Q: Would the ministry of the Church of the Eternal God and of its affiliates in Canada and Great Britain perform a marriage between a "believer" and an "unbeliever"? Would they officiate over a marriage between two "unbelievers"? What are the Biblical principles that would apply in these cases?


A: In order to properly answer this question, we need to go back and review the biblical basis for a decision that the Worldwide Church of God made under Mr. Herbert Armstrong in 1974, involving divorce and remarriage. Prior to 1974, it had been the understanding of the Church that every marriage was bound in God’s eyes. This included civil marriages, whether or not the married couple “invited God into their lives,” and — arguably, it included even marriages of persons who didn’t even claim to believe in the God of the Bible. Mr. Armstrong explained our growth in Biblical knowledge regarding this point in a member letter, dated May 14, 1974:

“God has revealed HIS LAW OF MARRIAGE — His TRUTH about marriage — God’s PURPOSE in marriage, its sanctity, its PERMANENCY — to His Church. And we applied that truth to ALL marriages, ASSUMING that God entered into every marriage, EVEN THOUGH GOD HAD NOT ENTERED INTO THE LIVES OF THOSE we SUPPOSED He had bound… Unconverted people have never let GOD enter their lives. They live APART from God — CUT OFF from God — because sin cuts one off from contact with God (see Isa. 59:2). When they have never let God come into their lives — have been CUT OFF from contact with Him — could He enter into their MARRIAGE and BIND them?… The unconverted are BOUND by the state, but NOT DIRECTLY BY GOD! Their marriages are LEGAL. Their children are LEGITIMATE — in no sense bastards — but the children of the unconverted are not HOLY.”

Mr. Armstrong reiterated this understanding in the Pastor General’s Report, dated August 21, 1979: “Jesus gave fornication (prior to marriage) as the grounds for nullifying a marriage. This clearly was a form of fraud. When discovered (in nearly all cases) immediately after the marriage, it simply meant God, knowing of this ‘fraud,’ had actually not bound the marriage — and what followed therefore was actually an annulment, not a divorce. However this did not apply in cases of marriage by unconverted people. God never bound them anyway — they were bound by man’s law, and any divorce and/or remarriage would be according to man’s civil law. But the church would not apply this annulment if the couple had continued living together for a period of time. There could be other types of fraud — such as a marriage enforced at the point of a gun.”

The Church of the Eternal God, and its corporate affiliates, concur with and apply the Worldwide Church of God’s teaching, as set forth above. God created marriage. He married Adam and Eve. Christ later said, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what GOD HAS JOINED TOGETHER, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:4-6). A marriage BOUND by God is for life (notice Romans 7:1-3; 1 Corinthians 7:10-11).

When Adam and Eve sinned, God drove them out of the garden of Eden, and prevented their return whereby they could not eat from the tree of life and live forever (Genesis 3:22-24). Man was from that time forward CUT OFF from God. Man is, in general, still CUT OFF from God. Only those whom God specifically and individually calls out of this world find themselves in a different category. They respond to God’s call, and God DOES become a part of their lives. When THEY marry, they are making a covenant between themselves, AND with God, asking God to BIND their marriage. They WANT God to be a part of their lives, and they understand that their covenant is WITH God. If they divorce, they break their word and promise towards each other, AS WELL AS with God. (You may want to review our Q&A in Update #61, dated October 4, 2002, addressing the meaning of 1 Corinthians 7:14.)

A minister of Christ will be happy to perform and officiate over a marriage of those who UNDERSTAND God’s Way of Life, and who want to obey God. Both marriage partners should already have been baptized. It would not be appropriate for a minister of Christ to perform a marriage of a “believer” and an “unbeliever.” The Bible CLEARLY states in 1 Corinthians 7:39: “A wife is BOUND by law [Paul is talking here about God’s law, and he is addressing a marriage that had been bound by God] as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, ONLY IN THE LORD.”

Most everyone agrees that Paul’s statement refers to a marriage between two Christians. Paul is CLEARLY stating here that a Christian is to marry only another Christian. The Ryrie Study Bible comments, “… only in the Lord, i.e., only to another Christian.” The Living Bible interprets the passage in this way, “The wife is part of her husband as long as he lives; if her husband dies, then she may marry again, but only if she marries a Christian.” Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, state: “… only in the Lord — Let her marry only a Christian (II Cor. 6:14).” The “New Bible Commentary: Revised,” points out, on p. 1062, “But only in the Lord, i.e., to another Christian; for she is a member of Christ’s body (cf. 6:15).”

Although it is generally understood that Paul requires of a Christian to marry only another Christian, some argue that Paul is just explaining a principle, or that it is just Paul’s opinion, which is not a binding commandment. They may say that marrying outside the Church may be ill-advised, but they claim there is no Scriptural basis to refuse to perform the marriage between a believer and an unbeliever. Those who say this violate the clear Biblical COMMAND, as set forth in 1 Corinthians 7:39. To argue that Paul is just setting forth a principle is ludicrous. Paul says in verse 39, “She is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, ONLY IN THE LORD.” This is not just a principle that can be disregarded or neglected by the Church at whim — this is a clear and unequivocal COMMAND. To say that Paul was just uttering his personal opinion which can be disregarded or neglected by the Church at whim is equally ludicrous. With that rationale, we might as well tear out of the Bible whole pages of commandments set forth in Scripture, as they were communicated to us by God’s apostles, rather than by Jesus Christ directly. If we believe that Christ inspired the authors of the Bible to write down HIS WORD, then any argument that those words contain just personal opinions by those men is blatantly unbiblical.

Given the clear Biblical command only to marry “in the Lord,” the ministry of the Church of the Eternal God and its corporate affiliates will not conduct or perform a marriage between a “believer” and an “unbeliever.”

In addition, given the clear Biblical teaching that God does not bind a marriage between two unbelievers, the ministry of the Church of the Eternal God and its corporate affiliates will not conduct or perform a marriage between two unbelievers. You might want to read Judges 17:13, setting forth the example of Micah. Note the attitude Micah had in the midst of his idolatry, when he asked a Levite, perhaps a relative of Moses, to stay with him and to function as his priest: “Then Micah said, ‘Now I know that the LORD will prosper me, seeing I have a Levite as priest.'” We need to ask those who might want a minister of the Church of the Eternal God or of its corporate affiliates to perform their marriage, why they want them to do so. Is it because they want to live from now on lives which are pleasing to God, including the observance of all of God’s laws and statutes? If not, why do they want a minister of Christ to perform their marriage? If it is because of family approval or to just have a “nice wedding” with a “religious touch” to it, then this would not be sufficient reasons for a minister of Christ to perform such a marriage.

Worldly marriages are bound by the laws of the land. God’s ministry is not to wear the mantle of the justice of the peace. Jesus attended a wedding, but He did not officiate. Christ wants His ministry to administer matters within the Church — relating to those whom Christ calls out of this world. When the ministry of CEG and its affiliates perform a marriage, the following is stated during the ceremony: “Since marriage is a divine institution, and since we are asking God now to join you as husband and wife, it is fitting and right that each of you should faithfully promise before God to enter into the sacred marriage covenant according to the divinely-ordained conditions and laws enacted by God Almighty.” Later in the ceremony, the minister states, “Please now join your right hands and with the laying on of my hands, I will ask the Eternal God in prayer to unite you as husband and wife.”

As can be seen from the foregoing, it does not appear to be appropriate for a minister of Christ to say those words, and to ask God in prayer to “unite” an “unbelieving” couple as husband and wife, when we know that God does not bind such a marriage

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