The Christian/Messianic who wants to get married will be told that in order to be legally in the marriage estate in the eyes of Elohim (God) he must either be married by his pastor and/or officially register his marriage with the state. Anyone not thus legally 'married' is considered by almost every Christian denomination to be living in a state of fornication. But is this correct?
I can remember an English couple who were living together and who had a very beautiful relationship. They were not believers. Then they converted to Christ but were never formally married. At the insistence of their minister they separated because they were accused of living in fornication. Because they were convinced that they were living in darkest sin they eventually concluded that they were fornicators and that perhaps they should never have been living together in the first place. They never did move in together again. I remember at the time feeling very uneasy and sad about the whole situation.
Over the years, as I have probed the Bible teachings on marriage more deeply, I have come to a very different understanding to that of the denominations. Indeed, as I think back to that happy couple I am filled with an anger inside for in very truth their separating and going their own ways to find new partners biblically constitutes an act of adultery. Far from doing the right thing I am entirely certain that they made a fundamental error whose cost in terms of the eternities may be very dear.
In the matter of priestly involvement in the marriage contract - as with the actual marriage service - one is confronted with a scarcity of information historically. The Jewish Encyclopedia, in confirming the fact that information concerning the marriage procedure is derived mainly from traditional sources, states quite emphatically that in those early years, formalities of a religio-judicial kind were simply unknown. Marriage was a family affair and one that did not go beyond the domain of individual law, consequently there was no place for either a priest or a governor as such at the wedding feast. If, however, a priest was present, he would be there as a friend of the bridegroom and therefore a guest, and not in his office as a priest or a pastor.
As it happens in most societies, there were 'social climbers' in those early Biblical days, and with the passage of time it became the 'in thing' to have a priest at the wedding. But at that time his presence was purely decorative rather than ceremonial. This situation applied only in Judea for if one considers the record of John 3:1-10, it will be seen that in Galilee there was only a "master of ceremonies" called the "ruler or governor of the feast" whose function was limited to the food and drink at the celebrations. However, down in Judea and with the passage of time, the presence of a priest became a regular feature and finally he became accepted as an integral part of the festivities. This priestly involvement in what had previously had been a purely family affair and accepetd as perfectly legal and legitimate by society, was picked up by Rome when Christianity became its official religion and they began to dictate who could or could not get married.
A Jewish Wedding with an Officiating Rabbi
By way of vindicating this statement, attention is directed to a much later event in comparitively modern times during the French Revolution. On 9 March 1796, Napoléon married Josephine de Beaucharnais - a civil marriage which was condemned by the French ecclesiatical courts and declared invalid because of the absence of the parish priest and the necessary two witnesses.
As this subject of eccclesiastical appropriation of the parents' rôle in the matter of marriage creates more problems than it solves, it would serve to note here how the church decided that it had the sole right to determine who should marry and who should not.
In the first instance, one finds that the Councils of Elvira (AD 300), Laodicia (343-389), Hippo (393) and Chalcedon (451) all passed and confirmed laws which prohibited marriage between those of the Roman Catholic faith and others of a differing religious conviction. No other criteria were of importance - the only criteria for marriage was that they should both have embraced the Roman religion and guaranteed to bring up the children in that faith, though today Rome tolerates a non-Catholic spouse provided the children are brought up as Catholics. It was claimed that the influence of an unbelieving, non-church-going parent would be a hindrance to the child's religious devotion and salvation and would consequently cause the child to be 'lost to the faith'. From this, it is obvious that the church laws were intended to ensure church and doctrinal continuity rather than that of the family, clan, nation and race.
During the period of the Roman domination of Western Europe, a bullied and brainwashed world accepted that Elohim's (God's) Authority had been vested in the Pope who, in turn, authorised his priests to function as sole representatives of Elohim (God). When they pronounced two people as 'man and wife' this was for all times irrespective of circumstances which demanded a separation. However, when the authority of the Pope was broken in the Reformation, the Protestant nations of Europe allowed divorce while in England, Milton wrote eloquently in favour of it. His attitude derived from the fact that in June of 1642 he married a certain Mary Powell, the daughter of a Royalist squire of Oxfordshire who owed money to his father. The failure of the mariage was predictable for Milton, a scholar and poet at the age of 33 was married to an uneducated girl half his age from a large, easy-going family. The young wife, on visiting her family, refused, with the backing of her parents, to return to him. The shock to Milton was severe - judging from what he wrote in his De Doctrina, for his approach to marriage had not only been with high hopes but with more than considerable prayer. In his tracts, Milton argued that the sole cause admitted for divorce, adultery, might be less valid than incompatibility and that a forced yoke of a loveless marriage was a crime against human dignity. It was this personal conflict which led him, in the end, to defend the practice of polygamy, long outlawed by the Romish Church and its Protestant successor. His writings, defending polygamy as the only solution to Christ's command not to divorce save in the case of adultery on the one hand, and calling for freeer divorce in the priest-controlled, monogamy-only context, reflect the dilemma he was in, and the dilemma faced by modern Christians who see the injustices of the present system but who refuse to acknowledge the only godly solution - patriarchal marriage.
