Worship Wars 16: Weddings

Posted on September 23, 2008. Filed under: Bi-vocational Ministry, Worship Wars |

“Preacher, these old ladies want to fire you for refusing to marry Katie’s granddaughter.” These words from the old deacon brought a sinking feeling into the pit of my stomach. I had been at the church for less than a year and this was about the third time I had been threatened with being fired over a biblical stand I had taken or over something that had threatened a tradition in the church that was holding it back.

Here was the situation: the granddaughter of a faithful member, in fact a member of the pastor search committee that had hired me, was wanting me to conduct her wedding in the church, but she and her fiance’ had been living together for some time. Though raised in this church, the young lady had not been to church in years; both of them claimed to be Believers. When I first agreed to meet with them and discuss the wedding I told them that I could not perform the ceremony because they were living in sin. If they separated soon and showed signs of repentance I would perform the wedding. They agreed to separate as soon as possible. As the wedding drew closer I checked with them to see if they had fulfilled their committment; they had not. The young man answered, “Well, we are still sleeping in the same bed but we aren’t doing anything sexual.”

Well, I wasn’t born yesterday! I told them that they should seek another minister to do the wedding since they had broken our agreement. They agreed and there were no hard feelings. The grandmother spoke with me and absolutely supported my decision. Katie was always encouraging. She was one of the few bright spots in that church.

When the word got out that Pastor Walker was not doing the ceremony, tempers flared. Several of the older ladies wanted the deacons to fire me. The deacons covered for me as best they could. But when one deacon asked me why I wasn’t doing the wedding I only told him that was between me and that couple. So the anger of the church intensified. Katy also came to my defense and told some of the women that she supported me in my decision. She may have told them why I refused to do the ceremony, I do not know. The interim minister they had before calling me to pastor performed the ceremony.

Just a few months later and I was in another pickle regarding a wedding. An older couple came to me wanting me to marry them. He was a founding member of the church, very active, and served as a trustee. She was his first wife, divorced over 40 years prior. Both had remarried other spouses and both spouses had since died.

The Scriptures seemed pretty clear about this in Deuteronomy

24:1 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, 2 and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, 3 and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, 4 then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.

I consulted a couple more pastors who were older, wiser, and deeper in the Word than I was and got a split decision. One stated unequivocally “No, you should not marry them because of Deut. 24”. The other said, “Yes, you can marry them because of Romans 7”

7:1 Or do you not know, brothers [1]—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. [2] 3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

I did not think Romans 7 adequately covered the situation because a prior divorce and remarriage were involved. Therefore, I sided with the clear text of Deut. 24 and gently told this wonderful older couple that I could not do the wedding.The older couple absolutely understood my position and were very gracious and not upset at all. The old ladies of the church went ballistic. Again, for about the fourth time in my first year I heard the cry, “Fire the Preacher!”. The older couple came to my defense and told them that they weren’t upset so why should anyone else be upset. They got the chaplain from our town’s Volunteer Fire Department to do the ceremony.

The third wedding that came my way was a couple from the community who were living together. In speaking with them, they expressed an understanding of their living in sin and a desire to get right with God. They wanted a small ceremony at home with their daughter and a couple of friends. They expressed their desire to come to church and begin following Christ. I did marry them and they did begin coming to the church faithfully and I did see signs of genuine repentance. They moved away but contacted me a few years later expressing gratitude and telling about how they were serving the Lord in their new church.

It was at this point in my pastorate, about a year and a half in, that I had to do some serious thinking. I realized that the church I was attempting to pastor had almost no biblical foundation, no convictions, no desire to actually be a biblical church. They had rejected the Word time and again in the matter of weddings and, for those who have not read my other blogs in the Worship War saga, in many other ways. I now knew why no pastor before had stayed beyond three years. The constant threats of being fired by the old ladies was distressing, but their rejection of the Word of God was grievous.

As yet another wedding was coming up that I seriously disagreed with, I had to make a decision. If I said no to my third church wedding in a row, I was pretty certain I would be forced out. Should I compromise my standards so that I could stay and maybe gradually lay a biblical foundation in this church?

I compromised my standards and performed the wedding. This was probably the wrong decision, but I still have doubts and conflicting thoughts. At the time I was convinced that I would be fired for refusing this wedding. I could have resigned, but the nagging thought in my mind was that every other pastor they had had for almost 35 years at that point had bailed out, been “called to another field”, or been forced out. My leaving would not do the church any good. Do I stay or leave?

I suppose it is possible that had I stayed the course and not compromised my standards, I might have somehow been able to stay. God may have worked it out. Obedience is always the best choice, but I failed that particular test.

In summary, over the years I did close to thirty weddings. Some were at the church, some in the community, most were related to my secular job. In all my weddings I presented the gospel in a brief way. The distressing thing was that out of about thirty weddings, maybe only 2-3 were actually biblical weddings where the couple were not living together, pregnant, unbelievers or unequally yoked. About 10% of the weddings met the biblical standard. This is a sign of a sick society and a VERY SICK CHURCH. I REPENT of my doing these weddings.

