What is “Christian” Marriage and How is it Different from other Marriages?

Christian marriage is the legitimate union between 2 believers who are not disqualified from being given into marriage. Since it is the duty of the governing authorities of the church to maintain proper discipline within the church, such potential partners would receive the blessing of the church. This marriage receives the blessing of the church and the grace of Christ for they walk in obedience to His will.
Marriages that don’t fall within the above category of Christian marriage would be considered civic marriages, which is a legitimate institution in God’s common grace, granted that the union be heterosexual and between one man and one woman. The governing authorities of the state should recognize such marriages as a legitimate institution. This is a binding union, so much so that if one spouse should later become a Christian, they are admonished to remain in union with their unbelieving spouse so long as the unbelieving spouse wishes to remain in union.
My answer may sound somewhat Roman Catholic in that they view marriage as a sacrament that must receive the blessing of the church and which receives a special blessing from Christ. While I don’t share the identical view of marriage within their sacramental system, nor question the validity of marriage outside the consent of the church, I think my understanding of Scripture is similar to the Catholic position.
Assuming that a local church bears the minimal marks to qualify one as a valid church, it would necessitate some form of oversight over those in the assembly who wish to undertake marriage. Such a person would be accountable to marry “in the Lord” another believer. Only in that condition, is the marriage viewed as receiving Christ’s blessing and approval. It has generally been standard protocol even in Protestant churches to come to the pastor of one’s church and seek their care regarding the desire to marry. Generally the pastor will interview and meet with the potential candidates to determine if they minimally have the right to marry as Christians. Further meetings are used to determine if it is wise for them to marry. Barring any hindrances, the pastor should generally prepare the couple for their marriage and conduct the ceremony.
Most ceremonies involve prayers on behalf of the couple, sacred charges with the recitation of Scripture, a homily, benediction, among other liturgical elements (including of course the vows). Do we administer this liturgy as a vain show or believe that God does indeed meet with the wedded couple in their vows, especially when Christ is summoned to help in various parts of the liturgy (invocational prayer, etc)? While I don’t believe marriage to be a sacrament as the Roman Catholics would describe it, I do believe that God grants grace to the couple in their union.
Ignatius, a student of the apostle John, instructed the bishop Polycarp accordingly:
2 If any man can remain in continence to the honour of the flesh of the Lord let him do so without boasting. If he boast he is lost, and if it be made known except to the bishop, he is polluted. But it is right for men and women who marry to be united with the consent of the bishop, that the marriage be according to the Lord and not according to lust. Let all things be done to the honour of God.[1]
Pertinent passages to my answer above:
1 Corinthians 7:1–16 (ESV) — 1 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. 7 I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. 8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. 9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. 10 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. 12 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. 16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
This above passage clearly shows that the Church is an administrator over the institution of marriage. Paul is instructing the church and the church is to obey the apostolic injunction found therein.
Matthew 19:4–6 (ESV) — 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
This passage bearing the words of our Lord and Savior clearly indicate that God’s hand and presence is in the wedding “What therefore God has joined together…”. The marriage ceremony is an acknowledgment that God Himself is present and presiding over the ceremony that the minister is merely administrating on God’s behalf. Many pastors will quote this passage after the pronouncement that the couple is indeed married and now one flesh. The latter words, “…let not man separate”, serves as warning to all that the weddings bears God’s divine stamp of approval and that any who should threaten the union of the couple is in fact an enemy of God, not merely the couples.

[1] Clement I, P., Clement I, P., Ignatius, S., Bishop of Antioch, Polycarp, S., Bishop of Smyrna, & Lake, K. (1912-13). Vol. 1: The Apostolic fathers (P. Clement I, S. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, S. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna & K. Lake, Ed.). The Loeb classical library (273). London; New York: Heinemann; Macmillan.

© 2011, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.

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