June 23, 2014

I do, do you…? Weddings I will and won’t perform

by Clint Archer

I doSince 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.”yes no maybe

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.

storm trooper proposalOk, 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?


Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • YD

    This is an excellent summary. At the risk of going into the obscure, however, I would like to mention one rare but possible area of difference regarding Item 2, “Believer to believer (living together).” What I am thinking may just be a matter of defining a few terms in more depth than needed for your summary, but here goes:

    “Living Together” is not in and of itself a sin or a Biblical guideline. It is possible for a couple to live together while abstaining from sexual immorality. To require a couple to be “ceasing from all appearance of sexual immorality” creates the possibility of a man-made legalistic-type rule being injected into a situation where there is no actual sexual immorality.

    The “appearance of sexual immorality” guideline in Item 2 brings to mind the KJV’s rendering of 1 Thessalonians 5:22, “abstain from all appearance of evil.” Modern translations of this verse have rejected the word “appearance” in favor of language like “abstain from every form of evil.” The KJV use of “appearance” is criticized for fostering excessive non-Biblical guilt-by-association judgmentalism into Christian living. (For discussion of the underlying Greek and why the word “appearance” is not preferable, see, e.g., DTS Bible Scholar Dan Wallace’s comment on this verse in his Bible.org blog post entitled “1 Thessalonians 5:22, The Sin-Sniffer’s Catch All Verse.”)

    All of this is to say that the inquiry in the “living together” context may need to go a little further than presumptions about living in the same dwelling. The important question is whether there is actual sexual immorality, i.e., actual sin, not merely the appearance of it. Otherwise there could be an unusual couple caught up in an unfair application of non-Biblical restrictions.

    • Yeah. I use “living together” as a euphemism for “sleeping together” which in itself is a euphemism for “having carnal relations with each other” which itself… All that to say, that I have never met a mature, Christian couple who didn’t see anything untoward about cohabitation before marriage. I’d say the onus is on them to prove that it is unreasonable for me to assume they are having sex.

      • Daryl Little

        Good answer Clint. People being people, I’d go so far as to say that if they really aren’t having sex, it’s because they are physically unable to, and would continue in that state after the wedding.

        People just aren’t so strong as all that.

    • Link Hudson

      I think there are some expections where ‘living together’ could be nonsinful. I lived in a country where it was common for middle class people to have maids and nannies. It wasn’t common to marry the maid. They were sensitive to class in that regard. But let’s say a man did want to marry his maid? That wouldn’t mean his maid wasn’t a maid when he marries her. I think it would be wise for her to move out when they realized they were interested in each other for marriage.

      There were also single young people living in boarding houses. These were co-ed, and often the owner of the house’s family was there. It was not considered a risque thing to do. If you met the love of your life who lived in the same boarding house, it wouldn’t be a sin to marry just because you’d lived under the same roof. But I don’t think it wise to move into the same boarding house as your girlfriend, either.

      Also, when fiancees are visiting, I don’t see a problem with a fiancee or boyfriend or girlfriend staying in the same home as long as there are appropriate sleeping arrangements and the parents are in the home.

      But I wouldn’t say about people in these situations, “They lived together before they got married.”

  • Melody

    Thank you, Clint, for this great summary! Ugh, I hate to be “that person,” but I wanted you to know that there are several typos throughout this piece. So much so that I was a bit distracted at points, and I normally never even notice that kind of stuff! I just thought you’d want to know…but I do love the article and agree with everything you’ve said here. Thank you!

    • Aaron

      I agree with Melody and was going to say the same thing; you have too many errors to clean up.

      That said, good article. I would include what to do with two believers, but the man is having some major issues with purity.

      Or here’s one….really old person marrying a kinda young person. 🙂

      • Good one. Biblically, there is nothing wrong with a large age gap. I would want to be sure I know the in’s and out’s of the situation well though.

        • Aaron

          And what about the purity issue?

