How does a pastor determine whether he 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
7 comments on “How does a pastor determine whether he can/should conduct a wedding?
  1. Bill says:

    Thank you for this post; I like what you’ve said, and the wisdom about handling the marriage of two non-Christians is very helpful.

    Would you be willing to post another entry that deals with some of the difficult situations within #2? I’ve been an elder for a couple of years and have never had to make the decision on whether to marry a couple (the full-time pastoral staff gets those requests), but I am often asked for council regarding these unique situations. I’ve had my own thoughts and inputs on some of them, but I’d love to hear your wisdom.

    1. Both the man and woman hoping to be married have been married twice before. In both cases their previous spouse left them. [You could imagine a few variations on a theme here regarding adultery and culpability.]

    2. A young woman falls in love with an older man who is currently married but has recently filed for divorce. The man’s soon-to-be ex-wife is not a Christian, but the man became a Christian recently. The divorce is “mutual” (though further details are not known–e.g. if the woman is pursuing another relationship).

    3. A young Christian couple would like to get married. They’ve been living together for the past year. They appear to be genuine born-again believers, but they’ve succumbed to the wisdom of the age.

    Thanks

    • Bill says:

      Whoops, just realized you answered my #3 already. I guess a twist on it could be that they’re living together and claim that they’re celibate.

      • Barry says:

        Don’t forget 1 Thessalonians 5:22 – abstain from all appearance of evil. Living together gives the appearance of not being celibate. If the couple wants to honor God, they would stop living together.

    • Brian Croft says:

      I will think on it. All of those situations would give me pause and would want more information before agreeing with them. Thanks for writing.

  2. Barry says:

    Is there a max age in which you no longer require parent blessing? Example : a 25 year old, professing Christian wants to marry another professing Christian, but parents do not approve of the union.

    • Brian Croft says:

      Tough one. I don’t think it is an age thing, but the kind of relationship the girl has with her dad. These issues are very case by case in my mind.

      • Barry says:

        In this case I am referring, the man’s parents did not approve the marriage. The girl had been twice divorced. They saw some thing in her that caused alarm. The man ignored his parent’s advice and married the girl anyway.
        I would think that parent’s blessing is important no matter the age. The Bible does not give a time limit on honoring our parents. I think we all should desire our parent’s blessing. If a pastor encounters this situation, I would think you would want to be cautious of conducting a marriage in which the parent’s disapprove.

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  1. […] How does a pastor determine whether he can/should conduct a wedding? | Practical Shepherding […]

  2. […] in Sociology. He also undertook some graduate work at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. This article is from his blog, Practical Shepherding, and is used with […]

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