Pastors' Blog

THE CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE OF MARRIAGE

Culture has attempted to redefine marriage. You and I are currently living in a time and space in which marriage is no longer viewed as significant and as purposeful as it once was. The past several decades have witnessed a paradigm shift concerning marriage. The Judaeo-Christian foundations of the west have been replaced by a libertarian ideology that elevates human freedom and self-determination as the supreme principles for human relationships. The once accepted Christian understanding of marriage has given way to the narrative that the Christian doctrine of marriage is harsh and even oppressive. The result of this shift has been catastrophic and could very well be the root issue of our current cultural crisis. As our world departs from God's intended design, more suffering, heartbreak, and misery will deteriorate and depress the human experience. I believe an understanding and a living out of the Christian doctrine of marriage could not only help alleviate some of the current social tensions but could also be the means that point people to Jesus for the answers and healing.  

To reflect Jesus, to proclaim the gospel, and to illustrate God's saving love for us in Christ Jesus is the whole point and purpose of marriage. Marriage is an institution that God created for our joy and His purposes and plan. A clear understanding of the gospel will help with the comprehension of marriage. While a Biblical comprehension of marriage will earn a clear understanding of the gospel. In an attempt to establish this understanding of marriage and the gospel, one should look to the words of the one who created marriage, specifically in the book of Genesis and the Apostle Paul's letter to the Ephesians. We will discover the answers to the following questions: What is marriage? What is its point and purpose? Who is allowed to be married? What are the roles of men and women in marriage? 


God’s intended design for marriage is established in Genesis 1-3 and begins with God's creation of two distinct genders, male and female. If we are to understand the Christian doctrine of marriage we first have to see gender as the gift it truly is. Culture did not create or invent manhood and womanhood. However, modern society has been quick to promote this false notion that gender is simply a cultural construct. There is an idea that our physical bodies are bad or wrong and that our minds and emotions determine such things as gender. For example, if one feels like they are the gender opposite of what their biology says, they are encouraged to take steps to change to their preferred gender. This is a modern form of Gnosticism. As in, the physical is bad, our minds are trapped and need to be freed. Pastor Ray Ortlund helps correct this false notion by pointing out that our concepts are too small and artificial to invent the glory of gender and sexuality. He also states that gender finds its true meaning within the creation narrative. Within the Creation story, we see that God created two genders, and marriage is only true marriage when it is between a male and a female.


The Christian view that marriage is between one man and one woman is extremely different than the current cultural view of marriage. But Jesus calls his followers to a countercultural lifestyle, allowing His grace to make us into new kinds of people. Consider Genesis 2:24-25 and Genesis 1:28,


God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.


“This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh. Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame.

Every person from the beginning of time is uniquely created in the image of God. Based on that fact alone, all of humanity obtains value and worth. All are deserving of respect and goodness. The gospel reminds us that God seeks and saves the lost, broken, and sinful. He sets them apart to be His people - His children. God created two distinct genders, males and females, yet sin has caused mankind to distort the two from their original intent. Gender, marriage, and sexuality are predominant areas that have been affected by the fall in Genesis 3.


Sex is a gift created by God and is given to us with the intended purpose of procreation as well as pleasure, within the boundaries that have been set by God. God created marriage, and the Bible defines it as the publicly pledged, permanent, exclusive, lifetime covenantal union of one man and one woman. Both the man and the woman are to leave their family ties to form one flesh. Jesus reiterated these truths from Genesis 2 in his teachings in both Matthew 19:5 as well as Mark 10:7 – 8. Marriage includes physical intimacy, but its purpose seems to be working toward something much deeper. Genesis 2:24 established that man and woman, who are two distinct persons, are now one in nature and commitment. God created men and women to be equal in dignity, value, essence, and human nature.


Women and men are both equally made in God's image, and both are given the responsibility to rule over His creation. They were also created to have distinct roles. The wife is to be her husband's helper in the partnership of marriage. 

Unfortunately, when sin entered into God's created design, it introduced many displays of disruption. Among them was the disruption in the proper relationship between man and woman. In the New Testament letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul expounds on the meaning of marriage. He compares the nature of marriage to the heavenly union between Jesus and His Church. Gender roles within marriage beautifully reflect the union between Jesus and His church. When the God-ordained gender roles within marriage are lost, they lose any opportunity to reflect the gospel through the marriage. The Apostle Paul begins describing how marriages can reflect the gospel by addressing gender roles within a marriage that mirrors the ultimate marriage between Jesus and His Church. He begins by addressing wives in Ephesians 5:22-24,


Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives are to submit to their husbands in everything. 


