WHEN DOES MARRIAGE REALLY START?

I remember once in church, last year, when we had a general Bible study and the issue was on marriage. At a point in the discussion, the presiding priest asked the church for their opinion on when exactly two people become one flesh, scripturally. That is, at one point can two people be said to be married and hence cannot separate? You needed to see all manners of arguments that were raised that day. It was a university chaplaincy and so a home for intellectuals. All manner of arguments were raised. Some, I was sympathetic to, but others were downright ridiculous- like the medical doctor who said that two only become one when a couple gives birth to a child.

The arguments however were in the direction that once a man has paid the bride price on his wife’s head, they are already married. Some saw white weddings as an invention of the white man and hence not necessary for the enactment of the marriage covenant. It was a long time of debates that led to nowhere really, just men displaying their intellectual opinions about life.

Just recently also, I saw a post on social media where a young man said that once you have paid the bride price and performed traditional rites on the heads of any girl, then you have the right to go ahead and have sex with her, without being guilty of fornication. All these and many more had prompted me to write in order to address this matter- when marriage really begins for an intending couple. At what point in their marriage journey can they be said to have become one flesh and hence free to have sex without the guilt of sin? This is what I intend to answer in this post.

Foremost, I want to categorically say that I am addressing Christians- those who believe in the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, and are sympathetic and loyal to His body (the church of Jesus) on the earth. I am not addressing a legal issue, but a spiritual one. Hence, this post has nothing to offer you if you are not a Christian as you can marry anyhow and do anyhow because you are free to. So, please, find something else to read. However, if you are a Christian and one who understands the Lordship of Jesus over your life, then it is necessary that you pay close attention.

Secondly, the greatest challenge facing Christianity today is the erosion of church life or communal Christianity, especially among the Pentecostals. Catholicism as a faith, emphasizes church life and the centrality of the authority of the communal church of Christ (represented by church authorities), and they actually push these realities to extremes, ascribing to the church certain powers which only Jesus has. In reaction to this extreme, the protestant faith rose to limelight, with their emphasis on individual Christianity. Hence, it is not abnormal (in the Pentecostal circle) to hear that the Christian race is a personal one, and all those emphasis on personal prayer, personal walk with God, personal this and that.

However, the Pentecostal faith has pushed this reaction to an extreme. Now, people who say they are Christians can go ahead and do anything they like without caring what the church thinks about it. To them, they can justly say, “the Holy Spirit spoke to me”, and it does not matter what anyone else thinks about it. This has not been helped by the rise of non-denominational and para-church organizations, and even social media pastors who continually seek to pull down the integrity and authority of the communal church. This had caused many rising youngsters in the Pentecostal faith to miss an essential foundation of the Christian faith called “THE LAYING ON OF HANDS”. (See Hebrews 6 vs. 1-2).

In the early church, no one set out to do anything serious in life and ministry without the laying on of hands of the church elder-ship or authorities. Before one went into serious ministry, or business, or marriage, etc., the presbytery of the church was supposed to lay hands on that person, and taking the authority given to them by Jesus in Matthew 18 vs. 18-20, declare that person free to move in that direction of life. This principle of life called the laying on of hands, is akin to what we call “peer review” in research and development circles. You do not just get up and say the Holy Spirit told you this or that, or that you want to go ahead and do this or that without peer review. Even brother Paul had to go back to the elders at Jerusalem, under the spirit’s leading, to have them review the powerful messages he said he got from God (See Galatians 2 vs. 1-3).

Having said all that, what I am aiming at in the matter of marriage is this; no matter the  direction you wish to take in the manner of your marriage (traditional or court or white wedding), no matter how many people you want to invite for your wedding, no matter how much bride price you have paid (all those things are free for you to make your decisions), but you are not married in God’s sight until the church of Jesus (represented by the elders of the local body of believers you submit to) lays their hands on you and pronounce you husband and wife.

This is not about white wedding (you are free not to hold a white wedding). You can decide to just take your wife-to-be to church on Sunday, and let the church pass that proclamation on you in the presence of witnesses), you can decide to invite the church to your traditional marriage, and have them make the proclamation there. How you want to go about it is not as important as the fact that you have no right to say that because you have paid bride price, or that the parents of your wife prayed for you people, and so you are married. Unless you are not a Christian. As long as you are truly a believer in Christ Jesus, marriage only happens when His church says so.

I am not now speaking on the legal side of it, because most churches or Christian organizations are not licensed to wed people. This does not mean that they do not represent God and so can pass the proclamation declaring you husband and wife (the church of Jesus does not need a government license to carry out their spiritual roles), it only means that in order to make you marriage (which has taken place before God by the laying on of hands of the presbytery) a legal matter, you may have to go to court to obtain a marriage certificate. However, the presence or absence of a marriage certificate does not make you not to be properly married in God’s sight if the church has blessed your union, it only means that your marriage cannot stand a legal argument in a human court, according to the laws of the land. Hence, you may need to do something about it, unless you are not interested.

In conclusion, this is the difference between a legal marriage, a traditional marriage and a Christian marriage.

A LEGAL MARRIAGE is a marriage carried out in line with the dictates of the laws of the land in which we live. Such a marriage can be dissolved also legally. The law of the land allows that.

A TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE is a marriage carried out in line with the traditions and culture of a given society. Such a marriage can also be dissolved traditionally, most times by the returning of the bride piece and other traditional rites.

A CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE is a marriage carried out in line with the precepts of scripture (by the laying on of hands of the elders of the church). Such a marriage cannot be dissolved, it is a vow taken before God, and He had given no room for the marriage to cease to be, unless death parts the couple.

I pray that God will help us to sift out human wisdom from the precepts of scriptures, so that we will live lives worthy of God and of our profession as Christians. Amen.

Avatar for Joshua ObodozieAvatar for Joshua Obodozie
Joshua Obodozie resides in Enugu, Nigeria, West Africa. He is a believer in Christ Jesus and in the authority of the Bible as the inerrant word of God. He is the chief editor of THE CHRISTIAN IN SOCIETY (www.thechristianinsociety.org) an online blog that reaches thousands of Nigerians and Africans with the word of God. He is also a Materials Engineer by profession.

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