I am consistently asked about the circumstances surrounding weddings. What makes it permissible or not to conduct a wedding in “this or that” situation? I am very aware that there are strong opinions and lively disagreements about whether an evangelical pastor should marry Christians, non-Christians, and everything in between. The debate does not end there. Then you have to determine if it is wise to marry two Christians in “this particular circumstance” as opposed to “that particular circumstance.”
Here is my effort to serve in this discussion and try to answer the regular calls and emails I receive that have piled up on this matter. It comes in the form of these suggested boundaries I set within these 3 common templates:
1) A Christian marrying a Non-Christian. Most are in agreement, as I am, that this is not permitted in Scripture, nor is it wise. Although, many of us know of examples of this where the other spouse is eventually converted, I would never encourage a Christian to marry an unbeliever, thus would never encourage a pastor to conduct a wedding where a Christian marries a Non-Christian. Yet, if you find yourself shepherding a Christian spouse married to an unbeliever (as I do), 1 Peter 3:1-6 is a powerful word on that subject for them.
2) A Christian marrying a Christian. The ideal scenario is for a pastor to marry 2 Christians within their church, those whom he knows well, is able to do adequate pre-marital counseling with them, and can then shepherd them through the first years of their marriage. Where it gets tricky and wisdom and discernment is required is when 2 Christians ask you to marry them, but they are not plugged into a local church, nor connected to a pastor who has taken responsibility for them.
Regardless the scenario, if you marry 2 Christians the ceremony needs to be seen as a worship service where the gospel is preached and you know the lives of this man and woman well enough that you can point to them in that public moment and exhort them to display Christ’s love for his church through the way they relate to one another (Eph. 5:22-33). If a couple would be living in open, habitual, and unrepentant sin (such as living together and being physically intimate) that would be one reason to prohibit doing the ceremony for in that instance, I cannot stand and commend these public witnesses to watch their life as professing Christians.
3) A Non-Christian marrying another Non-Christian. This is the one that many love to debate. All I will say is that if you decide to marry 2 Non-Christians, I think the biblical warrant comes from Genesis 2 as marriage being an institution of creation of which God is glorified when it is according to his design (one man and one woman), even though it does not fulfill God’s ultimate redemptive purpose (Eph. 5:22-33).
If your conscience allows you to marry 2 Non-Christians, make sure it is not conducted as a worship service, but simply a ceremony that allows you, a pastor, to join this man and woman together with these witnesses present. This can also be a strategic opportunity to preach the gospel, but I would make that part of the agreement with the bride and groom before committing to marrying them.
OK, there you go. Do not hate. These are simply some general boundries I have used in the past that have helped me discern so many unique case by case situations to determine whether my conscience could marry a couple, or if it was even wise to do so.
Just remember, you should not feel forced to do any wedding, regardless the pressure you may be feeling from family or church members. If you have concerns whether 2 people should be married, listen to your conscience, allow the Scriptures to guide you, and seek counsel from other pastors who have possibly walked in the same place you dare to tread…an unclear, complicated wedding decision.