Gay Marriage?

No one has any authority to define marriage contrary to Scripture, which declares that marriage is a legal and spiritual union whereby one man and one woman become one flesh through means of a covenant.

Marriage is neither a state institution nor a church ordinance. Marriage is a common (though divine) institution and is not unique to the kingdom of Christ (which has been given the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper). Note that, in today’s world, pastors only have authority to declare a man and woman husband and wife “by the power vested in [them] by the state”.

It is an agreement between two people. Though the terms and conditions are much more solemn, a marriage agreement is not altogether different than any other kind of legally binding agreement between two parties. Just as the state does not issue a license for every agreement people enter into, neither should they nor need they issue a marriage license. The marriage may be performed by family in the presence of witnesses (just as other agreements often require witnesses).

Individuals in a free society are at liberty to honor or reject another party’s marriage. Christians are under no obligation to honor an unbiblical marriage (homosexual or otherwise) but neither may they restrict two parties from voluntarily entering into an agreement.

Christ taught, in light of creation, that it is sinful for a couple to divorce for any reason except sexual immorality (which even then should be conducted in light of Christ’s love for and forgiveness of His bride). Yet because Christians have no legal ground to restrict another couple’s agreement, we must “allow” divorce among non-Christians for any reason of their choosing. Furthermore, we are commanded not to judge the world (1 Cor 5:12) by expecting them to live like us.

Because the state has unjustly taken upon itself a monopoly over the marriage covenant, Christians have found themselves wrongly wielding the carnal sword (state) in disagreements with the world over marriage, rather than being salt and light and waging war with the sword of the Spirit, calling all men everywhere to repentance, and proclaiming the kingdom of God (not the kingdom of America).

Marriage is a divine institution. (1.) Because founded on the nature of man as constituted by God. He made man male and female, and ordained marriage as the indispensable condition of the continuance of the race. (2.) Marriage was instituted before the existence of civil society, and therefore cannot in its essential nature be a civil institution. As Adam and Eve were married not in virtue of any civil law, or by the intervention of a civil magistrate, so any man and woman cast together on a desert island, could lawfully take each other as husband and wife, It is a degradation of the institution to make it a mere civil contract. (3.) God commanded men to marry, when He commanded them to increase, and multiply and replenish the earth. (4.) God in his word has prescribed the duties belonging to the marriage relation; He has made known his will as to the parties who may lawfully be united in marriage; He has determined the continuance of the relation; and the causes which alone justify its dissolution. These matters are not subject to the will of the parties, or to the authority of the State. (5.) The vow of mutual fidelity made by husband and wife, is not made exclusively by each one to the other, but by each to God. When a man connects himself with a Christian Church he enters into covenant with his brethren in the Lord; mutual obligations are assumed; but nevertheless the covenant is made with God. He joins the Church in obedience to the will of God; he promises to regulate his faith and practice by the divine word; and the vow of fidelity is made to God. It is the same in marriage. It is a voluntary, mutual compact between husband and wife. They promise to be faithful to each other; but nevertheless they act in obedience to God, and promise to Him that they will live together as man and wife, according to his word. Any violation of the compact is, therefore, a violation of a vow made to God.

…As the essence of the marriage contract is the mutual compact of the parties in the sight of God and in the presence of witnesses, it is not absolutely necessary that it should be celebrated by a minister of religion or even by a civil magistrate. It may be lawfully solemnized, as among the Quakers, without the intervention of either.

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Chapter XIX The Law § 11. The Seventh Commandment


Edmund S. Morgan, in “Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea” notes that the Separatists rejected marriage as a responsibility of the church or its ministers:

Marriages were not a church matter at all and were to be performed by a simple declaration in front of witnesses.

Morgan footnotes Walker’s Creeds and Platforms, which contains “The Points of Difference, 1603” written by Separatists while “in exile” from England:

6. That the Ministers aforesaid being lawfully called by the Church where they are to administer, ought to continew in their functions according to God’s ordinance, and carefully to feed the flock of Christ committed unto them, being not injoyned or suffered to beare Civill offices withall, neither burthened with the execution of Civil affaires, as the celebration of marriage, burying the dead &c, which things belong as well to those without as within the Church. (1)

(1) This article, the last clauses of which are so foreign to modern Congregational sentiment, represents the view also of the founders of New England regarding marriages and funerals. As far as known, the first instance of prayer at a New England funeral was at Roxbury in 1684… The next year, 1686, saw the first marriage by a minister in Mass… Connecticut permitted ministers to join inmarriage by a law of Oct. 1694


(Gordon Clark) opposed government involvement in marriage. According to his son-in-law Clark was opposed to the government being involved in marriage. And even, holding a unique position as far as I’m aware of, that the CHURCH shouldn’t be involved in marriage. I can only speculate that as an aggressive exegete of the scriptures he saw no particular evidence for the church sanctioning marriage, but it being a personal or family affair.
Libertarianism in the Thought of Calvinist Philosopher Gordon. H. Clark 


In fact, I would argue that marriage is a creation ordinance, not a church ordinance. I’m not sure that ministers of the gospel should be involved in the legal matters of weddings at all.