This is one of the most misunderstood verses in scripture. Its misinterpretations are the root of many false assumptions of Christian marriages. The misconceptions are that a complementation marriage is unfair, overbearing, and harsh especially towards women. The word "submit" is one that is looked upon as evil especially in an age of liberation. Also, due to sinful human beings, this text has been distorted and used for self-fulfillment and as an excuse to mistreat and abuse women. However, simply because these verses have been misused does not mean we should discount their wisdom. A correct study of this text can help alleviate many misconceptions and show that nothing is degrading or dehumanizing about how God has ordered gender roles within marriage.


In Ephesians 5:22 wives are told to submit to their husbands. Why? Ephesians 5:23 answers that question when it says that, "because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church".  When the word headship is mentioned it's easy to think of the word authority, and that's because that's exactly what Paul means. In fact, he uses the Greek word kephalē which means source or authority. However, the authority that the husband is to have over his wife is not synonymous with a CEO or a boss or master but rather a husband is called to servant leadership. Husbands are called to lead and exercise authority with the kind of love that is willing to die. Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). And again he said, “let the greatest among you become as the youngest and the leader as one who serves” (Luke 22:26). Now when the husband is called “the head of the wife,” and it goes on to say “as Christ is the head of the church” (Ephesians 5:23), something beautiful is reflected in the marriage. Paul writes, Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her (Ephesians 5:25). The way the husband leads and loves his wife should reflect the love, truth, grace, protection, provision, and mercy that Jesus has shown the church. A husband's love should reflect a commitment that is unbreaking, never giving up, and long-suffering. He must love with a love that is willing to die for the one he has committed himself to.


  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives are to submit to their husbands in everything (Ephesians 2:24). To understand this verse, first, it needs to be understood that it is not saying that wifely submission is equal to slavish obedience. Rather, the submission that is spoken of here is a joyful submission. It's the "disposition for the wife to yield to her husband in happy submission, the disposition to recognize and honor the husband’s great responsibility to lead the home. When the husband is giving godly leadership—strong moral, loving headship to his family—the woman will be no more squelched by the leadership of Jesus.” The woman will be elevated and fulfilled in her submission to her husband. When husband and wife are living out these roles within their marriage, the loving husband mirrors Jesus and the submissive, supportive wife mirrors the Church. Together their relationship mirrors the mystery of the gospel to a watching world. The world will see the love of Jesus in how a husband protects, loves, and cares for his wife. They will also see how the church responds with joyful submission to Jesus in how a wife submits to her husband. 


Unfortunately, society and culture have rejected the Christian doctrine of marriage either because they have not seen it lived out as it was designed or simply because their hearts are hardened to the understanding of the gospel. The biggest objections are the before mentioned gender roles as well as marriage being limited to one man and one woman both heterosexual and monogamous. It's also common in our current cultural climate for marriage to be seen as something that is simply intended to meet and satisfy the needs of those within the marriage. There are several arguments against a traditional Christian understanding of marriage and sexuality. One of the common arguments made in favor of same-sex marriage is that we should no longer focus on the genders involved in the relationship but that those genders are faithful and committed to each other. There is an agreement that sleeping around with multiple partners is wrong but if same-sex partners are in a committed relationship then there should be nothing stopping them. At first glance, this argument seems captivating and many Christians have agreed with culture and have accepted this idea. However, Paul is clear in his first letter to the Corinthian church as he rebuked them for accepting an inappropriate relationship. Paul was not concerned about how faithful the couple was or how much they loved each other but rather he pointed out that the relationship goes against God's design for marriage and therefore it is wrong. Another common and significant argument against the Christian doctrine of marriage is that it is deeply damaging to individuals. For someone to be denied the opportunity to practice their sexuality in any way they see fit is seen as equal to someone's identity being repressed and as a result, they are unable to live a healthy and happy life. Many blame the traditional Christian view of marriage and sexuality for teenage suicide and kids growing up with overwhelming guilt and shame. This is a serious charge. Christians should be grieved by the reality that young people are hurting. Jesus never taught us that our lives are not worth living if we can not be fulfilled sexually. Your sexual disposition is not foundational to your identity. Rather, sex is created by God for our joy and his good purposes. The boundaries of this gift are that sex is to be enjoyed between a husband and wife. This boundary is set not to harm us but for our good. 

