Rev. VanBaren is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

Marriage — Is It Necessary?

The concept of marriage has been rapidly changing. Though vows spoken often include the “until death do us part,” some 50% of marriages are dissolved through divorce long before death comes. It is said that the same is true with marriages of those who belong to churches.

There are large numbers of “single parents,” single not usually because of the death of one partner, but through choice. Women will have children outside of the marriage bond.

Then there is the growing pressure to pass laws declaring that there can be also legitimate homosexual marriages.

In the past the churches have taught, as Scripture insists, that marriage is for life. It is Scripture that sets the standards for marriage—not laws passed by legislators or validated by activist judges in the courts.

In his State of the Union address, President George W. Bush proposed the expenditure of 1.5 billion dollars for the promotion of “healthy marriages.” On the surface, that appears to be a very praiseworthy way to spend tax dollars. The difficulty is that again money is considered a significant, if not all-important, way of curing the problem. Marriages are in trouble, not because of a lack of Federal funding, but because of the widespread and growing disregard of the clear teachings of Scripture.

An interesting editorial appeared in the Grand Rapids Press, January 26, 2004, written by William Raspberry (a conservative black writer). He correctly points out the consequences of ignoring the permanency of marriage in society today. His arguments are not, obviously, based on Scripture, but rather on the consequences of rejecting the permanency of marriage between one male and one female. He writes:

But wait: There’s a baby in there that deserves more attention than some of us have been willing to pay.

…Take, for instance, the sacrifices that are necessary to raise the kind of healthy, happy and competent children we want. These sacrifices are almost always unequal between husband and wife. They are tolerable only if marriage is accepted as a permanent arrangement.

Marriage has always been a way of tying fathers to their offspring. But we’ve come to believe that this is no longer necessary because women (in economic terms, at least) no longer require the commitment of the fathers of their children. When dads become superfluous, it becomes more difficult for men and boys to see useful social roles for themselves. Too often, young males become threats to the families and communities that might once have considered them assets.

…If low-income women often opt out of marrying the men available to them (“I can do bad by myself”), middle-income women often opt out for the opposite reason: I can do just fine by myself. Even if there are children.

…About 10 years ago, the Annie E. Casey Foundation reported a study that compared two groups of Americans—those who graduated from high school, reached age 20 and got married before having their first child, and those who didn’t. Only 8 percent of the children of the first group were living in poverty a few years later. For the children of those in the second group, the rate was 79 percent, nearly 10 times as high.

Marriage does matter, and I wish the president’s proposal didn’t treat it so cynically. But the rest of us had better get serious about doing what we can to restore marriage: by celebration, by exhortation, by making the workplace more accommodating to marriage, and by creating jobs that can make marriage a realistic option.

It is striking indeed that someone declares boldly that many of today’s problems in society reside in the sad state of affairs in marriage. Raspberry correctly recognizes the consequences of the decline of marriage for society. He sees the sad consequences that all of this has for a generation arising with only “single parents” to instruct and guide them.

Raspberry’s suggestions for the improvement of marriages are, perhaps, as flawed as President Bush’s recommendation to spend vast sums of money to strengthen marriages. The basic, underlying problem is the denial of scriptural truths (separation between church and state, you know), and the taking of vows without meaning what one says. One need not wonder what our society will become as a consequence of this neglect of God’s Word. The worst is yet to come.

Union of Dutch Churches

There is a brief report in the Christian Renewal, January 26, 2004, on the union of three churches in the Netherlands. The report states:

Three Netherlands churches cast their final vote on union 12 Dec. Each of the three synods met separately on December 12 and approved the merger. The churches will become the Protestant Church in the Netherlands. The formal union will take place 1 May, 04.

In the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN), the vote was 66 to 6 in favor of the union. In the Netherlands Reformed Churches (NHK), the vote was narrower, 51 to 24, just making the two-thirds majority required. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Kingdom of the Netherlands (ELK) voted 30 to 6 in favor. The GKN was a founding member of the Reformed Ecumenical Council in 1946. The new Protestant Church in the Netherlands will continue its membership and be the first REC member to include a Lutheran element in it. In addition, the new PCN will be the host for the next REC Assembly in Utrecht in July 05.

