A Question: Should churches be in the marrying business?

From Robin Dugall:

I believe it is time to separate the civil and “religious” ceremonies of marriage.  In light of the conversations, issues of civil rights and cultural discourse that has surrounded the issue of marriage for “centuries” (believe me, for you students of history, we are not the only people who have struggled with what marriage means – monogamous, man/woman, polygamy, etc. throughout history), it is time to revisit what some countries already practice.

First, have EVERY couple seek a marriage license and a state marriage validation through the civil processes.  Get the Justices of the Peace busy with every wedding sought by people within whatever civil definition prevails.

Secondly, for those couples who would like to have a marriage “blessing” from the church (note that I used the small “c” because there is not even unanimity in opinions about the definition of marriage even among relgious communities), have them seek that wedding blessing from within the definition and faith/belief system to which they adhere.

That way, for those faith communities who believe that marriage IS defined by one woman/one man, these communities can continue to abide by their faith/doctrinal systems and embrace their definition of marraige from within the protection of religious liberty.

In this way, NO MORALITY is imposed on the culture in any manner.  In this way, faith communities can continue to practice what many of us feel is an issue that is non-negotiable, that being, a biblical worldview perspective, a biblical narrative/story perspective on the institution of marriage.  For some of my pals this might be seen as a bit dualistic.  I’m NOT trying to imply a separation of the spiritual and material realms.  I still believe we live in a God-soaked world in which there is NO separtion between the secular and sacred.  God’s presence in reality as Ultimate reality implies that there is NO SUCH THING as secular space or pure secular living.

What this DOES DO  is give followers of Jesus an opportunity to practice our faith and celebrate our “culture’s” adherance, commitments and obedience to our hermeneutic and application of the biblical story (in regards to human relationships, our understanding of family, marriage, etc.).  I don’t think there was EVER an expectation within the biblical story that the faith community would be in agreement with cultural norms.  In fact, there are very clear perspectives throughout holy writ that imply that there WILL BE a differentiation with culture.  So, I think it is time to do this with marriage.

I’m going to begin some discussions with my friends, faith community and fellow scholars about how this idea may take shape in creative action in the days to come.  In this way as well people of faith can support civil rights and NOT get bogged down by accusations of bigotry or hatred due to the legality of ONE issue.  I have compassion and humility with this issue…I also have strong feelings and long-held beliefs about what Christ followers are supposed to uphold when it comes to sexual and relational ethics.  By splitting the two “realities,” we live in the best of both worlds.  So, push back anyone?

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Steve Dominy

    Scot, I agree but would phrase the statement a little differently; should the state be in the marrying business? Roger Olson wrote a very similar post not long ago arguing that the state should oversee civil unions and the church and religious institutions performing marriages. I look forward to seeing where the conversation might lead.

  • http://patrickfranklin.wordpress.com/ Patrick S. Franklin

    Not a bad idea. I don’t like the language of seeking a marriage “blessing” from the church. Too consumerist (or even superstitious). Totally loses what covenant implies, both for the couple and for the community that stands with them as witnesses and supporters.

  • Troy Fountain

    Scott,

    I really like what you are proposing here. I think the church has been mired in the wrong debate over this issue. I do have one question for you. How will the implication of this “split” spill back into the church world through legalities such as medical benefits, employment, tax-exempt, etc as it relates to the economy and business of the church? I feel like the church has been more interested in making a point rather than a difference on this issue. That being said how do you feel the above question will keep the church from splitting the issue entirely?

    Would love your thoughts.

    Troy

  • stephen fife

    As a pastor I am all for this idea. Even with heterosexual marriages sometimes I feel like I am getting used as a figurehead for two people who just want a wedding. I am also uncomfortable with being used as an agent for the state during what I believe should be acting as an agent for God. I believe the UK has already gone this way in separating out the two entities of “legal” vs. “covenantal”.

    The government can oversee what it means to be connected for benefits, insurance, taxes, etc…

    The church can speak to what it means to be connected in Christ.

  • Jakeithus

    I strongly agree with separating the civil and religious aspects of marriage, and I strongly agree with you that the phrasing should be reversed. Marriage has typically had religious connotations that the state does not need to concern itself with, where the state should only really be concerned about the legal and property rights involved.

    I think the discussion of getting the state out of the marriage business should have started years ago, since the recent debate has made idea that the state does and should define marriages a common misconception.

