With the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriages last summer, it is time for the church to take a serious look at its understanding of marriage. There are some who suggest that the redefinition of marriage by the state should have no effect on the church, and to some extent they are correct. After all, churches can still carry out marriage rites as always, and according to the dictates of their beliefs. But, I am left asking the question: what role should the church play in marriage now?
The church does not issue vehicle tags, driver’s licenses, building permits, marriage permits, or any other government documents. The church does, however, baptize, confirm, and marry people. At the moment, the government has no intent that I am aware of to baptize or confirm (though the Soviets did try something like this in their efforts to eradicate religion). It is the overlap between the church’s and government’s role in marriage that causes friction. Many people, especially religious folks, recognize marriage as something sacred. On the other hand, to be recognized as married by the government, a couple must be married according to the government’s standard and have the accompanying official paperwork.
It is my contention that the church should thoughtfully consider breaking its partnership with the government in the arena of marriage. This will obviously have no impact on those that want to have nothing to do with the church in the first place. For a Christian couple, however, this would mean that they could take one of at least three options.
- They can get married by a government official, completely apart from the church, and be recognized by the state as married.
- They can get married in the church, completely apart from the state, and be recognized by the church as married.
- They can get married by both government and church officials, and be recognized by both.
Admittedly, there are benefits to the third option, and this is the route I would advocate for most couples. However, if a couple is aware of the possible difficulties that come with option #2 (think hospital visits, inheritance issues, legal difficulties, etc.), then I think it is a viable, respectable, and God honoring option. The most difficult option from the church’s point of view would be #1. If the church is going to maintain that true marriage is a God ordained institution, then the couple that chooses to marry apart from the church would not be recognized as married by the church.
So, couples that choose to get married outside of the church would be regarded as living together in a sinful relationship and engaging in fornication: sex outside of the marriage relationship. Obviously this will hurt feelings, but the church was not called to make everyone feel good. If the church holds this position, then it means that when a couple that has been married outside of the church wants to join a local body of believers, then that couple will be required to be married in the eyes of the church. If they refuse to be married in the eyes of the church, then membership in a local body of believers should be withheld. Yes, we have all sinned, but when a person comes to the church living in an ongoing, continuous sin and asks for membership, the church should have the moral fortitude to say that the person’s chosen lifestyle is incompatible with Christian teaching and therefore, church membership is not presently an option.
I know there are many who disagree with this position, but this is where my thinking has led me to stand.