One of the practical, and usually fun, outworkings of pastoral ministry is performing marriages. Yet as pastors, we are faced with a bit of a dilemma—we live in a culture of diverse peoples, backgrounds, and beliefs, yet the Bible doesn’t explicitly tell us which marriages we can oversee and which we cannot. In fact, the Bible doesn’t even tell us that as pastors we have to oversee wedding ceremonies, but it does tell us to obey the law of the land, and the law basically states that you either have to be a justice of the peace or some kind of recognized clergy-ish official to perform weddings. So, in the church it is up to us to perform them…
Now as Christian ministers, there aren’t many people out there who would expect us to unite a Muslim couple or Buddhists or Mormons, but usually due to some family connection or history with the church there are a lot of people who tend to expect us to unite couples who are merely culturally Christian, or secular with some vague religious memories.
And here different pastors have different standards and opinions. Some are prone to perform a wedding for just about anyone (so long as it’s legal) with the attitude, “It’s an opportunity to share the Gospel.” Then there exists a spectrum all the way to the opposite end of only performing marriages for faithful followers of Jesus.
I tend to live on that end.
To my brothers who see it as an opportunity to share the Gospel, I understand your desire. You view the Gospel as the pinnacle of life and see counseling and the ceremony as the ability to share and attempt to persuade not just one but two people (or perhaps more with the involvement of family and friends) to truly follow Jesus. You are willing to perform such service in order to have that opportunity.
As for me, the limitations I place on marriages I will perform also come from viewing the Gospel as the pinnacle of life, but from a different angle.
While God has not given us instructions about wedding ceremonies, he has told us plenty about the nature of marriage. In Genesis 1&2 when there existed just two people who lived in a garden, and the rest of the earth remained uncultivated and uncivilized, God gave us (humanity) marriage. He declared it is not good for the man to be alone (especially in light of the commands of the image God—be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it—kind of hard to do when you’re alone). Therefore, God created a helper who corresponded to him, yet who was also different. Adam was male; and his wife, his helper Eve, was female. In marriage a man will leave father and mother and hold fast to his wife and the two will become one—an illustration that in a way points us to the Trinity where three persons are one.
Marriage is good. It is good for us, it is good for society, it is simply good.
But when we skip ahead a bit to Malachi 2:13-16, we find that marriage is not merely about a husband and wife becoming one. In more of the fullness of a picture of the Trinity, we find that God gives a portion of his Spirit to their union. Man, woman, and Spirit—three as one. And Malachi asks, “What was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.” Not only is marriage for the mutual benefit of husband and wife together, but it is truly to populate the earth in such a way that God’s glory and image fills the earth. A family is born, a family in which we not only should expect to see a godly couple but godly children.
Does it always work like that? No, for various reasons. But that is the goal—godly couples producing a new generation that also lives for God.
Skip ahead even further, and we find still a greater image to marriage—Ephesians 5:22-33. Everything that Jesus came to this earth to do for the sake of his people, his church—including dying to make us holy—everything that is described by the word “Gospel,” this is supposed to be pictured in marriage. Before the world, a husband is to picture Christ sacrificing himself for the good of his church, and a wife is to picture the Church following Christ.
As a pastor, though I can confess the goodness of marriage for society as a whole, I also feel based on the full picture of marriage the Bible presents to us, I must be limited and discerning in whose weddings I perform. I am not a justice of the peace, I am a shepherd of Jesus’ sheep.
In light of the Gospel story, the marriage ceremony should be an act of worship for the church, in which we have discipled towards and place our blessing upon a union we are confident will continue to grow even more to reflect the images of Ephesians 5. Therefore, personally I feel I would be professing a lie to speak of such images, to tell the Gospel story, and to symbolically place both God’s and the church’s blessing upon a couple when I know they are not truly followers of Jesus striving to produce a godly home.
