Marriage and Side B Reluctance

Much of the church practices a revisionist view of marriage. If you suggest to the average chaste gay Christian that he ought to consider the possibility of getting married, it’s likely to be the revisionist view of marriage with which he’s going to wrestle. And he’s probably going to be dealing with an understandable level of frustration and bitterness at well-to-do suburban evangelical lovey-dovey couples who have baptized revisionist marriage and made it shallowly outwardly conform to a paper-thin image of marriage in Scripture. This is my own experience over the years.

A fulfilling romantic desire for a spouse (though good and welcome) is not a constitutive element of natural marriage. Telling that to a Christian with same-sex attraction is a hard pill for him to swallow, because few people in our culture ever swallow it. It’s implausible. Nobody is living it in sight of us. It’s not commonly promoted. Even the idea of marriage as hard and ugly and covenantally locked down is absent in our culture.

Lax divorce laws signal to everyone that we don’t have to and aren’t expected to maintain marriages when they becomes too much frustration, or we become disillusioned that the fairy tale didn’t last. A celibate gay Christian is likely to think you’re asking him to go into a marriage in a condition emotionally comparable to the condition in which most people nowadays are getting out of a marriage. Who can blame him for thinking that?

Pauline Vocational Celibacy and Side B

In my pushback on Reformed and Side B, I wrote:

And I push against some of my sexual minority traditional Christian brethren for conflating a difficult native state of unweddedness with Pauline vocational celibacy.

This requires some explanation.

Marriage and celibacy are mutually illuminating vocations. There’s no generic celibacy. It has a backdrop that structures and orients it. And the backdrop given by the Apostle Paul in his discussion in 1 Corinthians 7 is natural marriage. One could view both vocations as institutions. Perhaps ideally so. Perhaps a stricter formal celibacy needs to be established by vows, and it needs the recognition and support of the church in order to give it a more substantial public reality just like marriage. Permanent celibacy should be publicly vowed celibacy in which the community has a vested interest.

Apart from that, one is in state of native singleness that’s about being sexually faithful in that season of life (however long it may last) and isn’t committed one way or another to a vowed state of monasticism or marriage. In any event, celibacy is about forgoing natural marriage for the sake of service to the Kingdom. It involves recognizing a sort of default general call to marriage and procreation as the majority expectation (I won’t call that the normative expectation) for how people must still live and yet will also have to submit to having their marriages subsumed under the priorities of the Kingdom. But the celibate Christian forgoes that path and embraces another path for subsuming his life under the priorities of the Kingdom.

As far as the backdrop of celibacy being marriage, I sometimes hear Side B folks slip into a mode of speaking about celibacy as if the backdrop is self-denial from entering into a same-sex marriage. Of finding a partner of the same sex and building a home and family through additional acts of defiance of the created order with that person. When that slip happens, and insofar as it’s regularly at work in the mind of the individual, that denial isn’t celibacy juxtaposed to natural marriage. It’s sexual fidelity and obedience to Christ in contradistinction to sinful rebellion.

This is a potential pitfall I see lurking in the ambiguity of talking about sexual fidelity as “costly obedience”. What does it cost that is of value? Being a faithful gay/SSA Christian by living a chaste life in celibacy is “costly obedience” only if the measure of cost is the wealth of sin forgone in the form of a same-sex marriage. It’s not “costly” obedience. But it’s hard obedience which is legitimate, respectable, and bears much fruit.

Now, of course, if we’re talking about someone forgoing the vocation of natural marriage, then that’s another story. There are real costs attributable to that. And there are real costs attributable to people who forgo the vocation of celibacy for marriage.

Refraining from sin is not the same as forgoing the dignified calling of marriage. It’s not an honorable deprivation in the sense that refraining from sin is some form of glorious calling. Refraining from sin in all its forms is just universal obligation to Christ. But I do affirm, respect, and champion the unique hard obedience of chaste gay Christians. Often a harder obedience than many other Christians practice. I would do the same for any gay Christian who entered into natural marriage as a particular hard obedience.

I get the impression from some Side B folks that their gay self-conception is an automatic sign that celibacy is the only true and lifelong vocation available or seriously considered. Some Side B folks in their push against Side X (which is conceived according to the rules of the Side A/B game) do not sufficiently seriously consider natural marriage as a viable option for them. I get the sense that such an outlook is fortified by thinking according to the sexual orientation paradigm (Freudian clinical psychology) too heavily.

