Thursday, November 05, 2015

By the authority vested in me by the State...

The ceremony of my marriage was carried out inside a building that most people refer to as a "church".
The ceremony mostly occurred on the same platform from which the pastor man usually lectures the same people every Sunday morning and evening.
The ceremony was officiated by a clergyman who had also performed premarital counseling for my fiancée and me, who had told us early on that if were engaging in any hanky-panky beforehand, he would not officiate our wedding.

At the end of our ceremony, our covenant of marriage made and vows expressed, this officiating clergyman pronounced us married by the authority vested in him by God and by the State of Oklahoma. Then he signed his name to a document that my wife and I had obtained from the governmental office that manages such affairs, affirming in the eyes of the State that we were legally married.

What did these various words, spoken and written, spoken by the various participants, accomplish?

Did not the vows spoken in the sight of God (and, in our case, other witnesses) actually bring the marriage covenant into being? Given that, what role did the "officiating" clergyman play in the true substance of that day, which was to join two people in marriage? None that I can see.

When the clergyman "pronounce(d)" us husband and wife, who would argue that his pronouncement was anything more than a recognition of the covenant already brought into being? (Not that he said anything wrong or false that day other than that.) This raises some questions, though, as to why he prefaced his not-pronouncement pronouncement with the statement "by the authority vested in me by God and the state of Oklahoma":
-Where did God grant this authority to this man or this class of man, to create marriage covenants? (Obviously, if he simply meant that he had authority to understand and acknowledge a covenant of marriage, it barely merits saying such a thing; anyone can understand and acknowledge a marriage exists.)
-Does this not implicate the clergyman in any sin that may surround the couple (as in a recent incident involving Doug Wilson)?
-Does this not give all concerned the wrong idea of what marriage is - something to be conferred and (if we were to take it to the logical conclusion) which can be dissolved by a man?
-Does this not give all concerned the wrong idea of what marriage is - something to be conferred and (if we were to take it to the logical conclusion) which can be dissolved by the State?
-Why did he, an ostensible servant of Jesus, take onto himself the power of creating marriages in the eyes of the State? (And on what biblical reasoning would this sort of arrangement be based?)

It seems to me that this clergyman, like all others who take on the role of State-marriage-makers, is opening himself up to a significant danger from that State. If he opens his church and his clergy role to creating marriage relationships that the State also recognises as legally binding, does this not mean that he must create marriages in accord with the State's commands?

Thus, what if he were told by the State to marry whomever the State says should be able to marry? Would this man not be obviously exposed to charges of discrimination for marrying the people he deems fit to marry inside "his" church (though the church is not his, but rather belongs to God, and a church is not a building but rather a gathering of people who belong to God, and the building does not really belong to him ultimately but rather to the State if his church organisation is legally a 501c3 entity)?

Given all of these considerations, and given that the Bible specifically and repeatedly says things like "What God has joined together, let no man separate" of marriage covenants, would it not be by far the best course of action for clergy all over the country to stop officiating weddings, or at least to cease any cooperation with the State in creating legally binding marriage arrangements?

Would this not push responsibility back to the husband and wife?
Would this not remind all what a real covenant is? Who creates them? Who joins people together in marriage?
Would this not also allow clergy to more plausibly escape certain Statist ramifications when they push other definitions of marriage? If the clergyman were to renounce his licenses as an agent of the State, he would be under no obligation to marry people whom he does not want to marry, for he does not marry anyone!


Prince Asbel said...

I agree with you a thousand percent, Rhology. These same thoughts about who officiates a wedding and whether or not it's even biblically necessary have always been in my mind- you brought a new dimension to it though. Perhaps pastors who officiate weddings should take into account possibly persecution through the state when they discriminate marrying certain couples whom they see as not fit for marriage.

I wish there were some alternative non-legally binding form of marriage as well, one that a pastor could, in the presence of family and friends, officiate over. Not because there's any mandate in the Bible for such a ceremony, but for the safety of the husband against frivolice divorce and divorce theft. It could also serve as a form of Christian public recognition that this couple considers each other husband and wife. That way you have the Christian accountability without the intrusion of the state into their relationship.

The Blogger Formerly Known As Lvka said...

Two reasons:

The Christian Church, from its very beginning, had pastors (shepherds), presbyters (elders), and bishops (overseers) to lead the flock, and oversee the affairs of the Church, which includes acts of public worship: Sunday services, baptisms, weddings, funerals, etc. Unless you are not an atheist, you always seek the blessing of God, which to us Christians is given through those whom He appointed to this office. The superior blesses the inferior, as Saint Paul informs us (Hebrews 7:7), and our parents and pastors are definitely our superiors, since children listen to their parents, and the sheep to the shepherd.

Also, no one can baptize oneself (or do you recall anyone doing that in the New Testament ?). Likewise, no one can marry oneself either. In Christ's time, people were given in marriage (Matthew 22:30, Mark 12:25, Luke 17:27, 20:34-35), usually by their parents.