Marriage: what are we trying to save?

A Swedish wedding from 1903

With the Marriage Act possibly being amended this year, the debate over what marriage means has reached huge proportions. Many Christians have been very vocal in their opposition to changing the the law on marriage, much to the scorn of those who disagree. I’m a Christian and I believe God has told us quite clearly that he does not approve of same-sex relationships (along with many other relationships.) But I’m not convinced that there’s really much point trying to save the Marriage Act as it is. What are we trying to save? Jesus had some strong words:

Whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery. (Mark 10:11-12, NLT)

I think our society abandoned the Christian (Biblical) conception of marriage decades ago. Legally this occurred in 1975 with the introduction of no-fault divorces. Similar changes have resulted in almost complete legal recognition of de facto relationships. There may be arguments for no-fault divorce and de facto relationships, but I think the reality is that they have contributed to a shift in the meaning of marriage. I have no evidence for this, but I bet that most Australians would think that the idea of only getting married if you were committed to seeing it through to the end of your life is just as backward an idea as heterosexual-only marriage. Marriage is no longer an exclusive and irrevocable contract, but one of several possible labels you can give to long term relationships. A tiny fraction of Australians may end up in homosexual marriages, but the changes that have led to twice as many Australians my age being in de facto relationships than married, and a third of all marriages ending in divorce, have already happened.

Every minority has the right to express how they think the law should be shaped, so Christians should be free to express their opposition, especially when the facts aren’t settled yet. But I personally won’t be spending much breath to protect a definition I don’t agree with. It’s sad, but that ship has sailed.

I would however support changing the Marriage Act in another way: to remove marriage from it! I don’t think any particular label such as marriage should be privileged and codified in law above any other. If the whole of federal and state law was changed so that there was just a single relationship recognised by law (lets keep the term civil union for this, no one actually wants to describe their relationship as one) then I think we’d all be better off. If up till now marriage has had a religious definition then don’t try to change what it means – just remove it from the law.


What’s wrong with multi-site churches

At The Resurgence Gregg Allison has given a defense for multi-site churches. While his defense may address Mark Dever’s concerns, it says nothing about what I think is wrong with multi-site churches: it stifles the principle of the priesthood of all believers.

The NT doesn’t actually say very much about how we should do church or what our church meeting should be like. But one verse that clearly states the basics is 1 Corinthians 14:26:

When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (ESV)

God has given every Christian gifts, which we should use to build each other up, by encouraging, challenging, rebuking and teaching each other. A church meeting is simply the time when Christians get together to use their gifts at the same time.

Unfortunately many churches restrict how we can do that by limiting those who can be involved in the church meeting to a very small group, such as the minister and “worship leader”. I am a believer both in lay preaching and flexible meeting structures because they allow more people to get involved. I suspect a house church done well would let even more people get involved, but regular churches can still make changes which let more people serve.

It gets worse though. Mars Hill Church is a multi-site church with 9 campuses. Each shares a video feed from the main campus, so that there is only one person teaching each week, and most of the time that’s Mark Driscoll. Compared to regular churches that’s 8 people with the gift of teaching who aren’t being given the opportunity to serve their churches. Compared to an ideal church, hundreds if not thousands must be missing out. And that’s wrong.