One particular wedding stands out. It was the grandson of one the prominent women, Melba. Her grandson was engaged to an atheist. I am most ashamed that I did that wedding, but once you start compromising…The interesting thing about this wedding was that it absolutely typified this church. It was all for show; to make the grandmother feel good and look good. Though the grandson professed to be a believer, there was absolutely no evidence of such in his life. But he had been “saved and baptized” in this church years before I came along. I knew the drill. This church was all about looking good, but not about following Christ or obeying the Word.

On issue after issue I challenged the church, pushed their envelope, and stuck to the Word, but in this one issue I compromised and gave in.

At the end of my pastorate, in the last year or so when the fighting got to an extremely intense level, one prominent lady who absolutely despised me, came to my office finally, after 13 years, and had a long chat. In the course of that talk I told her that story of the first wedding that I refused to do. Her mouth dropped open, she stated that she remembered that but that she never heard that the couple had been living together and that that was the reason why I wouldn’t marry them. She said that put a different light on the subject. She asked why I hadn’t made that known back then. I told her that it was between me, the Lord and the couple, and that it was not the church’s business (the couple were not members of the church, though the lady had been at one point). Then I told her, “Time and again this church has objected to my decisions without knowing the full story or coming to me for a personal talk. This is the source of many of our church’s problems.”

That conversation ultimately made no difference to her and her husband. They were constantly pushing to remove me from the church and ultimately won that battle. Oh yeah, that couple have a daughter who was raised Baptist but married into the Mormon Church…but that is a story for another time.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008–It has been a few months since last I wrote about the Worship Wars in the church I pastored for 15 years as a bi-vocational pastor. The church is a small, elderly, traditional, neighborhood church, Southern Baptist, founded in the 1950’s. I pastored from 1992-2007and it was non-stop fighting. In the 50+ years history of that church I was the only pastor to stay past 3 years. These articles do not include the name of the church, though I will tell you it was in a suburb of Fort Worth, TX. The church peaked in membership in 1968 and declined steadily, much as most of our churches have done. It is still in existence, though only running about 20-25. These stories are usually negative as I seek to discover what I did wrong and what I did right. I have a goal of seeking healing for myself and my family and of providing some assistance to young ministers who may be in a similar situation or who are about to enter the ministry.

This morning while reading through the various news blogs and sites I came across a very probing and convicting article at BaptistPress on doing weddings for lost people. I have the link below. This article brought to mind the various trials I faced over the issue of weddings, so I thought this would be a good time to write about the subject.

www.bpnews.net/BPFirstPerson.asp?ID=28972

When I started pastoring in 1992 I do not believe I was adequately trained or prepared for weddings. In seminary we had studied the issue of divorce and re-marriage in ethics class, but that was about it. I never did any kind of a biblical, theological, or historical study of weddings, or, more properly, marriage. In my personal experience and background, I came from a Christian home that had been broken by divorce. I had participated in a few weddings as a groomsman or as a guest, and had heard several sermons about marriage over the years. I had attended the Bill Gothard Institute of Basic Youth Conflicts and heard his teachings on marriage, which were generally pretty sound. (OK, I know now that Gothard’s hermeneutic can be messed up at times and not all his teachings are strictly biblical, but he was still pretty good.) In the Christian Ministry class and Pastoral Leadership class there was a little bit of reading and instruction about conducting weddings, but no theology. I had been married for about 10 years when I started pastoring. In the past year I have turned down one offer to do  a wedding. Thankfully, I don’t think I will be doing any more unbiblical weddings.

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4 Responses to “Worship Wars 16: Weddings”

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First , as one of the couples that you joined together I would like to thank you so much for staying and bring my wife and I closer to Jesus. I could not imagine having anyone else perform our wedding since you are not only our pastor but our friend.

Now, I have a family member that is about to get married and is living in sin, I have said many times that I do not agree with this since it is clearly stated in the Bible that they are in the wrong here and it has caused a lot of problems between myself and my family. My wife and I were engaged for 6 years before we got married (We wanted to wait until I finished college) and we did not once spend the night together. All I say when they complain is bring the issue you to the author, stop yelling at the messenger.

Randy, Yeah, y’all were one of the 3 couples who did things the right way. And to watch you grow in the faith has been one of the sweetest joys of my life. But it is also one of the reasons why I am conflicted about staying at that church for so long…there was some good fruit, but if I had not compromised there at the beginning I likely would have been long gone. Only the Lord knows!

Bryan, I have struggled with the same issues concerning weddings for the 15 years I’ve been with this present congregation. At first, I’d marry anyone, especially the unchurched, hoping that I could lead them to the Lord and our church. But to my knowledge, that never happened. Now I only marry people in our congregation, whose walks with the Lord I know personally.

On the issue of divorce, I believe that I have also compromised in several instances. I don’t believe that divorce is the “unpardonable sin” and I believe that remarriage is allowable, as Jay Adams indicates in his book “Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage.” But I probably have stretched things at times to avoid upsetting people. May God rescue me from being a people-pleaser.

Hardy, I am convinced that the only two ways to relieve the pressure on pastors like you (and me when I was pastoring) is a change in ecclesiology/polity or a change in churches. As long as we are in these people led, democratic, let’s vote on everything churches- we preachers will be unable to do things in a biblical way.
the pressure to conform is too great and the cost of doing it biblical is, well, I have now paid that price with financial ruin.


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