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Some Eschatological Clarifications: A Response to the Williamson Response

Matthew W. Kingsbury

Polemicism is a tricky business. Christians should have a very good reason to launch assaults on other Christians, lest they violate the second great commandment (Matt. 22:39). Any polemical argument must justify itself biblically, and so I welcome the opportunity afforded by my ministerial colleagues and the editor of Ordained Servant to clarify some of the points I made in "The Church-Integrated Family." In light of the response published in this issue of OS, the most important qualification I should make is an eschatological one.

The respondents do not address my thesis: "the Christian family exists to support the Christian Church" on the grounds that "[b]ecause she is eternal, the Church is more important than the temporary family." However, this eschatological perspective controls everything I say, and everything I choose not to address, in my essay.

Hence, I do not consider a matter of some importance to the respondents: "the family—like the church and the state—is a distinctive institution ordained by God with some rights that are not to be trampled upon by either the state or the church." Agreed, which is why I qualified "the family is just like every other sort of Christian relationship" with the phrase "[w]ith all its particularities," which was intended to allow that any number of biblical assertions could be made on the doctrine of family. I was not attempting to present a complete ontology of the institutions of Church and family in my essay, but rather seeking to demonstrate their relative importance and relationship in what I call "a Christian taxonomy of values." I hope the respondents agree the church is the most important institution this side of glory; after all, the full benefits of our Lord's work (beyond dispute, the central event of history) are only for her elect members. To assert this is not to assert unfettered authority for church officers; the last couple paragraphs of the response appear to be directed against such an illegitimate assertion. I regret the original essay was not clear enough on this point to assure the respondents that I would not fall into this error, although I also note I can find nothing in "The Church-Integrated Family" which would warrant the assumption I might.

Of course, the bulk of the response is concerned not with possible implications of my arguments, but instead with my assertion that the main purpose of marriage is eschatological, that is, to direct us toward the relationship of Christ to his Church, and that this purpose is worked out in every Christian marriage while the purpose of propagating the race is not. The careful reader will have observed that this assertion is supported by an exegetical argument:

Thus, while Scripture and common sense acknowledge a close tie between marriage and the creation of a family, the Bible does not teach God instituted marriage for the sole, or main, purpose of bearing children. The clearest texts on marriage's purpose are Genesis 2:24 and 1 Corinthians 7:1-9, both of which clearly emphasize the creation of a one-flesh relationship; in other words, sexual union. Referring back to Genesis 2:24, Ephesians 5:31-32 says, " '[t]herefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church." In other words, the constitutive act of marriage is given to teach us about the Church's union with Christ. Thus, a marriage which produces no children and, accordingly, never becomes a family (properly speaking) has nonetheless fulfilled its God-ordained purpose.

The closest the respondents come to engaging this exegetical argument is saying that "marriage does not have the purpose of symbolizing the relationship between Christ and the church. Marriage was instituted before the fall. Ephesians 5 says that the relationship of Christ and the church teaches us about marriage" (par. 3).

The Apostle Paul, contrary to the line of reasoning of the respondents, tells us the pre-Fall institution of marriage "refers to Christ and the church." I leave it to the careful reader to decide whether the fact that the relationship of Christ and the church teaches us about marriage necessarily precludes the possibility that marriage symbolizes the relationship between Christ and the Church.

I should further note that this entire section of my argument serves its overall eschatological orientation by establishing that marriage (as is its subsidiary, the family) is a temporary, this-world institution which will disappear in the next (Matt. 22:30). Hence, I do not address the various purposes for which God gave the gift of marriage (WCF 24.2 lists four, while the respondents, depending on OPC and URC marriage forms, list only three), nor the pastoral question of how those purposes are to be fulfilled in the particular marriages of various Christians. Thus, I believe the inference that I teach that "those who marry can pick or choose" amongst these purposes, stated a couple times in the response, is unwarranted.

The respondents' tendency to draw unwarranted inference, which may be related to their failure to read my arguments according to their eschatological orientation, comes out most clearly when they imply that I do not believe the dominion mandate (Gen. 1:28) applies to every human being: "Rev. Kingsbury believes that if the dominion mandate applied to all, we would all have to be dedicated to 'agricultural activity.' " In point of fact, I do believe Genesis 1:28 applies to every human being, and in the same way the respondents believe it applies to every human being. They write, "The Lord's command to have dominion over creation does not apply exclusively to agriculture, but applies to every area of life. The Lord's command does not forbid the division of labor which is a result of God giving people different abilities, interests, and opportunities."

Exactly so. The dominion mandate, along with all Christian obedience, is worked out and obeyed by each person according to the calling in which he or she was called (1 Cor. 7:17-24). Some of us exercise dominion at a considerable distance from agricultural activity (my father, raised on a dairy farm, once told me he went to college so he wouldn't have to work anymore). Likewise, some of us agree with the Apostle Paul that it is better to remain single during this present age (1 Cor. 7:6-8; 25-40). Those who have become eunuchs for the Lord have seen to it that the Church is established throughout the world so that those who more directly propagate the race might raise their children in accordance with the Scriptures, just as pastors such as me provide spiritual nurture to those who tend dairy cows. The dominion mandate belongs to mankind as a whole, and both its parts (filling and subduing the earth) are carried out more or less literally by each person according to the life to which God has called him (1 Cor. 7:17).

I hope these points of clarification have helped the respondents and others to understand that my polemic is against those who would make the church subordinate and in service to the family, and not against marriages dedicated to "the increase ... of the church with an holy seed" (WCF 24.2).

Matthew W. Kingsbury is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church serving as pastor of Park Hill Presbyterian Church, Denver, Colorado. Ordained Servant Online, January 2011.

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