This sermon, “A Reformed Understanding of Marriage” raises so many questions and has so many errors that one must explore and write. It was preached for the Covenant Network of Presbyterians by David D. Colby in Minnesota and is aimed at the vote that is being taken there on the definition of marriage. Colby uses Romans 8:23 as his text and, for me at least, raises questions about the biblical meaning of the believer’s adoption as sons and daughters of God. In fact, the reformed doctrine of salvation is distorted in this sermon, as Colby tries to use the idea of adoption to make a case for same gender marriage.
But first some of the other errors:
1. Colby tries to use the Bible’s honest telling of humanity’s disregard of God’s original intention for marriage. Quoting an article, “Traditional Marriage: One Man, Many Women, Some Girls, Some Slaves,” by Jay Michaelson, Colby insists that there is no certain definition of marriage in the word of God. However, the Bible does not hold up polygamy as a model, instead there is the beautiful creation story of God providing for and instituting the first marriage, between man and woman. Jesus uses this first union to teach about the covenant of marriage. (Matt. 19: 3-9) And 1 Timothy 3, insists that an ‘overseer’ must be the husband of one wife. The Bible’s standard isn't anything goes, but from the very beginning, “...a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife and they shall become one flesh.”
2. Colby states that for the Roman Catholic Church, it is the celibate priests who hold the sacred office and those who are married are considered profane. “Marriage and intimacy was and is considered profane, basic.” But this is not true, for the Catholic Church both are sacred; ordination is a sacrament but so is marriage. He then moves to the Reformation teaching that all should be married, that none should be forced to live a celibate life. Colby uses the Reformation teaching to insist that those with same gender attraction should be allowed to marry. But this is simply apples and oranges. Biblically, marriage is between a man and a woman. And same gender sex is sin, not marriage.
3. Colby states: “The Gospel always comes wrapped in culture and, try as we might, there is no “pure Gospel” that can be separated out with any certainty from the culture in which Jesus was born, the culture of the New Testament writers, our own culture or some combination of the three.” At first sight this seems confusing—but not really. The Incarnation, Jesus, his life, death and resurrection are the pure gospel—and the whole story, the whole text, that surrounds the life, death and resurrection of Jesus becomes the word of God because Jesus wraps the whole story around himself and molds it to his meaning. (The Old Testament is included in that wrapping.)The life of Christ either blesses or judges the culture. It does not matter, Jesus’ culture, the apostles’ culture, our culture. They are all judged or blessed by how Jesus is received or rejected.
4. Colby adds to his formula, “The good news always comes wrapped in culture” and it falls to us to sort out what is the good news, and what is the culture.” Well, yes, we need to understand what ancient culture was, what they thought and taught—but the good news is that Jesus overcame the culture of his time—he entered it and either changed it or left it to diminish and perish. For instance in 1 Corinthians we see that there were fornicators, idolaters adulterers effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers and swindlers, (the Scripture text lets us know they were sinners no matter what the culture believed), but Christ transformed some of them. They were washed, and sanctified and justified in Christ and in the Holy Spirit. God took a community of unrighteousness and turned them into saints bearing the righteousness of Christ. The good news is that Jesus changed those who received him and he still does. Jesus is Lord over culture not wrapped in it.
And this is a good place to write about adoption. Colby writes:
The apostle Paul writes, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves” (Romans 8:22). It is as if the gospel is being birthed, Paul writes. Being birthed and coming into being amidst changing cultural norms and expectations. And it is our job to sort out what is gospel from what is culture.
I want you to have, deep in your bones, the belief and instinct that for a church reformed and always reforming according to the Word of God that God’s work is still unfolding. That the whole creation, as Paul puts it in our reading today, is “groaning in labor pains” while we are awaiting adoption. Waiting to be embraced in God’s love. Waiting to be adopted.
Colby is confused about the meaning of adoption in Romans 8. And he is confused about the gospel “being birthed.” And he is confused about what our job is in the midst of changing cultural norms and expectations.
When Paul writes about adoption in verse 23, he is writing about our final and complete redemption, that is the resurrection of our bodies. That is why it is connected to the redemption of creation. “And not only this, [creations pains of childbirth] but we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” This is not a birthing of the gospel—Christ on the cross and in his resurrection provided us with the good news. We are already now the adopted sons and daughters of God through Jesus Christ. We are, in suffering, awaiting glory and so is creation.
And it is in that final completeness that there will be no more striving against sin. We struggle now to lay aside our sin and walk more closely with Jesus, in the transformation of creation we will be utterly like him. This is not about the unconditional acceptance of sinners, but the transformation of sinners. And we are not waiting to be embraced in God’s love, because Christ has redeemed us we are embraced in his love. We are adopted as sons and daughters—waiting for the final transformation, the resurrection. F.F. Bruce puts it very well:
If inanimate creation longs blindly for the day of its liberation, the community of the redeemed, who see the glory shining before them, strain forward intelligently for the consummation. For them it is the day when they will be publicly and universally acknowledged as the sons and daughters of God; for them, too, it is the day of resurrection, when the present body of humiliation will be transformed into the likeness of Christ’s glorified body, when the whole human personality will finally experience the benefits of his redemptive work.
This is the hope of the people of God – ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’, as Paul puts it in another letter (Col. 1:27). This hope is an essential element in their salvation; it enables them to accept the trials of the present, so that by patient endurance they may win their lives; it is, along with faith and love, one of the crowning graces of the Christian life.”
These beautiful promises to the Christian rather than having to do with some final acceptance of same gender sex have to do with the final transformation of all kinds of sinners. We are adopted, we will be finally, and completely new at the coming of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.