We at MinistryPlace.net are blessed to share a few special guest posts from David Nehring, PhD!
David Nehring, PhD is a Clinical Psychologist at Bethesda Christian Counseling in Sioux Falls. He has been working in the mental health field both in Christian and in secular organizations for over 25 years, currently working in rural private practice. He has been married for 28 years and is the homeschooling father of five children. You can find out more at www.bethesdachristiancounseling.org.
When it comes to marriage it is time for the churches of God to begin the process of legal separation, a process that may eventuate in their complete divorce from civil governments on the marriage matter. It was a beautiful relationship once, a dignified arrangement of mutual respect and cooperation that produced many children. But the civil government has had just one too many paramours and it is time to set up separate households.
We are not talking regulation and control here. We are only talking about bearing witness with clarity and truth in a confused, post-modern society. We are talking about churches being clear whether they have in fact witnessed a covenant between a man and woman or not. Enforcement is not the issue, integrity is. The corollary is that they also must bear witness as to whether or not there has been a breaking of covenant. Whether they wish to define and assign the source of violation or not is up to them.
For instance, at the outset, if they are not already doing so, churches might put greater emphasis on providing marriage certificates of covenant that are distinct from marriage licenses. Some churches did in fact produce these at one time, I have one from my great grandfather. This allows people to be completely clear that their covenant is made with God and one another as witnessed and declared by the community of faith and not something defined by the state. Jewish households already feature something like this and proudly display it in the form of a Ketubah, or marriage contract. A great anniversary gift might be a retroactive Certificate of Covenant for those who do not have one or would like to invest in something a bit more dignified than what they currently have. Rededication ceremonies featuring such certificates of covenant should be strongly encouraged.
It is already being recognized by most churches that they must exercise much greater care in discerning whom they will pronounce “husband and wife.” But beyond this change requires that there be gentle, gracious, sensitive and responsive pastoral care for couples entering the church as they come to understand covenant and discern whether they have one with each other or not, and what they are to do about it in either case. A marriage license does not an authentic marriage make. Its primary use is for tax and litigation purposes. A couple indeed might indeed have already made a covenant that only needs witnessed to by the faith community to validate it. They just need to examine themselves before God and come to personal clarity on this matter once they understand the nature of covenant.
Finally churches must have a way to keep clear and safe record of their witness to covenants and must have a way to recognize their violation in some way distinct from divorce proceedings litigated in courts of law. This does not require that churches grant divorce or assign responsibility – only to formally recognize and record when a covenant has been made and when it has been broken. Obviously churches are to take a large role in ministering to those growing through turbulence in marriage and family life. They also need to recognize that violations of covenant are not the same as violations in relationships, treat these differently, and treat those who suffer divorce, whether of their choosing or not, with deep sensitivity to their circumstances, their condition and the dignity of their personhood.
One way or another, when it comes to marriage and family, churches must begin developing independent living skills.