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A Christian View of Civil Marriage

Is a marriage performed by a Justice of the Peace valid in the eyes of God? At first I had no problem with my courtroom marriage, but now I wonder: Are we truly married even though we didn’t have a church wedding?
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The short and simple answer is yes, a civil marriage ceremony is valid in God’s eyes. But stick with us while we dig deeper into the question.

What is marriage?

The Bible tells us that marriage is a one-flesh, whole-life union between one man and one woman. It 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 his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (While sex in and of itself may not be exactly the same thing as that “one flesh” relationship it is a central and vital part of the process of in-othering.)

With all of that in mind, there is every reason to believe that a man and a woman who make a conscious, intentional, permanent, and public commitment to one another and seal it by way of the sexual act can and should be considered married in the eyes of God.

Marriage is for believers and unbelievers

It’s also important to note that marriage is part of the “common grace” that God has poured out on all humans for the good of the race as a whole. It’s like the sunshine and the rain that fall ”on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).

The Bible tells us that He established marriage from the beginning of creation. In other words, He did this before founding the church. And marriage can be meaningful and beneficial for non-believers. This is why governments have a strong interest in preserving the institution of marriage as it’s been traditionally understood.

With or without its spiritual component, marriage is vital to the survival of healthy families. And it’s important to human society as a whole.

So, even though here at Focus on the Family we believe that marriage can reach its full potential only in Christ, we also recognize that it’s basic to the human condition.

How marriage is publicly recognized

Different cultures have different ways of solemnizing marriage. In Bible times, this was almost exclusively overseen by the family — by local custom and tradition. In 21st-century America, it also involves the state (government). And for most Christians, the church is an important part of the process.

As John Piper points out, “The cultural means may vary, but the principle is the same. Be open. Be public about the importance of your marriage relationship being recognized as such culturally and legally.”

However, there’s not a Bible verse that requires Christian couples to marry in the church. There also isn’t any biblical law that makes it a sin to get married by a Justice of the Peace. But that isn’t necessarily the last word on the subject.

Why Christians should consider a church wedding

For the Christian, there is a richness associated with the wedding ceremony and the 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 yet understand.

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. 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.

In the end, though, here are the two key points that answer your question:

  • There’s no reason to doubt that your marriage before a Justice of the Peace is valid in the eyes of God.
  • You can always reaffirm your vows in a specifically Christian wedding ceremony if you want to.

Want to talk about it?

Call us for a free over-the-phone consultation. Our licensed or pastoral counselors will be happy to help in any way they can.

 

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

Love and Respect

Article
God’s Design for Marriage

Must My Wedding Be in a Church?

Copyright © 2011, 2020 Focus on the Family.

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