Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: marriage

Moving on, or pressing on

I really thought that spring would be here in just a day or two. The sun shone warmly on Saturday, the few patches of snow left were becoming smaller and smaller, we heard of birds coming back to a place just a few hours south of us.

Alas, it was but a dream. We awoke Sunday to a thick covering of fresh snow and rapidly cooling temperatures. Today the wind is blowing fiercely, cleaning the snow from open places and packing it into firm drifts in other places. The forecast doesn’t offer any hope of warmer weather until the 21st when spring officially begins.

No wonder the Romans named this month after Mars, their god of war. Many of the worst blizzards I have experienced arrived without warning during this month.

Wouldn’t it be better to live in a part of the world that never has winter? That sounds like a good idea on days like today. But – I have visited Arkansas and Mississippi at the end of March, when the weather was beautiful and I don’t know how I could survive a summer in those places. Besides, winter provides us with an all natural, ecologically safe barrier to things like fire ants, brown recluse spiders, Burmese pythons and other such creatures. Tornado season here is much shorter and less destructive.

I could go on, but you get the picture. I am accustomed to the hazards of living in this climate and know how to cope with the unpleasant aspects of it. If I moved somewhere else to avoid those issues, would I know how to cope with unfamiliar and unexpected aspects of the new locale?

A Saskatchewan politician visiting in British Columbia once said “A lot of Saskatchewan people move to B.C. because of the climate. Most of them move back because of the weather.” My father-in-law was one. He got so depressed by week after week of clouds, rain, and no sunshine in B.C. that he came back to Saskatchewan.

I think that applies to other aspects of our life. Someone grows frustrated in his job, his marriage, his church, the place he lives, and thinks a change will make things better. (I used the masculine pronouns because that is what I am and what I am most familiar with, not to imply that persons on the feminine side may not have the same temptations.) Most often the result is not what was anticipated.

Often a person will explain the change in one of these relationships by his need to get away from persons who are causing him trouble. Oddly enough, the same kind of persons, causing the same problems, are usually found in the next job, church, town, or marriage. And the next one after that.

If we take an honest look at ourselves, we are apt to find we have a full time job looking after the troubles caused by our own attitudes and actions. If we occupy ourselves with that, we will usually be quite content to stay where we are.

Sometimes there are legitimate reasons to move on, other than discontent with the people we have to do with. My wife and I tried out a number of churches years ago. We met a lot of fine people, but not the spiritual fellowship that we longed for. We have belonged to the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite for 37 years now. That doesn’t mean we have found nicer people, or better people, it just means that we are content that we are where God wants us to be.

Here in the Swanson congregation we have been trying for over a year to decide what to do about our aging church building. Such a situation provides endless possibilities for conflict. But it also creates possibilities for confession and apology when attitudes and words have been uncharitable. It feels like this process is drawing us closer together.

My way is the best

I grew up in rural Saskatchewan. My mother had a huge garden, producing enough potatoes, carrots, peas, beans and other veggies to last all year. The potatoes and carrots went into large bins in our cool cellar. Other veggies, fruits and meats were canned in glass jars. She bought flour in 100 lb bags and kept us supplied with bread, buns, cinnamon rolls and pies. The garden also produced strawberries and raspberries that she turned into jam and cucumbers that she turned into pickles. No matter what the time of year, there was food on hand.

At canning time the local grocery store had peaches, pears, cherries and other fruits; at other times there might occasionally be apples or bananas, and at Christmas time there were always mandarin oranges. Usually, there was not much n the way of meat, vegetables and fruit that we didn’t have at home.

Not much has changed. Rural people have freezers now, probably two or three, the ideal is still to be as self-sufficient in food supplies as possible. That’s the right way to do things isn’t it?

Then we moved to Montréal. There we observed that many people bought fresh bread, fruits and veggies every morning for the day’s meals. That seemed wasteful to this prairie boy – until I considered things from their point of view. They were getting fresher, better tasting, more nutritious food in every meal. Very little was wasted.

Yet it cost more – or did it? What about the cost of all the canning supplies? What about the cost of the freezers, the freezer bags, the electricity? How much of what is preserved gets wasted? Sometimes things get lost in the freezer and when they are found nobody wants to eat them anymore.

