CONCERNING MARRIAGE . . . At its best

“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” (Reference: Hebrews 13:4 )

Lest you think otherwise beloved, this verse is one in a list that the writer of Hebrews recommends that his audience do. He also says let mutual love continue, offer hospitality to strangers, remember those who are in prison and are being tortured, keep your lives free from the love of money being content with what you have; the writer of Hebrews continues on adding admonitions and reminders. That it should blaze out so prominently to us means, well . . . I am not sure what it means.

This verse from Hebrews touched on an issue for the historic Anabaptists that I had not considered. The editors of Reading the Anabaptist Bible tell us that because Anabaptist met and worshiped in secret that they did not have their marriages sanctified. But that was not the case. Historic Anabaptist Jan Wouterss wrote in his confession of faith “I . . . confess that I did not marry my wife secretly, that no one should see it, but before the church of God; for marriage is honorable. but whoremongers and adulterers God will punish. Heb. 13:4.”

As we read yesterday, historic Anabaptist loved their spouses with great emotion and depth. I think there have been one or two other letters between spouses earlier in the year where the bonds of affection are evident. Wouterss also wrote, “O my God, count it not sin to him who took me away; for it is a bitter cup to me to part from wife and child, because we love one another so much.”

A common thread running through much of these verses and the opinions of the historic Anabaptists is that we many, if not all of us in some way or another, need someone special in our lives. Someone to who we cling and bond with with from the day we speak the words of commitment before others to the day that someone passes away. We look for someone who will make us feel complete, and in the completeness we know contentment that endures all other things.

Do we honor marriage as we should? I don’t think so. The problem is, as I said yesterday, there are so many different ways to look at and define marriage. And I think it is the conflicting definitions of marriage that hurt the institution of marriage the most. When we get caught up in conflict of defining marriage we lose sight of putting our best efforts into marriage.

Beloved, may you honor all the best things in a marriage relationship. And may you find that one person with whom marriage is bliss likened to heaven. Selah!

CONCERNING MARRIAGE . . . . When it is done well

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church– For we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church.” (Reference: Ephesians 5:25-32 )

What ever changes have come about in the tradition of marriage, marriage itself – two people finding each other and committing to stand by each other no matter what happens – has not changed. If it has changed, then let us hope it is for the better. If it remains the same, let it be at the same high standard it has always been.

There are many standards of marriage, beloved. Many ways to plan and conduct a marriage, a wide variety of traditions to follow. Many ways to live out a married life. The traditional ideas of marriage are being challenged; but again, I hope the standards of care and compassion in a marriage stay the same.

You might think that historic Anabaptists knew little about marriage and what makes marriage bliss. From their letters and writings, it seemed to be a strict life. But there are small windows into their lives that show deep passion and intimate regard. Jan van Hasebroeck’s letter to his wife just before his death is such a window. It may not be the sort of “love letter” we are used to, but listen carefully to what he says, and imagine a contemporary spouse saying these things. Then you will start to know the depth of emotion he had for his wife.

O my most beloved wife, whom I have wedded before Christ and His church, for a helpmeet in my pilgrimage, over which helpmeet the Lord has place me as head and protector, to feed and nourish you as my own body. Eph. 5:28. Now, my most beloved, if I have not well attended to my calling, during the time that we have been together; if I have grieved you in anything, I kindly ask you from the bottom of my heart, to forgive me; I have asked the Lord with tears, to forgive me. O my dear wife, I forgive you from the heart everything you may have done amiss to me. O my dear wife, you have done nothing amiss to me; but I have grieved myself; hence I have prayed the Lord, to forgive me the same.”

Consider than, beloved, that Christ loves us in this way. To Christ, through Christ’s death, we are as pure as van Hasebroeck envisions his wife – pure without flaw. To be loved like that beloved! Selah!

CONCERNING MARRIAGE . . . . Everyone has an opinion

To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” ( Reference: 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 )

Hans Schmidt, a historic Hutterite wrote,

“The outward bond of marriage (Ezra 10:2, 10; Tob. 6:13-14) is not of God if it takes place in a human way and is not joined by the Holy Spirit (Gen. 6:1-4; Matt. 24:38; Luke 17:27). But if the partners turn from sin and truly give themselves to God (Acts 2:38; 16:31), their sins will be washed away. Then the Spirit (2 Thess. 2:13) will consecrate their marriage; it will be in accordance with God’s will, and what God has now joined together (Gen. 24; Tob. 7; Matt. 19:6) no man shall put asunder.

However, should one partner separate from the other, he must either remain unattached or repent and be reconciled (1 Cor. 7:10-11). Until he repents (1 Cor. 5:2-5; 2 Thess. 3:14-15), the other partner should have nothing to do with him except for calling him to repentance, unless there should be some other godly reason.”