D.A. Carson, The SBJT Forum: Issues Relating to the Family

Relevant Posts

  • MikeD

    Hello CJ,

    You say, “Because the state has unjustly taken upon itself a monopoly over the
    marriage covenant, Christians have found themselves wrongly wielding the
    carnal sword (state) in disagreements with the world over marriage,
    rather than being salt and light and waging war with the sword of the
    Spirit, calling all men everywhere to repentance, and proclaiming the
    kingdom of God (not the kingdom of America).”

    I can appreciate anybody refocusing the church’s attention on the gospel and away from merely politico-moral issues. I guess I would need it fleshed out as to what you mean by “Christians have found themselves wrongly wielding the
    carnal sword” before disagreeing too much, but I’ll make a small assumption and precede from there. If the church is to call all men to repentance everywhere (agreed), would this not also include calling the individual civil magistrates to not endorse, sanction, or condone sin, as they turn to Christ? Does good governance ever include approval (not “allowance”) of a violation of the natural law written on the heart? Am I not employing the sword of the Spirit by commanding men, by the authority of Christ, to change their minds about the true nature of the way things are made? I call for no theonomy here, but a reiteration of what others have said, albeit paraphrased, that all men are perfectly and perpetually obliged unto God’s law. This is no less true for the civil magistrate, even if a non-Christian. Of course, I’m not saying that any civil magistrate need punish some voluntary agreement, nor enforce the ordinances of the church. But this is far from not approving of sin in the formal canons of law. In short, how is the government approving of something called gay marriage any less a violation of “transcendent moral principal” than approval of theft?

    I see you quoted 1 Cor 5:12, but this is not to say that the church isn’t to hold all men, as ambassadors of Christ, to the standard of God’s law, for how else could one call another to repentance? Rather, “judge” in the passage is the execution of discipline as indicated by “expel the immoral brother.” The expelling of the immoral citizen (punishment), the outsider, is to be left to the state. Rephrased, it’s not exactly holding outsiders to the Christian standard by saying, for example, you shouldn’t steal nor murder. Nor is it to say you shouldn’t think 2+2=5, nor is it to say that a man cannot be the husband of another man.

    Thoughts? And thanks for your prolific-ness… it keeps us busy!

    • MikeD


    • C.Jay Engel

      I think you misunderstand our position, and perhaps you should read the linked articles at the bottom. We don’t think the civil magistrate should approve gay marriage (see especially this article:

      • MikeD

        My apologies. I will read the linked article. Perhaps I’m being a bit defensive, and certainly presumptuous. I recently talked with a dear brother loosely connected with the site and thought he may have proposed ideas contrary to what I stated. After reading the article, if it’s not there, I’d like to know how Christians have taken up the carnal sword, in your estimation. Thanks

        • C.Jay Engel

          The answer lies in the fact that Christians interested in this issue have taken most of their time, not in removing marriage from the jurisdiction of the state, but in increasing the state’s influence and regulation over marriage properly defined. But even this is not what we think is the best thing to go for.

          • MikeD

            I see. I would agree heartily that there is a way for a Christian to be carnally minded regarding their efforts in this cultural matter. For example, as is my sin at times, losing hope or thinking that since America is going to hell in a hand-basket, then, so also is the church. Or even “putting up my dukes” with every homosexual I run into. Shame on me!

            Your response is good to hear, for what I’ve heard so much of regularly is seemingly un-Christian. Such as when a Christian is in public office, who are they to espouse a particular view of marriage or limit it to a man and a woman alone? I like what was said on TRL, “No one has any authority to define marriage contrary to Scripture.” Even a potentate. Nor will the well-sounding, “Just preach the gospel,” approach do. Yes we need that desperately, but it is truncated… we need the whole counsel of God.

            If I may push back just a smidge. Specifically, while I do not agree, there are many that would say that constant political engagement and philosophizing is carnal ipso facto. I suppose your reply is that it is not carnal as in forceful, but mighty weaponry in the context of cultural affairs. (Of course others, like myself, would say it’s fighting the good fight in a specific arena as vocation and ability allow… so good job young man!) But would you not give a little love to those who are laboring to convince our rulers of the biblical definition of marriage and showing the damaging results of sinful and irrational thinking? I.e. “You ruler, when you affirm SSM, you are not loving your neighbor as an individual, nor are you ruling justly.” While effort to repeal the state of power is (nearly) the ax at the root, is this the only avenue that could be saved from the accusation of carnality?

