Married at First Rite

We all have our weaknesses, so don’t be too quick to judge: my wife and I are hooked on the reality show Married at First Sight. Let me defend myself for a moment. First, we seldom watch regular TV. We have cable, but it’s not even hooked up. It’s just to reduce my Internet connection cost (believe it or not, it’s cheaper to have cable TV plus Internet than just Internet alone). We do have an Internet streaming device (I won’t say which one to avoid turning this into a tech post). Second, while we have been outdoors enjoying the summer, the recent onslaught of oppressively hot and humid weather has compelled us to crash in the basement. “What’s on TV?” Well, let’s scroll through, shall we?

Okay, maybe these aren’t good reasons to sit through reality shows. We actually started with Teenage Newlyweds. Well, that show is so-so. But we really got hooked on Married at First Sight (MaFS) for whatever reason. The funny thing is that we really did get drawn in. We wondered which marriage would really make it. In fact, we could see which couples appeared to be really trying and which were just playing. I won’t go so far as to recommend anyone watch this, nor do I want to go into great details about the show. That’s not the point here.

What is the point? It occurred to me after watching a number of episodes that most people realized that the higher goal of their marriage was to become a better person. To be sure, some really weren’t interested in that. It seems like a number of their applicants to this show didn’t really think it through!

Admittedly, the premise of the show that puts a 6-week window on the “experiment” and then they decide to stay together or get a divorce is a fatal flaw. I utterly disagree with divorce and find it tragic (yes, there are arguably some biblical reasons for divorce — it’s still tragic). Yet I see a glimmer of the gospel in this. What? How so, Mr. Jared??

God’s grace comes to us from above. The Lord gives all of us a taste of it — something called common grace. I never realized until this show that such a grace could be an instrument of God’s call to Christ and the good news in what appears to be entirely a secular marriage. Christian marriage is sometimes referred to as sacramental. “A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. God gives us the sign as a means whereby we receive that grace, and as a tangible assurance that we do in fact receive it (1662 Catechism).” In Anglican settings, it’s referred to more often as a “sacramental rite”.

…most people realized that the higher goal of their marriage was to become a better person.

What I see is key is that there is a gracious, redemptive movement inherent in marriage. As silly as MaFS really is, there is something redemptive in it; it’s a dimly lit grace to be sure. For all its overt secularism, I’ve noted a few things to ponder:

  1. Each couple has trusted others (the so-called “experts”) to select their marriage partner. It harkens to old world traditions where parents or other family elders helped couples forge together their lives. It is a novel twist on an ancient practice, but it shows late-modern generations realize they need help to build a healthy marriage.
  2. Despite the sexual revolution and all its baggage, there remains a general understanding that marriage between one man and one woman is inherently complementary. I know our culture is currently arguing that isn’t true, but shouting louder than history and common sense doesn’t make a thing true.
  3. It was stunning how often the word “trust” comes up in this show. The couples really struggle with trusting perfect strangers, which is no surprise. Yet they trusted the experts — to a point, anyway. In ancient cultures an arranged marriage would not have had a 6-week experimental window and then ask if they should remain married or get a divorce. If they really trusted the experts, they should have said a year — minimum! In other words, trust develops over time when coupled with an intractable commitment. It’s an outcome of total loyalty, despite the range of emotions bombarding them on any given day. That’s the stuff of enduring marriages, and for all the talk of trust they always have this back door escape plan.

…shouting louder than history and common sense doesn’t make a thing true.

Marriage is intended to do far more than make one happy. It is God’s uniquely gracious instrument of transformation. It is a blessed sign of an inward grace, which I believe goes far beyond the wedding ceremony. It’s a sacramental rite every time a spouse does a loving and selfless act. Come on, gents: take out the trash! It’s a grace-infused, love-enhancing thing to do. As for our culture, this popular show reveals that marriage is still a fundamental component of society. We cry for good reasons at a wedding: it’s a powerfully sacramental moment, even if we don’t realize it.

Getting on Track

Switching Tracks

Okay, so it has been a long time since I’ve written. I have felt for a while that I had said so much about our Anglican journey that there wasn’t much more to say. Of course, many things have changed in the last year. It is a cause of great joy that today, March 12, 2016 marks the day that my wife and I (along with several others) become officially Anglican. We are being received by the Bishop into the Anglican Church in North America. Without reservation, I know this to be ordained by Christ for us.

