Questions on Marriage

Luther condoned, albeit very reluctantly, Philip of Hesse taking a second wife. I say his doing so was a matter of necessity to keep alive the split from a Roman Church many times more corrupt than the actions of one single prince, but I defer to your wise counsel. Thanks & Sola Fide.

Martin Luther’s confidential counsel to Philip of Hesse is not one with which we can agree. While that counsel was consistent with what he had written in “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” it is an example of confessional Lutherans today not endorsing everything Martin Luther wrote or did.

Because the matter was intended to remain confidential, it is a matter of speculation to try to identify Luther’s motives. If the motive was to further the cause of the Reformation, that goal was not immediately successful because the fallout of the bigamous relationship brought criticism for Luther and hardships for Philipp of Hesse; Philip soon lost his influence as leader of the Smalcald League. If the motive was pastoral concern—as most believe—then the confidential advice was simply intended to address a complicated situation.

What can be said with certainty is that God blessed the efforts of the many reformers and confessors who defended the gospel of Jesus Christ. We today are the beneficiaries of those efforts and that blessing.

Is polygamy wrong, from a religious standpoint?

Yes. God’s design and will for marriage is that it be a lifelong union between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:23-24; Matthew 19:4-6).

I hear a lot of talk about this so called "gift of singleness." Does such a gift exist? Does God choose if we can marry or do we choose? And if someone does have this gift and still decides to marry, is it a sin?

In 1 Corinthians 7:7 the apostle Paul speaks of the gift of self-control that God gave him. That gift enabled him to remain single and chaste. Christians today can have that gift from God.

God certainly knows who will marry or remain single, but he allows people to make those choices in life.

By merely deciding to marry, a person will not be guilty of sin. 1 Corinthians 7 explains that Christians are free to marry or not marry.

I have family member who is in the process of getting a divorce, meaning that they have months to face the judge and complete the process. The family member wants to know that since the marriage contract was broken according to Scripture, do they still have to wait for the state divorce completion process or could they, if the right person comes along, start a new relationship?

I am addressing this question with the understanding that the spouse of your family member created the reason for the divorce because of his or her sin.

While God established marriage (Genesis 2:18-24; Matthew 19:4-6) and permits divorce for unfaithfulness (Matthew 19:9) and desertion (1 Corinthians 7:15), our government regulates marriage and divorce. Unfaithfulness and desertion can break the bond of marriage, but a dissolution of marriage is required to end the marriage legally.

Your family member would do well to recognize the role of government in divorce and to act appropriately. In addition, your family member will want to keep in mind how his or her actions can affect others. Entering into a new relationship before the divorce is final could certainly raise questions in people’s minds.

What does a submissive wife look like in Christian marriage?

It looks like the Christian church submitting to Christ.

Many people today see the word “submit” suggesting a relationship in which one person dominates the other. One person is seen to be in power, while the other is seen in a subservient role.

When the Bible directs people to submit, there is nothing degrading, demeaning or insulting about that instruction. Scripture tells Christians: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). Then, God says: “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:22-24). The model of the Christian Church submitting to the leadership of Christ is the model for Christian women submitting to their husbands.

In addition, the relationship between Jesus and the Church provides the model for the way husbands are to treat their wives: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Husbands are to have a sacrificial love for their wives. And so it is to a loving leader (Ephesians 5:23) that a Christian wife submits.

In an upcoming “Light for our path” column in Forward in Christ I will be explaining more about what a submissive wife in a Christian marriage looks like.

Recently on the WELS discussion page it was stated that polygamy is not a sin. Martin Luther was even referenced by one person. Is it true that polygamy is not a sin?

Polygamy is a sinful deviation from God’s design that marriage be between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:20-24; Matthew 19:4-6; Romans 7:2-3; 1 Corinthians 7:2; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6). The fact that God did not intervene in people’s lives when they went beyond his design and will does not equate to approval on his part. The biblical narratives of those people who went beyond “one man, one woman” paint a home life marred by strife and troubles. Those narratives illustrate how God’s ways are always best—including what he says about his institution of marriage.

Would a religious commitment ceremony be accepted in God's eyes? Giving yourself before God just no legal paperwork?

While God established marriage (Genesis 2:18-24; Matthew 19:4-6), society regulates marriage through its government.

