Marriage in the New Creation
Let’s help each other connect on our journeys of sexuality
This brief statement helps interested people walk with us as we work out marriage and sexual expression in the body of Christ.
The apostle Paul placed his famous “love chapter” in the middle of his teaching about how the Holy Spirit gives life to the body of Christ. He did not directly connect it to his chapter on marriage. This is important because love is not just about our personal connections and desires, it is an expression of our truest selves in Christ.
In our over-sexualized society, people think love is all about finding a soul mate and having great sex. But that is not the deepest place love lives. While Paul fully respects marriage as part of the order built into creation, at the same time he teaches that Jesus has given us a new creation.
Seeing everyone as partners, or as potential partners in this new creation is how we make sense of everything. So we also see through that lens when we think about sexuality: our own and that of others. When people are finding their way sexually and otherwise, we say with Paul:
When we get married it is first things first. We come together as partners in the new creation before we are sexual partners. Marriage is a secondary matter to Jesus when he affirms the oldest teachings in the scripture about husbands and wives. Along with the other writers, he assumes marriage should be honored by all, and assumes it is between a man and a woman, lifelong and exclusive. But none of the writers of the Bible think of marriage as the ultimate expression of love and commitment. Self-giving love comes from Jesus and is most fully realized in the body of Christ. Within that inspired and diverse body, composed of everyone who can name Jesus as Lord, “there are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.” Every Jesus-follower is honored because each is given “the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
As the body of Christ we are heart-to heart with eternity, so we have the confidence and patience to change as people change and love them where they are at right now. How people approach sexual expression has been changing. Many people have been oppressed and injured by the church because of their gender and sexuality. We want to make up for that, so we are careful to welcome and include everyone as they are. We think the best place to find fullness as one’s true self is as an honored member of the body of Christ, not in a sexual relationship, married or otherwise, but many people do not come installed with that belief. We do not ask anyone to change their ways before we honor them for where their way has led them. Even Jesus, who has the right, will not ask anyone to change before they have the conviction and feel the safety to do so.
Journeying like this on the way of Jesus requires a great deal of love and commitment. It might be easier to offer a one-size-fits-all set of rules and leave it at that. But a policy statement does not offer much care, so this statement attempts to be clear about how we want to journey together without being prescriptive. Many statements end up being less inclusive than we wish they were. This attempt avoids that and calls on all of us to exercise faith that requires our best and respects the best in others. We want to maintain the untidy process of speaking the truth in love, not solve problems as if people were problems. The Lord relates to us with grace, hospitality and patience. We are following in his steps. We need help along our way and so do others.
We want to maintain our ongoing dialogue of discernment, but we also want to provide some clarity as to where it has brought us. Hopefully this statement helps people who are searching. We are all hoping we will find some empathy for how we feel and sympathy for how we act. So here is how we are responding to some of the ways people relate sexually now.
Sexual arousal is a characteristic of a person and not above their identity in Christ. How we respond to our arousal and the feelings themselves tend to be fluid and are subject to the same temptations and maturation as are all our ways. Jesus is Lord of them all and we seek to honor each person as they experience their feelings as they are on their unique journey as a member of the body of Christ.
Generally, sexual expression should happen within a relationship founded in a marriage covenant. A legal marriage contract is secondary to a personal and communal covenant in Christ. Couples who cohabit as sexual partners without a public ceremony should consider themselves married. Likewise, if they break up, they should consider themselves divorced.
One’s gender and sexual orientation does not make them less honorable than anyone else in the body of Christ. We are going to work out our sexuality in a variety of ways, as we are convicted and gifted. For example, some will choose celibacy and struggle alongside Jesus and Paul. Some will marry a person of the opposite sex. Some will choose to marry a person of the same sex and create a new expression of the marriage covenant.
We don’t need to argue whether someone’s present understanding of marriage and sexual expression is the best, and we don’t need to see all approaches as equal in value or validity. We are diverse and we are growing. We all experience brokenness, sin and loneliness in our loves; so we will bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.
We are called to a life of joy in the new creation. So we will train our loves according to our deepest held convictions and covenants. We need God’s help to keep walking faithfully together as a community of many kinds of people united by our common calling and purpose.