The covenant of marriage and the ordained gender roles within marriage is meant to point us to the gospel and ultimately to the final marriage between Jesus and His Bride, the Church. As a result, marriage is for our joy, for God’s glory, and the defeat of the enemy. People far from God will see the gospel lived out in the Christian doctrine of marriage. Despite the cultural pushback against Christian marriage, it is clear that marriages that are built upon Biblical principles and focused on the mission of God will be lasting and fulfilling. A proper understanding of marriage must not ignore the gospel that is revealed through marriage. If there is any departure from this reality it is equal to a departure from the gospel. 


Kostenberger, Andreas J., and David W. Jones. God, Marriage, and Family. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2004. 26.


Ortlund, Ray. Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2016. pg19


Victor Hamilton, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: Genesis 1-17 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1990), 139.


Hughes, Kent R. Genesis: Preach the Word. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2004.

Dr. Alan Branch Lecture notes on The Christian Doctrine of Marriage. 2018


Johnson, Dale. “Marriage: A Portrait of the Gospel from the Beginning.” JBMW 21.1 (2016)


Hughes, Kent R. Ephesians, Preach the Word. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2004.

Strong, James. The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. 1st ed. (Madison, N.J.)


John Piper. Desiring God. Colorado Springs, Colorado: Multnomah Books, 1986 p. 182.


Allberry, Sam. Is God anti-gay?. UK: The Good Book Company, 2015. 38,75,79.


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What Is Church Membership?

What is meaningful church membership? This question can be answered in multiple ways but are all of the available answers meaningful? More importantly, are they Biblical? The following is written with the purpose of pointing the reader to God’s Word with the intention of explaining an accurate definition and practice of Biblical church membership. However, to accomplish this task, we must take a couple of steps back and first answer the critical question, who is the Church?  

Without a correct Biblical understanding of the form and function of the Church, we will fail to accurately acquire an answer to what it means to be a church member. Who is the Church? Why is the church important, and why should we even bother with church? These two questions are essential because when you lose your "why," you eventually lose your way, and this is precisely what the modern American church is experiencing.  

In 2021, a year defined by a global pandemic and political turmoil, these questions are as important today as they have ever been. Many American Christians are content to watch a sermon on video from the comfort of their couch, claiming that they do not need the church to be a Christian. Others treat the church as an event they attend twice a month. To them, the church is a dispenser of Christian goods and services, and the call to commit to the people and the local church's mission is a foreign concept. As a result, the church is treated much more like Costco or the local country club. The Bible is clear that the church is not a building that you go to. The church is not a service that you attend. The church is not a club that you join. The church isn't even a charity that you donate to.  

The word that is commonly translated as “church” comes from the Greek word “ecclesia,” which simply means “gathering” or “assembly.”. The word Ecclesia helps us to understand what the essence of the Church is. The Church is a gathered community redeemed by God and centered on God for the purposes of God. In other words, A church is a particular gathering of Christian believers – of people who have heard Jesus’ promise that in him, “the kingdom of God has come near” and obeyed Jesus’ command to “repent and believe the good news” by accepting him as King of their life, and trusting him as their Savior who gives them eternal life (Mark 1:15). The people of God, marked by the presence of God, gather to sit under the preaching of God’s Word, to worship God, to be restored by God, and recommissioned.  

We see the church is compared to many ideas throughout Scripture. Still, perhaps the analogies that will serve us best in understanding our ultimate goal of church membership is the comparison of the church to a family, an embassy, a people for God’s possession, and the bride of Christ, and the body of Christ. In 1 Timothy 3:15, the apostle Paul describes the Church as “God’s household.” The church is both a group of people who have signed up to be a part of an institution, but the Church consists of those who have been brought into God’s family through the reconciling work of Jesus. Ephesians 1: 5 says, “He predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ for himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.” When God adopted us, not by our good works but through what Jesus accomplished on our behalf, God drew people to himself and drew them into His family. Looking back at 1 Timothy 3:15, we see that the family of God is characterized by truth., “...God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” The church depends on the truth of God’s word, and the truth is the means by which God’s truth infiltrates the world. The church is the embassy in which the truth is upheld and represents Jesus to a watching world. Sam Allberry says, “For a region to be without a church means that it does not have the access it needs to the truth of God’s goodness and love.”