As state governments regulate marriage through the issuance of marriage licenses, we render obedience to the government (Romans 13:1-7) by obtaining marriage licenses. A “religious commitment ceremony” needs the accompanying legal documentation required by our government.

If a man is lying to a woman before they get married and she catches him in the affair, is that biblical grounds for divorce? The lies get worse and he's on drugs. He won't pay bills or provide food and necessities for his family. She begs for him to get help and he refuses. She leaves a few times for a night to try to get him to change, but he wouldn't. I'm already divorced, just really struggling .

To me, your words reflect unfaithfulness (Matthew 19:9) and desertion (1 Corinthians 7:15) on the part of the man. Such actions are biblical grounds for divorce.

As this question and answer forum is not suited to provide the spiritual care and support you need, I encourage you to contact your pastor and speak to him. If, for whatever reason, you do not see yourself being able to speak to your pastor about this, consider using the counseling resources available from Christian Family Solutions, a WELS-affiliated ministry. In addition to face-to-face counseling, they also offer video counseling. God bless you.

Can a WELS pastor date/marry a member of the church where he preaches?

There is no scriptural prohibition for our pastors to date or marry a woman who belongs to the congregation where he preaches. (That was actually my father and mother’s situation.)

What both parties will want to recognize is the potential for awkwardness if the relationship does not lead to marriage.

Can my WELS pastor marry my fiance and me at a different venue? I am considering having my reception at a place that is a 2-hour drive from my church and would like to have the ceremony closer to the venue. Would my pastor be able to marry us? Or would I need to find someone else to do the ceremony?

It is likely that your pastor could conduct the wedding service at a venue other than your church. You will want to contact your pastor and explain the venue you have in mind. He can then respond to your plans. God’s blessings on your wedding!

The Bible teaches us what the role is of a husband and a wife in a marriage. Wives must submit to their husband as they are the head. What role does the husband and wife play when it comes to disciplining your spouse for something they did wrong? I know a husband and wife are equal in the sense they are adult human beings but what does God say about the wife disciplining the husband and/or the husband disciplining the wife when he or she does something wrong?

Biblical instructions regarding rebuke are applicable to husbands and wives. “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over” (Matthew 18:15). “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them” (Luke 17:3).

It is certainly fitting that in a home where a husband and a wife exercise their Christian faith, confession and absolution take place. Because the marriage relationship is built on selflessness, it would seem that any resulting “discipline” would be mutually agreed upon.

I've been studying the history of WELS and other American Lutheran denominations, and I stumbled upon expressions like "rightful betrothal" and "proper engagement" in relation to marriage. No, our modern-day engagement – as opposed to biblical or historical betrothal – clearly does not establish a marriage. Yet, it seems that some have argued that a "rightful betrothal" in some sense would be equivalent to marriage. Since these expressions don't seem to be widely used today, I'm wondering: (1) What exactly do expressions like "rightful betrothal" (or sometimes "rightful engagement" or "proper engagement/betrothal") mean, and how is it different from a "regular" engagement? (2) Have there been any changes in the history of the WELS or the Synodical Conference in their teaching on these issues?

Very likely, what you were reading about “rightful” or “proper” or “valid” betrothal was referring to the way in which a man and a woman committed themselves to marrying each other. What characterized such a betrothal was that there was no coercion involved: the man and the woman committed themselves to each other willingly. Additionally, there was parental knowledge and consent of the relationship. In that way, there was nothing secret about the marriage plans.

Because modern engagement differs from betrothal practices of the past, you will find changes in teaching on the subject.

A nice source that reviews this subject matter is a Concordia Publishing House product from 1959: Engagement and Marriage: a sociological, historical, and theological investigation of engagement and marriage.

On a related note, the December 2018 “Light for our path” column in Forward in Christ will feature a question about biblical betrothal.

Does the Bible tell us (and, if so, where?) that it is wrong to marry a sibling and/or cousin? Obviously, it was permissible (and necessary) for Seth and his siblings to marry each other. Was it still OK by Abraham's time for him to marry his half-sister? What about Jacob marrying his first cousin(s)?

In the early part of world history, marriage between people who were related in some close way was inevitable. As time progressed and world population grew, God regulated marriage for his Old Testament people of Israel. In the Sinaitic Covenant, God forbade marriages between close relatives (Leviticus 18-20). That took place some 300 years after Abraham.

