Helping husbands be husbands

Raj Gupta

The final night of synod saw the somewhat controversial issue of the marriage vows be debated.

One of the aims of our new prayer book, Common Worship, is to safeguard the Word of God in the context of a rapidly changing world. Given this aim, some of the discussion about the second form of the marriage service was somewhat interesting.

Two seemingly opposite motions were before synod. One was to remove the only form of the marriage service that retained any gender distinctions for marriage roles. The other asked that this service be retained, but that the distinctions are strengthened.

The argument to remove the service was twofold and, I believe, flawed. The first argument was that the issue was making us unpopular in our society. There is no doubt it is, as we have experienced in recent times. However, unpopularity is part of being Christian.

Our faithfulness to the Word of God is far more important, which brings us to the second argument – that Ephesians 5 is teaching ‘mutual submission’. The context alone, in which the passage goes on to instruct children to submit to parents and likewise slaves to masters, makes this improbable. And the parallel of human marriage to the relationship between Jesus and the church makes it inconceivable on exegetical grounds.

A proper understanding of God’s Word will not be popular in a secular society, any more than Jesus was popular in first century Palestine. We are continually warned that it will not, and there is enough pressure on young Christian engaged couples to adopt secular worldviews.

While it must be remembered that Form 1 provides an option that minimises the distinctions, the very intent of Form 2 is to provide ‘for a more explicit expression of the different obligations of a man and women in Christian marriage’.

It is hard enough for young Christian couples to grapple with the Bible through the confusion of our society. I am thankful that our synod voted to strengthen the distinctions in this option. It provides a unique opportunity to talk and pray with Christians as they marry about the radical claims of the Word of God that have implications for all of life, including marriage.