Moore: Don’t Do Weddings For Unbelievers

Should a minister officiate at the weddings of unbelievers? This is the question that Dr. Russell Moore answers in his latest Henry Institute blog. I respect the way he offers straight talk on a confusing issue for many young pastors (including me). Here’s the quote:

A minister of the gospel shouldn’t officiate at the weddings of unbelievers. . . Refusing to place your ecclesial imprimatur on a Christless marriage is among the least dangerous things a minister will ever be called to do.

The wedding ceremony is one more place where we don’t need Masters of Cermony or civil servants. We need ministers of the gospel, those with the courage to let their yes be yes and, when necessary, their no be no.

He’s also right to call for courage on this issue. Following this advice is a career killer in many small mom-and-pop Baptist churches where they expect you to be the town chaplain.

I recall the advice from Dr. York’s pastoral ministry class. He said have a clear written statement on who you will marry. Present this to the pulpit committee, deacons and anyone inquiring about getting married. Otherwise, people will consider it a personal affront when you don’t marry their unconverted children or grandchildren. Then you’ll be sending out your resumes in a hurry.

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24 Responses to Moore: Don’t Do Weddings For Unbelievers

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Moore’s statement. However, I can see some snags that would still present themselves. For instance, what about the person that made a ‘decision’ for Christ when they were a little kid, but haven’t been in church for the last ten to twenty years, and show no signs that they actually have been saved? I am not sure that I would feel comfortable marrying an individual such as that, but would probably need to be looking for a new church if I didn’t.

  2. Tony Kummer says:

    @David Dittmer: That’s another angle, it takes a functional church with some minimal level of accountability. Unfortunately this is a rare thing and another cause for ministerial suffering.

  3. I have adopted the test of whether or not they are unequally yoked. I will not marry an unbeliever to a believer but have married two unbelievers. I use the wedding as a means to preach the gospel. In my premarrital counseling, I give a “hard” gospel presentation. I also let them know that without Christ, their marriage is doomed from the start. I then use the ceremony itself to once again give a gospel presentation, this time to everyone in attendance.

  4. Excellent article, though I would take issue with the compatibility of these two statements early on:
    “Neither of them were followers of Jesus.”
    “This couple wasn’t in disobedience to the Word of God.”

  5. I applaud Dr. Moore’s courage and conviction, but I think I would have to agree with Terry over Dr. Moore on this one. There are clear Biblical grounds for refusing to marry an unequally yoked couple, but things get a little murky beyond that.

    Since marriage is a human institution, not a Christian one, as Dr. Moore points out; and since there is no clear instruction in the Bible on the matter; I think a pastor is free to marry an unbelieving couple and use both the counseling and the ceremony as an opportunity to share the gospel.

    But I could be wrong.

    Barry Wallaces last blog post..While I’m waxing nostalgic

  6. Scott says:

    This is a good article. I found this to be a very readable way of expressing my own views but never got around to putting into writing for my own use. It is now in my “wedding” file.

  7. Adam Winters says:

    I appreciate the good thoughts on this issue. I can’t make an across the board judgment on this but would probably have to judge it on a case by case basis. But Dr. York’s recommendation seems very wise.

    I am interested to hear whether anyone would be willing to preach/officiate the funeral of an unbeliever if they are unwilling to marry unbelievers. Is that logically consistent?

    Adam Winterss last blog post..The (un)Natural

  8. Scott says:

    I have officiated/preached unbeliever’s funerals. That is actually easier to do because you don’t have to counsel or try to “win the soul” of the deceased like some are inclined to do for the wedding couple. I present the gospel clearly and distinctly to the audience/congregation. To this day, I have not had negative reactions for doing so either — but a great deal of real one-on-one conversations about the gospel in the ensuing weeks.

  9. Matt Svoboda says:

    I greatly appreciate and respect Dr. Moore’s opinion. I also disagree. Two weekends ago I married to unbelievers. It was my brother and his fiancee. Was it a matter of courage? No. It was a matter of conviction. I see no biblical evidence, even in Moore’s post, that restricts me from performing a marriage to unbelievers as long as they are both lost. I was greatly honored that God gave me the opportunity. It was a great opportunity for me to let my brother and his fiancee know what marriage is all about. I took great advantage of the opportunity. As my wife said, “I think you said the word Jesus/Christ more than any other words… Including love and marriage.”