For people of God in New Testament times, people who are not bound by Old Testament civil laws, we recognize our obedience to the civil laws which are established by governments (Romans 13:1-7). That includes laws that regulate marriage between people who are related by birth.

Ancient Roman laws forbade certain relatives from marrying one another (1 Corinthians 5:1, for example). Similarly, governmental laws today place restrictions on those who want to marry. In our country, these laws vary from state to state.

What should I do after my husband said he hates me and wants a divorce because I didn't want to go to an event with him to promote his painting?

You really want to speak to your pastor about this—and very soon. He is in a position to listen to you (and your husband) explain what happened and then counsel you on the basis of God’s word.

If, for whatever reason, speaking with your pastor cannot take place soon, you could consider another resource. Christian Family Solutions, an agency within WELS, offers counseling: both in-person and video counseling from the privacy of your home. This link will provide you with more information.

Communication is vitally important at this point. I pray that you and your husband are able to exercise patience, wisdom and love as you address some very serious matters. God bless you.

My sister recently got engaged. We have a cousin who is a staff minister. Would he be able to conduct the wedding?

State laws determine who can officiate at weddings. You will want to understand what the laws of your state are in this regard.

It goes without saying that if your cousin officiates at the wedding, good order in the church (1 Corinthians 14:40) means involving the pastor(s) of your congregation in the discussion and decision of this matter.

Can a non-member, non-believer stand as maid of honor and/or bridesmaid/groomsman in a WELS wedding?

Yes. There are no biblical fellowship principles involved with the scenario you present. The individual is not leading or conducting any part of the worship service.

Ideally, the individual will benefit from hearing the word of God and its focus on Jesus Christ as Savior.

Concerning marriage, how would you handle a situation in which a marriage is recognized in one country but not another? Would this constitute a valid marriage in the eyes of God? Could the couple engage in legitimate sexual activity? Or what if a government makes changes in the civil law, so that a previously recognized marriage is declared not valid?

There may be a specific situation behind your questions, but I am not aware of it. Because of that, I can offer only a general response.

The Bible defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4-6). Governments might define marriage differently and regulate it with laws, but marriage in God’s eyes follows the directives of his word.

“Legitimate sexual activity” is that which takes place in marriage—as God, in the Bible, defines marriage.

What does God's word say about getting married at another location that is not inside the church?

The Bible does not provide instructions or directives on the location where a marriage is legally established. This is yet another area in life where there is Christian freedom.

Certainly, a God-pleasing course of action that many Christians choose is having a marriage service take place in church. The house of the Lord is where God’s people gather regularly to hear his word and offer him their prayers and praises. The house of the Lord is a fitting place where marriage, one of God’s gifts, can be “consecrated by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:5).

Ultimately, the venue of a wedding is not the most important matter. What is all-important is understanding what the Bible says about marriage. It is the lifelong union between a man and a woman (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4-6).

Am I sinning if I date and marry someone one who got divorced for unscriptural reasons? The responsibility is on me to try to determine this? This can be very difficult or almost impossible when the divorce happened years ago and you only hear parts of one side of the story. You may not ever know for sure.

This is a question you will want to address to your pastor. While I can try to provide responses to many different kinds of questions, yours is one that requires a level of pastoral counseling. It will be helpful for your pastor to provide him with much more information than I have here. I encourage you to contact your pastor.

I am getting married soon and, as a member of a WELS church, I would like to have it in my home church. However, my mother has brought to my attention that some of the music I want played at my wedding is not allowed in a church setting or service, such as “All of Me” by John Legend. Could you direct me to where in the Bible it specifies which kind of music is allowed in a church? I don’t want to be disrespectful, but my fiancé and I value music highly and would really like to include instrumental versions of other songs, along with the worship songs we choose. If you could provide some clarity, I would greatly appreciate it. God bless.

Congratulations on your upcoming marriage. It is wonderful to hear of your desire to have your wedding in your home church.

There are of course no Bible passages that specifically state “which kind of music is allowed in a church.” What we want to do is understand what the Bible says about worshiping the Lord with fellow believers and then make appropriate applications to our lives.

To begin with, it goes without saying that God is the focus of our worship services (Psalm 115:1). That is true whether we are thinking of a regular worship service or a special worship service such as a funeral or a wedding. If God is not the focus of those special worship services, then a funeral is filled with eulogies and a wedding is all about the bride and groom, and the music can very well reflect that. On the other hand, when God is the focus of all our worship services, then the music involved will give evidence of that truth.

