QUESTION: Some of my older friends go to churches that offer a “Ceremony of Commitment,” a ceremony that takes the place of a wedding. Is this God-pleasing for Christians?
ANSWER: Earlier this year, Florida repealed a 148-year-old law banning unwed couples from living together. The law did not apply to same-sex couples. It is no longer illegal for unwed couples to live together as man and wife.
People, even couples, live together for many reasons. God regulates marriage and our sexual behavior with the Fourth and the Sixth Commandments. The Sixth Commandment forbids sexual relations outside of marriage. The Fourth Commandment commands us to obey our parents and superiors: “By parents and superiors God means our parents and all others whom He has placed over us, such as fathers and mothers, pastors and teachers, employers and government officials” (ELS explanation of the Small Catechism, question 46).
In our society, the State (government officials) regulates the legality of marriage. States are not uniform in marriage laws. What constitutes a legal marriage varies. Under the Fourth Commandment, Christians will follow the laws of the state.
God does not empower His Church to act outside her authority by usurping or undermining state laws unless those laws are contrary to God’s will. Unless the state allows couples to be married without a license or solely by a “Ceremony of Commitment,” such a union is not valid. The couple is not legally married.
A pastor’s heart goes out to couples facing financial loss (Social Security and retirement benefits) because they strive to serve God by entering into a legal, God-pleasing marriage. God’s Church will not help God’s people circumvent the intent of the legal authorities by a show of right (see Luther’s explanation of the Ninth Commandment). It is fraud to pretend to be legally married when we are not.
Such agonizing questions are not new to Christians.
St. Peter writes (I Peter 2:11-24):
Beloved…abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men-as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God…For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps…
“Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness-by whose stripes you were healed.
Reverend Charles Keeler
Resurrection Lutheran Church
Winter Haven, FL