    • Thanks Melody, It seems my unedited draft ended up in the post. Fixed now (I hope!)

      • Melody

        I thought it seemed odd 🙂 Probably just a case of the Mondays!

  • One nuance to consider in marrying two unbelievers (and one admittedly I was totally blindsided by) is the atmosphere of drunkenness, that can surround an unbelieving wedding. I understand that unbelievers act like unbelievers, but I was totally unprepared for the bacchanal followed the last wedding I solemnized. I am not sure I would agree to officiate the wedding of two unbelievers again without stipulating some guideline for the reception/rehearsal dinner.

    • Good point. It may be prudent for the pastor to skip the reception altogether, or to opt out of performing the ceremony.

  • Forrest McPhail

    Thank you for all of your thoughtful posts. This post leads into a discussion that I have been having with a number of friends in the ministry. Would you place a believer under church discipline who willfully chose to marry an unbeliever after being taught what the Scripture says? If so, how would this be handled? If you had a few moments, I would be grateful to hear your thoughts on this.

    • Yes, I would lovingly institute church discipline. Knowingly marrying an unbeliever is a sin. I would handle it like any other unrepentant sin.

  • For things like unbeliever to unbeliever, aren’t you then reducing marriage to a business if there isn’t shepherding and pastoral counciling involved? I guess I don’t understand why any pastor would marry anyone who wasn’t under direct pastoral shepherding and guidance. I would think the best practice would be for a pastor to meet with the candidates, work through some study guides or books with them, pray with them and ascertain that their union would be exclusively for the glory of Christ.
    Richard Baxter much?

    • I don’t want to answer for Clint, but for me and other pastors I know, the only time an unbeliever’s wedding is officiated, is if there is some significant prior relationship. (Family member, served in the same military unit, grew up together etc.)

    • That’s why I said: “I always insist on doing premarital counselling with the couple who asks me to do the ceremony”

  • Doug

    Good article. I want to ask one more unusual question. What about a transgender union (there are several scenarios obviously). Would you marry a guy and girl (while the girl used to be a guy). I am thinking specifically of if this person is repentant for the gender change. I know this is an odd question, but I want to exercise my theology for a bit….and yours. 🙂

    • Aaron

      If the person was repentant, he wouldn’t be living as a girl anymore.

      • Doug

        So the unsaved guy who had a gender change needs to have another gender change to display fruit of repentance post salvation?

        • Aaron

          Doug, first of all, a person’s gender never actually changes. Just because you make some changes on the outside of your body you have not now ceased to be the gender that God created you go to be.

          Second, yes, if a person was born a man, then they should be living life as a man. Still living life as a woman would imply no repentance has taken place. Can the guy go back and have everything back that he once had? No, medically speaking there are some things he will never get back, however, he can begin to live life as a man again.

    • Link Hudson

      You are a man, right? What if some sicko kidnapped you, injected you full of female hormones that made you grow breasts, then hacked off certain parts and did some surgery to make it look like you have female parts.

      You’d still be a man, wouldn’t you? Just a hacked up man wthat some sicko had done plastic surgery on.

      Eunuchs are men. Eunuchs who have had plastic surgery and hormone injections are men who have had plastic surgery and hormone injections.

    • Not a situation I have had to deal with yet. But would consider a person to have the gender God assigned to them at birth. If a person has had transgender surgery performed, I would counsel them against marriage until that identity confusion had received much shepherding and counsel.

  • Chris

    This is a very good summary. I’m glad you used Biblical passages to back your position. We have affirmed our pastor who has made the same decisions for the same reasons. BUT, while it is ‘righteous’ for us to agree and support our pastor and you (to officiate), the hard application question is do we abide by the same standards for my family to ATTEND a wedding? This summer we are invited to wedding scenarios #3; 6; 7. #6 and #7 are different weddings, but the same family… so how do we go to one and not the other?