Which way is really best? Well, people in rural ares still don’t have much choice but to do what they’ve always done. But in Montréal, with fresh food available in the markets year round, the ways of rural Saskatchewan don’t seem like the only right way any more. Still, old habits and attitudes are hard to shake.

I also grew up thinking that when a young woman married it was absolutely necessary that she take her husband’s family name. I was in for another shock when we moved to Montréal. In Québec my wife was once more Christine Vance. How could that be right? That’s an attack on the very fibre of society, isn’t it?

Yet all that really changed was the name on her drivers license and some other official documents. She was as much my wife as before. That got me thinking: family names are a fairly recent invention. Iceland still does not have family names that pass from one generation to the next. When Olaf Nelsen and Brunhild Carlsdottir marry, their names do not change.When they have children, they will be known as something like Sven Olafsen and Helga Olafsdottir.

There are many countries where it never has been the custom for a woman to change her name when she marries. Many Hispanic countries give both last names to children, such as a doctor we once knew in Moose Jaw, Isabelita Joven y Bienvenido. So which way is right? The Bible gives no instruction on this matter. When Rebecca married Isaac, she did not become Rebecca ben Abraham did she? Best to just follow the custom of the country where we live. We will need to make many changes when we move from one culture to another, there is no need to take on the added burden of trying to change the culture.

What constitutes marriage? Thinking of Isaac and Rebecca again, there was no wedding ceremony, no official documents sent to the department of vital statistics. We are simply told that Isaac loved his wife.

Hundreds of years ago, Roman Catholics accused Anabaptists of not being married and went from there to accusing them of all kinds of immoral practices. It was true that in many lands at that time Anabaptists were not legally married. The only legally recognized marriage was that performed by a Roman Catholic priest. Can we imagine a young couple coming to a priest in a time of persecution and saying “We’re not going to attend mass or allow you to baptize our babies, but we want you to marry us”?

Anabaptist couples still considered themselves to be married in the eyes of God and in the eyes of their congregations. According to them, the essence of marriage was their commitment to each other before God. Isn’t that still the essential point?

Exchanging vows before a minister of the gospel, with a multitude of family and friends as witnesses, is a wonderful thing. But it is not a guarantee of a marriage that will endure the stresses that will come. Changing the bride’s last name, putting a ring on her finger, creating a photographic record, none of these are guarantees either.

A deep, settled commitment to God and to one another is the one thing that will create a foundation that will enable them to overcome the challenges and disappointments that will come their way.

Outward forms may differ from culture to culture and from one era to another. The way I do things, the way my parent have taught, is not the only right way to do things. If, beneath the superficial differences of outward customs, there is a submission to the will of God, we will find the way that is safe and sure.

Two shall become one

– But it’s easier said than done.

On Sunday, before God and 500 witnesses in our country church, a young man and a young woman said their vows, joined hands and were declared husband and wife. Our little church could not possibly hold 500 people, even with chairs in the aisles and all the way back to the doors. The rest of us sat outside in a large tent where we could peer at the open doors and get a small idea of what was going on inside. There was a speaker in the tent and the sound quality was excellent, except when it cut out for short periods of time for no discernible reason.  No matter, they are now married and embarked on a whole new adventure in life.

Marriage has unexpected consequences. It shows up things in our spouse, and ourself, that we were not aware of before. My wife found that the cool, laid back guy she married was pretty much a slob around the house. Dirty clothes were left wherever they landed when they came off. That was no problem in my single days, I would just sweep through the house on laundry day, gather them all up, sort them and wash them. That wasn’t so cool when there were two people in the house. As a bachelor, washing dishes was a once a week event. I had just enough dishes that there was no need to do it more often.

On the other hand, it seemed to me that when we planned to go somewhere my wife would start to get ready about the time I wanted to walk out the door. Then I would find something else to do while she was getting ready and when she was all set, she had to wait on me to do some last minute thing.

Before we married, we were both independent, with our own way of doing things. We found that it can’t be business as usual when two people are trying to build a life together. Things have to change. And change is not something that happens smoothly, naturally and effortlessly, even if you are very much in love. Sooner or later, you fall back into the old routine. How soon that happens often comes as a shock to your spouse.

