To Officiate — or Not

One of the two Christian ministers I admire most is Bob Russell. Pastor Russel retired as the senior pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY and presently heads Bob Russell Ministries. As you know if you follow this blog my method is to simply pass on articles that I find interesting, challenging, or informative and which articles will form a collection of various topics of interest. I don’t always agree fully with the authors whose writings I post but generally I do where they deal with matters of opinion. Such is the case with the following article by Pastor Russell. This article is especially meaningful to me because I have experienced and may again face the same type of dilemma dealt with in the article. I can tell you that it is hugely difficult to love and admire relatives and friends and to be asked by them to do something that runs contrary to my very deeply held personal convictions as a Christ follower.  What I particularly appreciate about this article is the reasonable and sensitive approach that Pastor Russell takes in dealing with the challenging situation.  And, to be clear, I would never hold in any less esteem a pastor who thoughtfully came to a different conclusion than Pastor Russell.  Certainly a strong case can be made for responding in a contrary manner.  I believe the important thing is to follow the counsel of the Holy Spirit  and Scriptural guidance as one understands it.  This article appeared first at: www.bobrussel.org. RMF

ASK BOB: Should I perform my niece’s wedding even though she and her fiancé are currently living together?
By Bob Russell

Occasionally people ask my opinion on various personal or church issues. I recently received the following question which I have reprinted below, followed by my response.

QUESTION:  Bob,

I have long maintained certain policies in my ministry regarding conducting weddings. As the culture continues to turn more and more away from Biblical morality, my policies are often considered extreme, legalistic, judgmental, and even worse by some.

For example, I choose to decline to perform weddings for couples who are living together. Of course today this has become culturally acceptable and is even practiced by many professing Christians. I explain that if the couple will repent, live in separate homes, and refrain from sexual relations until after the wedding, I will perform the ceremony, providing there are no other reasons that would prohibit me from doing so.

I find it increasingly difficult to remain true to what I consider Biblical principles. Living together is considered by many one of the natural steps toward marriage – a test to see if the relationship will lead to marriage. I realize that since many people are not concerned with the Biblical teaching, they consider my choices to be too narrow-minded.

At present, I m struggling how to lovingly inform my great-niece of my policy since she requested my services in her wedding a year from now. She is presently a single-mother (by a previous “relationship”) and has been living with her fiancé for over a year. The man also has a child from a previous marriage.  

Obviously, they need serious pre-marriage counseling which I doubt they think is necessary. Not only is there a possibility of my decision causing hard feelings for my niece and her fiancé, but I may also cause other family members to have hurt feelings.

I am interested in your opinion. Am I too extreme? I am aware of some ministers who perform just about any wedding and contend they are doing so as a secular matter and not a religious matter. I believe that since I am a minister of Christ, I cannot make such a distinction in my participation in a wedding.

Thanks for your time and consideration.

MY ANSWER:

Bob Russell

Your dilemma is another demonstration of the fact that the ministry is getting more and more difficult. As our culture becomes increasingly secular and people’s consciences are numbed to moral truth, authentic ministers, like the prophets of old, are regarded as enemies of “the good life.” One young guy spouted off to the preacher, “What you call sin, I call freedom!”

As ministers, we must remember our primary calling is not to please people but to honor God and His Word. Sometimes we can’t do both. I commend you for standing firm on your convictions…even though your standards may make some people angry. If the church doesn’t communicate basic Biblical values to our culture no one else will. The Bible warns, “If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?” So stand firm!

I don’t see your marriage policy as extreme because it’s similar to the one I followed during my forty years as a pastor of a local church. To casually perform a wedding of couples who are living together sends a message to the youth of the church that cohabiting doesn’t matter. On the other hand, to stubbornly refuse to perform their wedding under any circumstance leaves the impression that the couple shouldn’t get married at all…but they should!

As you know, the challenge for ministers is to speak the truth in love. I found myself sometimes getting tense or being defensive about my position when I would have been more effective if I had been more positive and loving.

For example, instead of saying to your great niece, “Well, I have a serious problem with your situation,” it might be wiser to begin, “I’m really glad to hear you are getting married. That’s good! I’m thankful you have found someone you love and want to spend the rest of your life with. I’m really happy for you, and I’m honored to be asked to perform your wedding. Thank you’!!! I want to do it.

“Now I need to communicate to you some basic principles that I’ve always had in place, and I hope you’ll respect them. If there is anything about my policy that you can’t abide by and you decide to get someone else to perform your wedding, I’ll be disappointed, but I’ll understand. I am, however, hoping we can be on the same page and I can participate in the wedding.”

Then briefly explain your policy and the rationale behind it and add, “I also want you to go through a brief pre-marital counseling course that will help you a lot. I’ll give you some time to think this over, and then you can let me know in a week or two. I really hope I’ll be able to do your wedding, but more importantly, I’m convinced if you follow these guidelines your wedding ceremony will mean more to you and your honeymoon will be a lot more exciting. Most importantly, your marriage will honor Christ. Regardless, I pray God will richly bless both of you.”

That puts the ball in her court and takes some of the pressure off you as you stand for God’s truth. Galatians 6:1 says if a fellow believer is overtaken in a fault we are to “restore them GENTLY.” That’s our goal, and it’s always a challenge. I hope this situation works out well for you and I pray the Lord is honored by all.

– Bob

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About ronfurg

Former naval officer, federal investigator, forensic scientist, senior executive service member and pastor. In retirement serves as volunteer and life group leader at New Life Christian Church (www.newlife4me.com). Devoted to beautiful wife, kids and grandkids. Looking forward to the time when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of all and that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
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