Marriage as Instituted by God
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Reformed Ethics - Marriage

The Biblical Focus of our Form for Marriage
The “Form for the Solemnization of Marriage” and the “Form for the Confirmation of Marriage Before the Church” looks at marriage from a specifically biblical point of view. The title of the Dutch marriage form is “Form for the Confirmation of Marriage Before the Church of Christ,” and is slightly different because it adds the appendix, “Before the Church of Christ.” The forms refers to the community of those who believe in Christ. The titles of these marriage forms indicate that the church deals with marriage as it relates to faith in Christ according to the Word of God.

This is an important point. The implication is that we are not to look at the Marriage Form as a kind of law having the same value as Scripture. After all, we confess in the Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 7 that “we may not consider any writings of men, however holy these men may have been, of equal value with the divine Scriptures; nor ought we to consider custom, or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God.” Therefore, this “Form for the Confirmation of Marriage before the Church of Christ” provides a faithful summary of what God’s Word tells us about marriage. Just look at the very first sentence: “Hear therefore from the Word of God, how honourable the marriage state is, and that it is an institution of God, which is pleasing to Him.”

“Hear from the Word of God”
The Word of God pictures marriage as “an institution of God.” As office bearers we should talk about this with our young people, particularly with those who are preparing themselves for their wedding day and life as married couples. “The Lord God brought [the] woman unto the man É witnessing thereby that He doth yet as with His hand bring unto every man his wife” [3rd paragraph:]. “You must know the reasons, wherefore God hath instituted” marriage, the form states. “All, who come to their years, and have not the gift of continence, are bound by the command of God, to enter into the marriage state.” Did you notice the words “the command of God” and “an institution of God”?

This scriptural way of speaking about marriage tells us how seriously Scripture is to be taken when we “as Christians” prepare for marriage. I say on purpose: “as Christians.” Particularly today, when Christians who prepare for marriage and desire to live in accordance with God’s Word are being looked down on as being narrow-minded, old-fashioned, and judgmental, this is important. We know that Scripture speaks about marriage as an institution of God and we wish to hold on to that. We wish to submit ourselves to God’s Word.

Scriptural References to Marriage
The first scriptural reference to marriage, Genesis 1:18ff., portrays marriage as a creation ordinance of God. The “Form for the Confirmation of Marriage Before the Church of Christ” speaks about “God our Father,” the Creator of heaven and earth, being pleased to institute marriage and to make an “helpmeet” [= a helper fit] for the man. By calling God “our Father” we confess that He is our Lord and the Master of our lives, and therefore also of our marriage. The man is not his own boss, neither is the woman her own boss. The husband is not the boss of his wife, neither is the wife the boss of her husband; the Lord is. To be sure, as a result of sin in this world and in our hearts we as husbands and wives find in ourselves the tendency to boss each other. Therefore, as basis for a good marriage we need to know and acknowledge God as our Father, the Creator of heaven and earth, and in childlike dependence we must bow before the authority of the Creator of life.

As Christians we are to take a stand against the contemporary notion that all kinds of institutions and practices in society have merely evolved during the course of history. We are to take a stand against a society which regards the institution of marriage as the union of one husband and one wife “for as long as both shall live” a product of a slavish institution and a tradition from the Victorian age when sexual taboos played too big a role. We are to confess and practice in our marriage that “He doth yet as with His hand bring unto every man his wife,” because God is our Father, the Creator of heaven and earth, Who has instituted marriage.

Many regard marriage as part of a certain culture. They say: “today’s culture is different. In today’s culture, marriage as practiced for centuries is simply disappearing. This is even regarded be a good development.

No! says the “Form for the Confirmation of Marriage Before the Church of Christ.” “Marriage is an institution of God our Father, the Creator of heaven and earth.” No! says Christ Himself in Matthew 19:4 and 5: “Have ye not read, that He Who made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh?” No! says the writer to the Hebrews, there is no place for alternative sexual relationships, for “marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled; but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge” (Heb.13:4).

According to Scripture Man is Created “Male and Female”
It is also important to notice that Scripture, when speaking about marriage as an ordinance of God, closely connects this to the relationship between being male and female on the one hand and the image of God on the other hand. In Genesis 1:27 we read that “God created man in His own image,” and then immediately it says: “male and female created He them.”

Scripture here speaks about man being created in the image of God as “male and female.” He created them “male and female” (Genesis 1:27). He created mankind as two genders: men and women. There is sexual, biological, physical, but also psychological differentiation. Men and women are to complement each other. John Calvin says that the male is “incomplete.” The male is half of man and the female is the other half of man. Together they make the whole man. Together they are image-bearer of God. They are predisposed to be complete in their relationship to each other and more importantly, together they are predisposed to be complete in God.

Even though sin has darkened, destroyed and turned this relationship upside-down, we are to keep in view the original purposes of God in marriage. Although man has broken the covenant with God, God seeks sinful man and requires of him that in all of his life, physical, sexual and psychological, he live in accordance with His purposes.

In body and soul the husband and the wife are to be differentiated, but in soul and body they also belong to one another and complement each other. They are meant to complete one another as man.

That is God’s purpose for the husband and the wife in marriage. For that reason we are to conform ourselves to the teaching of Scripture when the “Form for the Confirmation of Marriage Before the Church of Christ” points to God’s guiding hand in making Eve an “helpmeet” [= a helper fit] for Adam and giving them to one another as husband and wife.

This institution of God which is characterized by a command is to be regarded as a creation order. God created man after His image, but at the same time He created him “male and female.” He also created them in such a way that husband and wife are meant for each other and predisposed to complete each other in marriage.

1. As it is called in the Book of Praise of the Canadian Reformed Churches.
2. As it is called in the Psalter as used in the Free Reformed Churches of North America. This form is one of the liturgical writings of our churches. It was composed before 1566 and together with the Heidelberg Catechism included in the 1566 edition of the Dutch Psalm book of Datheen. Various other writings and forms were consulted for the composition of this form, such as the old liturgy of William Farel and John Calvin.
3. As the "Form for the Confirmation of Marriage Before Church" used in the Free Reformed Churches of North America puts it.
4. John Calvin, Genesis Vol. 1 (Transl. By Rev. John King) (Calvin's Commentaries. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), 97.

Dr. L.W. Bilkes is an emeritus pastor in the Free Reformed Church. This article was previously printed in the December 1999 issue of the FRC Messenger and has been republished here with permission.