  • John Ayala

    Great idea, this is something that if Christians really though out, as you have, it makes so much sense.
    I have heard this from Roger E. Olson as well and it is something we really need to try and push for. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2013/04/a-question-for-conservative-christians-and-glbt-rights-advocates-why-not-civil-unions/

  • Rick Webster

    This still says to same-sex couples, “You are not welcome here. You are not full participants in the Kingdom of God. And we don’t want to love and bless you as we would everyone else.”

    And that’s the real issue, isn’t it? This is just one more way for us to pick and choose those we will love. That’s the only thing this is a solution to – our problem loving those we deem unworthy.

    This is a horrible idea. Terribly misguided.

  • Phil Miller

    Regardless of one’s position on same-sex marriage, does loving someone mean that we have to endorse every decision they make? I wouldn’t think so. I’m not a pastor, but my father is. And I know there were heterosexual people that he refused to marry for various reasons. It didn’t have anything to do with him not loving them or trying to exclude them from the Kingdom of God.

  • rdugall

    Looking forward to having a conversation about this post…I wrote it knowing that “language” would have to be parsed, engaged critically and “pastorally” evaluated. In response to a couple of you who seem to imply that ALL churches and ALL pastors should perform all weddings just because it is culturally “accepted” does not take into account that serious minded, loving, humble and compassion Jesus followers don’t agree on this issue. My idea puts the responsibility in the “performing” of the marriage “covenant” into the hands of people in faith communities who share a commonality of values as well as specific scriptural adherence. I do not agree that just because the law of the land allows (soon to be) any form of marriage that the local faith community is obligated to jump at the culture’s whim. In that case, we would NOT have had the scriptural and historical witness that we do. A Jesus following movement that submits to cultural norms that are built upon a divergent worldview than that of a biblically informed worldview is essentially not one that “stands” for anything. Many of us (not all) would agree that many of these issues are being informed more from a relativistic, individualistic moral/ethical deliberation than that which struggles with the promised “two edged sword” of scripture. I thought that one of the justices actually made a good point yesterday when he remarked that in our culture it is NOW assumed that if you do not accept specific legal definitions of ethical actions that you are now essentially being told that you “hate your neighbor or come along with us.” My hope is to have some conversation. I’m at a place where I would let the state be in the “marriage” business while many of us (again, not all) look at marriage from a covenantal, even “sacramental” perspective anew! Talk about your “ancient/future” perspective!

  • americanwoman343

    I truly believe this is where the situation is going anyway – whether the church wants it or not. When push comes to shove + some churches won’t do same sex weddings, weddings will be taken out of the house of worship sphere – everyone wil need a civil service of some kind, however brief, and van seek the confirmation of their religion as they wish – and,many won’t. And the more some churches yell now, the faster that will come.

  • Rick Webster

    I’m sure your father had good reasons for not marrying some couples. But that’s not what we’re talking about here, is it? We’re talking about excluding an entire group of people we don’t even know. What about the couples your father did marry? Would he have married same- sex couples for the same reasons? If not then, yes, it is about not loving and blessing everyone equally and yes, it is about exclusion.

    I don’t want to sound disrespectful to your dad. I just think this post misses the point, entirely.

  • Phil Miller

    First off, no disrespect taken. I don’t suspect you even know my dad. :-)

    Well, I think most pastors would be somewhat wary of marrying people they didn’t know, just in general. Different churches have different requirements on who can be married in that church. I know some pastors that won’t perform wedding for someone who has been divorced, for instance.

    I guess in some ways, I see the whole issue of gay couples wanting to get married in churches and whether or not pastors will perform that ceremony as something of a moot point. If a church has a conservative position on marriage, I don’t suspect gay couples would be seeking out pastors from the church to perform their ceremonies. They would go to a church that more closely aligned with their theology.

  • attytjj466

    More in favor of getting the State out of the marrying business and have the State only do civil unions for everyone, and keep marriages for religious entities. There is no reason for the State to be in the marriage business.

  • Amy Christenson Loureiro

    Here in Brazil, everyone must register their marriage through a civil procedure; it’s not even a service really.The religious service is optional. Many people marry legally, and then start saving for ‘the Wedding’ which may happen years later. For me, this resonates with a previous poster’s (Patrick’s) fears about the consumerist implications of a church ceremony and how it is seen by many in contemporary society as the pretty icing on the cake.

    I agree with Rick and Phil–pastors who perform weddings as sacraments, as covenant agreements, should know the people for whom they are performing them. There are many reasons why a pastor should/could refuse to perform this service for couples: previous no-fault divorces, previous divorces regardless of fault, pre-marital sex, living together before the ceremony, failure to complete pre-marital counseling, failure to agree with the church’s doctrinal issues, non-membership, some persistent sin that hasn’t been dealt with, etc. Heck, refusals based on these things may even be more inflammatory than the question of same-sex couples.