It must have been baffling to piece together how life should be lived out according to scripture when there was so many scriptures that could be applied to the activities of daily living. The historic Anabaptists and other new faith communities that emerged during this time relied heavily on scripture and used it in much of their writings. It was a “new” thing, having one’s own bible, and being a “novelty” it was used quite often. Evidenced by all the scriptural citations in Schmidt’s writing. I looked up many of these citations, and it is a matter of certain understandings and perspectives being brought to bear on the situation under discussion. In other words, they used a bit of this and a bit of that to prove what they were saying. It is not generally how scriptural proofs are used now, beloved. And it jostles me that such biblical scholarship and usage was practiced by my denominational fore-bearers.

It also jostles me that the writer of 1 Corinthians clearly states it is his opinion and not the Lord’s that a believer should remain yoked to an unbeliever, and Paul’s opinion should become “Christian canon.” Chalk up another discussion Paul and I will need to have in the world to come!

In some ways this taking snippets of scriptural text and sprinkling them around like seasoning on all sorts of situations reminds me of the Jewish habit of doing just the same thing. Taking a situation in life and trying out scriptural passages to see what is the best fit, “trimming” the understanding and meaning of the text a little here and there to make it fit. That Paul and I both are influenced by our Jewish heritage will make that discussion all the more interesting.

The thing is, beloved, times and cultural situations change. And when you try to apply scriptural understandings from decades, eras, and centuries ago, they may not adequately take into account the changes in society and generations. May be you can tell I am skimming ever closer to stating my opinion. If I said much more, I may give too much away.

What I can tell you beloved is that the message of faith and what it can do in a person’s life can come from almost any imaginable Christian source, or even from a source outside of organized faith. Do not close the door on any possibility of faith being transmitted. But neither should you allow your faith to be trampled on or disregard. May your faith glorify the Lord and be a blessing to others. Selah!

CONCERNING MARRIAGE . . . . It matters greatly

Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. “ (Reference: 1 Corinthians 7:1-6 )

As each day under this theme comes, I find it more and more challenging to keep my opinions to myself. There are so many things I would like to say, but I determined to have this year’s postings focus on historic Anabaptist views when there is a divergence between the situations then and in our modern day. And I am careful that my opinions not overshadow what they historic Anabaptists have to say. On this subject I fear they might.

Peter Riedeman wrote in his Confession of Faith concerning marriage,

“Marriage is a union of two in which each one undertakes to care for the other, and the second agrees to obey the first. Through their agreement, two become one; they are no longer two but one. If this is to be a godly union, the two must come together in accordance with God’s will and order, not through their own action and choice. That means that neither shall forsake the other, but together they shall endure good and bad times as long as they live. . . .

Through this we see how marriage instructs us and leads us to God, for if we regard it rightly, it teaches us to know God and to cling to him. However, where marriage is not seen in the right way, it leads people away from God and brings about death. Since there are few who perceive it correctly and many who perceive and observe it incorrectly, Paul says it is good for a man not to touch a woman, in case he is swept away in his ignorance to his own ruin. [1 Cor. 7:1-8] So we will speak of marriage insofar as God enables us.”

There is some things I could say about Riedeman’s perspective of marriage; first, who is the “one [who] undertakes to care for the other” and who is the one that is to obey the first. But that may not seriously concern me because he states that marriage instructs as to how to know and follow God. More concerning to me is that Riedeman feels that many perceive and observe marriage incorrectly – although in order for me to give my definitive opinion I would need to know more about how Riedeman thinks marriage should be correctly done and what he thinks is incorrect. Dependent on that, I may be seriously concerned about Riedeman’s role assignments in marriage. It does concern me that because many do not perceive marriage correctly (according to Riedeman) they might miss out on the joy and learning that can come from marriage. Or perhaps Riedeman does not feel that much can be learned or that the value of it is small in comparison to being “swept away in his ignorance to his own ruin.” And finally, beloved, I would wonder how firm Riedeman is in his pronoun – that is, does “he” mean exclusively male or people in general.

Riedeman does have many good things to say about marriage, and I am hopeful that my concerns spring not from his strict outlook but are concerns fueled by the cumulative abuses that have happened over the years to both genders of spouses. I have long felt that our relationship to God and our relationship to our spouse are intertwined and that one keenly affects the other.

I do not know, beloved, what your marital situation is. I imagine there is diversity. What I do hope and pray is that through those relationships you have learned about love, commitment, fidelity, honesty, compassion and caring. May God bless your relationships and may you be blessing to others through those relationships. Selah!

Concerning Marriage . . . Perspectives in the past

Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Reference: Luke 16:18 )

I am going old school this evening, beloved. Our internet has been giving us problems and we have had to stare at inactive screens for too many days. I am consulting the written text for the context of this verse rather than simply looking it up online. I will probably have post this at a later point, during the brief period of time when our internet connection is good.