          • If the goal is to use the carnal (temporal) sword to change people’s minds, then I would argue that is using the carnal (temporal) sword incorrectly.

          • MikeD

            I wish I could be so concise! But no…

            I think I’m on board with that. I mean, no Christian (I would venture)
            thinks you can actually change a mind (the propositions assented to) with merely
            an act of force. Also, if you had in
            mind something like a gov’t sponsored “good parenting/marriage” class
            or some other nonsense, again, I got you.

            And yet, would it not be a necessary part of wise rule that the stated and
            proper use of the sword would aim (“goal”) to convince those under
            the law to obey out of fear? Person X wants to commit a crime, but they
            see that the gov’t is really good at apprehending and punishing such
            criminals. Would it be carnal to have this as a goal? Another way
            of saying this is that, if the sword is aimed at changing people’s behavior via
            the means of just punishment (namely, don’t do x, y, or z), yet behavior
            follows from thoughts, then to that extent the temporal carnal sword is
            designed to change people’s minds. The true debate is about just what ideas the sword should aim to convince of or not (e.g. stealing vs. gay marriage). To me it seems while the magistrate as wielder-of-the-sword should attempt to “convince” of wrongness of the former, but the magistrate not-as-wielder-of-the-sword is still under moral obligation to “convince” of the latter.

            “Do you want to be free
            from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be
            commended. For the
            one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be
            afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason.” Rom 13:3b-4b

            A similar notion even occurs in the church, because
            the same basic human constitution is being dealt with, that of rationality. “As for
            those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest
            may stand in fear” 1 Tim 5:20

          • “the magistrate not-as-wielder-of-the-sword”

            What is the magistrate but wielder-of-the-sword (per your Rom 13 reference)?

          • MikeD

            The magistrate, besides (or including?) being a wielder-of-the-sword, is a rational soul in covenant with God through the CoW or the CoG. As is fitting with either covenant, they are not allowed to praise nor approve of sin or irrationality (Rom 1). In fact, they must disapprove of sin and speak the truth (in this regard, the moral imperatives) to their neighbor, according to that covenant. So, for example, I’m not saying any civil magistrate should reprove any constituent for housing a widow under sixty when she has children or forsaking the gathering of the saints (although this should happen in the church). But, should he be asked questions about gay marriage, and should he actually respond, he is under the obligations of the moral law to respond in truth, namely, disapproval and perhaps, elucidating its ruinous consequences for the participants or society at large. This is similar to what Robbins said when he said that the government officials should use words to persuade other nations of just rule rather than “establishing democracy” or something like that. Does that help, even if disagreeable?

          • You seem to be referring to office-bearers in their private capacities, rather than in their official capacity as wielding the sword.

          • MikeD

            I see how you could see that but it’s not quite what I had in mind. Yes, in their private affairs there’s a moral imperative, but I see more needed.

            For example, President Obama in an official press-conference would be under the obligations of speaking the truth as mentioned in my previous post. Again, I mean, if he’s gonna speak on the issue at all. Would you consider that official or not? I would, but I do not mean to quibble about it. So just for clarity, I do not think it’s any politicians job to convince any constituent that SSM is wrong or harmful. But should they speak on the matter officially or not, they are obligated by God to speak the truth about it.

            Also, as to Robbins’ comment about the persuasion of foreign dignitaries, I doubt he had an unofficial capacity in mind, but I’m not sure.

          • Sure, if any statesman/politician/magistrate is to speak to any issue, they are to speak the truth. Thus they must rebuke not only “gay marriage” but also all false religion and idolatry and all the other irrational sins listed in Romans 1. But insofar as their verbal rebuke goes unheeded, they are not to back up their rebuke with the sword (laws).

          • How have Christians spent their time in increasing the state’s influence and regulation over marriage properly defined? Any and all natural marriage advocacy that I have seen has tried to argue that the state cannot define marriage at all. Rather, marriage comes to the state as a preexisting institution, and the state ought merely to recognize marriage as it truly exists. Natural marriage advocates (Christian or otherwise) argue that to legally recognize homosexual marriages is inappropriate (not because the state ought to hold forth the Bible in defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman, but) because the state cannot define marriage at all; marriage is what it is. To say otherwise is to codify a counterfactual–clearly not a good way to write the laws.