I performed a marriage ceremony two weekends ago

This is the one where the flowers the guys wore were seated in shotgun shells — even though it was not what we would call a “shotgun wedding” Here’s the picture I showed some of you a couple of Sundays ago.

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They had wanted to do feathers instead of flowers, but when they went hunting (literally) the day before they found nothing with feathers. Such is how things often go in a rural Central Alberta wedding…

The setting was quite something. It was on a hill overlooking a lake.

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A family from the church own’s the land, and they’ve set up trails (it was a long walk from where we parked to this site) and this is the seventh family wedding… as you can see they’ve built a platform and benches for such occasions. Just out of sight in this picture behind the trees on the right, just steps from the beach is a lovely log cabin. Wonderful stuff.

That’s not why I started this post though. I wanted to share the picture of the shotgunshell boutonnière, for sure, but I more want to talk about how I see the church’s view of marrage in the light of the cultural captivity I spoke of Sunday.

I use the language “performing a wedding ceremony” above with very specific reasons. In my view the couple were already married in God’s eyes and we were having a time of worship together to solemnize what already was.

See, the couple were living together when they asked if I would do their wedding. I have seen, far too often, that a church spoils the relationship of a couple to the church — and of the couple to what fledgling faith connection they have — by drawing a hard line around the living together. So I tend to start with the couple where they already are, and try to build the faith they have and their relationship with a gracious God. I don’t hesitate to share with them (I do two main passage studies with couples) what God wants in a marriage. Fidelity etc. But I don’t make them retreat into a pretence of apartness so the church can feel comfortable. Lots there…

For myself, and there are many stories and examples here of how I came to this, if a couple who had faith in God gets intimate emotionally and physically and have sexual intercourse — they are already married in God’s eyes. All else is human tradtion and invention. Cultural Captivity. With this understanding I see so much of the evangelical “defense” of marriage as very odd,  like defending women wearing hats and gloves in church…

A long time ago I was part of a classis study committee on cohabitation. There were things that were good challenges to my thinking before that, but being part of researching and writing that report clarified for me that we have loaded a lot of social stuff onto marriage that does not need to be there. I’ll include two versions of the report, a summary we did, and the full report. These should serve as some explanation of where I stand on this.

Summary Cohabitation Report

Full BCNW Study Committee Report on Cohabitation (2)

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10 thoughts on “I performed a marriage ceremony two weekends ago

  1. I found this blog post to be troubling, to say the least! Perhaps this is because I don’t understand the point of it! Let me share a few perspectives:
    1. I see little value in shaming people, especially if they are not believers. And that applies to couples who are cohabiting before marriage.
    2. However, having said that, I don’t think that the role of the Christian church is to be a cheerleader for the latest social trends. If we are to be salt and light in this world we must sometimes hold to Biblical positions which will be seen as counter to the mores of the dominant culture.
    3. Also, it seems to me that it is a bit arrogant to justify any behaviour by saying “I think that in the eyes of God this is OK”. I would rather confess with the Apostle Paul “O the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!” Romans 11:33
    4. So what do I suggest we focus on: The Bible, which we as Christians profess to be the “Word of God”, does reveal much of what God’s will is. And it has much to say about the sanctity of Christian marriage. So it seems to me that in our public discourse we would do well to focus on what we know with certainty to be God’s plan for Christian marriage, as revealed in His word, rather than speculating on what He may or may not approve of!

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    1. Bill, I expect it to be a bit troubling. It is a bit provocative to the status quo. It does seem to me you are jumping to conclusions that I do not say. I’d like to know how you read me as being a cheerleader for the latest social trends. My point is more along the lines of some of our practices and beliefs around marriage not being really biblical but cultural. On point 3, I don’t know how you hear me say the words you have in quotes, and then juxtaposing that with a quote from Paul … well I don’t see the connection, though I love what Paul says and agree with him about the wisdom of God being unsearchable and unknowable for the most part. On point 4, show me where the bible tells us a pastor is to do weddings, and that they should be in a church. That is one of the cultural assumptions I’m challenging.

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  2. Interesting perspective, Pastor Pete. There was a time when I saw things more black and white. But I am now learning that there are a lot of grays, that warrant further reflection. I have searched the Bible (albeit mostly electronically) and can’t seem to find any Biblical definition of what starts a marriage or that co-habitation is a sin (not to be confused with adultery). I do wonder when in Genesis 2:22-24, Matthew 19:4-6, Mark 10:6-9, NLT they all reference ‘why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife and the two are united into one.’ Matthew and Mark continue with “Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.’ In Hebrews 13:4 it indicates that we are to honour marriage and remain faithful to one another in marriage.

