Before God united Adam and Eve in the very first marriage, he already had something else in mind. Before he joined the first husband to the first wife, he was already thinking forward to what that marriage and every subsequent marriage would portray: the relationship of Jesus Christ and his church. Every marriage is meant to display the truth about the covenant-keeping love of God for his people.
Today I am kicking off a new series of articles that is going to ask the simplest of questions: “What’s the purpose of …?” Though the question is simple, the answers can be difficult and even controversial. We’ll begin with the home: What’s the purpose of marriage? What’s the purpose of sex? What’s the purpose of children? Then we’ll turn to the church: What’s the purpose of the church and its pastors? What’s the purpose of the Lord’s Day and the Lord’s Supper? What’s the purpose of worship and baptism? These are questions that perplex many of those outside the church and just as many within. We will tackle these questions week by week, attempting to put to rest any lies and misconceptions and to bring to the light the divine truth. We begin with marriage.
What’s the Purpose of Marriage?
What’s the purpose of marriage? A brief search turns up a host of answers representing a multitude of worldviews. These answers reveal no end of confusion, but most perspectives can be summarized under two headings.
The most common view in Western culture is marriage as contract. In this view, marriage is essentially a contract between two autonomous individuals, which they use a means of fulfillment or self-advancement. Those who hold to this view understand marriage as a man-made institution that was created for the mutual benefit of those who choose to enter into it. Because human beings invented marriage, it remains in effect only as long as human beings find it beneficial and desirable. When it no longer provides fulfillment or self-advancement—when it becomes inconvenient, unenjoyable, or just plain difficult—it can and should be easily dissolved. Such a marriage “works” only as long as it benefits the two individuals.
It is worth pointing out that the understanding of marriage as a contract leads smoothly and inevitably to the acceptance of alternate forms of marriage, including same-sex unions. If marriage is a man-made institution that exists for the mutual benefit of individuals, humans are free to form any kind of union that appears to be beneficial. In fact, “marriage equality” becomes nothing less than a human right. A human-made institution can always be expanded or reformed to accommodate the wishes of humanity.
A second view of marriage is marriage as sacrament. This is the view that dominated Western culture while it was under the control of the Roman Catholic Church. While the Reformation disrupted it, its vestiges remain even outside Catholicism. In this view, marriage is a sacrament under the control of the Church and, like all sacraments, provides saving power to those who participate in it. After all, according to the Church, all of “the sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us.” Though this view is said to be founded on Scripture and the writings of Augustine, it is actually founded on a mistranslation of Scripture and a misinterpretation of the Church Father.