How does a pastor determine whether he can 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.  Certainly with recent decisions, 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 two 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 two 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 two 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 two 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 two 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 two 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 Weddings
10 comments on “How does a pastor determine whether he can conduct a wedding?
  1. Lewis says:

    Here’s another group worth thinking about: a Christian to another Christian from a radically different doctrinal system. For example, a baptistic evangelical and a Lutheran. My decision has been that they must agree on baptism for me to perform the wedding. It’s just too big of an issue since it brings in the salvation of any children the marriage produces. Anyone else agree or disagree?

  2. Dan Wuthrich says:

    What about two people who claim to be Christian who not only live together but have a child and now realize the need to be married?

    • Brian Croft says:

      I believe any situation can be redeemed through the gospel. If 2 people live together have a child together, then I would encourage marriage and help them move that direction. What that looks like through the process might look different for each pastor, but marriage in that situation would be good in general for the obvious reasons.

  3. Richard Carwile says:

    Thanks for posting! Do you have a handout you give couples before you meet with them that covers this? Something in writing that covers what the Scripture says about marriage and what the biblical expectations are for couples desiring marriage?

    • Brian Croft says:

      No, I just walk through the Scriptures about marriage all throughout the Bible that reveals God’s plan through the marriage theme. Email me and I can send you want I have.

  4. Gene says:

    Two questions for you, if you have a chance:

    1. Regarding your first point, I agree in the main. But I wonder about a couple who has been living together for four or five years, has a couple of children together, and then one of them gets saved. What counsel would you give?

    2. You say, the ceremony needs to be seen as a worship service. I have seen this often, but I wonder where the biblical warrant is for this. Does the Bible command us to worship God through wedding ceremonies? It seems to me that this is adding to the ways that God has commanded us to worship corporately, and thus, we have no warrant and no authority for such a worship service.

  5. Jason says:

    To not marry people who were co-habitating is counter-productive and goes against the belief people should be married to be living together. How absolutely snobbish and ungrace-filled to refuse.

  6. Gregory D Metcalf says:

    I didn’t see any guidelines regarding whether either or both parties are eligible to be married.

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