1 Peter 1:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 


Peter informs us that the Church is “a people for his own possession.” We once lived this life as solo individuals. We were not a people at all, but now in Christ, we are God’s people. This word people is plural, and it speaks to the corporate nature of the Church and the new identity that we have been given in Christ Jesus, and the new purpose He has set us apart for, which is to proclaim the excellencies of Christ to the world. In Rev. 19:7-8; 21:1-2, and Ephesians 5:22-33, we see that the church is the bride of Jesus. He is not just the Creator and king, but He is also the perfect Husband. And Jesus loves His bride, the Church, so much so that He didn’t just create it as a hobby, but He marries her for eternity. Jesus loves the Church and is so committed to the Church that He died for Her.  When we have a correct understanding of the Church it is impossible for us to have a high view of Jesus and a low view of His Church.  

Now, a Christian is to be a part of the Church described above. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to hear Christians claim that they love Jesus but have no need for the Church. They proclaim that they are fine on their own. This thought process couldn’t be further from the truth and further from what it means to be a Christian. God desires not to gather individuals but a people. We read in 1 Corinthians 1:18“Everything is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”  Through Christ Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection God has not only reconciled us to Himself but also to one another. This means that it is impossible to be a Christian and not be a member of His Church.  

This idea is further extrapolated in Galatians 3:26 which says, “for through faith you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus. 27 For those of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. 28 There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.”  To be a Christian is to be united to Jesus. To be baptized is to identify ourselves with the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as well as to recognize our union with Christ’s death and resurrection (Matt. 28:19; Rom. 6:3-5). When one is baptized, they are united with Jesus in his death and resurrection, and they are united with everyone else who is united with Jesus. The Apostle Paul is clear in Romans 12:1 that in Christ, we form one body in which all members belong. 


Are you a Christian? If your answer is, yes, then according to the Bible, you have a responsibility. You cannot claim to belong to Jesus and not belong to His Church. How do you belong to Christ’s Church? Jesus instituted the local church to proclaim the gospel of His kingdom and oversee its members' discipleship. For this to work as intended, a Christian doesn’t join or attend Church but instead submits to the church much like you would a government. This brings us to church membership.  

What is church membership? Jonathon Leeman defines church membership as “a formal relationship between a church and a Christian characterized by the church’s affirmation and oversight of a Christian’s discipleship and the Christians submission to living out his or her discipleship in the care of the church.” In this definition, there are several important points we must consider. First, the church formally affirms the individual's profession of faith and baptism as genuine. Second, the church covenants to give oversight to the individual's discipleship. Finally, the individual submits his or her discipleship to the authority of the church elders and is committed relationally to the other members of the church. Church membership is ultimately a commitment made by the member to the church and by the church to the member. It is a public mutual commitment to participation in a community of ministry and mission. Church members commit to using their passions, giftings, and resources to advance the mission of the church. They commit to practicing confession and repentance. The church commits to disciple, strengthen, encourage, comfort, train, and send its members 


The first distinctive of church membership is that to be a member of the church you must be regenerated. Regenerate church membership is meaningful church membership, involving only those with a genuine commitment to Christ and the congregation of Christ’s people. The 2008 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention defined regenerate church membership as, “A New Testament church is composed only of those who have been born again by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Word, becoming disciples of Jesus Christ, the local church’s only Lord, by grace through faith (John 3:5; Ephesians 2:8-9), which church practices believers’ only baptism by immersion (Matthew 28:16-20), and the Lord’s supper (Matthew 26:26-30)”. The New Testament is clear in its description of the local church as local congregations being comprised of believers only. Consider the following texts: 1 Corinthians 1:2 “those sanctified in Christ Jesus”, Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1 Colossians 1:2 describes the church as “God’s holy people” and 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:2 calls the church as being in “God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”. In Acts 2:41;47; 4:4 we see that the church gathered only those who believed in Jesus. Only those who heard the gospel and were being saved were being added to the numbers of the church. These texts speak clearly to the fact that the church is a group of Jesus followers in whom the Spirit dwells, devoted to the apostle's teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers, and has been set apart as holy and for the purpose of advancing God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  

