Friday, August 7, 2009

Should pastors marry nonbelieving couples?

Should pastors marry a nonbelieving couple?

I take it for granted that faithful ministers of the Word understand that we are forbidden to marry couples who are unequally yoked spiritually. Yet as a pastor in a rural area, I often get asked by nonbelieving couples to perform their wedding ceremonies. While many are not willing to go through marriage counseling (thus ending any chance of my performing the ceremony), some willingly submit to this even though they have no interest in spiritual conversations. They are kind of like those people who sit through a three-hour lecture on the benefits of time-sharing. They are willing to put up with the lecture in order to enjoy the free weekend at the resort.

Of course, I have heard and personally seen instances where this leads to conversion. At the very least gospel seeds are being planted. Yet my question isn’t about whether or not this or any other activity can be turned into an opportunity for evangelism (certainly it can). The bigger question is whether or not we can justify such a role for ourselves Biblically. Do the principles and teachings of the New Testament lend support to this practice, or do they suggest that such practices are out of bounds for a New Testament minister?

As I see it, we have two points of view:

1. We are justified in marrying a nonbelieving couple. The pastor has a “community role” that is larger than his role to his particular congregation. He represents Christ to the community at large and therefore should seek to engage in those roles and practices where the gospel can be presented (praying at community events, performing weddings, funerals, etc). Since “marriage is honorable in all things,” it is appropriate for a pastor to marry a couple—even if those individuals are unbelieving. We aid the cause of Christ by speaking gospel truth in these events.

2. There is no Biblical justification for a “community role” of a pastor. He is a pastor only within the realm of God’s people. Within the pagan community his primary focus is on evangelism. Performing marriages for nonbelievers is a relic from the church-state blend from which we are to separate ourselves. We are not priests for a community but rather teachers and shepherds for Christ’s flock. A Christian pastor is to provide blessing for those marriages that are centered on Christ. Christless weddings are something in which ministers of the gospel should not be involved. We harm the cause of Christ by performing a ceremony that only gives lip service to Jesus but that ultimately has not even invited Him to the wedding!


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  1. Is it possible to have a biblical marriage (Christian or non-Christian, since it seems to be a creation ordinance, no?) without a pastor even being involved?

    If I've told this before, move on. The guy who was doing marriages at the prisons up north was charging $250 per ceremony and the ceremonies have to be no more than 15 minutes - including greetings, setup, and the "so longs." He passed away last fall. I was asked by a chaplain if I'd do the marriages now. I said, "No. I won't even do them for free."

    Took focus off my original question. Sorry.

  2. First, I would say that if you married a couple, believing or otherwise, you would be guilty of polyandry.

    Having made my obligatory smarmy comment, I would fall into the second camp and say that we should not be involved in giving a sense of religiosity to an unbiblical marriage.

    In response to Jeff, do we see any Scriptural command or example of marriage being reserved to by someone in the clergy? Is it even a function of the local church? Should we even have a wedding ceremony in the church or is that just a tradition?

  3. That's where I was going with this.

    What's the answer? I'm serious.

  4. I think Arthur's answer to every question is, pastors are hirelings and the local church isn't what it should be. Ok Arthur, you have so gone beyond beating a dead horse...

    Josh, could you give me a good book or resource for a guide to marriage counseling?

    I wouldn't at this point marry unbelievers, but it is certainly an evangelistic opportunity.

  5. Joe, I will stop beating the dead horse when people stop trying to ride it.