Ask Steve: Officiating a Wedding

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Question: Steve, what are your requirements for performing a marriage ceremony?

Answer: A marriage ceremony is a special time in which a man and a woman enter into a divine covenant that brings joy to both persons, yet marriage is governed by a set of God-ordained principles that should not be taken lightly. That is why every minister, including myself, should have a standard when it comes to performing marriage ceremonies. This standard should not be based on personal opinion, popular opinion, or rational opinion. Rather, it should be grounded in the word of God, which guides us in how we are to make our decisions, especially as it regards human covenants. That is why I have a few set requirements when it comes to performing a marriage ceremony.

The first requirement is that the marriage involves the proper participants. The Lord defines marriage from the beginning of creation in Genesis 2:24 as a lifelong covenant union between one man and one woman. Jesus even reaffirms this truth in Matthew 19:4 when he talks about the essence and sanctity of marriage. That means that such a human covenant cannot be between people of the same sex (homosexualism), people of the same family (incest), people who desire to take on multiple partners (polygamy), people who are legally underage (pedophilia), and people with that of other kinds (bestiality). Marriage is very particular because it is the way God has designed it from the start, and it is a symbolic representation of the future marriage and bond between Jesus Christ and His church when He returns (Eph 5:32; Rev 19:6-9). To do away with and redefine marriage is not only to attack the heart of the gospel, but to rebel against the role and function that each gender is to live up to, regardless of what they feel or desire. These roles and responsibilities are also seen in the parent/child, husband/wife, employer/employee, and government/subject relationships. The design of leading and submitting in relationships are inherent in all creation because they represent God’s nature within the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and people generally know this fact in their conscience, but suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom 1:18-20). Christian pastors, elders, and ministers cannot officiate or endorse marriages that are not between a man and a woman. They cannot pronounce blessings on gay marriage, incestial marriage, polygamous marriages, or any other sins that distort the definition of marriage. To do so would incur the wrath of God (Rom 1:27; 1 Cor 6:9; Heb 13:4; Jude 1:7) and distort the gospel picture, linking Christ with an idol (1 Cor 3:17).

Wedding 2The second requirement is that marriages are to be equally yoked. This means that marriages must be either be between two believers or two unbelievers. The Bible never endorses marriages between a Christian and a non-Christian (2 Cor 6:14). It is a sin to enter into such marriages because it goes against God’s design for a believer’s marriage. There can be no true compatibility between a man and a woman if one of the covenant partner’s spiritual condition is not right with God. If God tells us not to befriend unbelievers so intimately (Jas 4:4), then that principle certainly applies to an unbeliever in marriage – the most intimate of relationships. Moreover, an unequally yoked marriage is a false representation of the gospel. Instead of picturing Christ and the church, such marriages link Christ with an idol (v. 15). No marriages should ever be endorsed and officiated by pastors who are serious about the gospel and Christian living.

The third requirement is that the marriage ceremony be between those who are completely free to marry. I am not talking about people who are single and have never betrothed in their lives. I am speaking about Christians who have had previous marriages, but are no longer married and want to remarry. The Bible sets some specific guidelines on when Christians can remarry. God hates divorce (Mal 2:12), but permits it under limited circumstances. These circumstances are: 1). The marriage partner commits unrepentant adultery (Matt 5:32; 19:9) 2. The marriage partner is an unbeliever who deserts the believing spouse (1 Cor 7:15), 3. The marriage partner dies, leaving the Christian as a widow (Rom 7:2-3). Only under these terms can a Christian remarry a believer. If these conditions are not met, then a pastor must not marry a couple, or else his blessing on that union is sin before God. Pastors cannot marry a couple in which one or both of the partners unjustly divorced their spouse due to “irreconcilable differences.” To do so would be disgraceful to the institution of marriage. It would link a Christian to another spouse, and thereby causing both of them to commit adultery (Matt 5:32), since God has not endorsed the dissolution of the first marriage.

The fourth requirement is that the marriage ceremony be entered into with proper knowledge from both parties. This means that the couple should undergo some form of biblical counseling in which the potential husband and wife understand the significance of marriage. Marriage cannot be entered into simply because the man and the woman “love each other” or want to start practicing sexual intimacy according to biblical standards. Both the man and the woman must be going in the same direction spiritually. They must understand how marriage relates to the gospel – that it is a glorious picture of the gospel truth in which husband symbolizes Christ (the groom) and the wife symbolizes the church (the bride). Such knowledge should be the impetus for which they live out their calling to one another in order to glorify God, to be a fitting testimony to observers, and to simply make the marriage work.

Wedding 3The man and the woman must understand the significance of how Christ relates to the church in order that each person can relate to each other in the same spirit. This goes against the spirit of selfishness, self-entitlement, and pride that causes many of the petty arguments, serious fights, and marital unfaithfulness that tragically lead to divorce. Both the man and the woman need to understand how to love one another sacrificially, how to serve one another, how to properly use Christian liberty in order not to offend one another, and how to practice humility toward one another. Such commitment results in a lasting covenant relationship, which is why I would require that an engaged couple learn these important truths before I officiate their wedding ceremony. If the interested party was an unbelieving couple, then I or a Christian counselor would do the best possible to evangelize them so they can be saved. Only when a Christian is reborn and fill with the Holy Spirit can he/she be receptive and willing to grow in holiness, which includes practices in marriage.

With that said, marriage is a special institution that should not be entered into lightly. It is an institution created by God to reflect His eternal love relationship with the church. Because marriage derives its source from God’s nature, it is a truth that is seen all over the world, and experienced by even unbelievers as part of God’s common grace. Like all things created, marriage exemplifies the character of God and is rooted in timeless, unchangeable truth. This is why a marriage ceremony must be conducted based on God’s revealed word, and point as many people as possible to the gospel so they can learn the significance of the marriage institution.