Marriage: One Lord Jesus and One Holy Bride

Rev. Mark Buetow

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord...Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her..."For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:22, 25, 31-32)

With the recent arrival at the Supreme Court of two cases concerned with “gay marriage,” the topic has been at the forefront once again of religious and cultural discussions. Christian rebuttals of the idea of “gay marriage” often appeal to a definition of marriage that means only a man and woman. That’s how God established it when He made Adam and Eve. Meanwhile, any discussion of “gay marriage” often brings with it a rather hypocritical and even judgmental attitude toward those who are gay. Sadly, most Christians seem to approach the topic without any apparent reference to Christ and His Bride, the church. And this is where the discussions have gone wrong.

The most recent definition of marriage in the Encarta Dictionary defines the institution this way: a legally recognized relationship, established by a civil or religious ceremony, between two people who intend to live together as sexual and domestic partners. This definition is a good illustration of how society has come to view marriage and what it thinks is the basis of what constitutes it. This way of looking at marriage implies that the traditional category of “husband and wife” is not exclusive. A marriage might be two husbands or two wives, or whatever the couple feels is the right description for their relationship. Against this, most Christians seem to argue that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, which is what God established it to be when He made Adam and Eve. They seem to forget, however, that the Bible is filled with situations where that rule is not kept at all. The Old Testament in particular is full of examples of men who had many wives, as well as all sorts of stories of adultery, painting a pretty different picture of marriage than that Garden of Eden ideal!

The problem is that when marriage is understood only as a matter of the Law, of the Sixth Commandment, it is going to be a wreck. If the Law declares that marriage is “a man and a woman, husband and wife,” then it should come as no surprise that sin is going to ruin it. Now the union of a (male) husband and a (female) wife is in danger of being wrecked by sin (think adultery, living together and divorce). The desire for marriage and the practice of chastity (self-restraint) are ruined (think pornography and fornication). Even the biological aspects of marriage are undone and rejected (think same-sex relations). The Sixth Commandment may teach us about adultery and defacing marriage, but it has no power to keep marriage from being a mess made by our sin.

This is where we are rescued, as we are from all sin, by Jesus Christ. St. Paul teaches the Ephesians that marriage is a picture of Christ and His church. Or, we might say, Jesus and His bride are the foundation of what it means to be married. In fact, it has always been. In the Old Testament, Israel is seen as an orphaned girl who is rescued by the Lord and made His bride (Ezekiel 16). In the New Testament, we see Jesus on the cross, for the sins of the world, pouring forth water and blood from His side, Baptism and Supper, the gifts which create and sustain His bride, the church. She is born from His side just as Eve was made from the rib of Adam’s side. The Lord has always sought His bride and no matter what she does or who harms her, He takes her to Himself, cleans her up and makes her safe.

Therefore the very definition of marriage includes a picture of Jesus saving sinners. Consequently, to define marriage as something other than the lifelong union of one man and one woman is to deny the very Gospel that saves us. In marriage, there is a husband, Christ, who saves and cleanses His bride, the church. The very notion of “gay marriage” then doesn’t make any sense. Two men making a marriage is the same as saying that Christ died for Himself! Two women making a marriage is the picture of the church saving herself. Neither of these are right. They deny the reality of what Christ has done for His church in making her His bride. Jesus and His church are the one true marriage, the true Groom and His bride.

The fact is, a gay couple who wants to be “married” denies the very truth of what marriage illustrates, namely Christ and His church. But wait a minute! Then what about someone who has sex outside of marriage? What about a man and woman who are married but get divorced? What about a husband who struggles with pornography or a wife who cheats on her husband? Those all deny the truth and reality of Christ and His church, don’t they? Now you get the picture! There is not just one but a nearly infinite variety of ways in which the Lord’s gift of marriage can be ruined by sin.

And that brings us back to the whole point of marriage. Christ saves His church. He washes her and makes her spotless. When He looks at her, He sees no sin. None. Not a blemish. Not a wart, pimple, wrinkle or any other imperfection. He sees His bride that He made clean. Our temptation is to focus on one particular sin with respect to marriage and magnify that as worse than all other sins. In doing so, we puff ourselves up, thinking we are better than others. We also knock down Christ’s grace and forgiveness. As if Jesus didn’t die for the WHOLE mess we’ve made of marriage! When it comes to these and all other sins, remember, the church is the bride of Christ. We are the ones who have been washed and cleansed from all sin and imperfections. It’s been given and done for us in Baptism, by the Word and with Jesus’ body and blood. It is only this Good News by which the Spirit will work in people to bring them to repentance for all their sin and deliver to them the forgiveness which is given in Jesus’ name.

Let’s be honest. The world is going to do what it wants. It desires to redefine marriage. To be fair, we ought to consider that the right to do with your property and so forth with anyone you choose shouldn’t be hampered by the government. That’s a separate issue. But if society decides to include that domestic partnership under the heading of “marriage,” what will we do as Christians? Easy. We will still marry and be given in marriage, husbands and wives only, as God’s Word teaches us. And we will still live in the forgiveness of sins that makes us so free we can dare to confess what marriage is really all about while not getting worked up about what the world thinks it means. After all, nothing the world does can steal Christ away from His beloved. She has been washed and made spotless. She has the eternal joy of being joined to her Groom forever. She is and will be the Holy bride of Jesus long after society has changed its mind again and even when this world has passed away.

Rev. Mark Buetow is pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in DuQuoin, IL. He is also the Media Executive for Higher Things. He and his wife Susan have three daughters.

Created: April 9th, 2013