To Marry or to Not Marry?
Is it wrong for pastors to perform weddings for unbelievers?
By Bill Yaccino
Picture this: Jason and Ashli, an attractive, 20-something couple, contact you at the church. They’re nervous and excited at the same time. Hesitantly they ask, “Pastor, we’re engaged, and we’re looking for a pastor to marry us. We’ve never really been to church before, but we know we want to include God somehow on our wedding day. We don’t really know what that looks like, but would you do our wedding ceremony?”
What do you say?
Traditionally, many pastors choose not to perform a wedding ceremony for unbelievers. A Christian wedding is a time of commitment—man to woman, before God and the church. Therefore, it makes sense for a minister of God to reject two people who are not part of the church and don’t conform to Christian standards. These people are outside acceptable boundaries of the marriage institution, and many Christian pastors won’t support such a union.
But would you serve this couple asking for help on their wedding day? I wholeheartedly would. I believe God created the institution of marriage long before our Christian faith developed conditions or boundary markers for it. And in our country, marriage is a legal contract. Couples get married all the time without the church, and they will continue getting married with or without our help. Here’s a few reasons why I believe you and I, as Christian pastors, should welcome this responsibility.
First, 2 Corinthians 6:14 calls for a marriage union between “equally yoked” individuals. Just as two Christians are equally yoked, I believe that two non-Christians are equally yoked. I view following Christ as a journey in which a person is drawn closer to Christ because he or she is attracted to His irresistible love. The closer he or she gets to Christ, the more his or her life can be transformed to the likeness of Christ, renewed and restored to live the way God intended.
From this perspective, I am able to avoid drawing lines between who is “inside” and “outside” my services as a pastor. Instead, I look at individuals and consider which direction they are moving. The unchurched couples who ask me to officiate their weddings are taking a step in the right direction. Any degree to which I can move them toward understanding God’s love is a positive thing.
Second, I can’t picture Jesus saying, “Because you are sinning, I will not eat with you.” Rather, it seems that Jesus was always inviting sinners to eat with him first, then inviting them to change their compromised lifestyles. It doesn’t seem appropriate for us to demand that non-Christians act like Christians before having an encounter with God’s love.
If two unchurched people are living together, pastors cannot expect them to cease living in a way the couple thinks is right. Instead of placing conditions upon them—“I will not officiate your wedding unless you two stop co-habiting”—we as pastors should help them move toward a marriage commitment, and therein, help them take another positive step toward Christ.
Third, and most important, I believe officiating a wedding can be an opportunity for seeds of faith to begin to germinate. One man I married e-mailed me this note:
As you know, when we first met, I described myself to you as an atheist, and asked if it were possible to “leave God out of the ceremony.” You kindly told me that your desire was to serve us best, but that leaving God out of it was not possible due to that fact that God was a part of you. I was not sure what you meant, but I trusted your promise not to “preach” to us on our wedding day.
All that said, I have to say that I can no longer call myself an atheist. Rather, I am probably an agnostic – because I just don’t know the answer. You’ve shown me that it’s OK to question, as long as I am still en route. Thanks for that direction, AND for doing a great job at our ceremony!
Remember, however, that most results aren’t instantaneous. One wedding I performed was particularly disappointing for me initially. The couple did not seem to have any real interest in spiritual things, and I found myself let down when I was quickly dismissed after the wedding, feeling much like a “hired gun.” But God surprised me. A few days after the wedding, the couple e-mailed me while on their honeymoon:
Aloha Pastor Bill,
Russ and I just wanted to tell you how incredible our wedding was. We are still hearing comments from our family about how special you made it. We really did not expect that! Since we are moving in a few months, we were wondering if you could point us to a church in Seattle that has a pastor like you. You’ve made us think that we might be missing a part of life – so we want to give it a try. Thanks for any suggestions.
I urge you to consider planting such seeds of faith in unbelieving couples seeking your help. I echo Rob Bell when he says in his book, Velvet Elvis (Zondervan), “I am learning that the church is at its best when it gives itself away.” If you are feeling the missional pull toward engaging the lives of those far from God, I invite you to become part of a network I started for pastors who are willing to bring Christ-like love to couples on their wedding day. Visit WeddingPastorsUSA.org for more information.
Bill Yaccino is the executive director of Catalyst, Lake County, an organization that connects people and resources in Lake County, Ill., for greater spiritual impact. Bill has started a Web site that connects pastors with couples looking for a minister to perform their wedding ceremony, WeddingPastorsUSA.org.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”