Editors' Note: Even though they may have little connection to a church, many couples today still want a traditional wedding ceremony with a pastor officiating. If you were the pastor, how would you respond? In this article, Deepak Reju of Capitol Hill Baptist Church says "yes" with conditions. For a different take, see Russell Moore's answer.
Suppose Debbie, who is not a Christian, asked me if I would officiate at her wedding. She is planning to get married to her boyfriend, who is also not a Christian. With a few important conditions, I would likely say, "Yes." Why would I marry two non-Christians?
Marriage is a creation ordinance. God created marriage (Gen 2:15-25). He made it as a fundamental part of how he designed the world we live in. God gave marriage as a gift to the first couple and also to all men and women who desire to partake (James 1:17).
Marriage is also a common grace institution; a grace given by God to both Christians and non-Christians alike (Isaiah 62:5; Ezek 44:22; Matt 19:10; Matt 22:24-28; Luke 17:27; Luke 20:34). Heterosexual marriage is legally recognized as a universal privilege for any man and woman who desires it. As Solomon declares to his son, "He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord" (Prov 18:22).
A faithful husband and wife are an imperfect picture of God's committed love. Sin may hinder our ability to reflect what God is like, but even as sinners, we remain people made in the image of God. As such, two non-Christians who stay committed to one another remind us of God. Their marriage covenant reflects God's committed, covenantal love better than our fickle, noncommittal love.
Premarital counseling and officiating a ceremony for two non-Christians is a tremendous evangelistic opportunity. I would only officiate for my non-Christian friend Debbie under a few conditions, including:
- In talking with the couple, I would make sure there is a genuine commitment, commonly shared values, a similar vision for the future, and no hidden sins from the past.
- I would not marry a non-Christian to a Christian. That's an explicit violation of Scripture—Paul encourages Christians to only marry someone who "belongs to the Lord" (1 Cor 7:39, NIV; see also 1 Cor 6:14-18).
- I would ask the couple to do premarital counseling with me so that I can teach them the purposes of marriage from God's Word.
- I would make sure they understand beforehand that the ceremony would be explicitly Christ-centered.
The premarital counseling and the officiating of the ceremony provide a wonderful opportunity for me (as a pastor) to proclaim the truths of God's Word to this non-Christian couple (and their unbelieving family and friends at the ceremony). After hearing these conditions, if they still want me to officiate, then I'd happily do it!
Marriage as a creation ordinance; as a common grace institution; as a reminder of God's covenantal love; and as an evangelistic opportunity—all four of these reasons lead me to believe that I as a pastor should be willing to marry two non-Christians, to the glory and praise of our Great God.