I will not perform the wedding ceremony for persons who are not, both by profession and by practice, Christians. Because of this, I have been regarded by some as a strange sort of clerical animal, unkind at best, cruel at worst. Yet no matter what the reaction, my convictions are firm.

How did I reach this position? Partly through the realization that a very large percentage of the marriages I had performed had ended in divorce! At the outset of my ministry, I married any couple who asked me to do so. I counseled them before the wedding. Courtesies were exchanged among all concerned. The manners were well polished both in the study and in the sanctuary. However, often something disastrous happened after all the hoopla died down. As time passed—in some cases only a brief time—the vows and prayers of the ceremony were forgotten, and the marriage crumbled.

This happened time and time again among those who had little or no real spiritual commitment to begin with. I was pressed to the conclusion that I was wrong in officiating at a wedding of two unbelievers.

The more I thought about it, the more it seemed a charade. Was I called of God to perform marriages for people in the house of the Lord when those persons had not committed their lives to the Lord? Was I to say prayers for two people who did not pray? Was I to read passages from the Bible to a bride and groom knowing full well that they did not intend to build their home upon that Bible? Was I to ask these two people to utter their promises in the presence of Jesus when they did not regard Jesus as the Lord of their lives? Was I to conclude the ceremony by earnestly beseeching God’s blessing upon their new life together when they were not founding that life on the rock of salvation? They gave the Almighty only a nod of attention day in and day out; but on their special day, I, the man of God, was to call forth heavenly beatitudes upon their future.

Enough of this, I decided. I was being used. God was being used. The church and the truths the church stood for were being used. What the couples wanted out of it all was the beauty of the sanctuary, the noble sound of the organ, the dignified image of the clergyman, the luxury and respectability of a “church wedding.”

What if I allowed a person to be baptized, knowing full well that he did not profess Jesus as Saviour? What if I told the congregation that anyone could receive communion, whether or not he was committed to Christ? What if I accepted into church membership anyone, no matter what he thought about the doctrines of the body of Christ? I would be asked to leave my pulpit. The governing session of the congregation would not stand for a minister with such a loose regard for those things held sacred. Yet I could go on year after year performing weddings that apparently were little more than hollow recitations of time-honored words.

My conclusion jelled when I reread in a new light the plain words of Second Corinthians 6:14: “Do not be mismated with unbelievers. For what partnership have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (RSV). I realized that I had been partner to “mismating.” I had joined light with darkness. And I had more times than not joined darkness with darkness.

Now when I perform a wedding, it is a time for genuine rejoicing in the Spirit of God. All persons gathered in the sanctuary know that the two being brought together are dedicated to the Lord. What a glad time it is, and what a peaceful time for me, the officiating clergyman! My prayers are sent to God with a new sense of earnestness. The Scriptures are read to the worshipers with the knowledge that the bride and groom have grounded their lives upon the Book. The vows are taken with the understanding that God is entering as a third party into those promises. And my conscience is clear before all concerned. When the last amen is said in that ceremony, one can sense the spiritual excitement of those gathered in the house of prayer. I would never go back to the old practice of performing marriages only because I thought I was expected to do it as a part of my job.

Some fellow ministers ask if I am missing witnessing opportunities because of my policy. But I do have an opportunity to witness. When asked to marry a couple, I invite them to come for a talk. When we meet I confront them with the forgiveness and new life that Jesus offers, asking them if they will become disciples of the Lord. At that moment the encounter with God is established. If they respond negatively, then I kindly state that I can go no further, for my first obligation is to see that they are saved. If they refuse that salvation, then I cannot in good conscience proceed.

If they respond positively, then I congratulate them, pray for them, give them a Bible and Christian literature, tell them of the times of our church services, and invite them to attend. And I tell them that six months hence I will be glad to perform their wedding if they are still living daily for Christ, are active in the church, are spending time in prayer and Scripture reading.

The divorce rate keeps on increasing. One out of three marriages in the country ends in divorce (two out of three in California). But according to a study cited by Billy Graham, one out of forty marriages ends in divorce when parents attend church regularly, and only one out of four hundred ends in divorce when both parents with their children attend church regularly and maintain family devotions.

I have a feeling that I am on the right biblical track—for the good of the people, the good of sound doctrine, and the good of my own conscience. And the marriages performed since I adopted this policy will bear me out.—J. GRANT SWANK, JR., pastor, Church of the Nazarene, Fishkill, New York.

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