    As has been stated, liberal and conservative congregations/denominations may define the marriage sacrament in different ways. It is my belief that pastors should refuse the marriage sacrament to any couple based on their theology and/or conscience, and I am willing to place the judgement of such pastors in the hands of the only authority fit to judge.

  • Boyd

    Been saying this for years now.

    Quibble over what to call it a “Blessing Service” or a “Covenantal Ceremony” or “Faith Recognition Event” … or something else more to your liking, but let the Government be the single entity to be in the business of “granting” marriage status for everyone. Pastor should move in the direction of no longer LEGALLY marry anyone, and then churches would be under no LEGAL obligation to perform legally binding ceremonies for anyone, but what they would still be able to do is preside over a purely RELIGIOUS ceremony where the participants have to agree to the conditions. Anyone applying for such a RELIGIOUS event would have to 1st be LEGALLY married by the entity that grants LEGAL contracts.

    At some point, it is just inevitable that there will be challenges as to whether or not a church or denomination is violating someone’s LEGAL rights if that someone is denied a LEGAL marriage within a church where he or she is a member if that church or denomination performs LEGAL marriages of other members, either by clergy members who are connected to that church or denomination or by other persons if the church or denomination allows its property to be used for LEGAL services.

    Even limiting LEGAL events to members won’t solve the problem since there will those who are members of a congregation who request a marriage that includes a “church wedding” even if their church or denomination doesn’t theologically agree. Anyone trying to force churches or denominations to allow ALL members FULL participation in all RELIGIOUS ceremonies, however, would face an uphill fight because the government would eventually end up having to take on the Catholic church and say the Catholic church has no authority to exercise its teachings over its own members, and those teachings have been in place and practiced for centuries without challenge. The “free exercise” clause should still allow for churches to discipline members by denying members certain things if they are not in compliance with **established** teachings–as in the Catholic church is allowed to exercise authority to deny participation in the Eucharist to members who do or do not do certain things, so churches and denominations should still be allowed to deny a “Blessing Service” or “Covenantal Ceremony” or “Faith Recognition Event” to members who are not in compliance with **established** teachings of that church or denomination.

  • http://www.coffeecuptheology.wordpress.com/ Darryl Willis

    To say the state should get out of the “marriage business” seems to presuppose that it was originally the church’s business to officiate such.

    I’m curious, did the early church actually perform marriages or did they merely recognize the marriages that were under the domain of the individual cultures they lived in (i.e., Rome, Judah, etc.)? I’ve not actually studied that aspect of the first century culture. Did Rome legislate marriage or did individual cultures (or both)? I would assume since the first and second century churches had no or little role in government (and since it was first considered an off-shoot of Judaism and later it’s own sect) that marriages were not really controlled by the church, but merely recognized and perhaps blessed.

    If that’s the case then the legislation of marriage for legal purposes was always controlled by ruling authorities (either the state or the chieftain, or the king/Emperor) and not by the church (except perhaps when church and state joined together to form a government).

    Am I correct or all wet?

  • candeux

    Rick,

    I tend to agree with the sentiment of your comment, but that is not what this post is about. This post suggests that people should get the legal benefits of marriage from the civil authorities and the spiritual benefits from their church, which is an eminently sensible and logical idea.

    Regardless of whether such a proposal is adopted, churches must decide whether to marry same-sex couples, which is where your comment applies. As much as we might like for churches to choose to do so, I hope we can agree that it would not be appropriate for the government to require it.

    –Joe Canner

  • scotmcknight

    From what I know they were family generated but ratified or established at the village or synagogue level. In Rome and Greece there were ceremonies etc but they were family and village/city established. So they were official and legal. Dowries were a big part of marriages.

  • http://www.coffeecuptheology.wordpress.com/ Darryl Willis

    So basically, they were legislated first by families and then by the geographic community where one belonged. So how did the early church fit into that structure? Did they become the community that ratified a Christian’s marriage?

    Which, I suppose, would suggest that Christians were only concerned about Christian marriages rather than Jewish marriages or marriages originating in a pagan community whose primary god would be, say, Diana or Apollo. How would that inform someone’s contention that the church should/should not be in charge of marriages as opposed to the state?

  • scotmcknight

    Darryl, it’s not so simple to say first families and then communities, since it was a society in which families existed.
    Early in the 2d Century already church leaders wanted Christians to have their marriages approved by the bishop. Yes, they probably had a kind of ratification. Yes, only Christian marriages since societies were already sanctioning/ratifying marriages. German theologians used to call these “creation” ordinances… not sure if they still do.

