Notes from a really useful FIEC Leadership in Lockdown webinar on Marriage during a Lengthy Lockdown with John Stevens and Paul Mallard.
1. Human marriage is a pattern and picture of the relationship of Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:25-33). Jesus loves His church by giving Himself for her to redeem and rescue her. Jesus cleanses His church to make her pure and spotless. Jesus cares for His church by provide all His body needs. Human marriage is to remind us of the love and cleansing and care Jesus has for His church.
2. The current lockdown situation raises a number of challenges including uncertainty (about what we are allowed to do; what the guidance and rules mean in practice), disagreements (over speed of lockdown relaxing, between press and commentators; those who are cautious and those who are not); diversity (different rules within parts of UK); inequality (certain groups feeling it is not fair they are penalised by restrictions while other are not); frustration (churches not open, not being heard).
3. At present places of worship remain shut until at least 4 July (then opening most likely for private prayer only). But with up to 6 people allowed to meet in public/private gardens provided they remain 2m apart in England, some small gatherings and pastoral visitation is now possible.
4. Precise timings of further relaxation is hard to predict with future speed and guidance dependent on effect of recent changes. Still looking to be a long time before opening of churches for congregational worship services.
5. Even though the government has been lobbied extensively and repeatedly to allow marriages attended by small groups, they have not listened to the case put to them. Legal marriages are still prohibited. It is hoped that after 4 July marriages attended by very small groups might be permitted.
6. In the meantime, should churches adopt a marriage “in the eyes of God” approach? As marriage is a creational ordinance of God and not subject to state control, churches do have the right to decide whether to do this and independent churches have the right to make their own decision regarding this matter. It is a wisdom issue, but remember, just because it is permissible doesn’t mean it is beneficial.
7. Some reasons to be cautious about going down the “in the eyes of God” route.
a) Our witness to the state and wider community. The state does currently recognise and make provision for Christian marriage and we want to honour and encourage that.
b) Our relationship with other churches. Not every church will recognise marriage in the eyes of God as an actual marriage.
c) Our model to other believers. What message about marriage are we communicating to them?
d) Our attitude to sexual abstinence. It is possible for them to wait for short while longer.
It is worth noting that marriage in the eyes of God gives no protection to either party if one was to walk out on the marriage (no legal divorce would be needed).
FIEC advice is in most situations to not go down this route because it is only a relatively short period of time that marriages are not be able to take place.
8. However, we may need to make provision for pastoral emergencies, such as mental health problems, terminally ill etc.
9. If a church was to decide to marry “in the eyes of God” there need to make sure the marriage is a public covenant; that what is happening is explained to the congregation and why; everyone understands that this is not a legal marriage; and they require the couple to have a legal marriage at the earliest opportunity.
10. Ten ways we can care for marriages during lockdown: i) Be realistic; ii) Give people permission to talk; iii) Don’t postpone addressing the issues; iv) Pray; v) Preach; vi) Adapt your counselling process; vii) Make use of the skills of others; viii) Consider an adapted marriage refreshment course; ix) Communicate; x) Be on your guard.
11. Marriage is hard work at any time. Two sinners are in close proximity. It is always difficult to build a good, godly marriage. Lockdown exposes faults and cracks in the marriage that are there. Three areas to watch: a) Family – worry about relatives who are high risk, kids going stir crazy; b) Finances – jobs loss, uncertainty about future; c) Sex – loss of privacy, boredom and stress feed into pornography which damages marriages.
12. We minister into demanding relationships and out of demanding relationship. Watch your own marriage.