    If it permits a pastors schedule I think they should take the opportunity to give a biblical picture of truth in marriage. I think it takes more courage to do a wedding for lost people than saying no. Saying no and holding the Bible is easy; preaching the gospel picture of marriage to lost people takes courage.

    I usually agree with Dr. Moore, he is a hero of mine, but I definitely part with him on this..

    Matt Svobodas last blog post..Centralization and the Great Commission

  10. Matt Svoboda says:

    Adam,

    I would certainly preach a lost persons funeral. I would just MAKE SURE the family knew exactly where I am coming from and what I believe. If they are okay with it, then I will preach my heart out so that the whole family doesn’t have to spend eternity with their loved one, but rather with our Great God!

    To all,

    I also want to say that, even though I am willing to preach unbelievers weddings and funerals it is still a case by case issue. I wouldn’t do all, but I would be open to looking into it!

    Matt

    Matt Svobodas last blog post..Centralization and the Great Commission

  11. I usually agree with Dr. Moore, but I have to disagree on this one. I actually did a wedding for two unbelievers this past weekend! I did pre-marital counseling with them and presented the Gospel clearly in the first of three sessions. Yes I do view it as an evangelistic opportunity. Is that such a bad thing? Scripture does not gives us a clear yes or a clear no on this issue, so it is really personal opinion here. I’ll personally take any chance to witness to a couple and to a crown gathered if the opportunity presents itself. In that sense, I disagree with Dr. Moore. In that situation, I am acting as a minister of the Gospel. And that is the ultimate reason why God called me to preach in the first place. Just my two cents worth.

    Michael Wilhites last blog post..Burn Your Plastic Jesus

  12. Greg Dungan says:

    I don’t have a good answer for Dr. Moore’s assertion, but my experience ended up being that I did not accept an offer to marry an unbelieving coworker and his girlfriend. The reason was because my co-worker was a divorced alcoholic who was not a good husband to his previous wife, and I did not find myself able to act as an official during his second wedding ceremony, knowing that his second marriage might end up like his first. However, my main question now is: “Is the Christian minister acknowledged by the state as a qualified party to perform a wedding?” If so, why is the minister barred from marrying folks in this capacity? This would make this issue similar to the question: “Should a Christian go into business with a non-Christian?” Many folks, I would think, would not see such a partnership as morally wrong. Furthermore, such partnerships are formed all the time with the Christian party’s full intention to remain a Christian witness to the non-believing party, just as many ministers see the marrying of unbelievers as a opportunity for witness. Truly, I think the issue is whether the marriage to be performed will be done so as a “Christian” marriage, or whether the marriage is simply a function performed by the minister as an agent of the state. If the marriage is to be Christian, I cannot see how that it would accord with Scripture, considering the couple is not Christian. Therefore, it would seem right to help the involved parties understand the union could not be a Christian wedding, but a state wedding.

  13. I am amazed at how many of you would be willing to conduct the wedding ceremony for two unbelievers (even pre-marital counseling). When two people are coming together as husband and wife, what they ought to be saying is, “We believe this is God’s will, for us to be married for the rest of our lives.” If the two (or even one) are unbelievers, it is impossible for them to know God’s will for their lives because they do not know God Himself. How can a pastor give his endorsement to an unsaved couple claiming to be doing the will of God by officiating at their wedding? BTW, what is there to talk about with two unbelievers in the pre-marital counseling sessions?

  14. @Mark: There is plenty to talk about in pre-marital counseling! I present the gospel at every opportunity–sometimes 3 or 4 times in an hour. Not that that justifies my doing the wedding of two unbelievers, but it does answer the question as to what can be talked about.

    As for performing those weddings, I do not think the Bible is absolutely clear other that being unequally yoked. That being said, I would have done the same thing Greg did in #12 above if it was obvious that the wedding was not a good thing (I actually refused to perform the wedding for one of my best friends on account of this).

    Also, whether it has been implicit or just assumed, I think we need to deal with the issue of divorce in this conversation as well. I say that because of the comment by Mark that the married couple ought to be saying, “We believe this is God’s will for us to be married for the rest of our lives.”