It’s also fortified by the assumption that a gay man, for instance, must become attracted to women in general before he can become attracted to and marry a particular woman. Except that’s not how attraction usually works. And it’s cynical about what can happen when another person loves us first, what being loved first can bring out of us.

As I read Paul’s comment that remaining unwed is good, but because of intemperance toward sexual immorality, one should marry rather than burn, I don’t think homoerotic and homosexual desires and inclinations are an exception in his opinion or teaching. I wouldn’t grant such desires and inclinations as automatic disqualifying exceptions from the long list of life’s hardships that hinder individuals from marriage. I’d just say life is ugly and messy and complicated and harsh. And it’s differently so for different people.

When Paul affirms the goodness of a man remaining in the calling (e.g. bondservant or freedman, Jew or Gentile, wed or unwed) in which he is called (i.e. into the Faith), those callings are significantly involuntary in their origins. It’s going to mean learning to live with them and live into them even though we’re already planted in them as conditions.

The same would hold true if anyone changes callings. I wouldn’t presume a change of callings puts someone in an inherently easy new condition. It’s more straightforward to say of all faithful single Christians, regardless of personal circumstances, that they are living faithfully in a hard or complicated state of native unweddedness.

Pushback on Reformed and Side B

Circumstances being what they are, I’m often forced to think about the collision between the most outspoken elements of the Reformed tribe and the Side B tribe. I’m forced to do so, because I have an awkward foot and vested interest in each one’s territory. And I have my pushback for both tribes.

One one hand, I have the impression that ultraconservative Reformed culture warriors push too hard on the vocation of marriage and family as the universal expectation. Any concession to a vocation of celibacy has so many strange qualifications it becomes non-existent in practice.

Many in the Reformed tribe have a poor conception of the complexity of sexuality and the inner workings of men and women when it comes to affections, attractions, aesthetics, disabilities, deficiencies, dysphorias, disorientations, sufferings, self-denial, chastity, and social structures and needs.

On the other hand, I have the impression that activist Side B posterboys and girls push too hard against the vocation of marriage. If not against the “cult of the family” found in suburban Pop Evangelical churches, then against the natural institution in their own lives in a few forms.

Many in the Side B tribe have a poor conception of the complexity of sexuality and the inner workings of men and women when it comes to edification and transformation (i.e. vivification and mortification), self-discovery, self-conceptions, social presentation, and the resulting feedback on oneself.

As someone who’s a fairly conservative Reformed man who experiences and navigates persistent same-sex attraction, I sympathize with both camps, and I push back on both camps. I push against some of my ultraconservative Reformed brethren for being naive and thickheaded toward fellow Christians who don’t neatly fit the former’s personality enclave. I push against some of my sexual minority traditional Christian brethren for conflating a difficult native state of unweddedness with Pauline vocational celibacy.

In many ways, I’ve come to view both excesses as complementary counterparts mutually shaped by the same distorting influence of our culture. Our culture is one of corporatistic consumerism. Highly untethered from nature writ large (creationistic teleology) and our own human natures as embodied males and females who have roots and bonds.

Identity self-construction and curation, i.e. personal brand development, as consumers is a force at work in every decision we make. So, the ultraconservative Reformed Christians who are being countercultural by emphasizing rigorous federal headship, single-income households, and quiver-fulls of homeschooled children are developing and promoting brand loyalty. And the activist Side B Christians who are hashtagging, rainbow-flagging, and bumblebee-stamping mini-bios and daily social media activities are developing and promoting brand loyalty.

There’s an insecurity on both sides where the constructed and curated identity must be affirmed publicly in a free market of self-identification. No one can just live a vocation where the social context of doing so is its own reinforcement and reassurance. There’s more concern about tribal signalling for market share than their is with contentment in the meaningfulness of daily practice.

Traditional Marriage vs Revisionist Marriage

The traditional view of marriage is natural marriage, i.e. creationistic marriage. Natural marriage is an institution. It’s a public asset. Church and State both have vested interests in it and put their hands to it. It’s a firm linkage of covenant, sexual activity, procreation, domesticity, and economics. It’s intrinsically potent and fruitful by its design. It begets children as icons of the mutual sacrificial love and affection of the husband and the wife. It’s externally oriented for dominion and hospitality in the world. It’s deeply embedded in broader social networks which it supports and supplies and which support and supply it. It’s marked by fulfillment of social obligations to the past and the future.

