Tony Jones wrote a blog post in January of 2010 stating that he believes that pastors should give up the right to perform legal marriages. For the benefit of those who do not know me (including Tony Jones) he and I disagree on most of the things he says, but in this case, I think he hit the nail right on the head. His post finally put into words something I have been trying to articulate for about two years. Here is where I have landed.
There are two kinds of marriage (thanks to Mr. Jones for giving them names) there is "Legal Marriage" and "Sacramental Marriage". Legal marriages then, are whatever the State (in my case Canada) says it is. In Canada, the legal definition reads:
"Marriage, for civil purposes, is the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others."Legal marriage, then, is a contract. Entered into freely by two people who have decided to become legally married for whatever reason. A legal marriage is also relatively easy to end. Here in Canada, for example a marriage can be ended by three main means: 1) Adultery 2) Physical or mental Cruelty or 3) After having lived separately for a year. It's that easy.
Sacramental Marriage, then, as the name suggests, must conform to the biblical paradigm of marriage as set out by God and not legal authority. So then what is the Biblical paradigm? After a number of years, studying and pondering, I have come up with what I believe strongly to be the biblical paradigm for sacramental marriage. We know that God created sacramental marriage to be between a man and a woman in Genesis 2, but what many people fail to realize is that not only is sacramental marriage designed to be heterosexual, it was also a gift given to God's people (Adam and Eve in this case) therefore we can presume that sacramental marriage is to be between a Christian man and a Christian woman. these are the prerequisites: 1) Heterosexual and 2) Christian. Once those prerequisites are met, there are three criteria that meet the basis for a biblical marriage covenant.
1) Commitment: Obviously, we start with a desire to marry and a commitment on the part of both the man and the woman to be married. Practically, this manifests as the engagement and marriage vows.
2) Community: This commitment between the bride and groom is to be made and affirmed by a community. Practically, this would work itself out as the actual marriage ceremony being witnessed by both the body of believers the couple is a part of and family. This criteria is crucial since without it, any couple can simply take steps 1 and 3 and say: "In God's eyes, we're married" as an excuse for pre-marital sex.
3) Consummation: Also known as: "The reason we signed up for this". This one is simple, without consummation, there is no covenant, it's just plain Biblical. Not speaking, of course, to extreme cases where sex is not possible, but getting young couples to consummate their marriage won't be a problem.
Briefly then: For there to be a sacramental marriage, there must be a commitment that is affirmed by the community of faith and consummated by the couple for a covenant of marriage to exist.
With all of that said, where does this leave our loving couple and their pastor on the wedding day? Well we can't move on without mentioning Romans 13 and following the governmental authorities. In short, (again, this is in Canada) if a couple wants to be sacramentaly married, they must submit to legal marriage as well. Practically then, the couple would go to a Justice, become legally married, and then come to the church (or whatever venue) and have a sacramental wedding.
Is this method more practically complicated than the current setup? Yes. Will this mean that pastors who refuse this ability to solemnize legal marriages will also lose the privilege of for example, signing as a guarantor? Yes (probably). Is this distinction necessary? Yes. The more Canada's laws and culture drift away from Christendom (for good or bad) and Christian ideals the more the church will have to take a stand for what God has ordained and still submit to our government.
We live in a country where the divorce rate among believers is statistically equal the our secular neighbours. This must not be allowed to continue, it affects out witness which affects our Mission. Let us render to Caesar (or here, the Queen) what is Caesar's and keep God's gift to his people of sacramental marriage sacred.