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Is formalized marriage becoming obsolete?



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God chose the Garden of Eden to institute marriage, and His Word abounds with both promises and warnings to safeguard the family unit. A marriage established and guided by Biblical standards has the potential of such blessedness that it can be compared to Christ's relationship with His beloved church (Ephesians 5:22-23). At the same time, violation of Scriptural standards brings painful and guilt-producing consequences.

Yet, marriage as an institution is currently receiving numerous attacks. While mankind has a perpetual history of violating marriage covenants, the contemporary challenge denies either the existence or the validity of moral standards regarding the sanctity of marriage. Led by numerous liberationist movements and fed by the new morality's amorality, a small but vocal vanguard preaches that marriage is outmoded and must be jettisoned for a more appropriate alternative.

Numerous reasons are advanced for abandoning marriage, and all find root in a desire to be free from any external standards or restraints (i.e., God's revelation). The nuclear family (parents and children) is viewed as artificial by some who say that man's more natural living arrangement is in groups—tribes or communes. Revolutionaries intent on reshaping society attack the family, for they recognize it as the basic unity of a civilized culture.

To be sure, the institution of marriage is old, but that does not mean it is obsolete. Marriage was thousands of years old at Christ's first coming, but He still taught its appropriateness. "But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. or this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh … What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate" (Mark 10:6-9). The Christian realizes he is not at liberty to tamper with God's Word to conform it to passing fads in social theories. Cultural norms must be judged by Scripture; the Scripture is not judged by cultural norm.

Neither should marriage be abandoned merely because increasing numbers are becoming disenchanted with it. The fact that a practice is widespread, or even average, does not constitute it as either advisable or right. The Christian never determines truth by majority vote, but by examining God's Word.

The Old Testament prescribes severe punishment for those who disdainfully regard marriage's privileges and responsibilities. One of the Ten Commandments states, "You shall not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14), and the law required that those convicted of adultery receive the death penalty (Leviticus 20:10).

The New Testament does not require capital punishment for adultery, but assures that “God will judge” those who are not married who indulge in that sexuality which God has reserved for marriage (Hebrews 13:4). Sexual impropriety resulted in expulsion from the church (I Corinthians 5:1-2), and Paul warned of those who, with empty words, led others into immorality (Ephesians 5:5-6). Eternal judgment awaits those who practice immorality and fail to repent (Revelation 21:l8, 22:14-15).

God's positive plan for marriage instructs, "Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord," and "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her" (Ephesians 5:22, 25). Notice that the relationship between husband and wife is patterned after the eternal relationship of God to His people, and not merely after the social customs of the ancient world. Adherence to God's instructions brings such blessedness and depth that all deviations from His plan appear revolting indeed.

Christians must admit that there are numerous customs relating to both weddings and marriages that have no Scriptural support, but have arisen from cultural or religious traditions. The existence of such customs, however, does not warrant abandonment of the standards that the Bible does set.

Also, since governments have realized that a nation's families are one of its greatest resources, most have laws regulating marriage and divorce. In the Biblical record, marriage was considered a family function, before the Lord, and the involvement of government was either nonexistent or not significant. As long as government regulations do not force believers to violate Biblical standards, believers will probably continue to comply with them for the sake of their testimonies (i.e., marriage license laws). But the Christian must always realize that his commitment transcends civil law: it is a commitment to another person before God Himself.

Marriage will not be obsolete until the trusting saint is with the Lord, "for in the resurrection, they neither marry nor are given in marriage" (Matthew 22:30). Those guilty of neglecting or violating the marriage covenant should repent and trust in Christ for forgiveness, knowing that "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9).

Authors: Henry Morris and Martin Clark, from their book The Bible Has the Answer, published by Master Books .

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