“Should a pastor conduct the wedding of two non-Christians? What about a Christian marrying a non-Christian? Are there any circumstances in which a pastor should not marry two Christians?”
“These are questions I hear all the time from other pastors. What makes it permissible to conduct a wedding in this or that situation, and when should a pastor say no?”
Who said that a wedding can only be conducted by a pastor? Who said that a pastor has the authority over marriage? These are real questions that need to be answered….
Here is another article “When Should a Pastor Say “No” to a Wedding” by The Gospel Coalition (TGC) that assumes a marriage can only become a marriage if a pastor says so. Consider that a marriage becomes a marriage when civil laws say so, since the Reformers turned marriage definition over long ago…. Anyone can get “ordained” to perform marriages. Some states allow notary public to perform weddings. If this is true, then when does a marriage “REALLY” become a marriage.
Assuming in agreement that marriage is between one man and one woman…
I understand that this article pertains to boundaries that “clergy” must consider before officiating a wedding, but we need to be clear on the specific of marriage definition. This article avoids other tangibles that need to be considered as it pertains to one man and one woman. It is one thing to consider the three points of the author, but there is nothing on this article as it pertains to those who were divorced seeking remarriage.
The three templates the author covers are:
1. Christian marrying a non-Christian
2. Christian marrying a Christian
3. Non-Christian marrying a non-Christian.
What assurance does a pastor have knowing for sure that the couple he married are believers?
The first template “A Christian marrying a non-Christian” is fairly easy to discern. The author uses verses 1 Cor 7:39 and 2 Cor 6:14-18. I could not agree more that these verses do not permit a believer to marry an unbeliever. But what about a denomination that does marry a believer to an unbeliever? Is this union a marriage in the Lord?
A marriage in the Lord is any union that falls under the definition of marriage laid down by the Lord. (Gen 2:24; Mt 19:4-6 and Mk 10:6-9) Thus, a marriage is one man and one woman who were never previously married; unless their previous marriage ended by the death of their spouse. (Ro 7:2,3; 1 Cor 7:39) Does this definition involve the salvation of either man or woman? No.
The marriage is one man and one woman, never before married. (This “never before married’ is important to note) Even though this unequally-yoked marriage was not what should have happened, the marriage covenant is acknowledged by the Lord through the vows and the witness to those vows. The idea that marriage “happens” on a piece of paper submitted to a court house is far less significant to when it “happens” in the Heavenly realms witnessed by the Creator of marriage.
I believe the author handles this correctly by acknowledging the marriage. 1 Peter 3:1-6 is most likely referring to a marriage of two unbelievers where the wife comes to know the Lord and the husband does not. It is far less unlikely this verse is for a believer who willfully married an unbeliever. This scripture is not a precursor to divorce, is it?
I would question the faith of a believing spouse as to why he or she would yoke themselves to an unbeliever when scripture tells them not to. If the Holy Spirit gives us conscience to know right from wrong, would a believer really marry an unbeliever? The answer is no, he or she would not marry an unbeliever, and never would they question it.
Believers marrying believers:
Now it comes to the core of the issue. If a marriage is conducted to two believers, what obligation does the presiding clergy have to that marriage? What about the witnesses of other believers? I agree with much of what this author says about this template, including comparing this marriage to Eph 6:22-33. However, I think it is very important to understand what is said in the last paragraph.
“If a couple is living in open, habitual, and unrepentant sin (such as cohabiting or being physically intimate), you should forego performing the ceremony—assuming they persist in their unrepentance—since you cannot commend them as public witnesses living exemplary lives.”
Presumably, the author is condemning cohabitation before marriage, and rightly so. This is fornication, and it is sinful. Even if the couple is living together and not having sex, there is an appearance of evil (fornication). The world cohabitates and fornicates, believers do not. A couple who lives together before they seek marriage is not reflecting the lives of a believer.
I want to look at this template from a different perspective and under a light that exposes a very dark shadow in this article. There is not one mention of the word divorce and remarriage in this article. In other words, why is there not a template of the “Divorced Christian?”
Are we to assume that a divorced person that is a Christian can marry in the LORD?
Kevin DeYoung of TGC covered this in his rather questionable sermon on divorce and remarriage. In that article A Sermon on Divorce and Remarriage”, Kevin asked what he believed to be hard questions that a correct definition of marriage was able to easily answer. This article doesn’t even touch the divorce scenario. Why?
Then there is the idea that performing a ceremony is solely the responsibility of the clergy. If that is true, why don’t clergy attend the court preceding’s of a divorce from a marriage they conducted? They should be there defending the marriage and telling the judge that both couples made a vow under oath and breaking a marriage is not only against the law of men, it is against the law of marriage. What about the other Christian witnesses of the marriage ceremony? What is their responsibility of a couple who wants to break their vows of marriage? I have offered an example of what it takes for the church to properly defend marriage here...How the Church SHOULD handle marriage, divorce, and remarriage.
I believe Russel Moore ‘somewhat” understands that marriage begins in heaven and is ordained from above. In Moore’s article (which is referred to by this original post) “Should Ministers Officiate at the Weddings of Unbelievers? No”, he believes that marriage definition is the responsibility of the church. His response to this is somewhat double-minded as he believes that “certain” marriages are the church’s responsibility instead of ALL marriages being the church’s responsibility.
