What are the boundary lines to determine whether a pastor can/should conduct a wedding?

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.

Posted in Evangelism, Weddings
31 comments on “What are the boundary lines to determine whether a pastor can/should conduct a wedding?
  1. Good counsel brother. I am left with one important question. In scenario 2 you speak of two Christians who are not plugged into a local church. Is that even possible? Can one have a credible profession of faith if there are no undershepherds to affirm it? And if you marry such a couple and one of them begins to stray, how will their marriage receive the blessing of church discipline?

    • briancroft says:

      Excellent point. I actually agree with you and for the reasons you have stated. If a professing Christian is not plugged in to a local church with no intent to do so, I have trouble affirming genuine faith. I mention this as an option because of the amount of people I meet who would put themselves in this category. If I meet with them, this issue gets discussed more than whether or not I will marry them. I also know there are chaplins who read this and work with military on the move, and face this regularly.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

    • Bill says:

      I liked Brian’s reply to this, but I would like to point out that it is not being plugged into church that saves you nor affirmation by elders. It is God who saves through faith in Christ. And of course there will be fruit, such as a commitment to a local body of believers, but I don’t want people to read this and be confused that it is a prerequisite for salvation.

  2. SMD says:

    As the pastor of a church and the chaplain at a local prison, I am often asked to perform weddings for prison staff. I agree with your guidelines and I make clear to the couple that I will not unequally yoke two people. However, my conscience is not bothered by wedding two non-Christians, as you say, because it is a creation ordinance. I do use such opportunities to preach the gospel, and in the course of performing such weddings, I have been blessed to preach the gospel to most of my co-workers at the prison.

  3. Matt says:

    What are your thoughts on pastors officiating marriages between Christians who were previously divorced and why do you think that this issue is so rarely discussed in our churches? Is it because so many Christians today are divorced or remarried and we shrink from actually calling them to conduct their lives according to the revealed truths of the New Testament? Why do so many churches appear to believe that this particular teaching does not apply to our “modern” world and culture?

    • briancroft says:

      This is certainly another blog post if not several. Yes, it needs to be discussed and usually depends on what the divorce/re-marry position is of a pastor and each local church. We discuss this alot at our church and we have concluded that if someone divorced on permissible grounds (ex. adultery), they are free to remarry. Great question.

      • Dan says:

        Great post! To further add to the difficulty: What about those who have indeed divorced w/o biblical grounds, but have realized this and repented but are unable to reunite with a former spouse? Are they unable to ever marry again – even though they repented of the previous sin? And what should we pastors tell them? I appreciate your willingness to tackle tough stuff! You are helping us pastors wrestle with real life situations. Thanks Brian!

      • Bill says:

        I would love to see a series about this. The particular things I’m interested in are thinking through the various scenarios. There are many permutations of divorced on biblical grounds, attempts/possibility of reconciliation, whether or not someone was saved going through the divorce.

        Thanks for all of your wisdom, Brian.

  4. Thank you – a useful introduction. The situation is of course somewhat more complicated for those of us evangelicals who are serving in denominations with offical links to the state (in my case the Church of England). There are some situations where we are legally obliged to marry the couple if they request it, and the legal obligation in some cases means that a refusal in any case is taken very seriously.

    For example, there is a lady in our congregation whose husband is not a Christian. I married their (nominal / very backslidden) daughter to her (militant atheist, cohabiting) boyfriend. I was willing to do the service partly because it was the only way to get him and his family under the sound of the gospel, partly out of pastoral concern for the wider family. As a result of the service, no-one got converted, but everyone is more willing to come along to occasional events / consider the claims of the gospel for themselves. She is now semi-regular at her local church.

    Being the state church has some exciting opportunities as well as some drawbacks! Marriages tend to be seen as a good opportunity to tell outsiders about Jesus.

  5. Michael MacISAAC says:

    Wonderful and concise discussion. Some very good and informative comments and follow up. Keep up the good work brothers.

  6. Chad Beck says:

    What would you reading resource would your recommend (outside scripture) for per-marital counseling?

  7. Luke Geraty says:

    Another issue to consider is whether you will marry couples who are cohabiting (assuming they are not believers). I’ve faced that one a lot. Throw in some kids and you’ve got my normal marriage request situation 🙂

    Carson wrote a very helpful explanation of his view on this (found here).

    Good post.

  8. Joseph says:

    Thanks for the concise wisdom in this post (and all your blog posts for that matter). As a young pastor alway looking to glean wisdom, do you have any suggested resources for conducting gospel-centered weddings? Something like your book “Conduct Gospel-Centered Funerals”, which is theological sound and practically helpful, but applied to weddings.

