Imposing Morality
St. Matthias, Apostle
24 February 2017
The world and temporal government should enact and enforce marriage and family law, not the church. To most people this statement opens the door to a thousand abominations. But it is not the same to say that the world "should" do something as to say the world "does" do something. Right now, the earthly institutions that should be supporting marriage and family are doing a great deal to destroy marriage and family. The Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell that two males or two females could "marry" each other in law. The very governmental authorities that have a vested interest in the maintenance of society's social structure, are busy undermining the most basic building block of government: the family.
In this environment, the temptation arises for the church to step in and offer her opinion. However, the church's office is not to provide the legal provisions by which decent society might be regulated. Her office is to preach the gospel. The church must remain the gospel house and must never become the law house. This is what is so distressing about the expectation that the church should become the moral watchdog of the culture.
The more the church involves herself in teaching the law, the more she gains a taste for it. It deflects her from her proper calling. Even those who hate the church and her ministry expect her to weigh in on these moral issues, and then they criticize this as the church "imposing morality." This must never become her work, calling, or office. Morality ought to be the business of government, family, community, school, and the other human institutions that God has given to us humans. Morality needs to be imposed, but not by the church.
I don't mean to say that it is time for Christians to raise the white flag in our culture and declare defeat. Certainly, God has called us Christians to make our voices heard in the public square. Christians are citizens too. Christians must call politicians back to the basic morality that will ensure stability to future generations. Luther referred to this duty of government by declining to offer a solution to marriage law in his community. He wrote to the pastors of his territory that they were to help people with troubled consciences because of their sexual and family sin, but not become judge and jury in temporal matters. Government can take care of the rest; or, at least, it should. 

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
"Grace and peace in Christ, our Lord and Savior. You are not the only ones, my dear sirs, who are having a great deal of trouble with marriage matters; others are having the same experience. I myself am greatly plagued by them; I put up a stiff resistance, calling and crying out that these things should be left to the temporal authorities, and as Christ says, 'Leave the dead to bury their own dead' (Mt 8:22). God grant that they may do this, rightly or wrongly, for we are supposed to be servants of Christ, that is, we are to deal with the gospel and conscience, which gives us more than enough to do against the devil, the world, and the flesh.
"No one can deny that marriage is an external, earthly matter, like clothing and food, house and property, subject to temporal authority, as the many imperial laws enacted on the subject prove. Nor do I find any example in the New Testament where Christ or the apostles concerned themselves with such matters, except where they touched upon consciences, as St. Paul did, and especially where unbelievers or non-Christians are concerned, for it is easy to deal with these and all matters among Christians or believers (1Co 7:1-24). But with non-Christians, with which the world is filled, you cannot move forward or backward without the sharp edge of the temporal sword. And what use would it be if we Christians set up a lot of laws and decisions, as long as the world is not subject to us and we have no authority over it?
"Therefore I simply do not wish to become involved in such matters at all and plead with everyone not to bother me with them. If you do not have monarchs, then you have officials. If they do not render just decisions, what concern is it of mine? They are responsible. They have undertaken the office. I am horrified too by the example of the pope, who was the first to get mixed up in this business and has seized such worldly business as his own to the point where he has become nothing but a worldly lord over emperors and kings. So here too I am afraid that the dog may learn to eat leather by nibbling at his own rags and we too may be misled with good intentions, until finally we fall away from the gospel into purely earthly matters. As soon as we begin to act as judges in marriage matters, the teeth of the millwheel will have snatched us by the sleeve and will carry us away to the point where we must decide the penalty. Once we have to decide the penalty, then we must also render judgment about the body and goods, and by this time we are down under the wheel and drowned in the water of worldly affairs.
"Praise God that now the whole world knows what effort and zeal I have already expended and how hard I am still toiling to see that the two authorities or realms, the temporal and the spiritual, are kept distinct and separate from each other and that each is specifically instructed and restricted to its own task."

Martin Luther, On Marriage Matters
1 Corinthians

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband.  But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.  To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her.
And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.  For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.  How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?  Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. (ESV)
Collect for St. Matthias, Apostle
Almighty God, You chose Your servant Matthias to be numbered among the Twelve. Grant that Your Church, ever preserved from false teachers, may be taught and guided by faithful and true pastors; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

For home and family, that our Lord would help us to extol marriage to our children that they might honor it and delight in it for the good of our community, Church, and posterity

For those who are disabled, that God our heavenly Father would send the holy angels to watch over them and strengthen them 

For the students and staff of the Ekong Memorial Seminary in Nigeria, that the Lord of the church would bless and strengthen them in the holy faith
Art: MANETTI, Rutilio  Wedding Feast at Cana  (c. 1620)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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