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.

Wednesday Book Reviews

9 partsNine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic WomenNine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women by Geraldine Brooks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book lifts the veil, so to speak, on the lives of women in Islamic culture. Written by a veteran journalist, it is both fascinating and disturbing. This book is a must read for anyone wanting to understand more about a culture that is still seen as mysterious and exotic by many in the West. Since it is a secular book, this book avoids religious biases and gives a clear picture of what the lives of Muslim women are like in different parts of the Arab world. I highly recommend this as a good read for any who seek to truly understand what goes on in a world hidden from view.

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c through marriageC Through Marriage: Revitalizing Your VowsC Through Marriage: Revitalizing Your Vows by Jim Hughes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a definite must for pastors, marriage counselors and couples. It will go on my shelf as a great resource for pre-marital counseling and yet it will also be used to counsel couples in crisis. The book covers many subjects that come up in a marriage and tackles them all with tact and solid information from a Christian viewpoint. The author has a high view of marriage and this book will help couples solidify their relationship with their spouse. This would also make a great gift for newlyweds. I know, they will most likely put it on their bookshelf and forget about it, but when the inevitable problems arise, they might just pull it down and use it to help repair their marriage. I highly recommend this a good read.

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Disturbing Trends

Here at Ta Ethne we are very bothered by recent trends in our country. In the past week alone, we have had rulings in different states that undermine basic biblical and moral values. Sadly, these decisions are being applauded. One such ruling is that by Massachusetts on allowing students at school to pick whatever gender they want to be identified as and catering to their every whim. You can read more here:
Another is the ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court who refused to allow prosecution of a mother who abused cocaine while pregnant and gave birth to an addicted child. Here at Ta Ethne, we have adopted such a child, one born in California hooked on so many drugs at birth a tox screen only turned up 3 NOT in her system. Such a ruling is absurdity at its highest point.
Even more upsetting, the fact that the current presidential administration is even considering helping overturn a California law describing marriage as between a man and a woman is beyond comprehension.
Our country is so far post-Christian that I believe God is going to judge her soon. The Church fell asleep decades ago and now has compromised to the point that the majority of her members are lost. Her influence has waned to the point where most Americans think of both the Church and her God as completely irrelevant. They are not atheists in the sense that they do not believe in a God, they simply have never even considered seriously whether there is or isn’t one.
The time has come for the remaining disciples of Jesus Christ to stand up, speak up and seek to overcome darkness with the light of truth. When we begin to fear God and His holiness more than the ridicule and persecution of unbelievers we might start to have an impact on our society. When we stop coddling fence straddlers and confront people with the need for repentance and holy living we might have a church Jesus is not ashamed to call His own. That is Ta Ethne’s stance — what’s yours?

Weekly Writing Challenge: From Mundane to Meaningful – A Conference Surprises

17 years of meetings. Another conference in another city. Different topic, different speakers but overall the same. A few notes written, a few ideas stolen and then life returns to normal. Except this week. I wasn’t expecting much out of the conference. In fact, I didn’t even remember what the theme of this conference was. I just thought it would be a nice retreat with my family since this was one of the few all of us could attend. Little did I know I would be ambushed by something profound and meaningful.

It turns out that the theme for this conference was “Sifted”. It was a marriage retreat in disguise. From speakers to counselors and testimonies of peer couples, we were exposed to a time whose goal was to strengthen marriages. Even worse, the conference had built in accountability. We were given homework to do both individually and as a couple, and then in the next session we discussed our answers.

I then understood why they had counselors. We each had to (after a seminar on the 5 greatest needs in a man’s and a woman’s life) grade ourselves on how well we thought we were doing in each area. Then we graded our spouse on how well they were doing meeting our needs. Then the twist – we had to get alone with our spouse and reveal the answers to each other – needless to say they did not always agree! On the upside, I believe each of us left the conference having been open and honest, as well as beginning to work on issues that needed addressing.

If I had known in advance what the conference was really going to be about, I would not have gone. Too much pride, too much fear of vulnerability, too much worry about peer approval. Now I am glad I did go. My family will be better for it because I learned what I needed to change.

Now if only all conferences could be so meaningful…

What it Means to be a Pastor

                Being a pastor in Montana means many different things to me. Since arriving in 1995, I have served churches in Red Lodge, Columbus and Havre. Being a pastor in Montana means unloading trucks outside at work at 4:30 in the morning in  -40°F weather so that the church can still afford to have a pastor.  It means reaching out to people who have never heard basic Bible stories such as Noah and the Ark, David and Goliath or the real Christmas story.

Pastoring in Montana means enduring weeks of loneliness, isolated by geography and finances from family, friends and even other pastors. It means driving hours to conferences for the fellowship with friends and the opportunity to sharpen ones skills. It means penetrating reclusive lives and investing time into communities. It means sharing your home with people from all walks of life and all kinds of backgrounds. It means being vulnerable and authentic and living a transformed life in front of a watching world.

Pastoring in Montana means that you start laying the foundation for future works to take place.  Very quickly you learn that there is no prestige, no glory, no “bigger” church to aspire to. What there is, is plenty of is hard work, years of discipleship, mentoring, teaching and engaging. There is the joy of seeing a second generation come to know and serve the Lord. There is the joy of seeing families and marriages being put back together. There is the satisfaction of establishing stability and credibility in a community that is constantly watching to see if your Christianity is real. There is the awesome exhilaration that comes from seeing new believers mature and go out in service for the kingdom, taking the gospel to yet another place that needs to hear it.

Being a pastor in Montana is a tale of two extremes. It is a tale of hardships and frustration and of rapture and joy. It will cause you to grow closer to God than you thought possible because there is no one else around for you to turn to. It will drive you to your knees over and over seeking strength, guidance and wisdom. It will also lead you to give God all the credit because only He could possibly penetrate the darkness and hardened hearts of those who do not know Him.

Jeff Iorg, President of Golden Gate Seminary, sums up what I think being a pastor in Montana is all about when he says in his book, The Painful Side of Leadership, “Most leaders easily forget their primary reason for being placed in their leadership role. The primary reason isn’t for you to do things for God. It’s so God can use your leadership setting as a laboratory for shaping the image of Jesus in you.[1]

I pray that the image that is being shaped in me, as I pastor in Montana, is that of Jesus Christ.

[1] Iorg, Jeff. The Painful Side of Leadership. P12. B&H Publishing Group 2009