  • Rick Webster

    Joe,

    “This post suggests that people should get the legal benefits of marriage from the civil authorities and the spiritual benefits from their church, which is an eminently sensible and logical idea.”

    Isn’t this exactly what’s happening now? I’m confused. What legal benefits does the church now offer that that civil authorities don’t? Protection against discrimination in housing? Health insurance benefits? Divorce settlements?

    And who said anything about churches being legislated to perform same-sex marriages? Where is this conversation happening?

    I’m not offering these questions as a challenge. It’s just that, once again, I think it’s a case of missing the point entirely. This is entirely about exclusion, about telling an entire segment of the population that they cannot be full participants in the Kingdom of God, and that we don’t want to bless and love them as we would everyone else. What I think Mr. McKnight is looking for here is for the state to sanction those statements.

    And I think his ‘solution’ neatly sidesteps the difficult work of loving, blessing and being in community with those we don’t agree with.

  • Rick Webster

    Couldn’t agree more, Phil. And yes, it’s very much a moot point, for exactly the reasons you stated. Unfortunately, fear is often what keeps the Evangelical Christian Machine running – particularly on social issues.

  • http://www.coffeecuptheology.wordpress.com/ Darryl Willis

    Thank you for the clarification, Scot!

  • Nathan Roskam

    I agree with the distinction between civil union and marriage. I would say, however, the Church may have missed the opportunity to reclaim and redeem the word because of a failure to engage this conversation in a healthy fashion. Do you think there could be a separation of terms?

  • Teri

    I’m a progressive mainline pastor, and I have been saying for probably 10 years that we should separate the legal and religious aspects of marriage. In no way should the church be involved in the legal aspect, period. But currently, pastors act as agents of the state in addition to “agents of the church” (bad term, but concise!). That’s not really okay, honestly.

    Nowhere have I seen any serious argument that pastors/churches will be required to perform same-sex marriages. There is no requirement that we perform *anyone’s* wedding if we don’t want to. The idea in separating the legal and faith components (as is already done in many countries) is to ensure that those coming for a religious service of worship at which they covenant their lives together before God and God’s people are actually there to do that, not just to have a pretty service with a pastor’s name on the certificate.

    I am sad, though not surprised, that this conversation is making its way to the fore now that marriage equality is apparently on its way in. I was afraid it would be just another way for churches to avoid/terrorize people. But The fact remains that if we really do want to separate church and state, here’s a tangible way to do it, and to bring faith back to more of those weddings that are happening in churches…

  • Georges Boujakly

    Rick,
    It is about exclusion. But I don’t equate all exclusion as unloving action.

  • metanoia

    What do we do then with the language of Gen. 2, which preceded the creation of civil society, and Matt. 19 where Jesus endorsed marriage as a spiritual union established at the Creation?

  • Rev. Mark Smith

    Don Carson shared a similar idea in a NT class at TEDS in the mid-1990s.

  • jamiearpinricci

    There is morality being required of people, though. Intentionally or not, this still privileges the state by suggesting primacy in order (and possibly necessity in process).

  • jamiearpinricci

    To try and claim the word marriage for religious circles is a mistake. First, that battle is lost. Second, it doesn’t change the issue with respect to the same-sex marriage debate, as people could still be married religiously.

    In the end, does giving this freedom to others in any tangible way take away from the freedom we have? I am not convinced it does.

  • Marshall

    Yes, the civil and religious functions should be seen as separate, and it isn’t even a new idea:

    “The church also began celebrating marriages at least by the beginning of the second century … It is understandable that devout couples would wish to consecrate their union. But apparently marriages in the church also had another function: to acknowledge unions that were not strictly legal. According to the law of the time, the social status — and the accompanying rights — of a couple was determined by the status of a husband. In the early church women tended to be of higher social standing than men, and therefore official. legal marriages among believers could have serious civil consequences, depriving the wife of some of her rights and standing. The solution was to perform church marriages that had no official or civil sanction.” – Justo L. Gonzales, The Story of Christianity

    Still a valid argument today … I think Richard Beck pointed out that the church might want to sanctify unions among distressed people whose civil status is ambiguous for one reason or another.

  • http://www.byron-harvey.com Byron

    Scot, I agree with basically everything you say except for your very first comment: “First, have EVERY couple seek a marriage license and a state marriage validation through the civil processes.”

    Instead, I say, forget the state! Who needs its blessing? As a pastor, I’m not about to sign a marriage license in any state that has bastardized the meaning of marriage; I won’t be an accessory to it. The state can do what it darn well pleases, but I don’t have to play along.