  • kevin2184

    Hi Clint…a few typos is #6: In the second sentence of the first paragraph, I believe you meant “won’t marry two unbelievers”. In the second paragraph, I believe you can remove the “I” before “wouldn’t you encourage”. Finally, in the first sentence of the third paragraph, it looks like you dropped the “t” in “to”. You can delete this post.

  • g

    To your point 5, regarding divorce/remarriage: what do you do with Paul’s express command, that he indicates he received directly from the Lord, that for believing spouses who divorce, they must not remarry, period?

    I think we can have further detail on the varieties of this one without being unnecessarily complicated. In particular, the fact that Jesus would permit divorce in cases of sexual immorality doesn’t equate to permission to remarry, and I think to assert that Paul assumed such is in itself a dangerous assumption. The only solution that jives with both Matthew 19 and Mark 10, strictly speaking, is that it’s the divorce that is permissible, not the remarriage. The permission to remarry is given to us in 1 Cor 7, and is only applicable in the scenario of a believer who is married to an unbeliever, and the unbeliever sought divorce.

    So would I marry a believer who is divorced from their spouse, who is also a believer? Almost always, no. The exceptions would be if the other “believing” spouse were demonstrated by their pattern of life to be in reality an unbeliever despite their claims, or if the other believing spouse had passed on.

    My refraining from remarriage in this context would include situations in which the other believing spouse had remarried; I don’t view that as a “release” from Paul’s command to remain unmarried for the purpose of being ready to reconcile. For example, what if in the course of remarriage, the remarried spouse’s significant other passed away? Then, the possibility for reconciliation still exists.

    In my view, anything other than this really does lead to viewing divorce, particularly between two believers, as a checklist item even in the case of immorality rather than a tragedy that shouldn’t occur in the first place and should have every possible preparation made to correct the divorce, including refraining from remarriage to allow for the hope of reconciliation in keeping with 1 Cor 7.

    I think your best line is thus: “divorce is permitted (though never preferred)”…Our best example for divorce and remarriage is from Christ himself, who had every right to “put us away” and get someone else, yet he refrained from doing so and went to his death so as to make reconciliation possible.

    • Jason McMurray

      “For example, what if in the course of remarriage, the remarried spouse’s significant other passed away? Then, the possibility for reconciliation still exists.” How does this reconcile with Deuteronomy 24:1-4?

  • Pingback: I do, do you…? Weddings I will and won’t perform | Truth2Freedom's Blog()

  • As long as two people love one another I would perform any ceremony.

    • I’m afraid we would need to agree to disagree on that stance. We should never be part of something God forbids. A person’s love for another must be within the parameters God has set in his word.

  • moises

    What would tell a couple who started to live together and had kids from their previous relationships living with them as well and then one of them is saved? Does the husband or wife move out until it’s official or stay living together and avoid sexual contact? Keep in mind, one is saved and the other is a believer by proffesion only but doesn’t seem truly reborn or saved?

    • Yeah, things can get very untidy. It’s not my intention to write a “how to manual” that covers every eventuality. I would trust the guidance given by loving, wise elders. It is their job to apply the Scriptures to the scenario they are faced with in God’s flock. The idea is to honor Gd and help people in the church to please Christ in their lives and marriages.

  • Link Hudson

    Thanks for sharing this. This is a much-needed topic for discussion. It’s also a topic that needs to be taught on more in evangelical churches. It seems like many churches just totally ignore what Jesus had ot say about divorce and remarriage.

    I’ve never performed a wedding. For me personally, I think I’d just say I wouldn’t marry divorcees. I’m not saying a man can’t remarry if he divorced his wife over fornication. But I wouldn’t want to perform the ceremony myself. I’d be more inclined to urge reconciliation with an ex-spouse who had repented. I would probably make an exception if all prior spouses had passed away.