The two Reformed denominations and one Lutheran denomination have been in union discussions for decades, with the Reformed churches beginning the talks in the late 1960s. The Protestant Church in the Netherlands will have more than 2.5 million members, making it the second-largest church in the country after the Catholic Church. [REC]

Such is the development in the denomination in which many of our forefathers had their membership. There was a time, now long ago, in which doctrinal differences created debate and even ended in schism or separation. In our day doctrinal distinctives are not considered all that important. Today the “doctrines” of the church increasingly resemble the “politically correct” positions of society at large. One cannot but grieve at the developments taking place.

Who Will Lead Us?

We are bombarded with ads and speeches by wanna-be presidents. One must consider what these say and what they believe. One is appalled, however, by twisting of facts, innuendos, charges, and questionable presentations.

There are other disturbing things. One candidate is quoted by a secular columnist with using a sexually suggestive word in an interview in Rolling Stone magazine. If he used the “n” word so freely, he would have no possibility of being nominated, much less elected to the high office.

Another, suddenly showing a certain interest in attracting the “Christian” vote, reported that his favorite book in the New Testament was Job.

Another, as reported in World magazine, takes the following position on abortion:

But presidential candidate Wesley Clark, despite his relatively conservative reputation, has gone further than any of them in his support for abortion. He has gone beyond Roe vs. Wade, beyond any but the most radical pro-death theorists, whose philosophy he has embraced. Not only does he say that he believes in abortion till the moment of birth. Not only does he say that he would appoint no pro-life judges. He says that he does know when the fetus becomes a human being. As he told the Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader, “Life begins with the mother’s decision.”

Then we have a president and many other leaders in politics who repeatedly insist that the Christian, Muslim, and Jew all serve the same God. Many teach that in the churches as well today.

The next nine months we will be bombarded by many political charges and counter-charges. It is good to pay close attention. Our assurance must be that God is in control. He will provide that kind of leadership that serves His purpose. His Word is being fulfilled. Shortly the Antichrist will manifest himself to lead a kingdom that seeks to destroy the faithful church.

“…famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, 

in divers places.”

The prophecies of Christ in Matthew 24 are being fulfilled. But … pestilences? Has not the medical community produced medicines and surgical techniques so that life expectancy is 20 to 30 years greater than that of some of our forefathers?

Still, there is the fear that plagues can come upon our land as well. We have read of AIDS, and SARS, and other viruses that medicines might not be able to stop. There is concern about the possibility of a pan endemic.

One of the headlines in the Grand Rapids Press was: “The next plague,” followed by the statement: “Killer bacteria defeat toughest antibiotic.”

The only thing Robert Thompson knows for certain is that his patient died. Almost everything else about the young man’s illness remains a mystery—and a warning. Now, five months later, the Seattle physician still asks the same question.

How could a strong, athletic 19-year-old walk into a hospital emergency room complaining only of weakness in his legs and lower back pain and seven days later end up dead?

The initial diagnosis — MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or “golden staph”) — was dire, but not hopeless. While the bacterial infection is invulnerable to standard antibiotic treatment, it usually responds to vancomycin, the so-called “drug of last resort.”

In this case it didn’t.

The teen had a stronger, more resistant and more dangerous bug than Thompson ever had seen. The infectious diseases expert recognized something new — and worrisome.

What befell this one average, healthy teenager is happening in increasing numbers across the country and around the world. Antibiotics, the drugs that have saved millions of lives over the last 60 years, now are failing their mission, outsmarted by the oldest, most successful life form on the planet: bacteria.

The article continued by explaining how this has come about.

What is worthy of our notice, however, is that all of the cleverness of man, all of his inventiveness, cannot stop the fulfillment of the Word of God concerning the signs of the end of time and Christ’s soon return. Our society had thought that many major illnesses could simply be cured with a prescription from the doctor. But man discovers that disease can still kill. New and untreatable diseases can come on mankind. Life expectancy will not always continue to rise. On the contrary, there is indication that it may in fact begin to decrease.

All of this is presented not to cause the Christian to worry or to be afraid. We are to recognize that the prophecies of the Word of God are being fulfilled. Man is not almighty—but our God is. The child of God has more and more reasons to pray, “Even so, come quickly, Lord.”