Is marriage primarily a civil or an ecclesiastical affair?

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Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
The unsaved can be married, after all. Should ministers need to perform these marriage then, or can civil magistrates?

Page 220 of Howard Davies, The Worship of the American Puritans claims, “The Puritans followed the English Separatists Greenwood and Barrow in believing that marriage was a civil, not a religious or ecclesiastical ceremony, and in the conviction that there was no biblical warrant for a church ceremony.”


Should marriage be a church affair and done by pastors? Or is the civil magistrate enough?
 

TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
Reading Ruth you see the man going down to the civil leaders and taking off a shoe, i.e. a public witness. So, we see it that way, and even in the confession marriage is said to be appropriate for all people, not only Christian. If a couple converted from atheism or Mormonism or whatever and joined any Reformed church, their marriage is recognized no matter who administered the vows.
 

tcalbrecht

Puritan Board Junior
Should marriage be a church affair and done by pastors? Or is the civil magistrate enough?

That ministers of the gospel ought to officiate at wedding ceremonies seems to be a given these days. I do not see that as a given in Scripture. Lawful vows before a magistrate should be recognized by all.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
I tend to think the church shouldn't be involved; but some people have pointed out that since a wedding involves vows it could be considered a part of religious worship.
 

Willem van Oranje

Puritan Board Junior
Marriage involves the church and the state because a marriage (of Christians) ought to be recognized by both. It is not essential that the wedding ceremony take place in the church vs. before a justice of the peace. However, I think it is ordinarily in order for Christians to ask God's blessing upon the marriage, offering up prayers and praises as they make vows to God. It would be okay to do it before a JoP and some family members, but I think having the ceremony in the church carries many benefits.
 

Skyler

Puritan Board Graduate
Are those the only two options? Why couldn't it be a "familial affair", so to speak?
 

Willem van Oranje

Puritan Board Junior
Are those the only two options? Why couldn't it be a "familial affair", so to speak?

That is an option if at a minimum such a wedding is recognized by the state (and the church, in the case of Christians) and that it will be publicly proclaimed to have taken place shortly after the event.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
A wedding, where holy vows are taken in the name of God, is very fitting to be done in a church.

It is also an appropriate place for pre-marital counselling where biblical principles are imparted, whether to believer or unbeliever.

It is perfectly fine for two unbelievers to marry, not for a believer and unbeliever- what other place could make that determination better than a church?
 

tcalbrecht

Puritan Board Junior
I tend to think the church shouldn't be involved; but some people have pointed out that since a wedding involves vows it could be considered a part of religious worship.

There are many vows that have nothing to do with religious worship per se. In fact, the WCF makes a distinction between the elements of "ordinary religious worship" and special practices such as vows, etc (21:5). A vow before God regarding marriage is no more or less religious based on the location of the participants.
 

SRoper

Puritan Board Graduate
Marriage is primarily civil. Marriage is not a sacrament and the marriages of unbelievers and marriages of believers by civil authorities are valid marriages.
 

Willem van Oranje

Puritan Board Junior
Are those the only two options? Why couldn't it be a "familial affair", so to speak?

That is an option if at a minimum such a wedding is recognized by the state (and the church, in the case of Christians) and that it will be publicly proclaimed to have taken place shortly after the event.

Where do those requirements come from?

Deduced from Scripture and general revelation by good and necessary consequence. If the marriage is not recognized and accepted by the church, then the church cannot watch over the souls of those married a la church discipline. A married couple has different duties and relations to one another than two people in the church who are not married. The church needs to be aware of and affirm the marriage bond so that they know how to encourage and counsel the couple. Likewise the state has laws regarding marriage. Two persons who are married do not fit into the same legal category as two unmarried persons in many ways. Likewise the community in which they live and work will treat them differently based on their being a married couple vs. not being married. Therefore, the wedding needs to be announced and recognized by the church, state, and the community. Make sense?
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Is there any biblical precedent for our modern marriage ceremonies (besides the two to publically make a vow and that's it)? Are we adding ceremony and ritual with flower girls and maids of honors, etc? Should the church refuse such useless pomp and ceremony?
 

Willem van Oranje

Puritan Board Junior
Is there any biblical precedent for our modern marriage ceremonies (besides the two to publically make a vow and that's it)? Are we adding ceremony and ritual with flower girls and maids of honors, etc? Should the church refuse such useless pomp and ceremony?

My opinion is that these things are not to be strictly regulated by the regulative principle as if this were a stated worship service. Although weddings often contain Christian devotions, it is not strictly or properly a worship service. There may be some elements of Christian worship included, (along with some civil elements,) but there need not be all the elements of Christian worship included. And it does not bar other social and civil ceremonies from taking place as part of the wedding. Although the rules of wisdom and Christian prudence would suggest that many weddings are way too lavish, pompous, and wasteful these days.
 

SRoper

Puritan Board Graduate
The Westminster Standards state that it is a sin to forbid a lawful marriage (WLC 139). One should not obey laws that are opposed to the law of God.
 
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