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The Church of England’s official teaching on Christian marriage

The Church of England’s official teaching on Christian marriage

By The Revd Paul Eddy
April 1, 2014

The Church of England’s official teaching on Christian marriage is to be found first of all in the Holy Scriptures, in passages such as Genesis 1.26-28 and Matthew 19.4-6.

Genesis 1.26 – 28: 26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Matthew 19.4-6: 4 Jesus answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh."

This understanding of marriage, in the first book of the bible, and in Jesus’ own words recorded by St Matthew, is the basis of the Marriage Service, as it appears in the Book of Common Prayer, which is one of the “formularies” or standards of Christian teaching in the Church of England:

DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.

Although today the ‘language’ seems a little strange, marriage, the BCP says, was first, ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.
Second, it was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.
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. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined.

A similar statement, in more up to date language, appears in Canon B30, Of Holy Matrimony:

1. The Church of England affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching, that marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better for worse, till death them do part, of one man with one woman, to the
exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and nurture of
children, for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and
affections, and for the mutual society, help and comfort which the one
ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.

This understanding of marriage as a union of one man and one woman has been reaffirmed by the House of Bishops at its most recent meeting on 15 February 2014, in the light of the change in the law made by Parliament in the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which came into force on 29 March 2014.

Their Statement and Pastoral Guidance can be read here. http://www.churchofengland.org/media-centre/news/2014/02/house-of-bishops-pastoral-guidance-on-same-sex-marriage.aspx

The same understanding of marriage is shared by the vast majority of Christians worldwide, including the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches.

Provision has been made in the new Act to reflect the diametric divergence which exists for the first time between civil weddings and church weddings. The Church of England, at its own request, has been specifically excluded from the operation of the Act, so that it may not conduct such services, and provision is made so that no other church or religious faith is compelled to do so, although they may in future opt to do so. So far only the Quakers and some liberal synagogues have announced their intention to perform such services.

Accordingly, no same sex marriages can or will take place in any parish church or institution of the Church of England. Although a tiny number of clergy have indicated that they dissent from the law of both Church and State, any service which does not conform to the law would be invalid and could not therefore take place in church. For the record, I have advised the PCC that even if the General Synod were to vote to allow the CofE to ‘opt-in’ to gay marriage services, or to allow clergy to conduct blessing services, I would not do so in this parish, or give permission as Incumbent for them to be performed.

Please pray today for the Church of England, and especially for its Archbishops and Bishops, and for all who are charged with teaching the Christian faith, and upholding the authority of Holy Scripture amongst Christians in the Church of England and throughout Christendom.


The Revd Paul Eddy is Vicar of Stanford in the Vale with Goosey and Hatford

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