Should the Church Divorce from the State in Marriage?
August 5, 2015
In light of the recent Supreme Court decision granting civil rights for homosexual marriages, a question is raised: should the church divorce from its marriage-partnership with the state? In other words, should I refuse to declare, "By the authority vested in me as a minister of the gospel and by the State of South Carolina, I declare you husband and wife"? The rationale for this question seems to be that the state is no longer upholding a biblical standard of marriage. Moreover, it is feared that by acting as officers of the state in performing weddings, government pressure will be applied to Christian ministers to perform so-called same-sex marriages.
I would argue that the answer, at least for the present, is No. Let me offer the following reasons why churches and ministers should for the time being continue to partner with the state in joining biblical marriages:
It is possible that the current situation may change and civil authorities may challenge the right of churches to uphold their teachings and practices. So far though, while the threat looms, this has not happened. In the event that it does, Christian churches should make it as difficult and painful as possible for a tyrannical government to deny our religious liberty. By staying engaged in the culture, we can most effectively fight against the perversion and tyranny of state-mandated same-sex marriage.
- While Christians lament the failings of our courts, it remains true that the civil state is fulfilling an important and legitimate role in regulating marriage. As the Westminster Confession notes, God "has ordained civil magistrates" to pursue "the public good" (1 Pet. 2:13-14). Of course, churches should refuse to participate in ungodly marriages. It does not follow, however, that we should disenfranchise the state in the matter of godly marriages. Churches do well to acknowledge the state's role, and to serve the state in joining biblically faithful marriages.
- Past experience shows that the church can maintain biblical standards even when the civil authority does not. An example is no-fault divorce, which violates the Bible's teaching. True churches simply respond to divorce differently from the laws of the state, imposing church discipline on members who divorce without biblical grounds. We should do the same with respect to same-sex marriage.
- It is a blessing for Christians to have a faithful minister representing the state in performing weddings. Given its unbiblical stance, Christians will want to distance themselves from civil authorities, preferring to have godly pastors act on the state's behalf.
- Moreover, it is a service to society for godly pastors to act on the state's behalf in establishing godly marriages. Instead of pulling out of society, Christians should seek to be involved for the good of all, so long as we can uphold biblical practices.
- There is still time for state assemblies to devise legislative remedies against the US Supreme Court. When possible, churches should support godly state governors and legislatures and not surrender our civil influence in the matter of marriage.