How is ordination like a marriage?

The conversation on my recent post about the sin of adultery stirred a thought about ordination. (I realize this is not the leap that many people would make, but there is a little peek inside my brain for you.)

On the adultery post, we had some conversation about covenants and covenant keeping.

So, this question occurs: If ordination is a covenant who is it a covenant with?

Is it with the church?

Is it with God?

I often hear people speak of their calling from God, but isn’t our ordination through the church? And aren’t the vows taken at ordination similar to marriage vows?

In the adultery post, Taylor Burton-Edwards argued that people in a marriage cannot change the terms of the covenant once it is sealed. If that is true, then should it not be the same for ordained clergy?

Just for readers who may not be used to writing on the Internet: All those question marks in this post are actual question marks, not arguments or assertions masquerading as questions. I’m interested in your thoughts, especially those who — unlike me — have taken the vows of ordination.

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Why is adultery a sin?

Why is adultery a sin?

From what I read and hear, many Christian answers have to do solely with the breaking of a contract. Marriage is a contractual arrangement in which both parties have certain rights, privileges, and responsibilities. Among those responsibilities is sexual exclusivity with the marriage partner. Breaking that contract harms the other person and is therefore a violation of the law of love.

The sin is entirely explained by the harm caused another person.

One problem with such an argument is that lots of marital arrangements suddenly become kosher: open marriages, spouse swapping, anything else where both parties agree it does not violate “the contract.” So long as the parties involved agree to the terms, it is just fine. No harm, no foul.

Of course, for Christians the Ten Commandments and the teaching of Christ make adultery about much more than human obligations. Adultery is a sin because it is rebellion against God. It is rejection of Christ’s lordship.

We do not have to explain the sin in terms of human harm — although we can in this case. Adultery is a sin because God has declared it so.

Is there a better answer than this?

Theology of sex

A recent post on fornication and adultery has generated some interesting comments and commentary in other places, but reading the responses reveals that I was not careful enough in making one of my points. So, I will try again by asking a question.

Does God care what we do with our genitals?

Much of our conversation about sex in the church acts as if such a question is beside the point. Our sexual theology tends to devolve into sexual ethics. We talk a great deal about sexual behaviors as “bad” if they hurt us or hurt others and indifferent or “good” if they do not. We take a “first do no harm” approach but measure harm entirely in social, physical, and emotional terms. Or frame of reference is human and only human.

Of course, theology is concerned with how humans treat other humans. But it is concerned with human relations within the wider context of the relationship between Creator and creature. We tend to ignore the context when we talk about sex.

This, I asserted without much argument, is why most people condemn adultery — although in our culture we commonly have movies or other entertainment that suggest adultery can be redemptive or healing — but find fornication much less objectionable. We might worry about “the risks” of pre-marital or promiscuous sex, but absent any harm to people, we see it as natural, good, healthy, and part of who we are as people.

What I struggle with in this conversation is the absence of reference to God.

Many resist the use of biblical injunctions on sexual behavior to guide our theology, which is why in matters sexual we become atheistic. We end up with no theology of sex because absent Scripture and tradition we are left without any materials from which to construct a theological understanding of sex.

The oddity of this, of course, is that the Bible seems to deal a great deal with sex. It deals with it in conflicting ways at times, true, but to judge from Scripture, God cares. Shouldn’t we?