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God, Caesar, and Pastoral Rights

When did we become governmental agents?



In 1986, I was a twenty-five year old church planter in northern Michigan. A couple from down the street, who had been attending our new church, approached me and asked me to perform their wedding. Fortunately a generous friend had given me a copy of Criswell’s Guidebook for Pastors as an ordination gift.


I quickly turned to the wedding chapter and learned how to perform a wedding. It was to be my first. During the ceremony I used the phrase, “By the power vested in me by the state of Michigan and before God and these assembled witnesses, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss your bride!” Since 1986, I have performed hundreds of weddings in Michigan, Indiana, and Tennessee.


In 1999, my family and I moved to the mission field of Bogota, Colombia, South America, where I pastored the Bogota Baptist Chapel, which was the only English-speaking Baptist church in Bogota. Before too long, a lovely couple came and asked me to perform their wedding. I looked through Criswell’s book but to no avail. How would I perform a wedding in Bogota, Colombia?


I asked around and found my answer. I think the procedure that applied in Bogota is the one we need to adopt in the United States after the SCOTUS ruling. After asking around, I found out that I couldn’t legally perform a wedding in Bogota. The couple would first have to go before a notary to have a civil ceremony. Then, a day or two later, I performed what we consider to be a church wedding.


I learned that in Colombia the wedding ring goes on the right hand and that I no longer said, “by the power vested in me by the state.” Instead, I said, “by the power of the God I serve, I pronounce you husband and wife.” The state and I were no longer partners in instituting a marital union. In time, I found the procedure to be freeing. I had no forms to sign and no license to return to the courthouse. Instead, I simply conducted a beautiful ceremony, read Scripture, and shared a wedding sermon. Standing before me, a young couple pledged their commitment of marriage “before God and these assembled witnesses.”


Was I wrong when I joined with the state to do their “work” for them in performing marriages? No, I did the norm, and I saw it as part of my ministry. But in today’s climate and in light of recent changes, I have decided that moving forward, I am going to require a civil ceremony before I perform the religious one. Using this system keeps simplifies my role. My part is biblical. It is clean cut. Some may say I have “abandoned” the playing field and allowed the culture to win. My response is that working for the state should have never been my field anyway. “I wrestle not with flesh and blood” but with a higher battlefield with the “King of kings” as my battle commander and VICTORY is assured.


Jesus was faced with a dilemma about paying taxes. The Pharisees had Him cornered. How did Jesus respond?


“Let me see the coin,” He said.  “Whose picture is on this coin? Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and render unto God that which is God’s.”


As I look at the county’s marriage license and look at my Bible, I am struck by the fact that the license belongs to the state. I can no longer in good faith be the state’s stand-in. Instead, I will take my Bible and lovingly perform a religious wedding ceremony. By the power of the God I serve, I will pronounce them husband and wife. Fulfilling my role in such a manner honors the God I represent and keeps the state out of my church.

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