In an article by Jonathan Dudley that was posted on CNN, a point was made concerning marriage and family that pointed to the fact that some of the Christian Church Fathers had views that differ from mainstream Christianity today. There, Dudley writes:
For the first 1500 years of Christianity, for example, marriage was deemed morally inferior to celibacy. When a theologian named Jovinian challenged that hierarchy in 390 A.D. - merely by suggesting that marriage and celibacy might be equally worthwhile endeavors - he was deemed a heretic and excommunicated from the church.
How does that sit with “family values” activism today?
The push that Dudley tries to make in his article is that our interpretation of scripture has evolved since its writing, so therefore we should also allow the same to occur in regards to homosexuality and same sex marriage. However, I think Dudley makes a mistake in his reasoning when he asserts such a thing.
Christianity vs Science
It always baffles me when I read the reasons people give for discrediting Christianity. In this case, the argument is that since Rome held celibacy to be more valuable than marriage in the past and since that is not the belief today among Protestants, that therefore Christianity has revised the Christian Tradition. However, revision is different than realization and discovery.
For example, we discovered that the speed of light has a velocity and then revised our view in response to the evidence. We discovered that there are particles smaller than atoms and again revised our beliefs to respect the facts. We discovered that the universe has a boundary and yet again revised our beliefs accordingly (Though some are still stubborn). In all three cases we see that we discovered objective truths about the universe and as a result, we revised our subjective thoughts and beliefs about them. Failure to do so would smell of intellectual dishonesty and render discussion impossible.
It is the same with God and the Bible. As we understand the whole of scripture more and adapt it to our lives, some of the areas that were previously grey become more defined so that we can make more sound interpretations of the text. In short, we revise our understanding of the facts and not the facts themselves.
The Church Fathers
While we may look to the Church fathers as great examples, teachers and educators, we do not look to them as perfect pillars of truth, like we do with God. No man, outside of Jesus, is infallible, so therefore we must weigh the words of even these individuals to see if they are true and valid. Yet we know the sad fact that people will always make mistakes, and often times people of great influence make great errors that lead great numbers in a great misdirection.
Every religion is guilty of this, from Atheism to Zoroastrianism, from Kabbalah to Christianity. Does this fact make any of them wrong? No, just the people who held to the false ideas.
Celibacy vs Marriage
In regards to the Church fathers and their stance on valuing celibacy over marriage, they were largely mistaken. While I understand how this view is arrived at, as well as how it could have been justified, it fails to take into consideration the entirety of scripture. Though the celibate individual may be able to focus solely on Christ as well as teach and minister more, the married individual has the unique ability to grow the church through childbearing and provide for the church monetarily through work. So without one you could not have the other.
Additionally, Paul says that celibacy and marriage are both gifts from God (1 Cor 7:6-7), so to ask which is better is to set up a false dichotomy. By believing this I do not feel that I have revised Christian Tradition, but rather I feel as though I see it more fully and completely than Rome has in the past.
If we are to be honest, we would admit that there are many topics and issues in the Bible that are simply and plainly taught, but then there are others that are not. As I read scripture and discover more about God through it, my personal opinions and thoughts are revised to reflect the facts that I am learning.
In an attempt to sum this all up clearly, our subjective opinions are refined, not remade, as we honestly reflect upon the objective truth of the things we study. If this were not the case, there would be no point to education, research and information.
To the ones who use this issue a launch pad for redefining marriage and our views about homosexuality, it is simply a poor exercise of reason. To those who actually hold to this belief of celibacy being greater than marriage, I must note that the greatest act ever done (Christ’s sacrifice) was one of a bridegroom for his bride.
This post was inspired by an article by Jonathan Dudley titled: My Take: Bible condemns a lot, so why focus on homosexuality? Following is a list of responses to claims made within the article:
- The Bible Condemns a lot, why focus on homosexuality?
- Our Church Fathers and Abortion
- Our Church Fathers and Marriage
- Contemporary Christianity and Divorce
- Homosexuality vs Hair Length
- Dudley, Jonathan. "My Take: Bible Condemns a Lot, so Why Focus on Homosexuality? - CNN Belief Blog - CNN.com Blogs." CNN Belief Blog. 21 June 2011. Web. 04 July 2011. <http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/06/21/my-take-bible-condemns-a-lot-so-why-focus-on-homosexuality/>.