The Other Marriage Issue Facing The Church

Same-sex marriage is not the only marriage issue facing the church today. While it may be the hot button issue right now, another problem has the potential of dividing the church even further. The issue I am speaking of is that of whether or not the church should even perform a ceremony that is civil as well as religious.

Some churches and pastors I know who are affiliated with the National Baptist Convention (some dual aligned with the SBC) are already performing wedding ceremonies that are strictly religious in nature with the couple who are married never filing a state marriage certificate. These are not same-sex marriages. They are between a man and a woman who for various reasons do not want to file a marriage license with the state. Many of these couples are senior citizens. Why would they not want to file with the state?

One reason is the marriage penalty. Food stamps and other benefits may be cut if a couple decides to get hitched. By having a religious ceremony, they feel they are married before God and witnesses but they can keep all their income. For many on fixed incomes or who are below the poverty line this is an attractive alternative. Why should vowing to love, honor and cherish each other cause one to lose income or help? Anyone who thinks you can feed two as cheaply as one hasn’t been to the grocery store lately. This is the primary reason for older couples and those struggling to stay afloat financially  to avoid registering their marriage with the state, in my research.

Another reason, one that is growing each day, is the thought that since many states recognize same-sex marriage, they have forfeited their right to recognize marriage for what the Bible says it is. These people do not want their marriage to be equated with that of an ungodly one. Some ministers I have spoken with have also used this line of reasoning. I believe that this line of thought will be growing over the next few years and cause many churches to examine their policies. I do not know of any denomination that has addressed this issue but I would really like to see the evangelical ones do so publicly.

In Scripture, there is no command for ministers to perform marriage ceremonies. In our culture and country we are given the privilege to do so as an agent of the state. Some states have slightly different rules and other countries have many different requirements as to who can perform/officiate the ceremony. The point is that it is a right given by the state, not a requirement given by God. A minister officiating the ceremony lends spiritual significance to the act. An “approval of God for the union” so to speak. That is why orthodox ministers refuse to perform homosexual marriages, marriages between believers and unbelievers and other circumstances.

My question to our evangelical leaders, our Reformed leaders, ministers and leaders of churches worldwide is this — is it valid, Biblically, to hold a religious only ceremony knowing that the license will never be filed to the state? Would that be valid in God’s eyes? Would it ever become acceptable policy in your denomination?

What are your personal feelings, fellow ministers, of acting as an agent of the state when your state may have a completely different definition of marriage as you do?

I believe this is an issue that is only going to grow and am curious as to how the church is going to speak to the issue. I rarely officiate at weddings anymore and have yet to personally run across this issue. Yet, I have friends whom I respect who are dealing with this in their churches right now and I can see the issue as unavoidable in the near future. So, council is asked for from those who read and share this blog. Let me know your personal beliefs and any official beliefs your church and/or denomination may have that may speak to this issue.

The Dangers of Fideism

One of the most subtle dangers presenting itself to the church today is that of fideism. Fideism is, in a nutshell, a subtle rejection of learning, reason, knowledge and logic in preference to that, “simple, ol’ time religion.” Those who subscribe to fideism will tell you, ‘I believe what I believe, don’t confuse me with the facts.” Faith and knowledge are held as enemies towards one another. This attitude flies in the face of such Scriptures as 2 Peter 1:5, which tells us to “make every effort to add knowledge to our faith.”

At the heart of fideists, is an unteachable spirit. I sat through one sermon not too long ago, where the pastor sidetracked towards the end of his message and said something to the effect of, “I just preach Jesus. I don’t preach “ism’s”. Not Arminianism, Calvinism or any other “ism”.” That sounds real good but is a stupid statement. Arminians and Calvinists also both preach Jesus. They just present Him differently. Even Jehovah Witnesses preach Jesus — just not the Jesus of Scripture. Anyone who has read through Romans, Ephesians and Hebrews would never characterize Christianity as a simple “religion.” This minister was not interested in understanding the differences, just in building a straw man on both sides while he stood as a third alternative, setting himself up as above all those who were putting “man-made” doctrines over Scripture. This, of course, is a poor argument, since both sides believe their interpretations come straight from Paul, not Calvin or Arminius.

