Marriage as a sacrament

The dissertation When Two Become One: Reconsidering Marriage as a Sacrament in Protestant Theology by Adam Neal is online here. What follows are excerpts from the conclusion, pp. 304-310.

This study has set out to provide a coherent presentation for why Christian theology should consider marriage as explicitly sacred, and, in particular, advanced comprehensive argumentation for renewing its place as a sacrament in Protestant theology.

In addition to building a cohesive and comprehensive textual argument in favor of defining marriage as a divinely mandated sacred institution, this study has provided substantive historical research that challenges the sacramental theology established by the Scholastic tradition to which the Reformation reacted even while assuming certain untenable definitions.

So why did Luther and the other Reformers reject marriage as a sacrament? As it has been demonstrated, the primary contention between the Reformers and Scholastics concerned which rituals participated in the processes of salvation whereby the list was reduced to Baptism and Eucharist; accordingly, marriage was divorced from salvation. Yet the Reformer’s assumed the Scholastic definition of sacrament as an effective cause of Grace, not simply its sign or symbol as with Augustine. Indeed, the so-called Radical Reformation rightly recognized this deficiency, yet rather than renewing the more original Augustinian view instead tended to reject the entire category of sacrament. As a consequence, the broader Protestant legacy has been largely consistent in its denials of marriage as a sacrament which, in turn, has tended to relegate it to purely social categories only tangentially connected to theological issues.

It has been the aim of this study to provide a coherent textual and historical argument in favor of Christian theology, particularly its Protestant varieties, renewing marriage as a sacrament. Even while there will certainly be those who remain unconvinced, as long as they give critical thought to the topic then the study will succeed in promoting discourse and dialogue on topics which are often left to the wayside by theological voices.

Over the course of the five centuries of the Reformation era, Protestant theologians from across the denominational spectrum have maintained a peculiar unanimity in their rejections of marriage as a sacrament largely echoing the basic premises established by Luther. But at what cost? What has been lost as a result of this theological trench-warfare? What exactly is being gained by still towing lines drawn in the sand centuries ago against theological positions that haven’t been advanced for generations?

In contrast, consider what may be gained if the arguments of the sixteenth century can be set aside and a new era of sacramental theology be advanced. The biblical ethos explored herein may range over the course of millennia, but it is consistent and conclusive in its assessment of marriage as being the only acceptable expression of sexuality that will bring true existential fulfillment, as it was intended by God. Against the various historical denigrations of sexuality as inherently sinful, its goodness must be embraced by the Christian community, as it is indeed a powerful expression of divine love (though it can also be abused to perpetrate great evils).

So, what’s in a word? Protestant theology should reconsider its long-standing war of attrition against Scholastic theologies that have long fallen out of disuse. Generations of theologians have towed the lines they inherited, meanwhile the world has changed considerably, and theology must respond to the challenges of a new age. Rather than look to innovation as the answer, perhaps the key is renewal of an ancient tradition which can be traced to the very origins of the Christian Church and even further into its Judaic roots. If the long-standing legacy of de-sacramentalization can be overturned, perhaps Protestant theology can find a new avenue with which to demonstrate the efficacy of the Christian Gospel in every aspect of life.