Which is better? To enter into marriage or to take a vow of celibacy to serve God as a priest? That was the question at the time of the Reformation 500 years ago. In the medieval church it was thought that taking a vow of celibacy put you on a higher spiritual plane than the common folk.
Our Lutheran forefathers, however, in writing Article XXIII of the Augsburg Confession, took the position that it is better to marry. They pointed to many grave vices and scandals that took place when priests were required to be celibate (sound familiar?).
More than that, they also point to the command and blessing of God, saying "Since God's Word and command cannot be altered by any human vows or laws, our priests and other clergy have taken wives to themselves." (Tappert, Theodore G.: The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2000, c1959, p. 52). Indeed, they say, in Holy Scripture "God commanded marriage to be held in honor" (Tappert, p. 54).
How is this an issue among us today? Our pastors are all allowed to marry, in fact, are encouraged to do so, the same as all the rest of us. But what is the condition of marriage as a gift and command of God among us?
You and I know that marriage is under attack on several fronts today. How many people, even in our churches, live together as though they were husband and wife before they are married? We have not always done a good job teaching our children. How many divorces are there among Christians? Sadly the rate is nearly the same as the rest of society.
What about gay marriage? What should be done about that? Any denigration of marriage is an abomination before God, but let's dig into the issue just a little more deeply.
First of all, marriage was established by God, the Creator, at the beginning with Adam and Eve. God designed marriage to be the union of one man and one woman for life: "A man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24).
The government, as God's left hand instrument, enacts laws regulating marriage, requiring a license, etc. Even so, we believe from Scripture that marriage is God's creation, a gift of God to us for our good, for mutual care and the establishment of the family.
Now what if the state begins to allow people of the same sex to apply for marriage licenses and "get married?" Does that mean such people are really married? No. It may, perhaps in the eyes of the state and society at large, but no, not in the eyes of God.
For example, if I have in my hand an onion, but I call it an orange, does that make it an orange? No. Calling the onion something it is not does not change it.
What should we Christians do about what is going on today? We have the freedom in our country to make our voices heard. We seek to do so in a faithful and caring manner, letting our elected leaders know our thoughts.
However, there is a dual trap here we need to avoid. There is the trap of the gay lifestyle itself. Pray for those involved that God would provide repentance and healing for the sake of Christ. We must not simply be the "church of no." We are people of God's Word and are called to help people burdened with homosexual desires (and their families) with loving care by means of God's Law and Gospel.
There is also the trap for us that we might think we have done our job if we write our congressman or protest or vote against "gay marriage." Yes, we do what free citizens of this country can do, but that never takes the place of our witness for Christ.
That's why we don't want to allow anything to keep us from bringing the good news of Jesus to others. As important as it might be, any work we do in the church to speak to the issues of society is secondary. Our primary job is to bring Christ to people, to plant and to water the seeds of God's Word wherever and whenever we can. Only God changes hearts – and He does it through His Word.
Then our next job is to look to our own house, to teach and to help our children see the importance of waiting for marriage, to help each other, husbands and wives, keep our marriage vows to live together in holy love until life's end.
This becomes even more important when we realize faithfulness in marriage is actually a reflection of God's love and faithfulness for us, His people. God calls husbands to "love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her … this mystery is a profound one, and I am saying it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself…" (Ephesians 5:25, 32-33).
And that cannot be done without the Spirit of God refreshing us each day with the forgiveness of sins for the sake of Christ! May He, by His faithfulness to His promises, keep us faithful to ours.
+ Herbert Mueller