    While I agree that that should be (and normally is) the statement–I have never heard anyone want to get married because they knew they would wind up divorced–I just don’t think we can use that as our litmus test from a biblical perspective. I do think it is the minister’s responsibility in this case to be even more discerning and to speak up if he thinks the couple should not get married.

  15. Terry, you said:
    “I do think it is the minister’s responsibility in this case to be even more discerning and to speak up if he thinks the couple should not get married.”

    Brother, I am having a hard time understanding any circumstances under which a minister can ever think an unsaved couple SHOULD get married. That ought to be the issue: not “I can’t see any reason why they should not.”

    You also said:
    “As for performing those weddings, I do not think the Bible is absolutely clear….”

    Actually, the Bible is not absolutely clear on a pastor actually conducting ANY wedding. A pastor’s calling is to “preach the Word” (2 Tim 4:2), not conduct weddings. It would seem to be a matter of faithfulness to His flock for a pastor to be very careful about who he shepherds through the engagement and marriage. How can two unbelievers be shepherded? Preach the Gospel to them, yes, absolutely, but join them together as a picture Christ and the church (Eph 5)? I don’t see it.

  16. Bradley says:

    I agree with Matt. I am yet to see biblical warrant for such a strict view as expressed by Dr. Moore.

    You may, however, argue on the basis of practical terms not to “do” all marriages, and to restrict yourself to only a few. Restricting yourself as a minister to only preside over marriages of members at your church may be an effective way to keep yourself from getting bogged down with too many weddings.

    Bradleys last blog post..THE SHACK ain’t all bad … or … Finally, a balanced review of THE SHACK

  17. Terry:

    Earlier, you also said, concerning the marriage of two unbelievers:
    “I also let them know that without Christ, their marriage is doomed from the start. I then use the ceremony itself…”

    Terry, you tell them their marriage is doomed from the start, then join them together as husband and wife?!?!?!? Brother, I cannot understand how you cannot see the blatant inconsistency in this. If you are going to disagree with Dr. Moore’s position, which is extremely clear, you are going to have to explain what appears to be a monumental disservice you claim to be willing to do for an unbelieving couple.

  18. @Mark-Maybe I should have been more clear in what I was mean when I said “doomed.” I do not tell say “doom” explicitly. I show them the statistics of marriages ending in divorce (over 50%) and let them know that marriage is not held in as high a view as it should. I tell them that Christ, if He is truly at the center of one’s marriage, will “divorce-proof” their marriage. I exhort them with the gospel.

    Now, my question regarding the performing of a wedding of unbeliever’s because they do not believe in Christ falls far short of another problem and I think this conversation warrants a look at this problem. When the divorce rate is as bad within the so-called Christian church as it is in the world (both are near or above 50%) then I think you have a hard time arguing your point. The problem is most “Christians” are nothing but wolves in sheep’s clothing. Most “Christians” are like my family where they are Catholic in name only and do not adhere to any of the Catholic dogma or ethics. The problem is, even Christians do not see the high calling that marriage is and therefore make a mockery of the marriage.

    Even at a Christian wedding (where both profess Christ), I preach the gospel in their wedding ceremony. Not only for them (we all need to hear the gospel) but for the unbelievers in attendance.

    RE: The Bible not being clear on performing a wedding. I couldn’t agree more. We are only able to perform weddings because the state and the federal government allow us. The fact that we are called to preach the gospel is the reason why I even consider performing the wedding of an unbeliever. It offers a platform to preach the gospel to many who would never give a minister the time of day otherwise.

    This is also why I have no problems preaching the funeral of an unbeliever. It is a time when they are thinking about “what next.” I rarely make the funeral about the person other than as a leaping point for the gospel. I have posted my funeral sermon here

    I guess in the end, I do not feel as though I am doing a monumental disservice to the unbelieving couple. If anything, I believe that I am doing them a huge service by being upfront with them about their marriage and their need for Christ.

    I guess the problem is that we, as ministers of the gospel, walk a fine line because we are recognized by the state as having the capacity to perform weddings. This does not mean that I go around marrying unbelievers “just because I can.” It does mean that when I am approached by two unbelievers (usually people I know), I will weigh the decision carefully and pray about whether or not I can perform the wedding (like I said earlier, I have denied performing a couple of weddings).

  19. Adam Winters says:

    Thanks for the feedback, guys!