It is hard for me to sit through what I call theatrical preaching. The kind of preaching where the volume and rhetoric overshadow any exposition of Scripture. The kind where “Amens” are elicited after every sentence instead of allowing them to be a spontaneous response from a convicted soul. The type of preaching where yelling, crying, laughing and whispering are masterfully orchestrated to bring the audience to an emotional decision instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to convict.  In my boyhood days we used to call this type of preaching “chicken-walking.” Whenever I hear someone stomping, snorting and stepping on their pant-cuffs and claiming they are more spiritual than a pastor who has labored long and hard to rightfully divide the Word of Truth it irks me.

Fideism is on the rise. It is infiltrating both city and country churches. There are many in today’s pulpits who sneer at those “television preachers” while they are doing the same thing on a smaller scale at their own churches. There is a suspicion of their brethren who have earned degrees in theology and ministry and this is passed on to their congregations and fostered to create a culture of ignorance. God wants us to reason with Him, He says so Himself in Isaiah. There were many things Jesus said He wanted to teach His disciples but they hadn’t yet spiritually matured enough to handle it. Discipleship is suffering in our churches because of fideism. It is a dangerous thing to let people study God’s Word in depth because it might make them question the interpretations they have heard from the pulpit for so long.

Roman Catholicism understood this. That is why they resisted their Mass and their Scriptures being in any language other than Latin for so long. It could be why so many pastors fight for KJV only also. Quite a large percentage of Americans cannot read at a 12th grade level (which the KJV is) nor understand Shakespearean English. If they could read Scripture easily (understandably) they also might question. And we all know that  a questioning mind is dangerous to those who value control over teaching.

It is far past time to to help our brothers and sisters add knowledge to their faith. That is what Ta Ethne is all about. Join us in bringing a greater knowledge of our faith to believers worldwide  so that they can be better equipped in sharing their faith.

Wednesday’s Book Reviews – 1 Good, 1 Bad

Okay, I admit the second review is quite different than the books I normally review. I don’t know if this makes me a Renaissance man or just an eccentric with eclectic tastes. At any rate, it was a fun read with my daughter and as I get older I cherish those times more and more.

Kicking HabitsKicking Habits by Thomas G. Bandy
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

To say that this book was devoid of any useful gleanings would be inaccurate and unfair. It had two or three useful bits of information. The rest was a mishmash of muddled mumbo-jumbo and pseudo-Christian jargon. Do churches and denominations become tradition bound? Yes. Does that mean all tradition is to be considered stifling and outdated – hardly. Following the advice in this book would lead one to forming a “church” without any biblical standards, no responsibilities from members (actually you would only have attenders because membership is also an addiction churches have) and a Laodicean approach to ministry that is already condemned by Jesus.
I am very disappointed in this book, but more so by the conclusion of churches being transformed into visionary motivators instead of places of spiritual growth according to biblical standards. I definitely do not recommend this as a good read.

View all my reviews

Bunnies Are for KissingBunnies Are for Kissing by Allia Zobel Nolan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My daughter and I love this book. The illustrations are priceless and the story is very cute. My little girl laughed at the bunny waking up, cried at the bunny falling off her bike and smiled as the parent bunnies tucked her into bed. This one has become a bedtime favorite. I also thought the inscription was pretty cool too.

View all my reviews

Highlights Around the World – #3 Canada

Vast stretches of farmland roll into the horizon, broken by silos and the occasional herd of mule deer. Welcome to the southern edge of Alberta and Saskatchewan. From Lethbridge to Swift Current, we have been able to  meet with people starting churches in cities both large and small. As one travels along the highways, one realizes that there are many smaller towns without an evangelical witness, some without a witness at all, evangelical or otherwise. Southern Canada is far from the Bible belt and a different culture from America altogether. Although very similar in lifestyle to Montana, where we are based at, there are enough differences for one to realize very quickly that approaches to starting churches in Canada must be different than they are in the States.

The believers in Canada are doing a wonderful job – they just are small in number compared to the overall population. There are a large number of immigrants arriving annually, a great number from Asia. These immigrants are seeking a better life filled with opportunity. How wonderful it would be if mature Asian Christians were in place to meet them and introduce them not only to Canadian life, but to Jesus Christ?

Pray to the Lord of the Harvest to raise up workers to go into the fields of Western Canada and establish churches that will reach those coming to seek a new life with a new life in Christ. Pray for us, that as invitations come, we will be faithful to encourage, uplift, and resource the believers there with what they need to continue spreading the good news of the Kingdom of God.