Dr. Timothy Tennent: Why We Should Read Books Written in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries
Marriage has sometimes been referred to as the “primordial sacrament.” In other words, it was the first sacrament established by God the Father in the Garden of Eden. Marriage was given to bless the human race, enable us to join God as co-creators through the bearing of children, and as a means of grace through the daily journey of life. Marriage is a beautiful icon, or “sign” which points to, as Paul teaches us, the relationship between Christ and his church (Eph. 5:32). This finds its culmination in the grand, eschatological event known as the “marriage supper of the lamb” which is that mystical marriage of Christ and his Church, the bride of Christ, to which the whole of creation is moving (Rev. 19:6-9). Isn’t it amazing that creation begins and ends with a marriage?
My wife (Julie) and I have been married for 36 years. We have two grown children, Jonathan (34) and Bethany (32) who are two of the greatest joys of our lives. For Julie and me, marriage is a wonderful means of grace. I can hardly believe how blessed I am to be married to such a remarkable person who, in more ways than I can count, is a daily embodiment of the gospel in our home.
Yet, as a Christian leader, I have come to realize over the years that there are marriages even within the church which are not a means of grace, but are broken, abusive and sources of great pain. This calls for deep, pastoral care in the midst of a broken world. I have seen God rebuild broken walls, restore marriages, and, in some cases, lead men and women through that painful valley of despair which, as Luther said about divorce, is nothing less than the equivalent of death.
One of our challenges as pastors and leaders is to not forget the original, primordial vision, even when we are seeing so many examples of failed marriages. This is why Jesus, even when confronted with the leaders of God’s people asking the wrong questions (Matt. 19), calls us “back to the beginning” to remember God’s original call. Truly, there is no more powerful testimony to God’s plan for men and women than the embodiment of a beautiful Christian marriage, as well as those who embody the hope of the New Creation in lives of celibacy which we should never call “singleness” but the “single-focused” life.
Marriage is nothing less than the foundational reflection of the mystery of the relationship between Christ and the Church. The bearing of children is nothing less than joining God in the mystery of creation and the reflection of the mystery of the Triune God in the world as man, woman and child also reflect that deep, mysterious one-in-three relationship of the Tri-unity which we call the Trinity. Our embodiment as “male” and “female,” whether married or in the “single-focused” life, is a daily testimony to the very fleshly embodiment which was anticipated even at the dawn of creation; namely, that God himself would step into human flesh as the greatest sign of God’s redemptive presence in the world. Our bodies, therefore, are not merely biological units, but are theological signs which, like creation itself, point to deeper mysteries which only the gospel and the Eschaton fully unveils. There is no incarnation without the boldness of God clothing himself with humanity. As Charles Wesley so beautifully captured in his hymn, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate deity; pleased as Man with us to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.” Indeed, fleshly embodiment is the basis for all the means of grace since it is our bodies which are baptized, our ears which hear the gospel, our tongues which share God’s love, our hands which lay hands on the sick and comfort the suffering, and so forth. Indeed, when Jesus says, “This is my body, given for you” it is not an isolated moment in a holy sacrament, but a sign of all the daily ways as we live in the world and through all our deeds of grace and service to the world: “this is our body given for you.”
The rise of a new gnosticism in our day which regards the body as untrustworthy and puts the genders at war with one another, is a deep cultural disorder which requires the church’s response, not merely in words, but in the living embodiment of God’s design. As a church, we have focused so much on trying – in a wide variety of ways – to respond to the challenges of a culture left in the morass of a post-Christian retreat, we have sometimes forgotten the singular beauty of the original design to which we are beckoned with all of our foibles and failures to embody.
Let me encourage all of us as Christian leaders to devote more reflection on a Christian view of the body. I believe the challenges our culture has faced in recent decades reveals that we have not dedicated sufficient attention to this very area which, once, was at the heart of Christian discourse since the church grew up in the ancient world at the same time that gnosticism was finding its voice and, by the second century, represented the most formidable challenge to Christian theology we had ever faced. I admire the way the early Christian apologists took on this challenge and, over time, helped the church to fully articulate a theology of the body. Perhaps it is time to dust off those long-neglected works of Origen, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian and Justin Martyr and re-read them again.
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