The revisionist view of marriage is hyper-romanticized. It’s internally oriented, focused on serving as the exclusive source of emotional support and intimacy to the couple. It’s a private affair. It’s contractual. It’s volunteeristic. It’s consumeristic. It’s sterile by default. It produces children as a voluntary and autonomous act of manufacturing. Children are a self-expression to develop and curate the couple’s personal brand identity. It’s focused on making oneself feel fulfilled. It’s self-contained and therefore detachable and mobile in the broader society. It’s optimized to meet the needs of corporations, i.e. expanding their dominion in the world. It’s optimal form is same-sex marriage.

And most married couples (even most self-styled conservative Christian couples) live out the revisionist sort of marriage more than they would care to admit.

Church Offices

What follows is a sketch of the various offices in the church. I gathered these details from looking at Scripture and pondering how the institutional church in her various locations and forms has implemented and developed her offices through history.

The most basic idea behind offices in the church is a recognition of qualified individuals being specially invested with authority and responsibility to carry out a function as their calling. Just how “official” that process becomes leaves some room for interpretation and implementation.

I offer one caveat about studying the offices of the church in Scripture. It’s true that God has given us all that we need for life and faith. Scripture is sufficient for us. But that’s a far cry from Scripture being an exhaustive “How To” manual about anything. What we know about church offices in Scripture comes to us as situational details in the context of stories and occasional letters. The raw data is messy. Christians can wrestle in good faith about how to more formally develop and apply the teachings and can come to differing conclusions.

The Threefold Work

The scope of the work of church offices comes from the threefold office of Christ and the threefold marks of the Church. Christ, i.e. the Anointed One, occupies the three anointed offices seen in the Old Testament: the priest, the king, and the prophet. The three offices are all representatives and representations of God to the people and of the people to God. Each does so with respect to its core functions.

A priest is one who leads the worship and service of God. He tends to the Lord’s Table by bringing food from the people to God and from God to the people. He comforts the people and leads them through their alienation in weaknesses and failures to restoration.

A king is one who exercises judicial wisdom over the people and is accountable to God on behalf of the people. He is the agent of God’s justice among the people. He must lay down his life for the sake of the people. He is enthroned upon his suffering for the people.

A prophet is one who is called into the divine council and speaks for the divine council as a covenant lawyer on behalf of God. He calls the people of God to covenant faithfulness and reminds them of their covenant with God. He also advocates for the people to God.

The classic threefold marks of the church are the right teaching of the Word, the right administration of the Sacraments, and the right tending of the Flock. These display the prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices respectively. The establishment of these functions by Christ as marks of his Body the Church necessarily implies a fourth mark: the right appointment of the Officers.

The various church officers are oriented to these various functions and identity markers.

The Gifting Principle

In Ephesians 4, Paul describes the unity of the people of God (vss. 1-6). There is one Body. It is filled with one Spirit. It is ruled by one Lord. It is expressed as one Faith. It is marked by one Baptism. It is birthed by one Father. But there is a great diversity of individuals in this unity of the people. And it sometimes leads to striving which calls for peace.

One cause of diversity is the grace of God given in different measures (vss. 7-10). Christ has given gifts to his people, and they are not all the same gifts distributed to all the same individuals. And some of the gifts he’s given to his people are the officers of the church for the purpose of edifying the Body (vss. 11-13).

Therefore, officers are those given their offices by Christ based on the different measures of grace given by God. Not all are qualified because not all have been given the same gifts.

The Slavery Principle

In Philippians 2, Paul describes the humiliation of Christ and his subsequent exaltation by the Father (vss. 5-11). Although he was in the form of God, he did not cling to equality with God. He effaced himself. He took the form of a bondservant. The bondservant or slave is the lowliest of the various kinds of servants.

Christ taught that rising to greatness (i.e. status, agency, authority, and influence) in his kingdom is measured by sinking to servitude. Those individuals given greater positions and influence over his people must adopt a mindset and lifestyle of faithful servitude to the people. This is why the traditional clerical collar is a stylized shackle.

Therefore, officers should understand their offices as a calling to a heightened form of suffering, self-effacement, and burdened obligation to those whom they are bound.

Office of the Elder

The elder is an old man. He ought to be elderly. The rationale behind that qualification is that wisdom rarely comes without age and experience (even if it sometimes doesn’t come with it). And there are general behavioral expectations for godly elderly men and women in Scripture (Titus 2:2-3).