We each had our mental picture of what our ideal wife or husband would be like. So when we found that the person we married didn’t really match that picture, we set about to help them change to better match our ideal. That is not the recipe for a peaceful and happy home. It took a long, long time, but eventually it dawned on me that the only person I could ever hope to change was myself.

Sometimes we learn from a bad example. At meal time during my childhood I occasionally heard my father say: “That doesn’t taste like mother used to make it.” I resolved that when I got married I would never say that.

Little by little, I have learned some of the things that my parents never taught me and I never heard in the churches I attended in my youth. There were things the preacher said at the wedding on Sunday that I wish I could have heard before I got married. But we were in a totally different setting; neither of us came from a home where we had the example this young couple had in their homes. Yet our marriage has survived for 46 years and we have the joy of being grandparents. There is so much joy that we would have forfeited if we had thrown in the towel during the rough spots.

 

Did King Solomon hate women?

Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account:
which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found. Ecclesiastes 7:27-28

This sounds like a pretty severe indictment of women, doesn’t it? Yet this is the same man who in another place wrote: “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD” (Proverbs 18:22), and also:  “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:9).

How could the same man write with such negativity about women in one place, and with such fulsome approval in other places?

The only way that I can make any sense of this is to remember that the book of Ecclesiastes is the memoir of a man who had accomplished great things in his life, and now looking back sees the vanity of it all. Then he comes to counting up his wives and concubines, there were a thousand all told, he realizes that not one is a bosom companion that he can safely trust. Here too he has missed the mark.

The book of Ecclesiastes should be read as a lengthy confession and repentance, leading up to this realization: ” Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.  For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)..

What is marriage?

The first marriage took place between Adam and Eve. There was no certificate issued, no record in the government bureau of vital statistics and no ceremony, there having been a notable lack of preachers and witnesses at the time. Nevertheless, a precedent and a principle were established: ” Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

Another notable example from the Old Testament is the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah. This was an arranged marriage, but if we follow the account closely, it is evident that it was God who did the arranging. And when the two finally met: “Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her: and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death” (Genesis 24:67). Here again there were no ceremonies or formalities, yet a monogamous relationship was established that lasted a lifetime.

Nowadays governments find it necessary to record and govern every major event in our lives, including marriage and divorce. In most cases God is not involved and the results bear little resemblance to the relationship between Adam and Eve, or Isaac and Rebekah. More than 100 years ago, a leader in the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite wrote: “Circumstances arise in the world which cannot be governed on the gospel basis of marriage” (John Holdeman, Mirror of Truth, page 414).

I doubt that brother Holdeman could have imagined the circumstances around us in the 21st Century. Yet there are people who have grown up in these circumstances, become thoroughly entangled in the chaos and confusion of the present era, and then turn to God. They get converted and then want to regularize their family situation so they can have a truly Christian home. This raises many questions. As Christians, we cannot recognize everything that the world calls marriage, whether religious, civil or common law; nor can we recognize everything that the world calls divorce. Neither can we make a one size fits all rule for these circumstances, for often they occurred while the persons involved were quite ignorant of God’s perfect will for their lives.

There was a lengthy period in the history of the Anabaptist people when they could not be legally married. The only marriage that was recognized by most European nations was a marriage performed by the Roman Catholic Church. Of course, had the Anabaptists wished to have their marriages legally recognized, they would have put their lives in peril by identifying themselves to a priest. Anabaptist brethren of that era considered the wedding vows made in their circles to be sacred, but since their ceremonies had no legal standing this led to many scurrilous, and untrue, accusations from the priests.

In their defence, Anabaptists made statements such as the following: “That marriage properly consists in the consent or agreement of union between man and woman” (Martyrs Mirror, page 346, part of the confession of three brethren executed at Norwich, England in 1428).

This is a return to first principles. It is good for wedding ceremonies to be public affairs, but those who witness the making of the vows should consider themselves bound to support the couple in being faithful to their vows. This commitment of a man and woman to one another is the essence of Christian matrimony and is the thing to be looked for when considering the situation of those who began married life in questionable circumstance.

