By Melanie Ave
Seeking to provide clarity and express mutual agreement about what Scriptures teach about marriage and sexuality, the LCMS released “An Affirmation of Marriage” May 24 that also is signed by leaders of three other church bodies.
The statement is the result of ongoing study and discussion between the LCMS, the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), Lutheran Church—Canada (LCC) and the North American Lutheran Church (NALC). It was released after an ecumenical summit on “Biblical Teaching on Marriage and Sexuality,” May 3-5 in Dallas, which included leaders from each of the church bodies.
The two-page statement, which describes marriage as a “precious gift of God” and as “the life-long union of one man and one woman,” was released in advance of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling expected in June on same-sex marriage. The ruling could strike down a federal law — known as the Defense of Marriage Act — that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
“As our society wrestles with issues of marriage and family, the participants of the ecumenical summit came together to discuss what our churches hold in common regarding the scriptural teaching on marriage, with the intention of developing a common statement,” said the Rev. Dr. Joel D. Lehenbauer, executive director of the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations and a participant in the summit, in a press release.
The marriage statement reads, in part: “The Sacred Scriptures teach that in the beginning the blessed Trinity instituted marriage to be the life-long union of one man and one woman (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4-6), to be held in honor by all and kept pure (Heb. 13:4; 1 Thess. 4:2-5). God’s Word assures us that each time one man and one woman join themselves together in the union of the marriage commitment and relationship, God himself has joined them as one.
“It is important to see that marriage is not only a grace-filled institution of the Church, but part of the very fabric of God’s creation which extends to every time and place on earth and includes every man and woman who are joined together in this ‘one flesh’ commitment and bond. Marriage is created by God and is not simply a social contract or convenience.”
The statement affirms that marriage lived out according to God’s purpose is the optimal setting for raising children, who also are a gift from God, and reveals God’s intention that individuals who are distinctly different (husbands and wives) live in community and love each other sacrificially.
The statement says that while God gave marriage to humanity for its good, marriage “can be and is marred by sin.”
“God’s intention for marriage is also skewed when it is spurned as unimportant for human well-being, or repudiated as a godly gift, or twisted into forms that no longer correspond to the gift God has intended,” the statement reads. “Rather, God gives marriage to humanity for its well-being. He commends biblical marriage for couples to make a deep commitment to one another before God for a lifetime of giving to each other.”
The statement says Scripture calls us to “an appropriate discipline of desire” even though “our human inclination is one of self satisfaction, but God’s Word calls us to a higher purpose — serving God and others. To serve the other requires the discipline of our bodies, which obviously includes sexual desires (see Rom. 13:13). Therefore both biblical and wider human traditions of most cultures have emphasized the importance of chaste relationships which reserve sexual intimacy for marriage.”
The statement concludes by saying the “source of deepest human joy comes as our lives reflect their highest purpose in serving God and our neighbor (Matt. 22:38-39).”
Participants of the ecumenical summit said the statement is intended to provide clear, concise instruction to clergy and laity, and to affirm the biblical teaching on marriage between one man and one woman as the essential and unchanging foundation for home, family, church and society.
“God calls His people in every generation to proclaim the clarity of the Gospel to the points of greatest confusion,” said the Rt. Rev. Ray Sutton, a bishop of the ACNA, in a release after the summit. “In our generation, marriage and sexuality have become the points of cultural confusion that keep the western world from grasping the most important image of God’s relation to His people, marriage. Confessional believers must learn again to speak with one voice.”
The Rev. Dr. John Stephenson of Concordia Theological Seminary, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, stated in the release: “Our unforced consensus on this bitterly contested topic rests on wide-ranging but still incomplete agreement on the Christian faith as a whole. As the participants get to know and cherish each other as brothers and sisters in Christ and to come together in prayer, we hope that the Lord will graciously move us toward oneness as His disciples.”
The Rev. Mark Chavez, general secretary of the NALC and a summit participant, said in the release: “Our Lord immensely blessed us in these Anglican-Lutheran consultations. The Lord has gathered us as one in Him with strong agreement in our confession of the Christian faith. Our agreement includes the biblical norms for marriage and sexuality. I am hopeful for our common statement and for mutually presenting a clear biblical teaching of marriage and sexuality throughout our churches that will be a blessing for all of North America.”
Other participants of the summit included the Very Rev. Dr. Jonathan S. Riches, Reformed Episcopal Seminary (ACNA); the Rev. Dr. Frederic W. Baue (LCMS); the Rev. John T. Pless of the Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., faculty (LCMS); the Rev. Larry M. Vogel, associate executive director, LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations; the Rev. Dr. David Wendel, assistant to the bishop for Ministry and Ecumenism (NALC); and the Rev. Kenneth M. Hennings, president of the LCMS Texas District.