The title of elder is functionally interchangeable with the titles of pastor/shepherd and of bishop/overseer. Those titles and the related functional terms are used interchangeably in Scripture (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-4). They are spoken of as ruling and as those who have the rulership of congregations. They keep a guarding watch over the Flock of God.

As such, they are representatives and representations of Christ in his kingly rule. They are his undershepherds. He is their Arch Shepherd. When the sheep look at the elders, they are not to see oversheep (fellow congregants) but rather undershepherds. They are to be recognized as office-holders set apart from the flock.

Elders in the New Testament aren’t all that different from elders in the Old Testament (Exodus 18). They are men of qualifying character who can be trusted with exercising and enforcing judicial wisdom in the church (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-16).

Office of the Teacher

The teacher is listed closely alongside the pastor in Ephesians 4. And in 1 Timothy 5:17, the elders are to be commended if they rule well and especially if they labor in the word and teaching. So, there is some measure of association and yet distinction between pastoring and teaching. Some elders focus their activities and giftings as ruling elders. But others labor in the word and doctrine in a way that ruling elders don’t. These are teaching elders or teachers. Traditionally, this has sometimes been recognized as a distinct office called the doctor of the church.

In James 3:1, teachers of the church are said to be subject to stricter judgment. Therefore, their skill and substance demand the highest quality as those whose teaching bears more weight in the church. As office-holders with authority and responsibility, they’re subject to the character qualifications just like their fellow officers of the church.

Office of the Minister

A minister or liturgist is one who does the work of the people, i.e. a public servant. In the civil realm, the governor is called a minister of God who enforces justice (Romans 13:1-5). In the ecclesial realm, the minister is the governor of our gathered public service.

The work of the ministry or liturgy is mentioned a few times in Scripture. As an office, it’s never directly addressed. The office is deduced by necessity from various principles which govern and inform earthly gathered worship on the Lord’s Day. The Letter to the Hebrews has repeated warnings that we must learn the lessons of the Exodus Generation, because we are subject to something superior to what they had. Their worship was patterned after the things in heaven (8:5). How much more so should ours be? They came to a mountain to serve God and hold a feast to him. We come to the heavenly mountain by faith (12:18-24). The worship of the Israelites had a high priest called a minister just like our worship does with Christ in heaven (8:1-3).

Therefore, it’s fitting that our gathered public worship should be led by one who serves as a representative and representation of Christ in his priestly ministry.

Office of the Evangelist

An evangelist is one who proclaims the Gospel of the Kingdom. He is a herald. The office of the evangelist is listed among those in Ephesians 4 and is distinguished from apostles, prophets, pastors, and teachers. Philip the deacon is also called an evangelist (Acts 21:8), and certainly, he did that work when he went to Samaria and when he met the Ethiopian Eunuch. Timothy is also called to do the work of an evangelist (1 Timothy 4:5). Evangelists appear to be or can be missionaries in practice. The work also seems to involve a degree of apologetics with outsiders as evidenced by the work of Stephen and Philip.

Office of the Deacon

A deacon is an attendant or one who runs errands. The office first appears in Acts 6 as the size and needs of the church become unmanageable for the apostles alone. The apostles recognize they are to focus upon the ministry of the word and prayer. Seven deacons are appointed to attend to matters of mercy ministry in the church. But some of the deacons like Stephen and Philip go on to do evangelism and apologetics.

Like the elders or bishops, deacons have character qualifications (1 Timothy 3:8-13). And those qualification resemble the expectations for younger men and women (Titus 2:4-8).

In light of the diversity of what they do, the office of the deacon appear to be that of the assistant to the offices of the elder, the teacher, and the minister. Deacons are prospective elders, teachers, evangelists, and ministers in training. And some deacons simply remain as such. They assist and have a proven character to be appointed to a place of assistance.

Office of the Widow

A widow is a woman who’s dependent upon the church for her life and who has devoted herself to the service of the church and the ministry of prayer. The office of the widow has character qualifications similar to those of elders and deacons and even involves official registration (1 Timothy 5:3-16). This is a distinctly female office whereas many of the other offices are prominently male offices. The widow is a counterpart of sorts to the elder.

One Last Thought

As I said earlier, the raw biblical data is messy. It shows offices as less objectively formal than we often see now. Or a bit more fluid. There is a high degree of recognition of God’s giftings connected with functioning and office. Offices in Scripture have a certain degree of fluidity in their informality.