    What needs to happen, it seems to me, is some fundamental rethinking of marriage from an evangelical, Biblical perspective. Why not advocate that churches strengthen real marriage by coming to some agreement on minimums:

    - Significant premarital counseling
    - Ongoing marriage-strengthening programming, perhaps mentoring

    - Instead of some legal marriage license, how about insisting that believing couples agree, in the event of problems, to marital counseling, and to Christian mediation in the event of marriage-threatening problems?
    - An understanding that in the case of divorce, at least one of the parties is placed under church discipline

    We do what we can at the outset to ensure strong marriages, we promise counsel in the event of problems, and we agree to discipline when marriages break apart. Develop something along these lines, and then challenge churches to agree to implement these things. THAT would be worthwhile!

  • Rob Henderson

    I am still flat out against “civil unions” and believe that this will lead our nation down a darker spiritual path. However, I learned to read tea leaves a long time ago and this one is blaring loud and clear: WE LOST. Now, let us dust ourselves off and make the next move. I am all for this proposal.

    Let the government deal with the “contract” of marriage- lots of people do including some good Christian folks.

    Let the Church deal with the “covenant” of marriage within our own denominational distinctives. My denomination allows for divorcees to remarry. My good brothers and sisters up the road do not allow divorcees to remarry.

    My prayer is that the Church can get about doing the work of the kingdom and understand that we “do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” (Hebrews 13:14)

  • Rick Webster

    Georges,

    I am absolutely gobsmacked by that statement. I have no idea how to respond to that. To equate exclusion with love is a new level of …something. I don’t even know what to call it.

    I’m in awe.

  • gingoro

    My preference would be that the state be in the “civil union” business and the church or other religious organizations in the marrying business with a civil union being a prerequisite for a church marriage. BUT we have lost that battle for the use of different labels so I would support in essence the proposal above.
    DaveW

  • Paul W

    I have yet to see a substantial theological or biblical case for why churches or pastors should be in the wedding industry. Can ANYONE direct me to a sizable section of a reputable systematic theology that makes the case for churches conducting weddings? How about any biblical theology tomes specifically addressing it? Any academic Bible/Theology Dictionary articles focusing on it? Academic journal entries?

  • Michael DeLong

    Rick, If the Bible’s teaching on marriage is that it is between a woman and a man, which the majority of Christians and churches believe, then it is not a question of love and blessing. Unions of same-sex couples are not marriages, so how can we endorse them as such?

  • Jason Micheli

    I concur, and surrendered my wedding credentials earlier this year: http://tamedcynic.org/surrendering-my-wedding-credentials/

  • Rick Webster

    Michael – That’s exactly my point. This is all about withholding love, withholding blessing and excluding from community those we disagree with. How can we have any legitimacy to our desire (or claim) to love others as we love ourselves, to be a blessing to the world around us or to live in community when we pick and choose those we deem as worthy to receive our love, worthy to receive our blessing or our welcome into community?

    We want to love, bless and be in community only with those we agree with, those who meet our predetermined criteria. Seems kind of odd, doesn’t it? Kind of unhealthy?

  • candeux

    Rick,

    As Teri has already replied, yes, the church does–indirectly–provide legal benefits in that the state recognizes marriages performed by a church. This proposal is basically suggesting that churches should not be in the business of determining whether the state provides those benefits.

    Perhaps I misunderstood your comment. You didn’t explicitly say that the state should require churches to do same-sex marriages, but if the current system remains in place (which it sounds like you support), I don’t understand how churches are going to be any more likely to perform same-sex marriages unless the state requires them to do so.

    Otherwise, what you are advocating–that churches be more welcoming to same-sex couples–, while a fine idea, has nothing to do with the separation between church and state in this matter. I think I get what you are saying: that this proposal would relieve the church from having to confront this issue. But I still don’t see how the current system makes it any more likely that churches will do so.

    In fact, churches in states where same-sex marriage is legal are being advised to create policies outlining their views on same-sex marriage in advance so that they won’t get accused of discrimination when a same-sex couple asks to be married. This only serves to codify what was only previously an unspoken prejudice. If churches got out of the legal aspects of marriage then churches would not be liable to be accused of discrimination, written policies wouldn’t necessary, and churches could get on with the process of figuring out how to love their neighbors.

    Regards,
    Joe

  • Bob Kaylor

    Great post! Inspired me to write this piece, which goes a little further: http://bobkaylor.com/getting-out-of-the-marriage-business-2/

  • ortcutt

    It’s worth pointing out that most of the world requires a civil ceremony for legally-recognized marriage and allows a separate legally-unrecognized religious ceremony if the couple wishes so. This is the case in most Civil Law countries, modeled on the French, German, or Swiss legal codes. Many Islamic countries and those that inherited the Ottoman Millet system, like Israel, have no civil marriage laws, so a religious ceremony is required. Only Common-Law counties like the United States, Canada, the UK (Scotland is a Civil Law jurisdiction but follows the Common Law practice here), India, etc, … generally grant clergy the authority to act as agents of the state, and thus combine the civil and religious ceremonies into one.

  • ortcutt

    This would deny the non-religious the right to marry, however. Given that the Supreme Court has designated marriage as a fundamental right (Loving v. Virginia, etc…), I don’t see how this would pass Constitutional muster.

  • http://www.deliniation.com/ Delina Pryce McPhaull

    Exclusion in and of itself is not wrong. People who don’t accept Christ will be excluded from the Kingdom…is that wrong, unloving and unfair? No one is excluding gays and lesbians from fellowship, but to ask someone to bless something that Scripture forbids is selfish and self-serving.

  • Rick Webster

    Joe,

    If I understand your last paragraph correctly, you’re saying that once churches are free to show discrimination and prejudice without fear of legal consequences we can then get on with the business of loving our neighbour.

    I have no idea how to respond to that. No clue.

    I think it’s best if I just bow out of the conversation at this point. I feel like I’m wandering around lost in some kind of alien universe. I’m totally mystified by almost everything I read here.

  • FyreTurtle

    It seems as if you are advocating that churches recognize same sex marriages as valid in the eyes of scripture & it almost seems as if you are hinting that churches perform or include them as part of their practices regardless of the legal aspect or not in an effort to include those who engage in such marriages into the Kingdom of God.
    Am I understanding that correctly or did I miss something?

  • Rick Webster

    Delian – I would be totally in agreement with your statement if we got to choose who was in or out of the Kingdom. But we don’t. You and I don’t decide that. We don’t get to decide who is in and who is out, or why.

    I don’t know what you mean by ” fellowship”. But if we withhold love, acceptance and blessing from anyone then I suspect they’re really not being welcomed into full ‘fellowship’ are they? If we withhold these things how can we say we’re not excluding them?

  • Rick Webster

    I’m saying that we don’t get to choose who is in or out of the Kingdom of God – or why – and that our practices ought to reflect that reality.

  • http://www.deliniation.com/ Delina Pryce McPhaull

    Wait. I never said we decide who is in/out of the Kingdom. You missed my point… my point is “exclusion” in and of itself is not wrong. Discernment is not wrong.
    Let me ask you a question: If someone (believer or unbeliever) came to you and told you he was planning a bank heist or planned to do some insider trading or was trying to have a baby with his mistress or planned to start a gossip blog to air the dirt of people in his city, would you ask God’s blessing on their endeavors on their behalf? Could you bless that?
    The issue is not exclusion. The issue is, where are we going to draw the line?

  • Rick Webster

    Delina,

    The examples you have stated all involve someone hurting someone else. I don’t see the parallel between a bank heist, an affair, insider trading and two people in a loving, committed relationship. These are just not the same thing at all.

    And yes, if you’re drawing a line it is about exclusion. Otherwise, what is the line for?

  • chainrattler

    That’s because they are not participants in the kingdom of God. They will not inherit the kingdom of God, period. And neither will the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers nor the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars.

    I don’t deem them worthy or unworthy, I simply believe in the authority of the Scriptures as the Word of God. It is the Scriptures that deem them unworthy, not me, and even though they will not inherit the kingdom of God unless they repent, we are still commanded to love them regardless of their disobedience to God.

  • Rick Webster

    I don’t think we get to choose who is or isn’t in the Kingdom of God, or why. I spent five years as a cook in a homeless shelter and met numerous people who were drunkards, who were sexually immoral, thieves and who were convicted murderers. Not to mention liars. And I saw that God was clearly at work in their lives. And I have met gay Christians who love God and have ample evidence of how He has been at work in their inner being and in their life. As I said, I don’t think we get to decide who is or isn’t in the Kingdom of God. Or why.

  • chainrattler

    You’re right, we don’t decide, God already has, and He does work in peoples’ lives. I worked as an associate pastor for 5 years at a church that ministered to the same kind of people in your homeless shelter. It is God’s written Word that is the final authority on who is in the Kingdom, not our feelings or preferences. Jesus said that everyone who continually sins is a slave to sin, and that a slave has no permanent place in the family. He may have a temporary place, but as long as he/she remains a slave to sin they have no permanent place in the family. If gay Christians love God then they may still have same sex attractions, but they will not perform homosexual acts out of love for God and submission to Christ’s Lordship. If they claim to love God and still perform homosexual acts on a regular basis, then they are liars and self-deceived. That isn’t my decision, that is God’s Word.

  • FyreTurtle

    Our practices ought to reflect scripture rather than reality. The reality is that sin in many form is rampant in the church. I’m not sure what bible you are reading, but homosexuality is one of many sins not permitted via scripture. Just like the church doesn’t condone unmarried heterosexual couples to persist in the body of Christ, I’m sure there are congregations out there ignoring it & that is reality. It still doesn’t make it permissible & the church certainly doesn’t celebrate it with a ceremony. We also don’t permit idol worship, fornication or a myriad of other sinful & forbidden acts to persist in the church either.
    Should we start including those that wish to openly do so for the sake of reality? All of these sins are common in the world today & most are either commonly acceptable behavior or widely ignored within the world, but scripture is quite explicit that they will be excluded from the Kingdom of God. It is not within the authority of man to alter or include practices that are expressly excluded by God.
    God’s word chooses who is included & in it He chose to exclude these people through scripture, not the people in the church.

  • Rick Webster

    Fyre Turtle -

    The ‘reality’ I was referring to was the reality that we don’t get to decide who is in the Kingdom of God. We have every right to be the gatekeepers of our church, but we are not the gatekeepers of the Kingdom of God. We can kick people out of our churches as often as we want, but we can’t kick people out of the Kingdom of God. I think once we fully grasp the significance of this we realize it is our behaviour that must change first.

  • Rick Webster

    Chainrattler – My experience as a pastor has been that everyone’s faith is in process and everyone is moving either towards or away from God. Sinner, saint, or somewhere in-between, we’re all in process, we’re all in movement. And I believe God is constantly calling everyone to Himself. But I don’t believe that withholding love, blessing and community from sinners is the best way to further this call.

  • Sean Nelson

    I think it would be a great idea to have the church perform “marriages” and the State grant “legal civil unions.” The church should not have any type of ties to state and visa versa. Then the church can accept or deny whoever based on whatever and the same would go for the State and nobody’s toes gets stepped on.

  • FyreTurtle

    You keep implying that we are kicking people out of the Kingdom of God, but I don’t see anyone that has done that. By what thought process do you come by this conclusion? The only thing I have seen here is the insistence that scripture makes known to us that God does not include people that willfully engage in ANY of these sins into His Kingdom, not just the sin of homosexuality.
    No one here has excluded anyone directly. God has done that through His word. If you disagree with the bible, then you need to take that up with him rather than accusing His followers of those actions. There is also an easy remedy for the situation, if a sinner wishes to have God include them in His Kingdom, all that is needed is that ask of the Lord for forgiveness & then they turn away from the sin they are willfully engaged in, otherwise known as repenting. If a sinner chooses not to do that, then they are agreeing with God & His to willfully be excluded from his Kingdom. I agree in that we don’t make that decision, that was a decision they personally came too when they rejected God’s prescribed process in scripture.

    Do you disagree with scripture when it says that homosexuality, fornication, adultery, lying, idolatry, thieves, swindlers & many other things described therein as sin keep people from being a part of the Kingdom of God? 1 Cor 6: 9&10 is very clear about that. 1st Timothy is even more poignant in saying that these kind of people are lawless, rebellious, ungodly, unholy & profane. Pretty strong words. I’m glad they are God’s words & not mine because they are pretty blunt.

  • Rick Webster

    It just sounded to me like you had your mind made up about who was in or out of the kingdom of God. It sounded to me like you could determine that, and I apologize if I misunderstood you on that count. By way of clarification, I don’t think we can know. I have seen God at work in the lives of the most unregenerate sinners, and that has led me to believe that we have no way of knowing who is in or out of the Kingdom of God. I don’t think we can tell, regardless of what the bible says. And not knowing makes me want to be a channel of love and blessing and inclusion to everyone.

    And yes, I know what the bible says about homosexuality. I just think the bible is wrong. Wrong, that is, in the same way that it’s wrong about slavery. Wrong in the same way it’s wrong about the subjugation of women to men. So no, I don’t believe it’s God’s spoken word to man, straight from his lips to Zondervan’s warehouse. I have tried to refrain from making that admission because, in my experience, any pretense to civil discourse ends once I say that. I suppose you, too, will have some of God’s ‘blunt’ words for me. But after years of struggling through these issues I’ve landed in a much different place than you and many of the other commentators here, and I don’t know what I was thinking when I got into this discussion.

    Be blessed. Peace.

  • Toni Becker

    It isn’t fair or productive to say that fear is what drives evangelical churches on social issues. To hold fast to traditional views on something as fundamental as marriage has nothing to do with fear. It is about standing instead of caving to societal/cultural shoves toward secularism. When the church made ties with the state or the other way around for the purpose of tax protection she invited this very stand off. I wish the church would separate in this way if that’s even possible at this point. The church is not supposed to impose its beliefs on government so government should not impose its beliefs on the church.

  • Toni Becker

    Because he quoted what we all know is right there in front of us doesn’t mean he is withholding love, blessing or community. Perhaps the highest form of love and blessing is simply laying out the truth of Scripture and letting it penetrate even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart? When I was steeped in a secular self-driven, very sinful life I was grateful for the few Christians who spoke truth into my life. They were the ones who penetrated my hard heart unto freedom in Christ, not the ones who blew fluffy christianese kisses my way.

  • Toni Becker

    You need to stop equating standing for what Scripture says with withholding love, blessing and community. I’m glad you admitted your disagreement with Scripture, though. That does illuminate the reality of your position and the position of many, many christians.

  • Toni Becker

    I agree. A person excludes THEMSELVES when they choose not to cut themselves off from the sin that binds them. God’s word lines out the way of blessing and the way of curses. The path is very narrow. Is God hateful for laying this out for us? It was for blessing. For peace. For holiness.

  • Boyd

    Blessing. What do you mean by “granting blessing” and “withholding blessing”?
    Whose blessing do you think needs to be granted, or inversely, whose blessing do you believe is being withheld since that seems to be at the heart of your position?
    Is it possible to withhold blessing while still being loving?

  • http://www.deliniation.com/ Delina Pryce McPhaull

    So, Rick. It’s not exclusion that you are against, it is the criteria for exclusion that you are rallying against. Your standard is “if you’re not hurting anyone, you have my blessing.” Those who are unwilling to marry a gay couple should not be pressured to bless behavior that the Bible forbids…as long as nobody is hurt.

  • FyreTurtle

    After reading it, I can see why you wouldn’t want to publicly make that stance in most christian crowds, I appreciate your honesty & candor on you position about scripture in the last post. It almost seems like a borderline universalism position, which we probably would never come to an agreement on concerning the weight or authority of scripture there. I do believe in moral laws & absolutes & tend to separate them from what are cultural laws or distinctive in scripture. But it doesn’t mean we can’t have a civil discourse on it. I apologize if I backed you into a corner on the issue, that’s one of my bad habits. I like people to be decisive about where they stand on something but I can see how you were wary of getting into another uncivil discussion.
    I also appreciate your desire to be a channel of love & blessing. As Christians, we should all strive to be examples of God’s love.
    Something the church as a whole doesn’t do well even amongst themselves.
    As far as the inclusion of everyone, my position is that is not my job. That is between God & the sinners with who he is dealing with. I see it as my task to arrange the meetings by being a witness. Something that can’t be done without love, but also doesn’t require me to relent or change my biblical views & standards.
    On a personal level, I have numerous homosexual friends in several different countries, as well as many other various sinners that fit the definitions previous mentioned. I’m not afraid to spend time with them or share a meal with them. I also don’t abuse them or beat them up with scripture & they respect me for it. They also know where I stand & we have had many discussions about it, yet we still remain friends even through our disagreement. Some of them I spend considerable amount of time with each month where we all get together, share a meal & talk about other interests as well. I actually spend more time with some of them than I do Christians outside of the church. I’m not fond of Christians standing on the street to tell people they are going to hell. It’s an approach that doesn’t work & it seems to be the primary way the church has relied on communicating to sinners as long as I have been alive. I guess that’s easier than the church having to developing real relationships with them instead & that’s probably why it’s over used.
    Again thanks for risking further confrontation & being candid with what you believe & I appreciate your civility & clarification on your stance. I wish you the best in reaching the lost the way you feel you should.

  • mbells

    I suspect that within a few years (probably 5, 10 at the outside) their will be a large contingent of pastors who surrender their marriage credentials for the reasons outlined here. It is a way of separating the “legal” from the “covenant” aspects of marriage. We are going to see increasing pressure placed on pastors, as agents of the state – which we are, when we officiate at weddings – to marry apart from conviction & wisdom (which runs much broader than same-sex relationships).

    The flip side, and this is the part I wrestle with is being salt & light in an increasingly messed up world, without being condemning or separating ourselves from the culture.