In my last commentary, I argued that the prevailing lack of distinction between Christian and non-Christian marriage serves as a barometer indicating a serious lack of spiritual depth and theological understanding within the American church.
Reaction to this article overwhelmingly confirmed this suspicion. That is not a condemnation of those so afflicted, but rather an indictment of those who have been called to teach and lead them. Clearly we have failed to make disciples who know their God, his Word, and themselves to such a degree that they are able to navigate the challenges of life from a consciously biblical worldview.
To all of you who responded with your particular situations and generously shared your very personal and painful struggles, I do not, in any way, mean to minimize the depth of your suffering and sorrow as you endure what are clearly difficult marital situations. I have been struck with grief by the accounts of so many families suffering through severe pain and heartbreak. Sadly, so much of this suffering is attributable to unbiblical decisions, including those made prior to marriage, such as being unequally yoked. There are misguided expectations in which one spouse seeks from another that which only Christ can provide, not realizing that this is a form of idolatry. And, of course, there are the false expectations that being Christian will somehow insulate you from trial and tribulation.
I received hundreds of responses to my "Jerk" article that began with every form of qualifying statement imaginable. In an effort to justify their desire for or choice to divorce, many wrote things like, "What if my husband…"; "But my wife doesn't…"; or "I can't believe my God wouldn't want me to be happy…"; and on and on. This personal, almost Gnostic god drawn from their own wants and desires rather than Scripture was particularly troubling; this attitude can serve to justify just about anything we feel or want to do.
There were also many who were desperately seeking answers to questions related to complex relational issues such as spiritual, emotional and financial abandonment; adultery; sexual addictions; abuse; and many more. I corresponded with many of these dear brothers and sisters and in so many cases the local church was completely uninvolved. This seemed more common than I would have ever imagined. Too many churches and leaders, it seems, are disengaged from the spiritual warfare raging through families in the church. In many instances, it was clear that church leaders were simply out of their depth, lacking the biblical knowledge and skill necessary to intervene and counsel these families through their crises. Marriages within the church are under attack and yet too many of us seem to stand by, concerned no doubt, but basically doing nothing!
I only heard from one person out of these hundreds who indicated that any kind of biblical church discipline was undertaken in her situation. In most cases, the offending spouses (professing Christians, mind you!) were never even confronted. The church simply wasn't involved. I was also shocked to hear from wives of pastors, men who simply abandoned their marriages. In essence, sin is being allowed to reign unchecked in the church—and we wonder why Christianity has become marginalized in America!
Granted, there are good pastors and leaders that still take sin seriously; they understand the nature of spiritual warfare that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 6 and that such warfare occurs within the home. Thus they take their stand in defense of these families working tirelessly toward reconciliation through the mess that sin creates. These pastors are able to recognize the schemes of the devil who comes to destroy that which God has created, including the family. May there be more of these and less of the former!
As I wrote previously, so much of this mess unfolding in the church is, I believe, attributable to a privatized understanding of the gospel. Ultimately this translates into the "Jesus came to make me happy" proposition. I believe this misunderstanding is often at the root of what enables Christians to so easily tear apart what God has joined together. In essence, we are committing vandalism on God's creation—and we appear to do this without any fear of God.
Practically speaking, under the privatized or reductionist gospel paradigm, Christianity tends to become what researcher Christian Smith terms, moralistic, therapeutic, deism (MTD). Under this notion, the focus of the Christian life remains fixed largely upon the self. Christianity tends to be seen primarily as means to becoming moral, an activity one seeks mostly on one's own effort through what could be described as "sin management" and for which the reward is heaven, i.e., do more good than bad and you'll be okay. Second, according to MTD, the Christian may view Jesus' primary purpose in this world as being to extricate him from trouble when life goes bad. Here again, the emphasis remains on our wants and our needs (which have little to do with becoming holy) and treats suffering as a condition to be avoided, rather than a means God uses to develop our character. Finally, the deistic element treats God and Jesus as distant realities, not really involved in our daily affairs, which ultimately strips the Christian of any real authority or purpose in this world. This is Christ-less Christianity that has no power!
As for suffering, we know from Scripture that suffering will be present in the life and maturation of the Christian. However, what is becoming apparent is that so many of our marital sufferings are due to our own bad choices, made worse by our lack of trust in Christ to heal the situation.
There are two issues before us. First, the church is not doing enough to prepare couples for covenant marriage. In other words, we are not "making disciples" as we have been commanded. This is simply one more symptom of the reductionist gospel in which we are focused only on achieving "conversions" rather than fulfilling the Great Commission.
Second, the church—everyone one of us—must be prepared to intervene and work to rescue those marriages that come under assault. This means that those of you struggling in your marriages need to engage your church family and your leaders. There is no biblical mandate to suffer in silence. You have been joined to the body of Christ and this body is called to "bear one another's burdens," working together to resist the effects of the fall and to restore sinners.
Finally, once engaged, the church must resolve to wage war against the sin that threatens its families, using the weapons of spiritual warfare outlined in Ephesians 6:10-17. There can be no equivocation in this battle; either we will take up arms in service to our King or we will find ourselves vanquished—not by the culture but by our own sin!
© 2009 by S. Michael Craven
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S. Michael Craven is the President of the Center for Christ & Culture and the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress, 2009). Michael's ministry is dedicated to equipping the church to engage the culture with the redemptive mission of Christ. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture and the teaching ministry of S. Michael Craven, visit: www.battlefortruth.org