Presbyterian Church (USA): Marriage a “unique commitment between ‘two people’”

Greg Strand – March 20, 2015 2 Comments

Last year’s general assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to change the language regarding marriage in their Book of Order, their governing constitution. In order to enact the assembly’s decision, it was required that a majority of the 171 presbyteries also needed to approve the change. This past Tuesday marked the approval by the 86th presbytery ensuring it is now codified in the Book of Order.

The PCUSA now defines marriage as “a unique commitment between two people”: PCUSA Makes Marriage a ‘Unique Commitment’

Here are the two definitions of marriage:

Book of Order (Previous Definition):

Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man. Christian marriage is a covenant through which a man and a woman are called to live out together before God their lives of discipleship. In a service of Christian marriage a lifelong commitment is made by a woman and a man to each other, publicly witnessed and acknowledged by the community of faith.

Book of Order (New Definition):

Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives. The sacrificial love that unites the couple sustains them as faithful and responsible members of the church and the wider community.

Marriage of a man and a woman is God’s divine design, not a human, social construct. The PCUSA’s previous definition reflects God’s design, while the new definition is contrary to God divine design as revealed in the Word of God. The definition of and design for marriage is not to be changed. In fact, more accurately, it cannot be changed. If there is an attempt to do so, it is done in defiance before the face of God and with utter denial of His authority. Furthermore, it is done to our own demise. Grievously, this is where the PCUSA has decided to go.

In our document A Church Statement on Human Sexuality we have defined marriage as follows:

Marriage is the original and foundational institution of human society, established by God as a one-flesh, covenantal union between a man and a woman that is life-long (until separated by death), exclusive (monogamous and faithful), and generative in nature (designed for bearing and rearing children), and it is to reflect the relationship between Christ and the Church.

Here is a brief word from the Word on God’s divine design and intent for marriage, the texts that were foundational in articulating our definition.

The Lord God created man, male and female, and it was “very good” (Gen. 1:31).

Genesis 1:27-28: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 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.”

God’s Design was for Adam and Eve to be united in marriage.

Genesis 2:20b-25: But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

The Lord Jesus Christ affirms the Father’s design for marriage.

Matthew 19:4-6: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 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’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

The Apostle Paul affirms the teaching of God the Father and God the Son.

Ephesians 5:31: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

In God’s design, marriage between a man and a woman reflects the Christ and the church.

Ephesians 5:32-33: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

What God has joined, we must not separate – marriage between a husband and wife; God’s authority and our dependent, obedient, joyful response.

Matthew 19:6b: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Greg Strand


Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

2 responses to Presbyterian Church (USA): Marriage a “unique commitment between ‘two people’”

  1. Joe Carter at TGC.ORG wrote this week on denominations that are growing or declining. Those denominations declining are abandoning the Word. He noted the EFCA has grown %749 in the last 50 years – I attest this to biblical fidelity. He did note that PC/USA is declining – I keyed in on that when I read your post. Thank you for regular posting and commenting and raising important issues and commitment to the Word.

    • Leigh, I am grateful to the Lord that my posts are helpful to keep us grounded in the gospel and aware of significant/important issues.

      Carter, Are All Christian Denominations in Decline?, replies to the statement, “Just about every denomination in the American church— including many evangelical denominations — is seeing a decline in numbers, so if it’s a competition, then we’re all losing, just at different rates.” In the article he reveals that the statement is accurate. The bottom-line issue between those denominations declining and those growing is the word of God. In the past 50 years “liberal denominations have declined sharply while conservative denominations have increased or remained the same.” The reason why? He summarizes, “The mainline churches are finding that as they move further away from Biblical Christianity, the closer they get to their inevitable demise.”

      In the EFCA in Article 2 on The Bible, we affirm the inerrancy and sufficiency of the Scriptures. As God’s Word, it is our absolute authority. And this is not something we affirm in doctrine only, we also do so in practice:

      “2. We believe that God has spoken in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, through the words of human authors. As the verbally inspired Word of God, the Bible is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged. Therefore, it is to be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises.”

      Every generation needs to reaffirm this truth in doctrine and practice. By God’s grace this has remained true of the EFCA. May this remain true for the EFCA until the Lord returns!

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