While in the first half of that seventeenth century there was much talk about the subject of divorce, the actual number indulging in this was very low - at most round about 50 in a matter of 10 years. Even after the passage of the 1857 Divorce Reform Act in England, the numbers remained small with Professor Lawrence Stone in his book, The Road to Divorce, stating:
It was only after the First World War that one finds statistics showing a dramatic increase in divorces, three quarters of which were filed by husbands who suggested that their wives had committed adultery and set up new homes because of the long absences of their husbands at war. The same situation is seen in divorce statistics after the Second World War and although there was a definite tapering off after 10 years, the 1960's saw such a dramatic increase that investigators came to the conclusion that some new factor had intruded itself which was aimed at the complete breakdown in marriages.
"The number of people involved remained statistically minute. As long as there were under 1,000 divorces a year, England still remained a basically non-divorcing society."
This new factor was identified as the Women's Liberation Movement, the high-priestess of which was Germaine Greer who in her book, The Female Eunuch, set out the reasons for the movement. The reasons were totally different to those of Emmeline Pankhurst, that militant champion of women's suffrage who, in the year of her death in 1928, achieved success when British women obtained full equality in the franchise. Germaine Greer is on record as having said that she looked on marriage as "an incoherent entity with bits of ceremonial mumbo jumbo" and adding that she was convinced that conditions would not be improved by working within the system but through pressure groups with revolution as the only way to change things. There can be very little doubt that revolution has occurred in the area of marriage and sexuality, but it was not seen by Germaine Greer.
We may, of course, engage in debate as to the causes of the present demise of marriage, and there are no doubt many. Undoubtedly the early control of marriage by priests attempting to ensure denominational purity and latterly by the state has done untold damage to the institution. Today marriage is rapidly vanishing, viewed as it is as an out-dated church institution. The fact of the matter though is that it isn't a '"church' institution at all, but one established by Yahweh Himself as a family institution. It is, as I contended at the beginning, a family affair, and it is in the family that it should remain. That Christians will wish to make it a Church affair is, of course, only natural, because the Church is also 'family'. What is perhaps the most disconcerting is the extent that the State has its fingers in the marriage pie - to such an extent, indeed, that marriage might just as well be seen as belonging to the State. It doesn't, and no more than children do. Our modern plague is Statism which takes possession from the moment of conception - deciding whether the unborn can be killed or not ('abortion') - to the very grave itself.
And what is the 'State' - or the 'Church' - for that matter? It is the political power of the nation (or ecclesiastical institution) vested in the hands of a few men and women elected for that purpose, or who have seized it by force or have inherited it. These few decide how the millions they control shall conduct their marriages!
True marriage requires no intermediary - no state or church. It requires only that two (or more in polygamy) agree to live together in that estate for the rest of their lives and call upon at least two witnesses to attend its inauguration. Nothing more. This in Yahweh's eyes, constitutes marriage, and whether the State or a Church is involved is entirely irrelevent. The State or a Church institution can define marriage in what ever way they want to until they go blue in the face but it is none of their concern, and a person who ignores them is by no means committing fornication.
Polygamous Wedding in Kenya - legal since 2014
This is not, I hasten to add, the same as 'living together', nor is it a licence for real fornication, which is sleeping around with others with no life-long committment conducted in the presence of two or more witnesses. If a politician or a churchman wants to call biblical marriage 'fornication', that's his business, but we need feel no guilt whatsover, and we should certainly not split it up. Never!
What of two people who have been living together without commitment or witnesses decide they wish to make their marriage biblical and legal in Yahweh's eyes? What should they then do? They should immediately find two witnesses and covenant with each other to be together for the rest of their lives. What if a man has been messing about, sleeping with many women? Provided these women are not already married in the biblical sense, he should offer all of them a life-long committment, and then marry them in the presence of witnesses, if they are willing to make the same life-long committment to him. What if a woman has been messing about sleeping with many men? What should she do? She should find the one she is willing to make a life-long committment to, and he to her. What if none of them want to make life-long commitments? Then they should all become celibate until they themselves are willing to commit and have found partners willing to do the same.
Whilst two is the minimum number of witnesses required, it is far better to have more if possible. If you are a member of a congregation, then seek to have your local church or messianic assembly as witnesses and obtain a blessing from your pastor. And whilst your local church's/assembly's blessing and witnesses are not required, it is the most natural thing for a Christian to seek the participation of his spiritual family -- to neglect it is much like neglecting the Body of Christ in its collective worship and prayer!
It is time to return marriage to the family and take it out of the meddling hands of ecclesiastics and the state. If you have been living together with a partner, enter into life-long covenants in the presence of two or more witnesses and involve as many of the family and your local fellowship who will support you. This is particularly important for those of you who are Christian/Messianic polygamists and lack the support of a local congregation and family who may be hostile to the idea.
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