Jeffery John,  Marriage

Marriage and the Protestant Instinct

In his latest comments on same-sex marriage, Jeffery John, Dean of St Albans, argues that the church (in this case John refers to the Church of England) should be ignored and that God is in favor of gay marriage. Pitting the church against God is a clever tactic. It makes the church look like a kill joy, preventing a loving God from getting his way. This is the stuff of Hollywood – God backs the little guy against a group of powerful, obstinate traditionalists. In fact, it sounds a lot like the protestant reformation. And, perhaps, that is why so many are attracted by it. For Jeffery John, as in the days of the reformation, the church is holding on to something rather than giving it away; God has given us marriage and now the church is just hogging it like a child hogging a toy, refusing to share.

However, the protestant reformation, if nothing else, was about the Bible, its authority, clarity and sufficiency. Ironically, it is Jeffery John who opposes the protestant instinct. He wishes to return to a mode of operation where what he, the would be ruling hierarchy, says is as binding (and more so) than God’s word. Consequently, it is Jeffery John’s instinct that the protestant reformation opposes. And protestants should oppose it no less now than in the time of Luther and Calvin.

What Jeffery John fails to account for is why “traditionalists” (I can’t speak for all of them, but only for those who give biblical reasons for their defense of marriage) refuse to redefine marriage to fit the current mood. It is not that they want to hold on to something, but that that something is not somthing they can give away even if they wanted to. The same is true for salvation – the church cannot save anyone; that is God’s prerogative.

What Jeffery John wants (in distinction to those who only want for a state approved union with material rights) is Christian marriage. But, even if the whole Church voted to make it available, it would still remain out of reach to anyone outside the clear, Biblical definition of marriage. This is the protestant principle, sola scriptura, at work – the definition of marriage is what it is precisely not because Jeffery John creates a consensus, wins an argument or garners a vote, but because the Bible, God’s very word, defines it that way – between man and woman. 

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern.