April 29, 2007

Would You Marry Unbelievers?

That's the question of this post.

To be honest, when I first read this article a few days ago, I really didn't know how to process this issue. I've thought about it, ran it through several Biblical filters and here's where I land right now. It's wrong. And there's a reason why a good many pastors will not do a marriage ceremony for two unbelievers.

Let's start with two pretty key paragraphs of the article:

Traditionally, many pastors choose not to perform a wedding ceremony for unbelievers. A Christian wedding is a time of commitment—man to woman, before God and the church. Therefore, it makes sense for a minister of God to reject two people who are not part of the church and don't conform to Christian standards. These people are outside acceptable boundaries of the marriage institution, and many Christian pastors won't support such a union.But would you serve this couple asking for help on their wedding day? I wholeheartedly would. I believe God created the institution of marriage long before our Christian faith developed conditions or boundary markers for it. And in our country, marriage is a legal contract. Couples get married all the time without the church, and they will continue getting married with or without our help. Here's a few reasons why I believe you and I, as Christian pastors, should welcome this responsibility.

Let's talk about the statement: "God created the institution of marriage long before our Christian faith developed conditions or boundary markers for it"

Didn't God's command in the Garden and creation itself set the boundaries for marriage and really all of life. I'm not sure of the logic here or the reasoning behind the statement, but it seems false. God gave Eve to Adam and ordered them to be fruitful and multiply. At that time, still perfect, still sinless, in God's design for marriage if you were. Then the fall, then corruption of not just marriage but all of life in general, thus necessitating Jesus.

Now, onto the next sentence: "Couples get married all the time without the church, and they will continue getting married with or without our help."

Well okay, if that's really the logic you want to use, then we can make this argument all the time about sin and unbelievers. Let's just say that "they're gonna get drunk anyway, so WE might as well be the bartenders so at least they have a Christian influence while they're imbibing" Is it just me, or does that line of reasoning sound utterly ridiculous when you frame it in any other life context.

Now onto the really damaging paragraph in the article:
"If two unchurched people are living together, pastors cannot expect them to cease living in a way the couple thinks is right. Instead of placing conditions upon them—"I will not officiate your wedding unless you two stop co-habiting"—we as pastors should help them move toward a marriage commitment, and therein, help them take another positive step toward Christ."

You can't place conditions on them? You can't possibly call them to repentance can you? You can't ask them to stop sinning? Really? Are you serious? Sin all you want, and we'll be there to condone the behavior. That's the most ludicrous thing I've ever heard. And if you say, well Jesus didn't ask people to stop sinning before he helped them, you're wrong. Not only did he help them, he most certainly said on numerous occasions: "Go and sin no more".

And by the way, marriage isn't an institution. It's a covenant. One God has joined together.

Let's look at this through the lens of the Gospel. How can God possibly take delight in joining two unbelieving people who stand as objects of wrath in their unrepentant, unregenerate state. How in the world can that possibly happen. And I further the argument that the whole idea of marrying unbelievers becomes more palatable as you weaken the Gospel and begin to turn it into a good or service to be consumed or accepted on man's terms.

One final paragraph, and this certainly speaks volumes of the author: "I urge you to consider planting such seeds of faith in unbelieving couples seeking your help. I echo Rob Bell when he says in his book, Velvet Elvis (Zondervan), "I am learning that the church is at its best when it gives itself away."

That pretty much says it all. Your helping them couldn't possibly be sharing the Gospel and calling them to repentance. Your helping them couldn't possibly be lovingly declining to lower God's standards and condone a marriage of two people who don't understand what marriage truly is. Nope your help has to be pushing them into a committment they'll never be able to keep and to further a life apart from Jesus.

If it's a legal contract, then let the courts do it. If it's to be honoring to God, if it's a God ordained covenant, if it's a Biblical "institution", then encourage them to slow down, examine the Gospel, and go from there. That's the most caring, loving, pastorally correct, and Biblically sound thing you can do.


PaPaMarc said...

I think you are 100% correct. I always have red flags when I hear Rob Bell being quoted. There are some things that he is doing that are okay but he is way off base on many things. I did a Bible Study with our HS Juniors and Seniors using the NOOMA videos. I recommend them... but with a leader that can point out the unbiblical parts of the presentations. Folks can learn as much from what is wrong with them as what is right.

By the way, if two unbelievers marry and later divorce and the male is later saved. If he remarries, should he be allowed to serve as a Deacon or Elder?

Pastor Timothy said...

It's interesting that I just came across this post because I've been, at least somewhat, pondering this subject.

Here are two aspects that I'm thinking through:

Common grace and the fact that we're all created by God. Is the institution of marriage ONLY for believers? If so, does God condone people living together who are unbelievers? If He doesn't, how should they be married? I understand that the legal system can do that, but marriage is still a sacred institution even if the people are unbelievers.

I believe God intends for believers and unbelievers to be married instead of merely co-habitating. So, how does this truth impact the issue of who marries who? And, is it necessarily a sin for ANYONE to marry an unbeliever?

Marc Backes said...


I don't believe it's necessarily a sin for an unbeliever to marry an unbeliever. I don't know necessarily that it matters.

This is a hard subject and one that I've been pondering ever since I read the article. I've tried to really summarize my opposition to it, and I think this is the best I can come up with right now:

1) If you do it from a pastoral standpoint, you really only have one option. There is no God's blessing on this union. How can there be? If they are unbelievers, they stand as objects of God's wrath unless they repent and believe on Jesus. So, let's say you as a pastor do the wedding. What are you going to say? Are you going to share typical marriage verses from the Bible? Well how can unbelievers "love their wives as Christ loved the church"? How can their marriage be a pointer to Christ when they don't believe? So to be true to your pastoral heart, you have to call them to repentance. Otherwise, they go on their honeymoon with your nice words ringing in their ears, the plane goes down, they die and go to hell and you were the last believer they saw before entering eternity and you didn't say a word about it? Don't think that's what God had in mind.

2) If you don't say ANYTHING about God, then you're pastorally the same as a justice of the peace which is why I said let the courts marry them. If you're not going to share the Gospel and leave any real meat of God's word out of the marriage ceremony, you might as well be a judge executing a legal contract and my question is: Is that what God has entrusted to you as a pastor? To fulfill legal contracts? Or did God call you to go into all the world and call lost sinners to repentance?

I'm wrestling with this one hard. But what I don't think is at all Biblical is to equate "doing marriages for unbelievers" and "wild game suppers" as outreaches. I think doing a wedding as an outreach crosses a big line for me and violates the solemn vows you are asking the participants to take.

Just my thoughts...

Pastor Timothy said...

I hope this is okay to keep dialogging on this topic since I'm trying to think through this also.

You said:

"There is no God's blessing on this union. How can there be? If they are unbelievers, they stand as objects of God's wrath unless they repent and believe on Jesus."

- So, the question is, "Does God ever bless something that an unbeliever does or participates in?" According to Scriptures, there is a sense that wicked people can still do so-called "righteous" acts toward others because of common grace. So, while in their natural state, they are sinners to the core, they can also do things that demonstrate the character of God. And, I would personally say that God, in some way, takes pleasure when His character is revealed even through unbelievers. So, with marriage, would God still not take at least some pleasure in the fact that unbelievers are picturing Christ and the Church - even if they don't understand it?

"So, let's say you as a pastor do the wedding. What are you going to say?"

- I was actually thinking about that question this morning. I could not compromise the message of the gospel. This is where I think a married couple would potentially separate from me. I would explain to them what I'd be sharing and talk about what all marriage points to - Christ and the Church. Then, I'd share with them how I'd talk about the necessity of a relationship with Christ to possess eternal life. And, how that relationship begins with faith and repentance.

"Is that what God has entrusted to you as a pastor? To fulfill legal contracts? Or did God call you to go into all the world and call lost sinners to repentance?"

- And, I do think this is the bigger point to consider. What has God called me, and other pastors, to? This is a very valid question in which I think we're working through the ramifications of it right now.

Please know these are just formative thoughts - not convictions. Thank you, again, for the dialog.

Nick Jesch said...

Considering this issue, I suppose it really comes down to HOW that theoretical pastor hadnles the marriage. A good pastor will insist any couple spend considerable time with him, going over what marriage really is before God, each other, and the church, from a solidly biblical perspective. A time of teaching, preparation, etc. So, two infidels pop round to that pastor's study one fine day and ask him to marry them. Alright, he says, and when will we begin our preparation studies? Next tuesday? Well..then presents a fine opportunity to begin with Genesis and explain it all, placing marriage in the proper context. Go deep, real, and personal, and call them to the repentance that must occur..LEAD them into the right paths. Oh, and, by the way, OUR practice here is never to marry a couple who are sexually involved until/unless they separate until the wedding day. That means one of you must find a different domicile. One of two courses will present: either they will decide the Justice of the Peace will serve well enough, or they will be drawn into God's kingdom, make the necessary changes, and set their lives aright in light of God's word....and were the theoretical pastor to fail to offer them this course of action, he would then be failing to grasp a sterling opportunity to impact lives with the gospel. Now, were Joe and Sally Infidel to approach a pastor and ask them to marry them next Saturday afternoon, no prior involvement, and he accept, well, then he's simply making use of his authority granted by the state to perform marriages as legal contract, and should do so on those terms..very plainly. "I will function ONLY as a registered officiant of the state". Personally, I'd make certain there is something else more profitable on MY schedule that afternoon. Even were it only a nice walk in the park, alone. BUT --considering the theoretical pastor has been approached in his capacity as a man of God by this couple, there is at least a spark of interest in the things of God..else they'd simply attend at the local Halls of Justice. Take that spark and fan it for all its worth. To turn them away out of hand would be to fail one's duty to be instant in and out of season. What an opportunity to minister...and I am NOT referring to performing a ceremony. No more than that, I've got that walk in the park on my daylist.

Pastor Timothy said...


Nice post. Good thoughts to think through.