  9. Henry says:

    I have a question,

    Is it right for a Christian to attend the wedding of a believer to a non-believer? How about to give the best-man speech? And if the best man is his brother?

    Would really appreciate some solid words here.

    • briancroft says:

      I think what you are describing would be a matter of conscience, especially with the specific circumstances you have given. There are those who would participate even in disagreement for the purpose to have influence later. Then there are those who disagree so strongly that they must boycott for the sake of making a statement. Unfortunately, I am uncomfortable telling you to which category you and your conscience fall.

  10. Couldn’t have said it better or more succinctly! Thanks Pastor Brian!

  11. Sam Bierig says:

    MAN! What a great interaction between the thoughts here. I just baptized on Sunday the first couple that i took through pre-marital counseling (I also did the wedding). They were not believers when i did there wedding, but to the glory of God, she first heard, understood, and later accepted the gospel through the constant presentation of it throughout counseling. That was about a year and a half ago. They just joined our church and were baptized! It was a long awaited answer to prayer.
    However, i do have a question. What would i have been biblically bound to do if one was saved through the gospel during the counseling (in this case neither were)? meaning, now one is a believer being yoked with an unbeliever.

    • briancroft says:

      I probably would have made the difficult decision to not marry them, or at least find a way to slow the process down to see how the other responded before making that call.

  12. Peter Walters says:

    Thanks for the post. I have no trouble marrying 2 non-christian people since most I marry are already living together it is proper for them to be married. Also I may be the only Christian influence they may have in their lives even is only for a short time. I see it as seed planting time.

  13. brenda says:

    i want to know if a pastor can marry my daughter if the father of the bride is jewish and the soon to be son-in-law is not but the son-in law want to get married by a pastor but the father of the bride will not agree with the marriage if it is by a pastor can he still marry the couple

    • briancroft says:

      Not sure I am following, but if the man and woman getting married are both Christians, the pastor has the freedom to marry them, regardless the father’s faith.

  14. Marie says:

    Enjoying the comments and counsel in this post. Just to back track a bit. A friend of mine who is a believer will marry an unbeliever in a few short weeks. Many including leaders have approached and counselled against such a matter. I have been invited to the wedding and have decided after much prayer and consideration to attend the wedding based on my conscience. She is clear where I stand and she acknowledges this and i have called her to change and to trust God. she has not so now im left where i am and asking the Lord what should i do. I want the future opportunity to minister to her and her possible husband. However I have heard that people who are going to attend have been approached by the elders and told of their deep concern and disagreement. (Some have also been told not to attend full stop) I am
    Going to meet with my pastor this week to discuss my attendance and I feel in heart and my conscience that this is right however I realise I could be wrong and want to be as biblical as I can. I cant seem to see where in scripture that i am forbidden or that it is sinful for me to atend the wedding but like i said am i missing something because maybe im biased? i dont want to not see it but maybe im making myself see what i want scripture to say? If the pastor says I should not be attending should I be submitting to the elders? And are there verses they are going to share with me that will convince me of this? I just want to do what is right and this seems right for me to attend so I may have access and input into their relationship later? Do you have any advise or wisdom for me to consider?

    • Brian Croft says:

      Sorry to hear of your challenging position you are in. I do not feel I know enough about your specific situation to say what you should do. There are many details that I’m sure exist that I do not know that would effect my thoughts on this situation. This sounds like an issue you need to continue to hash out with your elders. Let them know your concern and reasons you desire to go.

  15. Marie says:

    I think its straight forward? She is saved and he isn’t. She has been a believer for many years and raised in a Christian family and well known to the church. I think the elders would say its a straight black and white sin issue. It’s sinful to marry an unbeliever and therefore have or would apply Matthew 18. I believe they feel they are at the last stage of confronting a sonning brother/sister and feel that church discipline might actually be appropriate hence some of the disapproval others have received to attend the wedding. But yes I desire too seek the counsel of the elders and will let my concerns be made known. Would appreciate your prayers please.

  16. Linda says:

    Can a pastor be married to an unbeliever. My friend is attending a small church where the Pastor’s spouse does not attend. Is this ok?
    Where can I find Scripture to help her with this question.
    Many thanks, and God bless you

  17. Linda says:

    Can a Pastor be married to an unbeliever?

  18. DE says:

    Who (according to the scriptures) can perform a wedding or marry two people? Only ordained men? Missionaries?

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