Regenerate church membership can be safeguarded by ensuring that the church only baptizes those who believe in Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior and are committed to pursuing holiness and accomplishing the mission that God has given his people to make disciples. Stanley Grenz sees believers' baptism as a three-step process, “This process begins with personal faith in Christ as Savior and Lord, is publicly expressed in water baptism, and culminates in formal church membership.”  Another safeguard to regenerate church membership would be to hold a membership class in which only baptized believers may attend. In this class, you would teach the doctrines and the ministry philosophy of the church. If in agreeance with the church distinctives, the prospective members would sign a covenant promising to also give to the church financially, submit to church leadership (including church discipline if necessary), and serve the church. The church elders commit to teaching members the Bible and regularly praying for members. Pastor Mark Dever is known for saying, “And now we’ll see” after he baptizes someone. This speaks to the fact that even with all of the safeguards put in place to ensure regenerate church membership, an unbeliever still has the potential to inadvertently creep into the body. The Charleston Baptist Summary of Church Discipline states, “if their practice contradicts their profession, they are not to be admitted to church membership.” However, what if a member’s profession is visibly evidenced by their life at the time of admittance, but later, their actions contradict their profession of faith? The answer to this question is the important practice of church discipline. 


Church discipline is not only for non-regenerate church members but also as part of the discipleship process. A member receives instruction and correction in hopes that they will practice confession and repentance. Jonathon Leeman writes, “Church discipline typically starts privately and informally, growing to include the whole church only when necessary. In its final, formal, and public stage, church discipline involves removing someone from membership in the church and participation in the Lord’s Table. The purpose of church discipline, according to 1 Corinthians 5, is to reveal sin (v.2), to warn of the church of future judgment (v.5), to save the member from spiritual death (v.5), to protect the church from sin (v.6), and to present a right witness of Jesus to the watching world (v.1). The goal of discipline is always redemption (1Cor. 5:4), protecting other sheep (v. 6), and honoring the name of Christ (v. 1).”  The goal of church discipline is always restoration of the wayward member back into right standing before God and His Church. Jesus challenged His disciples in Matthew 18:15-20, where He gives clear instructions for church members to work together so that they may obtain healing and restoration. For the sake of maintaining regenerate church membership and for the discipleship of the church members, church discipline is an essential element of the life of a healthy church.  


Why should you, baptized believer, pursue church membership? Because Scripture commands it and proclaims that there is no such thing as a solo orphan Christian. Salvation is not just a personal relationship with Christ, but it is also a collaborative relationship with Christ’s church. Pursue church membership because your discipleship is dependent on the help of other church members. Pursue church membership because you need to risk loving others deeply if you want to be like Jesus. Finally, pursue church membership because Jesus’s love and commitment to the church should compel us also to love and be committed to the church.


 How can you, a baptized believer, be a good church member? Show up. Be faithful to attend the gathering of the church even when it may be inconvenient for you. You will realize that attending church is not about you and what you can receive from church attendance. The truth is, you need the church and the church needs you. To be a good church member, not only will you be physically present, but you will also have a stake in the ministry of the church as you serve the church(Philippians 2:3-4), pray for the church, give of yourself and your finances to the church(Matthew 6:21; Galatians 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:17-18), be devoted to the church (Acts 2:42), and submit to the church(Hebrews 13:17).

 

 




Sam Allberry, Why bother with church? And other questions about why you need it and why it needs you (Denmark: The Good Book Company, 2016) 

 

Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010) 

 

Stanley Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids: Broadman and Holman, 1994) 

 

John S. Hammett, Biblical Foundations For Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2005) 

 

Jonathon Leeman, Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012) 

 

Jonathon Leeman, Church Disciplinehttps://www.thegospelcoalition.org/essay/church-discipline/ 

 

2008 Annual Meeting June 1, “On Regenerate Church Membership and Church Member Restoration” https://www.sbc.net/resource-library/resolutions/on-regenerate-church-membership-and-church-member-restoration/ 

 

Interview of Mark Dever; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dAlaBulLq9s at 3:42 

 

A SUMMARY OF CHURCH DISCIPLINE BY THE BAPTIST ASSOCIATION IN CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA  https://www.primitivebaptist.net/Articles/Historical%20Confessions/Summary_of_Church_Discipline_1774P.pdf 

 

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