Unintended consequences of cataract surgery

I called my cousin Rose Friday evening. She’s actually the widow of my cousin Ron, but I don’t think cousin-in-law is a word. Anyway, I’ve known her all my life so I just call her my cousin. Ron died three years ago at the age of 91. Rose will hit that mark next month. She had a mini stroke in December and uses a walker now, but sounds just as upbeat as ever.

I mentioned that I was going to have cataract surgery on my right eye in a few days. “That’s nothing to worry about. There’s nothing to it. Ron and I both had it done and we were very happy with the results.”

Then she added, “Except that after Ron had his eyes done, he looked at me and said, ‘I never knew you had so many lines on your face!'”

I’m sure he said it with a smile. They were happily married for 64 years.

Now she tells me, or, Why didn’t I ask?

My wife and I pulled into a parking spot at a fast food restaurant a few weeks ago. There was an empty space to our right and another empty space in front of that one. Just as I was about to get out, my wife said “It’s going to hit us!” I felt a bump and saw a car proceeding forward through the empty space and leaving the scene. I recognized the make and model of the car and my wife took down the license plate number.We were on our way to a little celebration later that evening, the damage was just a couple of scratches on the door, so I didn’t report the accident right away.

I was looking in the other direction and didn’t see the beginning of this incident. Since I saw the other car moving forward, I assumed that the car had come from behind and bumped us as it attempted to pull into the space beside us. I assumed that I had all the information needed and later filed a hit and run report with the police and a claim with the insurance company.

Last night over supper, my wife informed me that the other car was attempting to back into the parking space, evidently felt the bump, changed direction and left. We hadn’t really talked about the accideent before, we had other things on our mind that evening. We just looked at the door, saw that there was no major damage and proceeded with our plans for the evening.

I realize now that my wife saw the whole thing happen and I didn’t. My mind just filled in what seemed to be the most likely sequence of events. My wife assumed that I had seen what she had seen. As soon as she filled in the missing detail, which I hadn’t even realized was missing, everything made a lot more sense.

This got me to wondering — how many misunderstandings and arguments are the result of one person not having all the information, yet being absolutely positive that he does?

Marriage – is it still a good idea?

Time was when almost all young people saw marriage in their future, and expected that marriage to be a lifelong arrangement. Times have changed — most young people today are wary of committing to a long term arrangement. Some may long for a more stable relationship than the one they are now in, but doubt that they can find a partner with the same longing. And then there are those who do not want any kind of arrangement with someone of the opposite sex.

Pat of the reason for the change is that a large portion of the young people growing up today are not acquainted with anyone who is in a stable and happy marriage relationship. They don’t even know that such a thing is possible.

My wife once worked with a young lady whose marriage had fallen apart. When she married two years earlier she had meant every word of the vows she made and looked forward to that ceremony being a stepping stone into a blissful future. The young man may have made promises, but at the dance after the reception he disappeared for awhile with another young lady. On his wedding night! Evidently the promises meant nothing to him. Can you even call that a marriage? That may be an extreme example, but it reveals an all too common attitude among many who go through a marriage ceremony. Is it any wonder that young ladies are wary of young men making promises?

But what are the alternatives? A young lady from a good home moves in with a decent, considerate young man. Both expect this to be a long term arrangement. All goes well until the young lady announces that a baby is on the way. The young man is just not ready for that level of responsibility and he disappears. Commitment and responsibility do not seem to be part of the vocabulary of a large part of today’s society.

Making a marriage work is not easy.  Marriage infringes on our freedom; we can’t both do everything we want, the way we want. Some of the things that once seemed important to me are simply not compatible with this new reality of couplehood (not really a word, but it says what I want to say).

If we enter into marrige thinking only of the short term benefits, it won’t take long until it looks like there may be more benefits on the other side of the fence. It’s not fashionable today to think of the long term, but we’re all going to get old and then we might begin to realize that we have missed something. My wife and I will celebrate our 44th anniversary in two days. We have lived through many trying times that could have torn us apart, but now the victories won in those struggles bind us together.