    Adam Winterss last blog post..Charles Hodges’s Birthday Prayer

  20. Adam Winters says:

    A fine commentary by Dr. Moore on preaching the funeral of unbelievers:
    http://www.henryinstitute.org/commentary_read.php?cid=479

    Adam Winterss last blog post..USA Yesterday

  21. Mark Warnock says:

    It seems to me that the argument turns on how you understand the identity and function of a minister. Does my performing the ceremony somehow sanction their unbelief? I don’t think it does.

    At this point, I’m inclined to disagree with Dr. Moore, although with much respect for his position, and no aspersions at all upon those who agree with him. I believe marriage is a common grace, and see no reasons to refrain from administering that grace to two lost people. Christian marriage is distinct from marriage of unbelievers, but I would say (without deep reflection) it’s distinct only in the same way that every other part of a Christian’s life is also distinct from the life of an unbeliever.

    The absence of clear biblical instruction on the matter leaves it to conscience, so let’s do it (or not) in the spirit of Romans 14.

    Mark Warnocks last blog post..Introducing Ed

  22. I agree with Mark. I think it depends on how you view the function of a minister. If you only view him as for the church and to only preach the Word and do things relating to the church and its membership, then I could see why Dr. Moore would say what he did. However, I view the preacher as a preacher for the world and not just the church. I am called by God to preach the Gospel wherever I go and whatever I do. While I greatly respect Dr. Moore, since the Bible neither speaks for nor against this issue at hand, it’s up to personal conscience. Mine tells me to do them as an opportunity to see God save the unregenerate. And as Luther said, “to act against conscience is neither right nor safe.”

    Michael Wilhites last blog post..Slaves to Christ

  23. John Botkin says:

    I have read several of you say things like, “I view the preacher as…” But few of you have said anything about what the *Bible* says the preachers should be. Yes, he should preach, but that is part of the larger work of being a pastor (2 Tim 4:1-2). As a pastor, he is to shepherd the flock of God (1 Pet 5:2) ” to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12). Clearly, his ministry is rooted in overseeing/encouraging/teaching God’s people. In that context, the pastor’s involvement in marriage makes sense. He is shepherding God’s people in their understanding and commitment to marriage.

    Paul also says that ministers are to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim 4:5). But this doesn’t make sense in the context of marriage. Because Paul says you cannot ever really understand marriage unless you understand Christ’s death for his people (Eph 5:22-33). Marriage was designed after the pattern of Christ’s love for his people. If two people do not understand – not just intellectually, but affectionately, believing it in faith – how will they see its relevance to marriage? The answer is, they won’t because they can’t (1 Cor 2:14). Furthermore, what happens in pre-marital counseling when the gospel is preached several times an hour and one of them receives Christ, but not the other. What do you do? Clearly, the biblical *command* is that you not perform the wedding. Do you cancel your involvement the night before the wedding? Do you go ahead against the clear will of God?

    I think Dr. Moore is right, and despite what others have said, it’s been my experience that it is far easier to deceive ourselves into thinking we are making the “brave choice” to marry unbelievers when we are really only compromising what we think marriage is to make other people happy.

    I also think that EVERY marriage should require a basic ceremony with a justice of the peace. Then, if it is desired, a more public/worship-oriented service could be performed under a ministry.

    Just my two cents.

    John Botkins last blog post..Becoming a House of Prayer

  24. Barb says:

    Thank you Josh Botkin for your comment. I have been researching this topic this morning for my sister as her sister in law is about to get married tomorrow for the 3rd time to an unbeliver (a former *Jehovahs Witness* but may still carry some of their beliefs). The Bride married before (first two times was to the same man and divorced him both times) and my sisters pastor is going to marry both unbelivers even though he has previously said that he wouldnt do that with anyone. My sisters father in law (the dad of the bride) is also a preacher but is not marrying them.

    I found your position scripturally sound but definitely can see how the others have come to alternate decisions but as for me I would rather see scripture that supports whatever I am saying and doing. I found the scripture that you shared to be most convicting and enough for me to say that I side with Dr. Moore and your statements I felt that what you shared was very clearly put and understood biblically. Thank you to all for your thoughts on the subject. I feel blessed to have been able to find this topic by way of searching the internet and led to such a wonderful thought provoking discussion amongst you all. God Bless.

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