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The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from Saturday, June 30, through Saturday, July 7, 2012, is scheduled to consider, among other things, redefining marriage.

Surely people are studying the Bible, The Book of Confessions, and the Book of Order in preparation for this decisions. It has occurred to me that we might also usefully consult what some of the historic theologians of the Reformed tradition have said about the definition of marriage. 

Barth on Marriage

"We maintain that in obedience to the divine command there is no such thing as a self-contained and self-sufficient male life or female life. In obedience to the divine command, the life of man is ordered, related and directed to that of the woman, and that of the woman to that of the man. What we have to say in this connexion is summed up in a verse which we have already quoted from I Cor. 11:11: 'Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.' This is true of man and woman in marriage, but not only of them. . . . The position to which we were directed as the true and distinctive position for each sex is for each man and woman, whether within marriage or without, a position which is open to its opposite. One cannot occupy it, nor fulfil the requirement of fidelity to one's sex, without being aware of woman if one is a man, or of man if one is a woman. And openness to the opposite is not an incidental and dispensable attribute of this position; it constitutes its very essence. All the other conditions of masculine and feminine may be disputable, but it is inviolable, and can be turned at once into an imperative and taken with the utmost seriousness, that man is directed to woman and woman to man, each being for the other a horizon and focus, and that man proceeds from woman and woman from man, each being for the other a centre and source. This mutual orientation constitutes the being of each. It is always in relationship to their opposite that man and woman are what they are in themselves. We must be clear that relationship does not mean transition and dissolution. It does not mean a denial of one's own sex or an open or secret exchange with its opposite. On the contrary, it means a firm adherence to this polarity and therefore to one's own sex, but only in so far as such adherence is not self-centered but expansive, not closed but open, not concentric but eccentric. Relationship to woman in this sense makes the man a man, and her relationship to man in this sense makes the woman a woman."

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, edited by G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance, Volume III, The Doctrine of Creation, Part Four (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1961), p. 163, emphasis added.

Certain questions arise: Do the voices urging the church today to change the definition of marriage come from theologians who are smarter, brighter, better, and more faithful theologians than Karl Barth? Do they provide us with good, sufficient, and compelling reasons to abandon this part of our theological heritage?
Dr. James C. Goodloe IVGrace and Peace,
Dr. James C. Goodloe IV, Executive Director
Foundation for Reformed Theology
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