Ephesians 5:19-20 states: “Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The music that fills our worship services is directed to God. It is thankfulness to God, especially for the gift of his Son, that forms the main content of our worship and music (Psalm 95:2). Music in a wedding worship service that focuses exclusively on human relationships can easily distract from worship’s main purpose of glorifying God.

1 Corinthians 14:40 adds the thought that all things in a worship service are to be done “in a fitting and orderly way.” We can arrive at appropriate musical selections for a wedding worship service by asking and answering the question: “What is fitting?”

Your question is an important one. I am glad you asked it. Your question is one that your pastor will address in pre-marital counseling with you and your fiancé. He will be glad to explain what music is appropriate for the worship service that will be your wedding. God’s blessings to you and your fiancé.

Matthew 5:28 says that if you look at a woman lustfully, you commit adultery with her in your heart. But what about when it comes to your spouse? Can you look at or think about your spouse lustfully without sinning? Would it not be considered adultery because you are married to that person? Is it somehow apart the unity of marriage (two becoming one flesh)?

God designed sexual relations for the marriage bond (Hebrews 13:4). The verse that you cited from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount speaks of sinful thoughts toward a person who is not part of the marriage bond.

With your questions in mind, it could happen that a person’s thoughts of his or her spouse could distort God’s design for marriage, in that the person views his or her spouse simply as a sex object. 1 Corinthians 7 teaches how husbands and wives are to view each other and themselves when it comes to their sexual lives. As in other areas of married life, selflessness is the key: we put others first in life.

Scripture indicates the only allowable reasons for divorce are infidelity and abandonment/malicious desertion (Matthew 5 and I Corinthians 7).  However, what would be the Lutheran view of situations where the spouses were pressured into getting married by their parents or other authority figure, or situations where the couple married in desperation, such as cases of premarital pregnancy or to get away from an abusive parent?  I am also aware of situations where one spouse deceived the other, either directly or by lying through omission, about important issues like a large debt or a prior STD, and the deceived spouse would not have married the other spouse if they knew all the information before they got married.    I Corinthians 7:15 mentions abandonment by an unbeliever as grounds for divorce and I Corinthians 7:39 seems to indicate that we have free will in choosing whom to marry, but I am wondering about cases where there was either dishonesty or manipulation by one of the spouses prior to marriage, or serious pressure to marry from parents or elders.  Would you be able to recommend some Scripture passages or biblical principles that could be applied in such cases?  Thank you.

I have to say that you would be better served by asking specific questions of one of our pastors. That face-to-face forum would enable you to provide context and additional information for your questions.

What I can do is pass along general information on some of the issues you mentioned. This information is from The Shepherd Under Christ: A Textbook for Pastoral Theology.

“Inherent in a valid promise [marriage vow] is that it is given willingly. Although Scripture does not address itself to this point directly, it is evident that the leaving of father and mother and cleaving to one’s spouse according to Genesis 2:24 is a voluntary action. Rebekah was asked about her willingness to leave her homeland and family in order to marry Isaac (Gn 24:58). A pastor will not solemnize a marriage where coercion is in evidence. State laws permit an annulment of a marriage if force or coercion were present at the time of the marriage ‘unless the marriage has been confirmed by the acts of the injured party.’ Whoever subsequent to the coercion that forced him into a marriage practices marital privileges voluntarily is viewed as thereby giving his willing consent. What constitutes coercion the state laws may well determine. When coercion can be proved, the church too can acknowledge this as evidence that no valid marriage bond came into existence.

“Deception, or fraud, is an impediment to a valid marriage promise. Such deception may involve the essence of marriage itself (e.g., known impotence or known sterility) or related matters (e.g., claiming a particular social or financial status). What turns out to be a mistaken judgment about a spouse’s wealth or beauty or desirable qualities cannot subsequently be called fraud.

“…Since fraud used in securing a promise nullifies one’s obligation to it, state laws permit the annulment of marriages that came into existence through deception. The church may acknowledge such an annulment without expressly requiring it. Continued voluntary practice of marital rights after discovering the fraud validates the marriage vows and removes the right to annulment.” (Pages 268-269)

Again, your best course of action would be to ask one of our pastors to respond to your specific questions.