The sentiment and instructions on marriage for today are also “old school”. The writer of Luke has Jesus teaching some home-truths besides the statement on marriage and divorce. There is the dishonest manager who feathered his own nest when his career was put in jeopardy. He also says no slave can serve two masters, and you cannot serve wealth and God at the same time. That seems incongruous with the teaching on the dishonest manager. Then Jesus scolds the Pharisees, saying they justify themselves in the sight of others, but God knows their heart. Jesus then speaks to the longevity of the law. And we come to this teaching on marriage. Finally the story of the rich man who finds himself in Hades while the poor beggar, upon death, finds himself transported to Heaven. The rich man begs Father Abraham to intercede for him and get him a drink of water. When that is denied, he begs that someone go to tell is brothers to mend their ways. That is refused also. And the chapter ends.

Both the historic Anabaptist and the historical Hutterites felt the sanctity of marriage was unshakable – much the same as the laws are. They also felt that if one spouse in a marriage was a non-believer (this we can safely assume happened because one spouse converted. Current believers were actively encouraged NOT to marry a non-believer.) if that spouse allowed his/her marriage partner to continue in the faith, the marriage need not end. But if the unbelieving spouse (the historic Anabaptists assume it is the wife who believes) hinders the believing spouse, the marriage should be dissolved. However the wife, they say, must remain single so as to not commit adultery.

It is interesting than that the verse about marriage and divorce is followed by a parable of a poor person who receives reward in heaven because of his suffering and a rich person who did not fulfill the duties of compassion who is sent to Hades. Do you see/sense the context that this short verse on marriage and divorce is placed in?

Since I could not access other translations online, I went back to look at what I wrote five years ago. And was pleasantly surprised to see that I had quoted the verse just before verse 18 from The Message. Equally please I saw that The Message links those verses (verses 14 to 17) to verse 18. I was able to do a cut and paste so I can share with you verses 14 to 18.

When the Pharisees, a money-obsessed bunch, heard him say these things, they rolled their eyes, dismissing him as hopelessly out of touch. So Jesus spoke to them: “You are masters at making yourselves look good in front of others, but God knows what’s behind the appearance. What society sees and calls monumental, God sees through and calls monstrous. God’s Law and the Prophets climaxed in John; Now it’s all kingdom of God—the glad news and compelling invitation to every man and woman. The sky will disintegrate and the earth dissolve before a single letter of God’s Law wears out. Using the legalities of divorce as a cover for lust is adultery; Using the legalities of marriage as a cover for lust is adultery.“

It illuminates a possible reason for the placement of verse 18 and gives rationale for NOT taking verse 18 as a straightforward injunction against divorce and remarriage. Again, I am deferring my opinion on that issue. But if your internet connection is good you can search for that posting from Sept 11, 2009.

May you beloved read scripture with diligence and care, seeking the truth with the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Selah!

CONCERNING MARRIAGE

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Reference: Matthew 19:3-9 )

This is a touchy delicate one, beloved. It touches on both divorce/remarriage and same-sex marriage. I am unsure whether I want to tackle commenting on this one. I am more inclined to see what was said last year. Or to make use of the historic Anabaptist quote for this day.

Yes, the historic Anabaptist took a very conservative perspective on this. And in our modern day some Anabaptists/Mennonites continue in that very conservative tradition while others embrace and espouse an opinion that follows very different lines and understandings. Five years ago I wrote a commentary that made very clear where my opinions lie. My opinions have not changed, beloved. But if you want to read what I said, you are going to have look for it. There is too much controversy currently for me to put any kindling or excelerant on those flames.

What I will say and commit to is a slight paraphrase of the paragraph I concluded my post with five years ago.

There is a lot of controversy, both within the church and outside of the church about who the partners/participants in marriages should be, what constitutes a marriage, and what the issues/reasons are for ending a marriage. There are many who appeal to the Bible, but use the Bible version that has the translation that fits their own perspective. My encouragement is, with grace and humbleness, to read the Bible with the words and understandings that were present at the time of its writing. Then we can have a discussion of how best to apply the texts that contribute to the divisiveness on these issues. And how we could and should work together despite the opposing positions. Until then I remain on the sidelines granting grace and acceptance for all of those who find themselves caught in controversy because of where their own human nature and instincts have lead them.”

Five years ago I could write with impunity because the issues of marriage had not hit the Anabaptist/Mennonite fan. That is, there was not any situations that tested the spectrum of positions that individuals held. Discussion, yes. But nothing that had raised a divisive edge. Now there is one. And people of Anabaptist/Mennonite faith on all sides are getting caught up in it.

But as I said beloved, I know where I stand and what my opinion is. There is a short span of days where this is the theme. I will try to pick my way through them carefully, sharing the general perspective of historic Anabaptists and modern Anabaptists/Mennonites. It is my hope we can touch lightly on these issues, trying to see all sides with grace and compassion. Selah!