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.