I recently stumbled across an excellent article published in Christianity Today (August 2009) entitled “The Case for Early Marriage.” In the article, Mark Renerus argues that evangelical Christians have unwittingly devalued marriage in our attempts to safeguard it. He writes,
“After years of studying the sexual behavior and family decision-making of young Americans, I’ve come to the conclusion that Christians have made much ado about sex but are becoming slow and lax about marriage—that more significant, enduring witness to Christ’s sacrificial love for his bride. Americans are taking flight from marriage. We are marrying later, if at all, and having fewer children.”
Renerus’s basic argument is that our overwhelming focus on sex has blinded us to the more foundational problem: the disintegration of the covenant of marriage. However, Renerus doesn’t locate this disintegration primarily in the political sphere (i.e. the legalization of gay marriage, etc.). Rather, he claims it is already well underway…in our churches!
“While our sexual ideals have remained biblical and thus rooted in marriage, our ideas about marriage have changed significantly. For all the heated talk and contested referendums about defending marriage against attempts to legally redefine it, the church has already ceded plenty of intellectual ground in its marriage-mindedness. Christian practical ethics about marriage—not the ones expounded on in books, but the ones we actually exhibit—have become a nebulous hodgepodge of pragmatic norms and romantic imperatives, few of which resemble anything biblical.
Unfortunately, many Christians cannot tell the difference. Much about evangelical marital ethics is at bottom therapeutic: since we are pro-family, we are sure that a happy marriage is a central source of human contentment, and that romantic love is the key gauge of its health. While our marriage covenants are strengthened by romance, the latter has no particular loyalty to the former.”
“Many Christians continue to perceive a sexual crisis, not a marital one. We buy, read, and pass along books about battling our sexual urges, when in fact we are battling them far longer than we were meant to.”
One such “pragmatic norm” that Renerus cites is the tendency to discourage young adults from marrying as long as possible. This trend is clearly seen in the facts: the average age at which American men marry is 28, while women marry at 26. Evangelical Christians marry only slightly sooner. This data is symptomatic of the underlying (and often unbiblical) assumptions that we unwittingly harbor in regard to marriage.
Renerus goes on to list five common objections to early marriage, answering each of them in turn. He closes with a powerful section reminding us of God’s ultimate design for marriage: to serve as an enduring witness to the Gospel. He writes,
“The importance of Christian marriage as a symbol of God’s covenantal faithfulness to his people—and a witness to the future union of Christ and his bride—will only grow in significance as the wider Western culture diminishes both the meaning and actual practice of marriage. Marriage itself will become a witness to the gospel.”