One outcome of that fluidity and the variability in God’s giving of different gifts is that some individuals can and do function in more than one office. Peter is an apostle, but he calls himself a fellow elder. Timothy is an elder, and Paul tells him to do the work of an evangelist. Paul says he’s been appointed as a preacher, apostle, and teacher.

And to a certain extent, simply exercising the function of God’s gift is a statement about the place and purpose of a member in the Body. And the Body has a vested interest and responsibility in encouraging and regulating that function for the sake of all.

P.S. I acknowledge the offices of the apostle and the prophet that are present in the New Testament. They’re named among the offices given by Christ in Ephesians 4. For the purposes of this sketch, I omitting them from discussion. There’s much controversy as to whether they have relevance in the present or are essentially historical and presently defunct. Personally, when I read “the household of God, having been built on a foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19-22), I get the sense there’s a significantly historical progressive aspect to the spiritual construction project.

Christ’s Sexuality and Reformed Cringe

A fair few of my fellow conservative Reformed brethren have a strange viscerally reactive way of coping with Jesus’ sexuality.

On the one hand, Christ is the ultimate Stoic. Sexually dispassionate. So lacking in fallen sexuality (which is true) that he lacks creaturely sexuality altogether (which is false). I’m tempted to think my brethren have a functional Christology in this area that is less than Chalcedon-compliant. That’s just part of full humanity Christ awkwardly lacks in their queasy imaginations, but they won’t admit that’s what they cling to deep down inside.

Don’t get me wrong; I support a rigorous and robust Reformed Christology. But when it becomes a systematic theological abstraction that loses contact with the flesh and blood historical reality, it’s a problem.

On the other hand, if you point to Christ’s teaching in Matthew 19 about the eunuch for the sake of the kingdom, my brethren avert their eyes and mutter passing explanations. And if you then point out how Christ is the ultimate illustration of the Kingdom Eunuch, my brethren have a knee-jerk need to swerve around that and shout out: “Yeah, but he’s the Husband of the Bride, the Church!”

Um, yeah. But that’s because he’s the Kingdom Eunuch, and the way in which he “sees his offspring” (Isaiah 53:10) and is not “a dried up tree” (Isaiah 56:3) is because he has another way of being fruitful according to the order of the Eschaton.

In his Father’s house, Christ has received a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters; he has been given an everlasting name that shall not be cut off (Isaiah 56:5).

Victims and Perpetrators

I was chatting with a friend. He expressed the folly of trotting out the victims of grievous sins and crimes and establishing them publicly as the unimpeachable figureheads of their own causes. Doing such things with genuine victims is a dangerous gamble. Especially in light of an Augustinian anthropology of man in his morally corrupt state.

The folly in doing so is one side of a two-sided coin. The victim of something heinous has higher than average possibilities for two things: 1.) being an ardent effective advocate for the cause of defending and preventing future victims of the same injustices, and 2.) being the next generation of victimizer in a vicious cycle of perpetuating further injustices.

And those are not mutually exclusive possibilities. An individual can enact both of them simultaneously. It is the temptation of a life lived as a professional victim.

Victimizers are not bizarre monstrous aberrations of our species, which is an otherwise benign and good-natured lifeform. They come from somewhere. They are the product of something. The general willful ignorance of the relationship between being victims and becoming perpetrators in our culture is an exercise in insanity.

And how dare I say “they” as if “they” isn’t all of us in the final analysis?

We thoroughgoingly Augustinian Christians let no one off the hook. We darn well know every last one of us is both a victim and a perpetrator of our own sin upon ourselves and others. In truth, each of us is simul victima et commissor—at the same time, a victim and a perpetrator. And there’s only one way to break that cycle.

As my friend put it:

If you do not take your victimhood to the Cross, you will victimize someone else in your bitterness and contempt for your oppressor.

Christ is the Great and True Victim sent from on High. And he is the ultimate Girardian Scapegoat for a whole world’s worth of misdirected anxieties, shame, blame, bitterness, resentment, and so forth. All of that victimization pours out from the mass of victimized perpetrators called the offspring of Adam.

We must bring our victimhood to Christ, where it is nailed to the cross and buried in the tomb with our Lord. And we must daily reckon ourselves to be vindicated conquerors in the one who sits enthroned at the right hand of God and is conquering all his enemies.