Thus my reason for a more exclusive wedding policy, which, by the way, I have provided below:
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of Michael Bergman
Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Adrian
The Bible teaches that marriage is a wonderful relationship to be held in great honor by everyone (Hebrews 13:4). God created male and female together to reflect his image to the creation around them (Genesis 1:26-29), and gave them the relationship of marriage because “it is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18).
As Christians, we celebrate and honor the goodness of marriage among people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs. As a pastor, I hold the oversight and conduction of weddings as a great privilege among the church and a great duty before God. The Bible teaches about marriage that:
1) It is to be a living picture of the Gospel story of salvation as husband and wife relate together in a way that displays for the world an image of the relationship between Jesus and his church (Ephesians 5:22-33);
2) It is a covenant relationship (meaning it exists as a lasting commitment where a husband and wife are devoted to each other for mutual benefit) that God unites with a portion of his Spirit for the sake of creating a family that follows him in all things. As such, it is a covenant marked with a selfless and unceasing love first devoted towards God and then towards spouse and children (Malachi 2:13-16, Matthew 22:34-40, & 1 Corinthians 13:4-8);
3) And it is the union of two persons as one flesh, and as a new and unique family unit; a relationship which is to be honored by the couple throughout life including times of joy and sorrow, happiness and hardship, wealth and poverty, and sickness and health (Genesis 2:21-25, & 1 Peter 2:17).
With these teachings in mind, I view my role as a church pastor to joyfully conduct and provide oversight for wedding ceremonies between a man and a woman who are faithful followers of Jesus; dedicated to God, each other, and their local church; and who view their wedding ceremony in light of Christian worship.
Even if I do not personally perform the wedding, the facilities of the church may still be available for your use (please, contact the church office at (phone # ) or (email address) for policy and fee information). Also, I am happy to discuss biblical marriage, what it means to be followers of Jesus, and church involvement before decisions about marriage or the wedding ceremony are made. You can contact me, also through the church office, to schedule an appointment.
Based on the above, I generally require the following if I am to perform the wedding:
1) Both the bride and groom must be believers in Jesus as Savior and Lord, who actively seek to follow him, and desire to produce a loving, Christian home. The bride and groom must be members in good standing of a church and faithfully active there. Preferably, at least one among the bride and groom should be a faithful and active member of the church I pastor (if both are members of other churches, I suggest you first speak to your home pastors concerning their availability to perform your wedding).
2) Both the bride and groom understand marriage is a lasting covenant of love in the sight of God, and therefore commit to honor God and each other in their marriage for the entirety of life.
3) Both the bride and groom are seeking to live according to the standards of Scripture, with a desire to grow as followers of Jesus. This includes an expectation of genuine love between the two, of the absence of any type of abuse (physical, emotional, spiritual, etc.), of the couple striving for sexual purity and presently are not living together, and of the groom desiring to care for and lead his family as Jesus cares for and leads his church. (see: Matthew 19:1-12, Luke 9:23-26, 1 Corinthians 6:12-7:5, 13:1-13, Ephesians 5:22-33, and 1 Peter 3:1-7)
4) Both the bride and groom are of legal age and of acceptable blood relationship within the context of the law of the United States.
5) Both the bride and groom commit to at least three weeks of marriage counseling with the pastor that includes the following:
a) Week 1: a discussion of the bride and groom’s faith in Jesus, involvement in church, and commitment to each other, as well as specifics of the ceremony.
b) Week 2: a discussion of various marriage texts in the Bible (including those listed above).
c) Week 3: a discussion of the book Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. The bride and groom are expected to procure their own copy and read the book by the time of this counseling session.
d) If the couple would prefer counseling with another pastor, arrangements can be discussed and made.
6) Both the bride and groom commit to at least one year of continued counseling, being mentored by an older couple within the church. Details of this counseling can be worked out among the couples and the pastor, with the expectation of at least one meeting per month.
If any of the above does not apply to you, I will be happy to discuss any valid exceptions you may have, and help you determine the next steps in order to have a God-honoring marriage.