Is it a sin for a person long divorced to remarry? I'm just curious. My friend says it is adultery to remarry after divorce even if you divorced from a cheater. She also said it is sinful for a divorced couple to remarry. I think she is only going off of the Old Testament and is legalistic.

Questions like this are best answered by parish pastors who know more details of the individuals involved than I do.

What I can say in a general way is that a Christian whose marriage was broken by the unfaithfulness of the other spouse, and divorce took place, is not forbidden to remarry.

I know divorce is allowed if there is adultery. I was wondering in that instance, is only the "innocent" spouse allowed to file for divorce? Or can the adulterous spouse file for divorce as well? Thank you for your time.

The spouse who committed adultery has already sinned against God and the other spouse. Repentance is the course of action for that person (Mark 1:15; Luke 13:3; Acts 17:30).

As far as state laws are concerned, filing for divorce is an option for the spouse who committed adultery. When it comes to that spouse’s spiritual life, however, that course of action would only be making matters worse.

The situation you describe certainly calls for pastoral counseling for the couple in question.

What is the church's stand on dating a person while they are going through a divorce and are members?

While God established marriage (Genesis 2:18-24; Matthew 19:4-6) and permits divorce for unfaithfulness (Matthew 19:9) and desertion (1 Corinthians 7:15), our government regulates marriage and divorce. Unfaithfulness and desertion can break the bond of marriage, but a dissolution of marriage is required to end the marriage legally.

In addition, a person in the situation you described will want to keep in mind how his or her actions can affect others. Entering into a new relationship before the divorce is final could certainly raise questions in people’s minds.

Because I do not know the circumstances of the divorce in question, pastoral counseling is certainly appropriate and recommended.

My son has been asked to perform the wedding for a friend of his. As it is popular to acquire a certificate online to legally become "ordained" to do this, our question is where does the synod stand regarding this? Is it acceptable for him to do this for his friend? Thank you.

There is no official synodical position to which I can point you regarding this.

Since governments regulate marriage, governments also stipulate who can—as agents of the government—officiate at weddings. Regulations vary from state to state. Ordination is not always a requirement. Be aware that online ordination is often a caricature of what ordination into the public ministry really is.

If your son were to take the place of an ordained pastor in officiating at the wedding of his friend, I wonder who would provide biblical pre-marital counseling for the prospective bride and groom. That counseling is so very important. Perhaps your pastor can provide guidance in this matter.

I was wondering if couples are ever permitted to write their own Scripture-based vows with the counseling and assistance of the officiating pastor? We just were thinking about if this may be an option or not.

This is something you can talk about with the pastor who will be officiating at your wedding. I do not know if you are familiar with the promises that are listed in the order of “Christian Marriage” in Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal (pages 140-141), but those promises are most certainly based on Scripture. I encourage you to look at those promises and then speak to the pastor who will be officiating at your wedding.

My sister (a widow) is living with a widower. Rather than marry, they have chosen to have a commitment ceremony. They say that it is better for them financially to not marry. They attend a church of a different denomination and apparently that pastor finds the commitment ceremony to be an acceptable option. Isn’t the Bible clear that the only thing acceptable is marriage? Has WELS said anything specific on this topic?

The essential part of marriage is the commitment of a man to a woman (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4-6). If marriage were simply a private commitment between two people, then a commitment ceremony could celebrate their actions, but marriage is also a contract between a man and a woman. It is a contract in the sense that governments regulate the commitment between a man and a woman through marriage licenses. Two people who have participated in a commitment ceremony and are living together without being legally married are fooling themselves but not God.

When two people of the opposite sex—regardless of age—live together without the benefit of marriage, they are in a position of causing offense to others (Matthew 18:6-7) and emboldening others to follow their example. In addition, their lives are not in line with what God says: that “among you, there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality” (Ephesians 5:3). Christians who have long been on the receiving end of God’s goodness are especially responsible for setting good examples for others (Luke 12:48).

It is sad when people prioritize financial concerns over doing what God says in his word. It is also sad when people do not give God opportunities to carry out his promises in their lives. After all, Jesus promised: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). “These things” that Jesus promised are the necessities of life: food and clothing (Matthew 6:31). God operates with his own mathematical and economic system as his children live their lives in trusting obedience of his will.

Continue to help your sister with your prayers and your Christian witnessing.

What is the biblical definition of marriage?

God’s design for marriage is that it is the life-long union of one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6).

