I’ll be back in a couple of days with more church history/tradition stuff. In the meantime…
1. Is it just me or did the President decide to drop the phrase “stay the course” without actually making any sort of policy change in Iraq?
3. Lastly, I took a preaching assignment this past weekend in Murfreesboro. I’ve preached and taught adult Bible classes on a number of occasions now, but never in front of a crowd where I didn’t know a single person. My text was the RCL gospel lection (Bartimaeus the blind beggar) for this past Sunday. That was the easy part. The hard part was being handed a blank check by the regular preacher re: the Bible class. With the field wide open, I decided to simply walk them through the section of Mark that leads up to the Bartimaeus story (Mk 8.22-10.52 is understood by most commentators to be a clearly defined section of Mark’s Gospel, framed by two stories of the healing of blind men).
Anyway, in that section of the Gospel is Mark’s account of the Pharisees questioning Jesus about marriage and divorce. What is interesting to me about that is this: Mark’s account of this incident is embedded in a series of stories that can be grouped under the rubric of Christian community (I’m following here Eugene Laverdiere’s two-volume study of Mark, The Beginning of the Gospel). The stories address questions like how do we relate to one another in community, how does the community relate to outsiders, etc. It doesn’t seem to farfetched to me, thus, to see Mark making the point that marriage and divorce is an issue of Christian community.
Not to go into too much detail (I really don’t have the time), but this section on community is headed up by an argument among the disciples about who is the greatest and also includes Jesus’ teaching on coming to the Kingdom of God like a little child. As I read and reflected on this passage, I couldn’t help but think about the current MDR debate among NI churches of Christ.
Marriage, I believe, is a public act. Christian marriage always takes place in the context of the Church, the Christian community. Most marriage rites used in our day include, as an indication of this, some acknowledgment by the gathered community that they will support the newly married couple in their life together (how much this actually occurs is another matter entirely). There is a sort of call-and-response (if I can put it that way) element to this: that marriage is designed to be lived out in the context of the church, as a mirror of Christ’s faithfulness to the Church, and is to be supported in the context of the Church.
But what is the reality? Those who are loudest and most active in the MDR debate have nothing to say about marriage itself, about what it should be, about how to live in a marriage that reflects God’s purpose for marriage. (Here’s one example [I’m not singling these people out], but be careful: this is like the doctrinal equivalent of a porn site.) They seek, instead, to build reputations, to gain glory for themselves based on their theories about “scriptural divorce.” Very few of these men seem to have the time to do the substantive work of supporting marriages before they crack up (Jesus rebukes his disciples in the same way: they don’t have time for the “little ones;” they’re more concerned about the glory of being Jesus’ disciples and the powers that he gave them). There is little glory in the day to day work of supporting the marriages in your local congregation; but there is much glory to be gained from having your name splayed across the masthead of a brotherhood journal.
Everybody wants a piece of the action when a marriage breaks up. Everybody has their theory about MDR and each individual case of divorce (real or hypothetical) becomes their own private laboratory in which to apply that theory.
I suggest that there is an uncomfortable truth in all of this that no one wants to reckon with. It is this: the failure of a marriage in the Church is a failure of the Church to be the kind of community that it is designed to be, the kind of community in which marriages are mutually supported and strengthened through prayer and effective pastoral guidance.** It is a black eye on the Church. That’s tough, which is why it’s easier (and makes us feel better about ourselves) to shift all of the blame for the divorce upon the couple and to dispense useless “advice” to them about the scripturalness/unscripturalness of their divorce, all the while ignoring the utter pain and desolation that comes along with the split.
**There is little pastoral guidance available in many NI congregations, though, the majority of which lack elders/presbyters to guide the flock and instead rely on the “men’s business meeting” to handle the affairs of the congregation. The most spiritual thing that many of these meetings ever address is who’s going to mow the grass next month; that’s another post though.