In the First Part of this series on Christian Marriage I spoke about the Dogma of the Trinity and the Dogma of Creation as being foundations for the doctrine of Christine Marriage. If you have not read that post, I would ask you to please read that first because it is strongly connected to this post. This is a four-part series that speaks about the Doctrine of Christian Marriage. If each part is disconnected from the other parts the full picture is damaged and the doctrine suffers from incoherence and lack.
In this post I will speak about the Dogma of the Church’s Communion with Jesus Christ. For from this communion we get a fuller glimpse into the meaning of Christian marriage and how it is to be lived out before God.
Marriage as an Icon of Jesus Christ and the Church
We see by the holy apostle Paul that marriage does not merely image and manifest the communion of the Godhead, but it also images and manifests the union of Christ and his Bride, the Church.
That the Church is called the Bride of Christ is already a proclamation that the union between Christ and the Church is like the union of a marriage. That the Church is called the Body of Christ is reminiscent of the idea in marriage of the two becoming one flesh. That Christ gives his flesh and blood to his Church shows that there is a real physical communion between the human risen Christ and his Bride. And that this communion is also a spiritual communion is clear by the communion of the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit that communicates the Love of the Father and the Son, is the same Spirit that communicates Christ’s love to his Church and brings each member of the Church into that Love.
But Paul goes further to show that this communion of Christ and his Church is a model that instructs us on the specific character of the roles in marriage. We have already noted that marriage is a communion of body and soul– a communion of love, self-giving, and complimentary companionship. But in Ephesians 5:22–6:4, Paul expounds on the specific out working of the love of God in the marital relationship.
Paul shows in this passage that the husband is to love his wife like Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her:
that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body (5:26–30).
The duty of the husband is to nourish and care for his wife in such a way that she grows in holiness and purity. Peter verifies this and adds that the husband is to live with understanding toward his wife and that he is to honor her as the weaker vessel (1Pet. 3:7).
And so the husband’s particular love toward his wife is that of self-sacrificial giving of himself as he strives to live in an understanding way toward her, to treat her gently and kindly, to cherish and honor her, to care for her and nourish her, and to not do anything that could cause her blemish in her walk of holiness before God. And as he does all this, he will also teach and show the woman how to display these very virtues in her general conversation toward the world.
This action takes much sacrifice for man who is tempted to treat his wife like an object for his use, gives up easily on understanding her, at times can be rough with her, and sometimes is a cause for her to stumble in her walk with God. It is important that he realizes that this duty toward his wife does not depend on her own godliness and obedience to God. He must be godly toward her in this way, even if she is not godly or even if she is an unbeliever for his obedience is unto Christ.
But above all he is to always keep in the front of his mind that he is to love his wife as Christ loves the church. He must meditate on this and strive to grow toward this model because Christ’s love for the Church is the Divine Love.
Paul then says that the wife is to submit to her husband as the Church submits to Christ. Paul gives the admonition in absolute form when he says that “as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands (Eph. 5:24).”
The reason for this submission is that the husband is her head, as Christ is the head of the Church. Christ is also said to be the Savior of the Body, and thus the husband is to be seen as the one who in some way guards and protects the wife, being the defender of her salvation in this earthly sojourn. This is likely in reference to what we mentioned earlier in that the husband is to help the wife grow in holiness. The wife’s submission to her husband furthers her sanctification and helps her to become like Christ in her particular role as a wife.
Peter also verifies and adds to this when he says that wives are to act with respect toward their husbands, for the wife is to carry herself in pure conduct, she is to be a gentle and of a quiet spirit, and she is to entrust herself to her husband’s leadership. Peter also gives an extra admonition that the wife’s submission to her husband is not conditioned in how the husband treats her, but is based on her submission unto Christ, for even if her husband is not godly she may win him to God by her meekness and holiness (1 Pet. 3:1–6).
And as she does all this she will teach and show her husband how to be more submissive, meek, and pure, and how to display all these other virtues listed above in his general conversation toward the world. Thus, in their roles, husband and wife complement and also complete each other. They help each other to be fuller humans by their example to one another of different aspects of the fullness of God.
This action takes much sacrifice for the woman for, as was told to Eve, the woman desires to rule over her husband. She struggles with trusting her husband to lead, and she struggles with having a loud spirit toward her husband, and also with being impure toward him by using her body to manipulate and control him, instead of acting chastely toward him. In doing so she causes her husband to stumble in his walk with God, for her loud spirit tempts him to anger or bitterness, and her using her body to manipulate him tempts him toward treating her as an object which thing he ought not to do.
But above all these duties, the woman must always remember that her relationship to her husband is the same type as that of the Church to Christ. She is to constantly meditate on this and grow into this mystery, for the Church is to be in a constant, faithful, and never-ending service to the Lord Jesus Christ, for it is the service of Divine Love by the Spirit who returns the Love of Christ to Him.
Also included in Paul’s admonition of marriage is his admonition to children and parents, for children are assumed as a natural result of the marital union and thus a natural partaker of the communion of the family. The child’s main duty in this communion with their parents is to honor them through obedience. Their exercise of love toward their parents is done primarily through obedience toward their parents, and thus they are to respect their parents and see them as their lords.
Fathers are given a direct admonition to not provoke the children to anger, but they are to instruct them and raise the children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. This confirms what was mentioned earlier about the child, who is a result of the physical communinon of husband and wife. Being now brought into the communion of the family, the child is nourished in the spiritual communion through being raised in the fear and love of God. And therefore, the child is pictured as the result of the physical and spiritual union of the husband and the wife, and together they all make the One Christian Family.
From this reality of the Communion of Christ and the Church the general outline of the character of each marriage partner within the marital union is given. But this also teaches us one true thing about marriage that the world seems to deny in our modern day:
*Christian marriage believes in marital roles, and it believes that each gender in the marriage has a particular role to play within the marriage. Thus, the negation of marital roles, which is connected to the negation of gender roles, is unacceptable in Christian marriage, for the husband is a type of Christ, and the wife is a type of the Church. To deny the marital roles would be to confuse Christ with his church, merging them together in such a way that would be similar to the ancient heresy of Modalism where equality (between man and woman) is confused with sameness and the unique personhood of each is destroyed.