A Christian View of Civil Marriage

Is a civil marriage ceremony valid in the eyes of God? My spouse and I were wed in this way. At first I had no problem with it, but recently I've begun wondering: are we really "spiritually" married? I felt strongly that the Lord was present when we repeated our vows before the judge in the courtroom. But a devout Christian relative has been telling me that we can't be truly married unless we have a church wedding. What do you think? Is a marriage performed by a Justice of the Peace as valid in the eyes of God as a marriage consecrated in the church?

Share:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

The short and simple answer is yes. But perhaps it would be a good idea to expand with a few words of explanation and qualification.

What is God’s definition of marriage? According to Scripture, it’s a one-flesh, whole-life union between one man and one woman. This union covers every aspect of human existence: the physical, the sexual, the mental, the emotional, the moral, the spiritual, and the economic. This definition is summed up in the words of Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

Modern culture may treat sex as a toy, but it is actually a terribly powerful thing. It cements a bond between two people which is not easily broken. While that physical bond, in and of itself, may not be exactly the same thing as the “one flesh” relationship described in Genesis 2:24, it is meant to function as a major element in the development of that relationship. It’s a central and vital part of the process of in-othering. As such, it’s basic to the meaning of marriage. This is consistent with the apostle Paul’s warning in I Corinthians 6:16: “Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, ‘The two will become one flesh'” (I Corinthians 6:16). Sex, then, is an extremely important part of the equation. There is every reason to suppose that a man and a woman who have made a conscious, intentional, permanent, and public commitment to one another and sealed it by way of the sexual act can and should be considered married in the eyes of God.

This is a crucial point. Marriage is not valid only for believers, nor should it be viewed exclusively as an ordinance of the church. On the contrary, marriage is part of the “common grace” that God has poured out on all mankind for the good of the race as a whole. It’s like the sunshine and the rain that fall upon “the just and the unjust alike” (Matthew 5:45). The Bible tells us that He established it “from the beginning of creation.” He did this before giving of the Law, before establishing the Jewish nation, and before founding the church.

Naturally, it is only in Christ that marriage can reach its full potential. Nevertheless, it is still basic to the human condition. For this reason, it can be meaningful and beneficial for non-believers in many ways. This is why governments have a strong vested interest in preserving the institution of marriage as it has traditionally been understood. With or without its spiritual component, marriage is vital to the survival of healthy families. Because of this, it is important to human society as a whole.

Different cultures have different ways of solemnizing marriage. In Bible times, this was almost exclusively the domain of the family. In 21st century America it also involves the state. For most serious believers, the church is also an important part of the process. But there is no verse of Scripture that requires Christian couples to marry in the church. Nor is there any biblical law that makes it a “sin” to get married in the office of the Justice of the Peace. Such a distinction would have been meaningless in the first-century Roman world, where “the church” was not an established social institution. At that time, the church was a loosely connected network of small groups of believers, and marriage was overseen and administered almost purely by local custom and tradition.

But that isn’t necessarily the last word on the subject. We think it’s worth adding that, for the Christian, there is a richness of meaning associated with the wedding ceremony and the estate of marriage that can only be fully understood, appreciated, and enjoyed within the context of the Body of Christ. Those of us who know Jesus as the coming Bridegroom have something to celebrate in marriage that non-believers can’t even begin to grasp. Under normal circumstances, then, we would assume that a Christian couple would be highly motivated to solemnize their union in the presence of God and His people. That’s the best way to make the most of this joyous and spiritually significant occasion. A Christian wedding in a Christian setting is a great opportunity for a man and a woman to confess their faith in Christ and seal their commitment to one another before the eyes of the watching world.

What’s the conclusion? We can state it for you in two sentences. First, there is no reason whatsoever to doubt that your marriage is valid in the eyes of God. Second, there is every reason ( if you so desire) to re-affirm your vows in a church-sanctioned or otherwise specifically Christian wedding ceremony. We’re not saying this to lay a legalistic burden on you. We just want to help you experience the joys of Christian marriage to the fullest extent.

If you think it might be helpful to discuss these concepts at greater length, call us. Focus on the Family has a staff of pastoral counselors who would love to speak with you over the phone.

 

Resources
If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

The First Five Years of Marriage: Launching a Lifelong, Successful Relationship

Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy

Referrals
Marriage Alive

Strong Marriages (formerly Marriage Mentors)

Love and Respect

Article
God’s Design for Marriage

Share:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

Thank you [field id="first_name"] for signing up to get the free downloads of the Marrying Well Guides. 

Click the image below to access your guide and learn about the counter-cultural, biblical concepts of intentionality, purity, community and Christian compatibility.

(For best results use IE 8 or higher, Firefox, Chrome or Safari)

To stay up-to-date with the latest from Boundless, sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter.


If you have any comments or questions about the information included in the Guide, please send them to [email protected]

Click here to return to Boundless

Focus on the Family

Thank you for submitting this form. You will hear from us soon. 

The Daily Citizen

The Daily Citizen from Focus on the Family exists to be your most trustworthy news source. Our team of analysts is devoted to giving you timely and relevant analysis of current events and cultural trends – all from a biblical worldview – so that you can be inspired and assured that the information you share with others comes from a reliable source.

Alive to Thrive is a biblical guide to preventing teen suicide. Anyone who interacts with teens can learn how to help prevent suicidal thinking through sound practical and clinical advice, and more importantly, biblical principles that will provide a young person with hope in Christ.

Bring Your Bible to School Day Logo Lockup with the Words Beneath

Every year on Bring Your Bible to School Day, students across the nation celebrate religious freedom and share God’s love with their friends. This event is designed to empower students to express their belief in the truth of God’s Word–and to do so in a respectful way that demonstrates the love of Christ.

Focus on the Family’s® Foster Care and Adoption program focuses on two main areas:

  • Wait No More events, which educate and empower families to help waiting kids in foster care

  • Post-placement resources for foster and adoptive families

Christian Counselors Network

Find Christian Counselors, Marriage & Family Therapists, Psychologists, Social Workers and Psychiatrists near you! Search by location, name or specialty to find professionals in Focus on the Family’s Christian Counselors Network who are eager to assist you.

Boundless is a Focus on the Family community for Christian young adults who want to pursue faith, relationships and adulthood with confidence and joy.

Through reviews, articles and discussions, Plugged In exists to shine a light on the world of popular entertainment while giving you and your family the essential tools you need to understand, navigate and impact the culture in which we live.

Have you been looking for a way to build your child’s faith in a fun and exciting way?
Adventures in Odyssey® audio dramas will do just that. Through original audio stories brought to life by actors who make you feel like part of the experience; these fictional, character-building dramas use storytelling to teach lasting truths.

Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored all-inclusive intensives offer marriage counseling for couples who are facing an extreme crisis in their marriage, and who may even feel they are headed for divorce.