Why I am Keeping My License to Marry

The day seems to be coming in Canada when ordained clergy licensed to marry will be required by the government to officiate marriages other than those between one woman and one man. We should pray against that day, but I believe we pastors must remain resolute to not abandon our authoritative role to officiate weddings. Here are the reasons why I plan to keep my license to marry until it is taken away or I go to jail for marrying only Biblically-sanctioned marriages:

1) To Participate in God-ordained Institutions - Marriage was the first ordained institution with God being the first officiant and witness (Genesis 2:18-22). Jesus makes it clear that God brings man and woman together (Matthew 19:6). As imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1), we should be a part of God's work in uniting husband and wife, whether between two believers or two unbelievers. All marriages defined by the Scriptural mandate of Genesis 2:24-25 are legitimate whether done by the State or Church. God recognizes those unions as performed by His servant the Church (Ephesians 1:22-23) or the State (Romans 13:1, 4). However, as one of my mentors, Rev. Dr. Rick Baker, has said, “What God has put together, let not man separate or abdicate, or appear to abdicate by turning marriage into a state-run enterprise—marriage belongs to the Creator.”

2) To be a Guardian of the Truth - As the support and pillar of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15), the church needs to speak authoritatively on issues such as marriage that so profoundly affect society. In my first church I served as a pastor, all the pastors in the small town covenanted together to save marriages, committing to marrying only people who should be married together according to the Scriptures. A couple could not make the rounds of the churches to find a pastor who would marry them despite having Biblical grounds for marriage or remarriage. They had to be on the same spiritual page and if previously married, not have closed the door on reconciliation. Saving marriages starts before they begin.

3) To Proclaim the Gospel - Since marriage is integrally tied to the gospel (Ephesians 5:22-33), as gospel ministers we need to be a part of the ceremony for believers and unbelievers alike. Punting to the government will cause us to be less involved in the preparation and solemnization of marriages causing more marital discord and the need for counselling in the future. We can learn from what has happened in Europe where the intent was to have a civil union followed by a church ceremony, most people just skipped the church ceremony. As an associate pastor for the first 16 years of my ministry, I did all the fringe weddings, which meant the majority of the weddings I performed were between two unbelievers. The Gospel went forward in these ceremonies!

4) To Encourage the Courageous - Many in our churches are on the front lines of moral and ethical insanity. Christian professionals in medicine, law and politics are constantly being pushed to compromise their convictions. As a shepherd, how can I call people to be courageous about their biblical convictions, if I am not willing to do it myself? This is Paul's principle in his command to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:3, "Endure suffering with me, as a good soldier in Christ Jesus!” I must lead my people with courage.

5) To Stand with Our Forefathers - When Emperor Claudius banned marriages for his Roman troops in the 3rd century so that he could weaken family ties, a priest by the name of Valentine married young couples in the underground church. Valentine was caught and subsequently beheaded for his act of defending marriage. I agree with Valentine that marriage is worth dying for. Valentine wasn’t alone in risking life and limb to marry. Outlawed Scottish minister Alexander Pinden officiated the clandestine wedding of the 17th Century Scottish Presbyterian martyr John Brown to his wife Isabel. Brown’s martyrdom and his wife’s subsequent resolve strengthened the faithful, but it wouldn’t have happened if Pinden hadn’t married them. My pastor father has even decided to keep his license to marry and is willing to go to jail with his son and son-in-law if need be. Marriage from the beginning in Genesis 3 has been under attack and we need to defend it! Who else will?

6) To Follow Jesus - Despite His cousin losing his head over speaking out against illegitimate marriage, Jesus engaged in controversy regarding marriage with the legal authorities of His day (Matthew 19:1-9). To be followers of Jesus, shouldn't we engage with the legal authorities of our day regarding marriage?

Jesus got involved in the messiness of marriages with His first miracle in John 2. For pastors, weddings mean sacrificing a Friday night for the rehearsal and a Saturday for the ceremony and reception. Marriages are a sacrifice, but time may be the smallest of sacrifices a pastor may have to make in the future! However, I believe entering the mess and sacrificing for marriage is what shepherds are called to do!

— Jonathan serves as Senior Pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Cambridge, ON.