Yet a small amount of sadness accompanies this journey. We are aware that some from our previous church connections are unsure what to make of this journey. Moreover, at least a few have remarked (not to us directly, which is itself unbiblical) that my theology, personally, has “gone off the rails”. Curious. There have been but a few of my friends who have asked me directly to what theology I now embrace. I shall declare it now for all who wish to know: in short, it’s a biblical theology.

  1. The Bible as God’s Word is the final authority for faith and belief. In this I have not wavered. However, notice the world “final”. One can insert “ultimate”. Yet I do not say “only”. The Reformed affirmation of sola scriptura is not solo. There are several subordinate authorities for Christian belief and practice. I have more clearly come to see that the early church fathers, the 7 ecumenical councils, the creeds, and (dare I say) the Anglican formularies all have influence. Influence. Indeed, a level of authority. All such are subject to the Bible. I could say much on this topic, considering how many different interpretations are in evangelicalism today. This is true despite claims that the Bible is supposed to be readily understandable. Everyone of us interprets—each one of us—every moment of the day when a message is processed in our heads. What I now recognize more clearly is that we need the early church, its creeds and councils, to correct our tendencies to mis-interpret in our own little heads. As it’s stated in the Anglican Catechism: “Anglicans have always held in high regard ‘such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the Scriptures,’ and which are summarized in the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, and Athanasian Creed.” Put simply: we need the entire 2,000 years of the church, now more than ever. That is precisely sola scriptura—Scripture alone as the final authority, but not a solitary authority. It was never intended to be “me and Jesus, with my Bible and nothing else.” I repent of my isolation. I embrace the communion of saints and the ministry Christ gave his church.
  2. The vitality and transforming power of worshipping Christ. I remember having a conversation with a brother in the Lord who is now with Christ. He was on the board at the Baptist church in Chicago we were at for many years. I am sure I was not very respectful when I said to him, “Walt, while Sunday services are important, I think it’s all the other things we do during the week that are more critical to the life of the church.” Of course, I was referring to teaching moments. As one who is driven to teach the Bible, I leaned so heavy in that way that everything else became subordinate, even the worship of our Lord. Even in attending evangelical services, I would anxiously wade through the “preliminary stuff” of singing and praying to what I felt was the heart of the service: preaching. I repent. Christ is the heart of the service and the source of our transformation. If or when I say I am “post-evangelical”, it’s really about the idolatry of the personality cult centered on gifted preachers. My theology has been changed, that’s for sure: it is increasingly Christ-centered. In a eucharistic service, Christ is the center of it all. Our preaching. Communion. Singing. All of it. If by embracing Christ my theology has gone off the rails, then I rejoice and will gladly be condemned with Christ—oh, to be crucified with Christ! I am still learning how to do that. May Jesus have all of me. Join me in that prayer, won’t you?
  3. Salvation is by grace alone through faith in Christ alone. Here again, I have more fully grasped the gospel as reclaimed by the Reformers. I cannot improve upon the words found in the Anglican Catechism:

The Gospel

You need to be clear from the beginning that God creates human beings for intimacy with himself; but no one naturally fulfills this purpose. We are all out of step with God. In Bible language, we are sinners, guilty before God and separated from him. Life in Christ is, first and foremost, God taking loving action to remedy a dire situation.

The key facts of this divine remedy, which the Bible calls the Gospel (meaning “good news”), are these: God the Father sent his eternal Son into this world to reconcile us sinners to him, and to preserve and prepare us for his glory in the life to come. Born of the Virgin Mary through the Holy Spirit, the Son, whose human name is Jesus, lived a perfect life, died a criminal’s death as a sacrifice for our sins, and rose from the grave to rule as Christ (meaning “the Anointed”) on his Father’s behalf in the Kingdom of God. Now reigning in heaven, he continues to draw sinners to himself through communication of the Gospel here on earth. He enables us by the Holy Spirit to turn whole-heartedly from our sinful and self-centered ways (repentance) and to entrust ourselves to him to live in union and communion with him (faith). In spiritual terms, self-centeredness is the way of death, and fellowship with Christ is the way of life. Holy Baptism, the rite of entry into the Church’s fellowship, marks this transition from death to life in Christ. The Apostle Peter said, as he proclaimed the Gospel on Pentecost morning: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:38-39).

If this means I have gone off the rails, so be it. That would just mean I was on the wrong track previously. God in his gracious love was forbearing me in my wanderings. From seminary at Moody to serving as an associate pastor in a Baptist church to more recent experiences, God has shown himself as the divine conductor. Next stop: further surrender to God’s will, the Lord being my helper.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.