Is engagement tantamount to marriage?

Engagement is the promise to marry another person. Marriage involves the legal commitment of a man and a woman to each other that is regulated by the government. Engagement is not marriage.

It is easy for people to conclude—wrongly—that engagement and marriage are the same when they look at the biblical account of Joseph and Mary (Matthew 1:18-25). At one point in time, “Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph” (Matthew 1:18). This is not speaking of the practice of engagement that we have. Joseph and Mary had given each other their word, by means of signed papers, that they would become husband and wife. That action legally established the marriage. That explains why Joseph had thoughts of “divorcing” (Matthew 1:19) Mary when he first learned of her pregnancy.

While Joseph and Mary were legally married by the signing of legal papers, they did not have the right to live together as husband and wife until the time of the public wedding celebration that took place days later.

The customs and legal nuances of marriage in first century Palestine were quite different from our practice of engagement.

Hello. I’m curious want your stance on gay marriage is. As part of the LGBTQ community, I’m trying to find a church that’s open to it. Thank you for your time.

I can provide you with this statement from our church body:

“The Bible teaches that marriage was established and given by God at the time of creation. As he designed and instituted it, marriage is the life-long union of one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6). It is a relationship that is to be honored and kept pure (Hebrews 13:4; Ephesians 5:22-33). As a man and woman promise life-long faithfulness to each other as husband and wife, God himself joins them as one. Marriage is not simply a contract between two consenting individuals, nor is it merely a creation of human society, culture, or tradition. God himself instituted marriage at the time of creation, and God himself joins a man and woman in marriage today.

“The biblical teaching on marriage emphasizes the blessings God intends to convey to those joined together in the marital relationship. Through marriage God provides partners well suited and complementary to one another. In marriage, God provides a partner who will provide encouragement and support. Marriage is also to be the God-ordained means to procreate and to establish a stable environment in which children can be nurtured both physically and spiritually. Marriage is the one context God intended for the use of the blessing of sexual intimacy, where the sexual union of one man and woman is an expression of love and oneness rather than a sinful satisfaction of lust. Finally, since we live in a fallen world, in marriage God provides a restraint for selfishness and sin as each partner strives to live the pure life that God intends for his people (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8).

“This is the Bible’s teaching about the origin, definition, and nature of marriage. For that reason it is also the doctrine of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Every congregation and called worker accepts the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the written Word of God and the only rule and norm of faith and practice. That marriage is the God-ordained union of one man and one woman is the clear teaching of the Bible, and therefore is the teaching and confession of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

“We believe that marriage is the sacred, life-long union between one man and one woman. Therefore, our pastors will not officiate in any marriage ceremony or celebration and our church sanctuary may not be used for any activities related to a marriage ceremony or celebration that is inconsistent with these beliefs.”

I invite you to speak in person to any of our pastors to follow up on this statement and understand better what the Bible teaches about marriage.

We have a daughter raised WELS who married a Catholic boy in our WELS church. At the time of their marriage classes, they did not know how they were going to raise children. She is 25 weeks pregnant and now her Catholic husband feels that they should baptize their child Catholic not WELS Lutheran. Our daughter is a teacher in a public school and wants the child to be baptized Lutheran. Our daughter always talked about teaching Sunday School when her kids were Sunday School age. I always taught our kids in Sunday School. I feel that there are so many Catholics that do not know even the basic Bible stories even after going to a Catholic school. Asking for your help in this situation to help them decide.

While in many cases Baptism establishes membership in a visible church, we want to keep in mind that the saving faith worked in a child through Baptism establishes membership in the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints. Because of that truth, a person is not baptized “Lutheran” or “Roman Catholic.” The saving faith worked in a child through Baptism bestows the title “Christian.” The question that your daughter and son-in-law face is one that concerns the spiritual instruction of their child.

Obviously, it would have been better for your daughter and son-in-law to come to an agreement—before their marriage—on how they were going to raise their children. If they have not had a conversation comparing their churches’ teachings to the Bible, now would be a good time. Your daughter could use This We Believe, a statement of belief of WELS, and go through it with her husband. Both will be able to read the Bible passages that explain our church body’s statement of belief. Both could do the same thing with materials from your son-in-law’s church.

The subject matter I hope your daughter and son-in-law would spend the most time on is salvation. What does each church teach about people enjoying salvation? What does the Bible teach?

