Reclaiming the Higher Ground on Marriage
- Dr. Richard D. Land for <i>Two Becoming One</i>
- 2003 4 Apr
Our nation is threatened by a high divorce rate, a rise in cohabitation, an increase in out-of-wedlock births, a decline in the marriage rate, and a diminishing interest and readiness in marrying, especially among young people.
With three-quarters of marriages performed by clergy, churches are uniquely positioned not only to call America to a stronger commitment to this holy union but also to provide practical ministries and influence in reversing the course of our culture.
The institution of marriage—the covenantal union of a man and woman—has served for all of history as the bedrock of society. The marriage of one man and one woman is the fount out of which flow the critical values that sustain and benefit societies.
Sociological evidence indicates when marriages fail, families are weakened; and when families are weakened, society as a whole feels the impact.* It was not happenstance that the first institution established by God was marriage.
Marriage, the Church and Civil Government
God ordained three institutions in human society to enable individuals to fulfill their God-given purposes: marriage (the family), the church, and civil government. Each of these institutions is indispensable in our society, and each makes certain unique contributions to society. If any of these institutions are impaired, society will suffer in some very specific ways. If the church is undermined, people will have a reduced opportunity to hear the counsel of God; if the government is undermined, the people are not protected from predatory evil; and if the institution of marriage is undermined, families suffer, with the weakest and most defenseless among us—the children—suffering the most grievously. If any of these three institutions seek to dominate the legitimate sphere of the other, or surrenders its proper sphere of influence, society’s very foundations are imperiled.
The family is a particularly important institution. A family established on the marriage between a man and a woman provides for the cultivation of vital personal attributes—compassion, cooperation, and commitment—in ways that other relationships do not. Sadly, many marriages in our day fail in significant ways to develop and model these characteristics among husbands, wives, or children. By their very nature, broken marriages and counterfeit alternative relationships such as cohabitation and same-sex unions fail to impact and benefit society in the manifold ways that society is blessed by intact, committed heterosexual marriages.
While marriages between men and women are the primary source of society’s bedrock values, this critically important institution is under a mighty assault today. Divorce, substance abuse, domestic violence, negligence in fulfilling family responsibilities, and a myriad of other failings occur too often in marriages. Such failings occur with equal frequency among churchgoers and non-churchgoers. Consequently, in our day the very foundation of society is threatened. For without the purest forms of compassion, mercy, cooperation, commitment, and sacrifice flowing out of strong marriages, there are seriously reduced prospects for the endurance and expansion of a just and civil society.
Role of the Church
It is imperative that churches redouble their efforts to encourage strong marriages. As the guardian and teacher of God’s truth, churches are the place where the secular and the spiritual meet. In His perfect wisdom, God has ordained the ecclesia, His called-out people, to teach His truth to the entire world and to model those values that honor Him. If the churches fail in either of these responsibilities, society will suffer.
According to the U.S. Census, the non-marital birth rate has gone up by 223.6 percent between 1970 and 1998. Between 1970 and 1998, the number of single-parent families has increased by 190.2 percent, and the number of children living with unmarried couples went up by 665 percent.
Christians need to recognize their divine importance in God’s grand design for humanity and recommit themselves to building strong marriages, strengthening weak ones, and restoring broken ones. On the heels of its primary responsibility to reach the entire world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the church’s next most critical contribution to society is its responsibility to lay a foundation for the building of strong marriages. It is my prayer that God would equip and empower us by His Holy Spirit to be instruments that encourage rock-solid marriages built on the foundation of the Solid Rock—the Lord Jesus Christ.
Dr. Richard D. Land is President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
* Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage (New York: Doubleday, 2000); Judith S. Wallerstein, Julie Lewis, and Sandra Blakeslee, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce (Westport, Conn.: Hyperion, 2000); Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, The Divorce Culture (New York: Knopf, 1996).
Two Becoming One publications and small group resources help couples understand God's purposes, principles and provisions for marriage. Many key concepts in Two Becoming One are taught in the popular FamilyLife Ministry marriage seminars.
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