“For unbelievers the church has no right to hold a couple to their vows through church discipline. They are not members of the church. A church that isn't able to hold a couple to their vows (through discipleship and discipline) has no right to solemnize these vows. So, in the case of unbelievers, a minister of the state is perfectly appropriate to officiate because it is the state, not the church, which will hold the couple accountable.”
Moore believes that the ‘church” is an institutionalized caste system of clergy and laity. I would disagree with his understanding of church polity because his understanding of the clergy/laity caste system has already failed marriage definition by believing traditions give loopholes to divorce from a one-flesh covenant marriage. Since EVERY believer is in the priesthood of saints, marriage definition and administering of marriage vows is the “responsibility” of ALL believers and not a certain group based on their titles.
Moore believes that “Christian” marriage definition is not the responsibility of civil laws, and that civil marriages are not the responsibility of the church… Unfortunately, there is no real difference between a Christian marriage and a secular marriage. Divorce is just as prominent in Christian marriages as it is in secular marriages. (Though I MUST add that divorce statistics drop significantly when both the husband and wife pray and have a biblical worldview.)
What has the church done to save marriages? These civil laws give freedom for one spouse to unilaterally divorce from a marriage regardless if they confess Jesus as Lord or not. These laws are both acknowledged by Christian and secular marriages. When was the last time you saw a minister and the witnesses of a marriage stand in defense to the marriage vows of a couple during this couple’s divorce court hearing?
Moore and his “clergy” constituents have long ago handed marriage over to civil authorities, and in order to wrest marriage definition from the grasp of civil authorities is to confess their failure in believing a marriage can end in divorce. Divorce and remarriage MUST not happen under the watch of the body of Christ, and that can only happen if marriage is properly defined.
If these institutions of higher authority (congregations) wants to defend marriage, they need to repent of divorce and remarriage. There are many cases where a marriage was saved by administering what Moore calls, “discipleship and discipline”. But if we are terribly honest, how many marriages slip through the cracks without any involvement of the church? I would argue that the passive laity of these institutions tend to rely on one man to deal with these “troubled marriages” simply based on the idea that it is his “job” as a pastor to administer to these troubled marriages.
This opened the door of other ministries that take the burden off the pastor, DivorceCare is one such ministry that takes the burden of preserving marriages as a body of Christ. Handing the hurting spouse of tumultuous marriages over to these specific ministries relieves the body of Christ from having to deal with these marriages themselves. Unfortunately, the eternal damage these ministries have caused is astounding. Most pastors will ignorantly support this ministry without ever once listening to what these ministries are teaching people…
Moore can write these articles defending marriage, and he can talk out of one side of his mouth, but the truth is that marriage has long been compromised by men and women like him. Instead of treating marriage as God’s authorized plan for human life, the evangelicals like Moore, and the many authors of TGC have played games with the minds of the “laity” they swore to protect. They also believe their professions give them the right to define marriage based on what they have “learned” from traditions and not what the word of God really teaches about marriage.
Marriage is one man and one woman for life.
Remarrying a Christian who divorced or was divorced from a living covenant spouse is not a marriage in the LORD. This union is adultery and remains adultery until repent of. If Moore or ANY other pastor will tell you that they can marry a divorced Christian...don't believe them. Divorce calls for remaining unmarried or reconciling the marriage becasue a husband is NEVER to divorce his wife, and if she is divorced, she is to remain unmarried or reconcile the marriage. (1 Cor 7:10,11) This is a COMMAND from the LORD. What AUTHORITY does a professional clergy, a judge, or a notary public to marry? The answer is NONE. They have NO authority to marry a divorce person with a living covenant spouse, NONE.
Until Moore and TGC understand that marriage definition far transcends their vocations, they will lack the proper defense of marriage. Until men like Moore repent of believing a one-flesh marriage can end in any other way than the death of one or both spouses, they will slip further into compromise. Until the body of Christ is ready to defend marriage by praying, administering, rebuking, and exhorting couples of troubled Christian marriages, they will never show the world the truth about marriage being the example of Christ’s love for His bride.
In conclusion, this article offers three brief tips to seek God’s guidance:
1. Listen to your conscience
2. Be guided by scripture
3. Seek council from other pastors
Seeking council from other “pastors” only works if that council coincides with God’s word. Seeking council from godly men and women in the LORD is essential. If we believe that council is only determined from men and woman who are given titles through ordination, we may not understand the body of Christ. There is no shortage of lies coming from clergy, and seeking council from other pastors without the Holy Spirit and the word of God will only get you in trouble.
I pray that you seek the Lord in prayer and read the Bible with an understanding that our time on earth is very short. Marriage is very important to God, and it is the responsibility of His children to live out marriage with the love of Christ. Marriage permanence is not just important to those who are in marriage, it is equally important as a witness of the Gospel. Will you stand for marriage permanence today, no matter the cost? Will you remain in a covenant of marriage for the sake of the Gospel? Will you defend marriage by believing that marriage is defined as one man and one woman for life?
Eph 5:31,32 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
In Christ’s love,