Friday, 16 March 2012

C S Lewis: a plea for 'two kinds of marriage'

Worth pondering in the present debate, I think (from Mere Christianity):
"Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one : the other is the quite different question -- how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognise that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage : one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.

So much for the Christian doctrine about the permanence of marriage. Something else, even more unpopular, remains to be dealt with. Christian wives promise to obey their husbands ..."

(Sorry, the last bit is just a 'teaser' to get you to read on, especially if you are an adherent of 'Thinking Anglicans' or the like, tempted to quote Lewis.)

Please give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted. Recommend:


  1. Have you seen this post by Paul Blackham?

    Tim Vasby-Burnie

  2. How appropriate that you should quote this passage from C. S.
    Lewis - I have just been listening to a 5-part exposition of Colossians 3:18, 19 by Alistair Begg. The kind of relationship that God calls us to in marriage is so antithetical to much of what the secular puts in or leaves out of its concept of marriage -for instance no sense of subordination will be found in modern secular ideas of marriage.
    Steve Goodman
    Tampa, FL USA

  3. I think that the post by Paul Blackham is very close to the mark as to how Christians should view these developements. We have had for a long time, a society that has been christianised by culture but not in heart. This is now disappearing and what is authentic will be more clearly seen.

    Chris Bishop

  4. I agree. The post by Paul Blackham is very close to the mark. Any comments John?

  5. I've had to skim read Paul Blackham's article, and can't offer a thoroughgoing analysis. There are some good parts and some good points, but I would take issue with a couple of things he says. One is this statement:

    "Jesus’ preference is, of course, that we don’t marry at all and are able to say ‘no’ to all our sexual desires and give all our passion and desire to the life and work of the Kingdom of God."

    The other is that I don't think he quite gets to grips with Romans 13 and the understanding of government as being God's instrument. In a way, the Anglican 'settlement' is based on taking Romans 13 to the ultimate extent, acknowledging that all power derives from God and that the 'state' and 'church' are twin arms of the same godly administration.

    Whether that was a proper analysis or not is a moot point, but that is how we got to be where we are with parliament legislating what the Church of England does.

    However, we also have to take into account Revelation 13 (which I also think Blackham doesn't), where secular power becomes and instrument against Christian faith. That, of course, has also happened in history and to some extent we are surely seeing the groundwork for that now.

  6. "Jesus preference..." Paul says something like that but the extent it is in Jesus teaching is debatable. I don't think Jesus says anything against marriage and it is compatible with seeking the kingdom but conflicts with some specific callings.

    West Yorkshire

  7. A significant problem with CS Lewis' view is that he was writing in an era where it could be assumed that the state would allow different groups to define doctrine and practice at odds with that of the mainstream opinion.

    Outside the immediate short-term I doubt that this will be the case with same sex marriage at least as far as practice is concerned.


  8. Tom Watts, Winsford19 March 2012 at 16:31

    While I agree that you can't legislate in the statute book for what is born of the Spirit, I'm not sure it's as simple as that in the case of gay marriage, and we may be in danger of giving up too soon.

    Andrew Goddard discusses this in his article here:

    I think he makes a good case for arguing against gay marriage not on a Christian basis that we can't expect others to share, but on the basis of what is good for society (which as a good Van Tilian I think is ultimately Christian anyway, but that's not the way that you present the arguments to non-Christians at this point).

    The point is that if we redefine marriage in the way proposed then we are left with no terminology to describe “the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others”. It seems to me this is something that non-Christians ought to think about. Do we really want that to happen as a society? So the point becomes one about how the proposed changes are just badly thought through, rather than "immoral" which isn't something we can agree on.

    It seems to me this is a valid way to argue in the public square even when explcitly Christian arguments will be given no hearing. The same goes with euthanasia and assisted suicide, for example. If we just say "Christians have no right to expect non-Christians to behave Christianly", will we stand by and let those practices become legal? We don't just believe they are prohibited by God - we also believe they are bad for people. And arguments that appeal to the latter are likely to be heard more readily by non-Christians.

    It may be that despite all that, gay marriage and euthanasia etc become law, in which case all that Paul Blackham says is right and helpful. But until that point, don't we want to influence society as much as we can for its own good?

  9. Your last comment, "if you are an adherent of 'Thinking Anglicans' or the like" is unfair, or at least incomplete. I challenge you to find an Anglican priest in NZ who is not accepting of the church's position that marriage may be temporary.



  10. I should you should probably point out that C.S.Lewis, like many clerics of today, had one rule for others and one rule for himself. When he decided to marry the American divorcee Joy, he truly hounded the church until they allowed him a Christian marriage as well as a state marriage. Why they finally consented I'm not sure...But as an admirer of Lewis, this one strong act of hypocrisy has always distressed me. We displease God indeed when we decide what his rules are and then decide that we, unlike others, are free to flout them.