Giles Fraser in this morning’s "Thought for the Day" completely misses the main theology behind the BCP Marriage Service, and in doing so comes to the wrong conclusion.
Back in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as the Book of Common Prayer was being put together, marriage was said to be for three purposes:
First, It was ordained for the procreation of children
Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication
Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.
From this Giles decides that we should all be highly accepting of gay marriage.
Who wants to point out to him the fact that he missed out the most crucial bit of the theology? Beat ya all to it.
Paul takes the institution of marriage in Genesis 2 and explains how the union of husband and wife signifies more than just the coming together of two humans. He teaches that within marriage the husband and the wife take on unique roles in the way that they together sexually signify Christ and his Church. Within marriage Paul argues, the husband signifies Christ. That is why he is first called to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He must give up all things for her in the same way that Christ gave up all things for his bride. The bride then serves her husband on the same grounds that the church serves Christ, not because of any patriarchal power structure but because the church understands that Christ has laid down everything for her.
The BCP marriage service echoes this understanding for it first calls on the husband in this manner:
Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her in sickness and in health;
Here the primary call to the husband is to love, but when the wife is addressed the charge is different:
Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health;
The distinction in the charges points to the Ephesians 5 teaching that the wife submitting to her husband, on the basis that he loves her by laying down all things for her, is a mirror of the church’s relationship to Christ.
This understanding leads Paul to the realisation that the consummation of the marriage creates a mysterious holy union between husband and wife that mirrors the union of Christ and the Church. The sexual bonding of the two as "one flesh" is not just a physical act but a spiritual one, for it has a deep signification in its activity. To put it as unsubtlely as one can, the act of a husband and wife achieving orgasm together is not just an indication of their physical oneness but points beyond them to the work of the cross in uniting fallen humanity to a holy God through the shed blood of the Son.
Within this signification, the uniqueness of the partners is key. The sexual difference of the man and his wife are the driving force behind the symbolism. It is their biological difference and the union of those differences that is the indicator of the greater union of Christ and the Church.
Sloppy "pick the bits you like, ignore the rest" theology of the kind Giles Fraser used this morning does the liberal cause no good at all.