    When I saw the section title about professing believers living together, I was afraid you might say you wouldn’t marry them. But the point about requiring repentence first, then marrying makes sense. For me, though, if they confessed their sins, and wanted to get married in an honorable way, I wouldn’t want to make it difficult for them. Paul said to prevent fornciation let every man have his own wife and every woman her own husband. I heard of one pastor when I was overseas who refused to marry any couple who had lived under the same roof, even if they lived in the same boarding house. I don’t think he forbade them to marry. He just wouldn’t perform the ceremony. To me, that’s strange, only marrying virgins and not helping those who had sinned with each other to get their lives on the right track, when getting married could be a part of that.

    But I would add another category. I would not want to marry a man to a single woman whose father did not approve of the wedding. In scripture, the father gives the bride away. The tradition of having a pastor conduct a ceremony is not even in the Bible. Boaz had some elders of the city (which correspond to Biblical eldership to some extent) present to witness taking Ruth as his wife. But they were witnesses of the legal agreement. There is no evidence they officiated the ceremony. The bride becomes the bride because her father gives her in marriage in the Old testament, not because a religious officiant performs a ceremony.

    The pagan Romans had a ceremony where the couple appeared before a priest or priestess adn spoke certain words. Roman Christians seem to have considered their Christian adaptation of cultural practices as THE way to do things. We need to focus on Biblical thinking behind marriage and realize the role of the father of the bride (if there is one) in marriage.

    I’d be hesistant to marry a couple of other parents did not agree with the arrangement as well, though I realize if the couple converted from another faith, this can happen.

    The father gives the virgin, or single, daughter away in marriage. A widow may marry whoever she wills, but only in the Lord.

    • Jesse has a great post that deals with what to do when parents object.

      • Link Hudson

        Is that a major article? Is it possible to share a link?

    • bob

      This happens alot outside of the US where people get born again and their families are not and the families are following a religion and want their child to marry someone in that religion even though the child has left the religion and trusted in Jesus Christ alone and is following Him. So I am thinking that your decision would be to try and get the parents to understand and involved but if they refuse to then are you going to let and unbeliever usurp authority of believers with a testimony of following Jesus Christ and wanting to be obedient to Him??

      • Link Hudson

        That’s a really sticky issue. On the one hand, in scripture, the father gives the daughter away in marriage. Most of the passages about that are in the Old Testament. But even the New Testament says that as in the days of Noah they were marrying and giving in marriage and so shall the coming of the Son of Man be. One interpretation of the passage in I Corinthians 7 about a man giving his virgin in marriage is that the man who gives her in marriage is her father.

        On the other hand, believers are not to be unequally yoked.

        If the father is also a believer, I think that’s a clearer case. I see marriage as primarily a family issue rather than a ‘church issue’ in scripture. In the Old Testament, the father gives the daughter in marriage. I don’t think of this in terms of ‘usurping the authority of the believer.’ Does the Bible teach that who we marry falls into the category of the authority of the believer? My own culture put it in the category of the authority of the individual. A lot of cultures do not. I am not convinced the Bible does either. I am happy that historically both Judaism and Christianity requires the consent of both parties in a marriage.

        I lived in Indonesia for many years, and I know what you are saying about this happening a lot. I knew a maid who had become a Christian and her father wanted to marry her off to an unbeliever. I also knew a Chinese man in his late 20’s whose father, a pastor, did not agree with his wanting to marry a God-fearing Christian woman who wasn’t Chinese, but who seemed to be quite a good match for him, especially considering how devoted to ministry he was. They waited until the father eventually approved to marry. It is typical of their culture not to marry without parental approval, which I consider a strength of their culture as opposed to ours. If I were giving advice to someone whose father did not agree with her marrying a believer, I might advice the ‘pray and wait approach’ at least initially. I might have to do a lot of praying about my advice beforehand. Waiting a long time is another issue since marriage serves to help avoid fornication.

        I married an Indonesian, and it was very important to me to get her father’s approval.