By Paul E. Blanchfield
Do you believe government makes and dissolves one flesh unions? Your pastor does – just ask him!
American churches are locked in a Church-State alliance that cedes authority over marriage to the State. They show this belief by accepting that people holding a State-issued divorce decree have had their one-flesh unions dissolved and their marriage vows extinguished by State authority.
The Bible declares the profound truth that man and woman become one flesh in marriage. Can the State make two people one flesh? Can it dissolve a one-flesh union? Can it release people from vows before God? Read on for a rare conversation in which a pastor is called upon to defend the paradigm of Church-State sponsored divorce.
John and Sue are engaged. While requesting State permission to marry, they have a troubling conversation with a government official.
“Will this marriage license make us one flesh, as described in the Bible?” they ask.
“Not at all,” is the reply. It puts you in a three way contract with the State, which places various legal obligations upon you but has nothing to do with your religious beliefs.
Confused, they ask, “but if the State doesn’t make us ‘one flesh’, then who does?” The official heaves a sigh: “You’ll have to see your spiritual adviser about that!”
Intrigued, John and Sue meet with their pastor. “Pastor, the State official says our marriage license doesn’t make us ‘one flesh.’ If not, then how does that happen?”
“Well, it does,” pastor replies, “whether the State knows it or not. You see, we believe that per Romans 13, God has delegated great authority over human affairs to the State, including marriage. So you need a government license to establish both your civil contract and your one-flesh union.”
“You mean God cannot do this on his own without help from the State?” Sue asks incredulously. “But marriage is God’s institution, isn’t it?”
“Yes, of course”, replies pastor, “but God has ceded authority over marriage to the State and therefore automatically approves whatever the State does. That’s why I pronounce people married by the authority vested in me by the State.
“Wow, where in Scripture does it say that?” presses Sue.
“Well, it doesn’t, but we assume it’s included in the very broad grant of power we assume God gives to government,” pastor explains.
“I can’t buy that,” protests John. “That argument was used at the Nuremberg trials by Nazi concentration camp guards who gassed millions to death, claiming innocence because they were merely following government orders. The tribunal rejected that argument, and many of them were hanged. Do you believe the guards were innocent since they just followed government orders?
“Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused the king’s order to bow to his giant image. Peter and other apostles refused a government edict prohibiting witnessing in public, boldly declaring, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’ Martyrs throughout history have, on pain of death, defied government orders to recant their faith in Jesus Christ. Were all those people wrong to disobey government?
“Homosexuality is an abomination to God, yet the U.S. government made the right to homosexual ‘marriage’ the law of the land. Do you believe the State can join sodomites in God-blessed unions?” John challenges.
“Well, I suppose there are some limits to government authority,” concedes the pastor.
“Why?” asks John. “Well, because God hates those things,” pastor replies.
“God hates divorce also. What’s the difference?” John rejoins.
“Nonetheless, the State has unlimited authority to create and destroy marriages at will,” pastor insists.
“Hmm,” wonders Sue, “is there a limit to how many times the State can do this?”
“No. Government has carte blanche to begin and end marriages,” pastor asserts.
Continues Sue, “If GOD creates one-flesh unions, then no licenses are needed, right? But … oh my! If the marriage goes south, to whom can we turn to have our divine one-flesh unions dissolved and be released from our freely taken, unconditional lifetime vows of fidelity? Who will do that for us? Will you, pastor?”
“Whoa!” exclaims pastor, “not a chance – that’s exactly why it is so important to affirm the State’s authority to form and dissolve one-flesh unions and extinguish marriage vows at its pleasure. If no marriage license was issued by the State, there would be no divorce decree issued by the State, and we rely on that divorce decree as grounds for accepting that people’s one-flesh unions have been terminated, their vows extinguished and that their succeeding sexual relationships are legitimate marriages blessed by God, thus allowing us to condone it all without personal responsibility since we are merely accepting State authority.
“That’s why I can advise folks that the instant a State official signs their divorce decree, their one-flesh union is dissolved and they are excused from their marriage vows, free to remarry without sin. With the State’s awesome power, marriages can come and go quickly. The stroke of a pen is all it takes to destroy a divine one-flesh union. With so many wanting out of their marriages, it’s super convenient to have the State manage this area for us, enabling pastors to accept thousands of destroyed marriages, hold congregations together and keep the revenue flowing in.
“However, if the State didn’t do all this, people would demand their pastors dissolve their one-flesh unions, release them from their sacred vows and accept them and their new partners as members in good standing in the church! I’d have personal responsibility for ‘setting asunder’ what God says man must not set asunder.
I’d have to consider my own responsibility before God for such profound actions and perhaps look at the whole thing differently. Maybe decide we pastors don’t have authority to dissolve one-flesh unions, relieve people of marriage vows and bless their succeeding sexual relationships as legitimate marriages. Perhaps decide they are NOT released from their vows, that their one-flesh unions still exist and they are living in sexual immorality. THEN I’d have to consider whether to let such people who ‘bear the name of brother’ enjoy happy fellowship in my church when 1 Corinthians chapter 5 says to expel people living in immmorality from the church. I might have to stop running our standard weekly ad, ‘All Are Welcome!’ The ripple effects would go on and on!” says pastor, shuddering. “Phew! I’m sure glad God signed authority for all this over to the State. that’s why it is so important to always affirm the State’s authority over marriage!”
“Ah”, says Sue, “so God, who hates divorce, has given the State carte blanche to tear apart divine one-flesh unions and extinguish vows made before God. No harm, no foul as long as they ‘do the paperwork.’ Does that about sum it up?”
“Frankly, yes,” says pastor, “that’s how it is. It has to be! I mean, what am I going to do, tell them, ‘No, you freely took sacred, unconditional lifetime vows of faithfulness before Almighty God and neither State nor pastor has authority to release you’? Yikes! There would be a giant sucking sound as half the congregation bolted out the door – and I’d be unemployed before sundown!”
Sue then asks, “But, if we accept State authority over an area of our faith and practice as vital as marriage, what won’t we concede? Haven’t we effectively become a State religion?”
Pastor levels with them: “Look, our partnership with the State, however odious, is essential to hold our churches together.”
“Wow!” interjects John. “If evangelicals believe the State can turn one-flesh unions on and off with the stroke of a pen, it appears they don’t consider a vow to God as sacred or even very important. Why, we don’t even have to mean our marriage vows because we always have the safety net of Church-State sanctioned divorce to bail us out, right?”
“That’s true,” admits pastor ruefully, “although we still pay lip service to that ideal because it sounds so nice.
“Anyway, the system has held our churches together for a long time, and we are not about to change it now. It’s rarely questioned, and if someone does and won’t accept our loving counsel to refrain from talking about the sacredness of marriage vows, we can boot him out of the church as a divisive troublemaker, thus avoiding the potential turmoil of divorced and remarried folks being concerned that they are actually still in a one-flesh union with their original spouse and are currently living in adultery.
“Now, THAT would be a mess!”
Paul Blanchfield is a real estate broker, developer and writer.
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