The Bible teaches that God saved us because of his mercy; our works do not contribute to our salvation (Romans 3:28; 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7). This is what your daughter’s church teaches. The official teaching of salvation from your son-in-law’s church is quite different and not biblical.

I would encourage your daughter to speak to her pastor about this matter. One of the resources he could offer your son-in-law is a no-strings-attached Bible Information Class to learn firsthand what the Bible teaches on a variety of subjects.

I wish you all well and pray for a peaceful resolution to this situation.

Can it be accurately stated that the husband in marriage represents the Father and that the wife represents Christ in a sense? If so, how?

The imagery in the Bible is that Jesus Christ is the bridegroom and the Christian Church is his bride (Hosea 2:19-20; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-27; Revelation 19:7-8; 21:9-10).

Ephesians 5:22-33 uses the union between Jesus and the Church as the pattern for marriage between a man and a woman.

Hello! Planning for a wedding can be sometimes overwhelming and stressful. I am a very strong Christian and I believe that a marriage involves three people - God, husband, and wife. Having Christ at the center of your marriage keeps you strong in all circumstances. While planning a wedding, it can get crazy with remembering to get all the physical type things done and then we can tend to forget about the spiritual focus of a wedding. What would you recommend to make sure the spiritual focus of getting married isn’t lost when planning everything else for the wedding? Thank you!

I commend you for having such wonderful priorities when it comes to wedding planning. You recognize very well that wedding service and reception details are important, but a lifelong marriage is much more important.

Pre-marital counseling from your pastor can help maintain your spiritual priorities during the busyness of wedding planning. In addition, reading and discussing the Bible with the one you will marry can help keep your spiritual focus.

Besides Bible reading, you might consider the following books: Marriage and Family, Building the Christian Home, and Growing Together in Christ. All are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

God bless you and your future marriage!

Once a couple is married, what is considered "allowed" when it comes to sexual relationship? If both partners consent, what is considered immoral? I'm having issues in my marriage because I'm very concerned as to what's right and wrong (allowed/not allowed) in our sexual relationship. My husband is confused because, as his wife and partner, he feels there should be no limits to what we can do/enjoy in our relationship. I'm not talking about extra partners, or anything like that- just the two of us in a relationship.

God designed sexual activity to take place in marriage. The Bible does not provide detail regarding the sexual activity that takes place between a man and a wife. Certainly, the attitude of selflessness and consideration of the other spouse (1 Corinthians 7:1-5) will shape a marriage’s sexual activity.

The Bible is very clear regarding the subject of sexual activity outside marriage. The Bible condemns such activity (Hebrews 13:4).

My wife committed adultery. She left our church. How often should my pastor reach out trying to get her back to God and come back to our marriage?

I am sorry to hear about your wife’s actions and how your life has been affected.

If leaving the church means that your wife is no longer a member of your congregation, that means that your wife has removed herself from the discipline of your church and the authority of your pastor (Matthew 18:15-20).

Your pastor can certainly speak to your wife as he has opportunity but, because the pastor-member relationship no longer exists, his influence on her life has greatly diminished. It is much easier now for your wife to decline an invitation to speak with your pastor.

Your situation calls for Christian counseling. I hope you are in contact with your pastor. Do pass your concerns along to him. You can certainly ask your pastor to try to speak to your wife. Those who know of your situation can definitely pray for you and your wife. God bless you.

My fiance and I are due to be married next year and while we were planning we realized we were going to have too many guests for his home church. I am not WELS but I have no objection to being WELS. My home church is the First Congregational Church of Christ and is very big and would fit all of our guests and is in a location that all of our family could get to. My soon to be husband wants his WELS pastor to officiate so I was wondering if he would marry us in a different church. This has nothing to do with switching religions, just a place for our ceremony.

You will want to ask your fiance’s pastor that question.  Officiating at a wedding in a rented facility, even another church, does not in and of itself violate scriptural fellowship principles.  Including officiants and/or worship leaders from that church would violate scriptural fellowship principles (Romans 16:17).  Do talk with your fiance’s pastor.  He will also be glad to explain to you the doctrinal differences between your church and your fiance’s church.

