Since becoming a pastor I have had the privilege of conducting countless weddings. The first few were easy decisions: I checked my schedule and if I was available, I agreed to perform the ceremony. That’s because the first weddings I was asked to do were young, chaste, Christian couples in our church whom I knew well and I was delighted to be part of their joyful day. But then I began to receive requests from complete strangers whose situations required some more discernment than a simple, “Yup, I’m free that Saturday.”
Although we covered the theory in seminary, it wasn’t until I was in the trenches, with no professor to grade my answer, that I was faced with deciding which weddings I would consent to do and which I would not. When there were families and friendships involved, I began to realize this wasn’t theoretical, or target practice anymore; we’re playing with live ammo. And taking a stand can set off some explosive emotions.
Here’s seven scenarios I’ve encountered in ten years of doing weddings, and where I stand on saying “I do…”
1. Believer to believer (with fruit)
Let’s start with the easiest one. When two believers, who are showing fruit of salvation in their lives, are taking marriage seriously by, for example, guarding their purity, then the marriage ceremony is beautiful in its simplicity. Marriage is a picture of Christ’s relationship to His bride the church (Eph 5:25-26). When believers unite, that is the clearest manifestation of God’s intended design.
2. Believer to believer (living together).
When believers are in unrepentant sin, they are in no position to be discerning God’s will for their lives. I would not marry two professing believers who are living together:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world (1 Cor 5:9-10).
I would first show them from Scripture that sleeping together outside of the marriage covenant is sin (1 Thess 4:3-5), and I would call them to repentance. Once the couple confessed that their behavior is sin, expressed repentance, and evidenced fruit of repentance by ceasing from all appearance of sexual immorality, I would then agree to start making arrangements for the wedding, provided their fruit of repentance persists for the rest of the engagement.
3. Unbeliever to Believer
This is a wedding that God forbids. It would be sin for me to be involved.
1 Cor 6: 14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
4. Widow to Widower
This is another simple scenario. I know some Christians view the original design of marriage as excluding remarriage in any circumstance, even death. But I believe that Paul received revelation from the Lord that expressly permits remarriage after death (including an unmarried virgin to a previously married person) in 1 Cor 7: 39 A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.
5. Divorcée to Divorcé
With a choice of “yes,” “no,” or “maybe” checkboxes, I’d have to select “maybe.” It really does depend on a variety of variables. In Matthew 19:9 Jesus mentions one circumstance in which divorce is permitted (though never preferred) by God: “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
I take this to mean that if one partner commits adultery, the innocent party is free to accept/pursue divorce, and can thus remarry.
Paul supplies another instance where divorce is not sin—if a believer has been abandoned by an unbeliever (presumably this is a couple of unbelievers where one spouse becomes saved after marriage, and the other one separates).
If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. … But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace (1 Cor 7:13, 15).
If, after careful investigation, I was convinced that both parties in the engaged couple were eligible to be remarried, and not committing adultery by getting remarried, I would have no problem performing the wedding ceremony.
On the other hand, if a person was divorced in a sinful way, I would urge repentance and reconciliation with their previous spouse. Ok, I realize this would open a can of conundrums, which is why my official answer to this question is “maybe.” It depends on many variables, such as: Is the previous spouse still alive, willing to reconcile, a believer or unbeliever, remarried to someone else, etc., etc., etc. I am not going to land on a simple yay or nay in this post. (Nor in the comments section!)
6. Unbeliever to Unbeliever
Ok, no more avoiding it. This is one that is more open to opinion and preference. I understand why some pastors won’t marry two unbelievers. The arguments I’ve heard are: 1) unbelievers are most likely in unrepentant sexual immorality (this is endemic these days), 2) unbelievers are not sincerely making their vows to God, and thus it should not be painted as a religious ceremony, 3) unbelievers are unable to portray the picture of Christ’s love for His bride without the help of the Holy Spirit.
Ok, I hear you. But my view? When unbelievers choose to get married, that is the one choice they are making in line with God’s revealed will (whether they acknowledge that or not). If an unbeliever wanted to quit his or her alcohol addiction, wouldn’t you encourage that endeavor? I’m sure that analogy breaks down somewhere, but the point stands: there are pursuits God says are beneficial to life, society, and family. And Christians should encourage those pursuits, not hinder them.
I also relish the opportunity to be intimately involved in the celebration of a commitment; I guide the proceedings, I speak truth to the gathered congregation of witnesses, and I get to counsel the couple about God’s standards and expectations in their relationship, and their need for God’s grace in marriage. I always insist on doing premarital counselling with the couple who asks me to do the ceremony, and I always insist on preaching the gospel. I tell them this up front, so they can opt to get someone less vocal if they so choose. But if they’ll let me be involved, I’ll show up dressed to the nines, beaming with joy, ready to celebrate, and toting my biggest Bible from which I will proclaim a passionate defence of biblical marriage, touching on covenants, purity, and salvation in Jesus Christ alone.
7. Same-sex marriage
I’d like to get this on record before freedom of speech is pared down to exclude speaking one’s religious belief. Although I believe every Christian owes every homosexual the same respect and love that we owe all people whether they are believers or not (Rom 13:8), I also believe that the biblical definition of marriage precludes same-sex civil unions, and thus I would have no part in performing or celebrating the institutionalizing of a sexual union God forbids in Scripture.
Are there any scenarios I’ve overlooked? Which of these would you differ on?