need equal assurance of spiritual affinities. The strongest elements in marital unity are those derived from satisfactory Christian experience. Marriage is essentially a divine union and therefore finds the genius of its nature in the Christian ideal.
A strong desire to live life at its best is a good assurance of marital happiness. Religious satisfactions do not come automatically; they are achieved by faith, commitment, and action. In marital experience the growth and enrichment in spiritual matters must be mutual. Husband and wife learn together how to give Christ pre-eminence in their private and family living. They are "heirs together of the grace of life."
The Christian approach to parenthood accepts responsibility for children as gifts from God. They are accepted for what they are -- to be loved and to be trained. Christian parents are careful to surround them with wholesome and good influences. They will keep their love free from possessiveness so that their children can be their real selves and become responsible persons. They will sacrifice willingly to promote the best interests of their children without expectation of reward. The training will be characterized by responsible discipline in which children are led to the exercise of self-control and obedience. Parents make no attempt to force decisions, such as require self-determination, but will seek to influence acceptance of Christ with understanding and concern. They are concerned to have the children qualify for usefulness in the kingdom of God. Properly guided in a Christian home, children grow up to perpetuate a saving witness for Christ and the church.
Children bring into the experience of their parents a new enrichment of personality and new dimensions of love. In return, parents influence their children by the quality of marital relationships they bring into the family. The mutual affection and understanding between husband and wife sets the tone for all other family relationships; the happiness of all who share in the home is at stake. A marriage strained by tension and maladjustment creates a bad atmosphere. Parents who accept and understand each other can develop in the home a spirit of co-operation where domestic issues are resolved with confidence. When family relationships are basically sound, problems will be met with imagination and resolution.
Worship in the Home
A simple but regular period of worship in the home is another means of achieving family unity. It blends the aspirations and ideals of husband and wife and confers upon children a sense of divine calling. It integrates marital living with the elements of prayer and praise where there is a true search for the will of God. It tends to simplify emotional adjustments in the family and to unite hearts in real peace and contentment. The home is the best channel through which the church can conserve its spiritual values. When husband and wife have a common mind and conviction about the Bible and its teachings, it is easier to develop a family loyalty to the Christian ideal. It is always important that both parents be members of the same denomination and preferably of the same congregation. Agreement in matters of church attendance, creed, practice, and work is of great importance. Of all things on which marital agreement is needed, there is none more significant than a common mind on religion.
Mission of the Home
The Christian family is not only a worshiping group, but a serving group. The Christian home has a mission to fulfill. It is so uniquely different that it has a redemptive influence upon every aspect of society. The parents encourage, by teaching and example, the spirit of good will, helping others and sharing family joys and privileges with those who are less fortunate. A marriage based on the principle of purity not only yields deep satisfaction and happiness within the family, but it is a positive moral influence in the community. Christian parents by their life of stewardship promote the ideals of thrift, economy, vocation, industry, simplicity, and giving. In so far as the home achieves harmony and happiness, it is a basic unit in the colony of heaven. By its worship and witness it propagates the essential elements of Christian community.