We are fortunate to have united with a body of Christian believers with a strong belief in the sanctity of marriage. A few marriage breakdowns do occur in this church, there are a few homes that could be labelled dysfunctional. But the success rate of marriages among our brothers and sisters in this church is astoundingly better than in the society around us. There is strength to be found in such a setting where the principles of a happy home are consistlently taught and lived.

It may happen that someone witnesses the happiness of our homes and joins the church, hoping to find this same happiness. Hoping and wishing aren’t enough. The adjustments are often painful. The former self-centred and shortsighted priorities have to be abandoned and replaced by new priorities, seeking the happiness of another person rather than my own and keeping my eyes on the long-term goal.

As the years go by, I am more and more certain that marriage is still the best arrangement for the happiness of mankind and womankind. After all, it was instituted by our Creator, who lnows better than we do where to find true happiness. When the children have grown up and married and are now trying to teach their children the things that we hardly knew how to teach them, the picture looks sweeter and sweeter,

Reading each other’s mail

How long does the honeymoon last when Christians marry? How long does it take for the husband to realize that his bride isn’t submitting to him like the Bible teaches? How many days does it take before the young lady becomes aware that her husband isn’t giving himself for her like it says in the Bible?

We start out by seeing so many good qualities in each other and believing that a lifetime together is going to be effortless bliss. It doesn’t take long to see that my partner isn’t quite perfect and then natural response then is to try to help her / him become the ideal partner that I had originally envisioned. And then we wonder why our attempts to help meet with so much resistance.

The same annoyances crop up in the marriages, or relationships, of those who are not Christians. The shine soon begins to wear off the partner who seemed just about perfect just a short while ago. But we, as Christians, have the advantage of being able to point out the exact passages of Scripture that name the flaws in our beloved.

Do you see the problem here? We are reading each other’s mail. The passages about the wife’s responsibilities are addressed to the wife. Husbands should just ignore those verses and go on to the ones addressed to them. Likewise the wives should forget about reading the passages addressed to their husbands and assessing how well their own husbands measure up.

By and by, if we are truly Christians, it will begin to dawn on us that I can accomplish more for our mutual happiness by considering the passages of Scripture that address my role in the home and endeavouring to actually do what those verses say I should do. That is after all why they were written.

One of the great benefits of marriage is that it reveals how selfish I am. I begin married life with dreams of how my happiness will be enhanced by joining hands with this other person. Eventually I must realize that my happiness is bound up in helping this other person to be happy.

Who were the “sons of God” in Genesis 6?

There are three lines of thought on this:

1. They were angels who took human wives.

2. They were kings exercising the “right of the first night” with any woman who was being given in marriage.

3. They were men from the godly lineage of Seth who took wives from the ungodly lineage of Cain.

Answer one has a magical, mystical appeal to it, but is such a thing even possible? Jesus said that the angels in heaven neither marry, nor are given in marriage (Matthew 22:30). Aree the fallen angels different? Would that mean that they are still capable of mating with human women? This answer appears completely improbable, even impossible.

The second answer has a little more going for it. Kings often claimed to be descended from the gods; the “right of the first night” was still being practised in parts of Europe in Medieval times and goes back to the earliest times (it is mentioned in the Gilgamish Epic). Still, it really isn’t clear that this would have been enough to cause God to destroy the world by a flood.

The third answer seems a better explanation for the fact that by the time of the flood, out of millions of people living at that time, only eight found grace in the eyes of the Lord. The warning given by Moses in Deuteronomy 7:3-4 is meant to avoid a recurrence of this: “Neither shalt thou make marriages with them [the ungodly people of the land of Canaan]; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly.”

Romans 8:14 states: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” Was it any different in the antediluvian world? The sons (and daughters) of God are they who allow God to direct their lives. I see no need to imagine angelic beings in the passage in Genesis 6. Men who were of the godly lineage allowed themselves to be allured by women who did not share their faith in God and the children followed their mothers’ unfaithful lifestyle until only Noah and his family were left.

This is the position taken by most Bible expositors, it was certainly the position of our Anabaptist forefathers. The issue here is not some unearthly commingling of angelic and human persons, but the necessity of purity and a common faith in the marriage relationship.

%d bloggers like this: