In a few hours I will have the honor to officiate at a wedding for a couple who are my friends, active in the church where I pastor, and parents to great kids. It’s the kind of wedding that is really a pleasure to be a part of.
A pastor who serves down the river from me recently wrote an article in a denominational magazine saying that he has drawn a strict line around his wedding services. He will only do the “before God” part of a wedding, but he won’t sign the license. Any couple he marries must also be married by a justice of the peace. (From what I understand, this arrangement is common, for example, in the UK.) Essentially, I think this pastor is responding to a concern raised repeatedly by us missional folks — the end of Christendom, a desire to not be co-opted by the state and to practice ministry separate and apart from whatever the state’s conception of marriage is or may be in the future.
But let me turn it a little bit… Perhaps it is actually subversive witness when the minister signs the license?
Our lives are of a piece — our lives in the world and in the church, before God and before the state. They are not separate or separable. When we marry we join ourselves with another person and with God in a lifelong demonstration of love. This demonstration is 24-7-365, as long as you both shall live. In this sense, marriage is an extraordinary means of grace, by which God blesses two people and through them blesses the world. When we faithfully live out the covenant of marriage, we bear witness to the God who has determined above all else to be faithful to us. This witness is not just a “church” thing, but is a whole life thing: state, community, work, all of it — “whither thou goest.”
Perhaps when ministers sign a marriage license, we are not actually being co-opted by the state (though the state may see it that way). Perhaps we are in fact bearing witness that Christ is Lord over all, that there is no separation between a sphere of church and a sphere of state. (For the theologically curious, definitely see Abraham Kuyper on this, as well as the Barmen Confession.) Indeed, in the life of this couple that unity of life under God is made real, as God has called these two people into life-long anywhere-they-are demonstration of his love working through them.