    But what I am not finding is how marriage is started. Is it the coming together of a man and a woman, emotionally, spiritually and physically as indicated in Genesis, Matthew and Mark? Where does it say that a marriage actually only starts once it is celebrated with a ceremony? I fully concur that it is a serious decision that a couple makes and not to be taken lightly, given the previous Biblical quotations as a few examples.

    I do appreciate in Section 8 of the Summary Report that you posted Pastor Pete, where it reads ‘Defiance of God’s authority is serious. Defying custom is inconvenient, but allows for some leeway. In each individual case, the core issue would need to be identified and worked with. It may be discovered that the real issues are something quite unrelated to not choosing marriage as the church has understood it.’

    Could it be that the Bible incorporates sufficient room for interpretation and implementation, so as to allow us as imperfect humans to find ways to respect the Lord and his intent for us, without prescribing the exact steps to be followed – assuming that two people are entering into a union for life and not just for self gratification or convenience?

    The role of judgement, I believe rests with the Lord. We as Christians would do well to be equipped to help others (believers and non-believers alike) to strengthen their relationship with Jesus. Since Jesus often reaches out to sinners, should we not also walk alongside fellow sinners and help them to understand (lend them a listening ear, have open dialogue, not pre-judge anyone), what Jesus is all about. In return we can demonstrate how to follow Him with all of our hearts, souls and minds while also loving our neighbours as ourselves.

    Just wondering….

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    1. I don’t really think that how we enter into marriage is the issue. The issue is really what do we mean, or more importantly, what does the Bible have to say about the sanctity of Christian marriage. In that regard I would recommend a careful read of the recently released CRC interim report on human sexuality (http://www.crcna.org/sites/default/files/human_sexuality_interim_report_2019.pdr). The report emphasizes that we treat each other with graciousness since we are all fallen beings. It holds however to a strong Biblical position supporting the sanctity of Christian marriage. See especially pages 415 – 437. I was struck by such comments as “Just as it was immoral for the patriarchs to treat women in accord with the conventions of their culture, so it is immoral when Christians abandon God’s will from creation by acting in accord with the sexual conventions of our own culture. Premarital sex, cohabitation, divorce, sexual assault, polyamory and a host of other sexual practices increasingly tolerated by our culture are symptoms of a fallen world that is under the curse of sin.” (Pg.420).

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      1. Hi Bill, it’s too bad you were unable to attend the CRC meeting where they presented and discussed the interim report. There was a lot of concern expressed by the honest, strong Christians present, that they did not agree with the report and its limited perspective.
        I am not commenting on what is right or wrong, only that we are not giving others, particularly those involved with an array of sexual issues, a chance to experience God’s grace through us. These are vulnerable people that are often judged and ostracized, left feeling alone and inadequate, with no where to turn when they need someone to talk to. They need to know they will be accepted as a whole person, no matter what their specific concern is. My understanding is that all sin is seen as equal in God’s eyes, one category is not better nor worse than another.
        I am therefore suggesting that we meet all people, including the vulnerable, wherever they are at and walk with them, as they build a closer relationship with God, extending the same grace to them that the Holy Trinity extends to each of us that are aware of His presence, on a daily/hourly/minute-by-minute basis.

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      2. Bill, life is not affording me time right now to read those pages or to respond to you in depth. I think you are presuming things I am not saying, and you are not checking with me about about what you think you hear, you seem to be responding to what you conclude I mean.

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      1. I was not at the session because I was out of town, but have attended others like it within our own denomination. There are many same sex attracted (SSA) believers who feel shunned by the church. And rightfully so! The church has often marginalized such individuals and we should repent of that .

        Having said that, I did read the report and found it to provide a very balanced perspective on a difficult topic. It is very sympathetic towards SSA believers; however, it does affirm the prohibition of same sex relationships. There is a very detailed presentation in the report supporting that position. This is the same position as currently held by our denomination, the Alliance Church, PCA and other denominations.

        So what are we to do? I recommend the following (written by SSA believers) as excellent resources to help us find the way: “Is God Anti Gay by Sam Allberry & “Costly Grace” by Mark Yarhouse and Olya Zaporozhets

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      2. Hi Bill, when you ask “what are we to do?”

        I am suggesting that as Christians, we are here here to gently and with grace, help others to find their way to God and/or strengthen their relationship with Him. We can still stand by what the Bible says, without throwing it in people’s faces. In my view, we are to be the hands and feet of God, guiding people to Him, enabling the Holy Spirit to fill the vulnerable with hope, love and peace. We meet and accept people where they are currently at and walk with them during their journey of discovering who Christ really is. When we state strong positions, it discourages people.

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