A friend of mine contacted her WELS pastor regarding her failed marriage due to abandonment. She was looking for comfort and guidance. The pastor told her that he would need to send a letter to all members of the congregation naming the people and telling them of the divorce. This, she was told, was common practice of the WELS, for the purpose of clarifying the church's stance against divorce. Is this the practice of WELS churches to send this letter and put shame on those getting a divorce?

The situation as you have described it would not illustrate accurately the practices of our churches. I would like to think that you and I do not have all the information about this situation.

There is a time when we “tell it to the church” (Matthew 18:17). Those words are in the context of Jesus explaining what his followers are to do when they lovingly confront sin and impenitence in the life of a fellow Christian. That action comes about after individual and small group contacts with the impenitent person result in a continued denial or defense of sin.

But “telling it to the church” is more purposeful than sharing information. Additional people in the church—those in church leadership positions—are informed of the person’s sin and impenitent attitudes. That is done to add more voices to the call for repentance. “Telling it to the church” finally can materialize in a church voters’ assembly meeting, to which the impenitent person is invited to attend to explain his or her actions and attitudes, and at which a vote of excommunication might take place.

If your friend’s spouse has abandoned her, and he is a member of the congregation, the pastor will want to speak to him about his sinful actions with Matthew 18 in mind. At the same time, the pastor will seek to minister to your friend, providing scriptural guidance.

Again, I can only wonder if you and I are missing information about this situation. Speaking to your friend might help clarify matters.

My husband is set on having at least one child, but I'm sure I don't want to be a mother. This has caused us a lot of turmoil in our marriage since our pastors taught us in our pre-marriage counseling that we should be fruitful. Can we, in good conscience, decide that we don't want children?

At two points in the history of the world God spoke to people and instructed them to “be fruitful and increase in number” (Genesis 1:28; 9:1,7).  It was to Adam and Eve and also to Noah and his family that God gave those instructions.  It is important to recognize how God prefaced those instructions.  To both sets of people, God “blessed them.”  That sets the tone for a biblical view of children:  they are blessings from God.

In Psalm 127:3-5 King Solomon described children as blessings:  “Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him.  Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth.  Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.  They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.”

The language of the Bible is that children are blessings from God.  God wants husbands and wives to look upon children as blessings.  Not inconveniences on a lifestyle.  Not drains on personal income.  Not barriers to career goals.  Blessings.  If husbands and wives do not wish to receive these blessings from God, they will need to examine their motives.  Are their motives good and godly?  Are their motives in line with God’s word?  These are questions that husbands and wives need to address, and answer in unison.

Your answers to those questions are not available to me, so to prevent any more “turmoil” in your marriage, I would encourage you and your husband to speak with your pastors, since they were involved in your pre-marital counseling.  They are in a position to explain and clarify the scriptural guidance they provided before your wedding.

May God grant you and your husband peace, unity and steadfast love as you work through this important matter.

Mathew 5:32 says that whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Does this mean a divorced woman can never marry again?

No, that is not the meaning of that verse. Many Bible translations fail to capture the intended meaning of that particular point of Jesus’ sermon on the mount. In “A Study of Marriage, Divorce, Malicious Desertion, and Remarriage in the Light of God’s Word,” a document recently updated by our Conference of Presidents, there is a suggested translation of Matthew 5:32 that more accurately reflects the Greek verbs. “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce,’ but I tell you that whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, causes her to be stigmatized as an adulteress, and whoever marries a divorced woman is stigmatized as an adulterer.”

The point of the verse is that if a man sinfully divorces his wife for unscriptural reasons, his wife, who was not responsible for that sinful divorce, can appear to others to be guilty of wrongdoing simply because her marriage came to an end. That “guilt by association” perception could then unfortunately also extend to the husband of her remarriage.

If a husband divorced his wife for unscriptural reasons, that would not preclude the woman from entering into another marriage.

A close friend of mine and fellow churchgoer (WELS) recently shared with me her intentions to become an ordained minister (online) so she could marry her brother at their wedding. As her brother and bride-to-be have no church affiliation, she thought this would be a way to minister to them while marrying them legally. Her brother has rallied behind this plan. My friend is a good person and attends church regularly, but has had no formal theological education beyond eighth grade confirmation. When I was not supportive of this, she asked why. I told her online ordination is simply a transaction that may give one legal status to marry, but is offensive to God and His Church; to say nothing of “real” ordained ministers who are called by the Holy Spirit and have studied rigorously to attain this status. I also advised her that, as a WELS member, she would likely not be welcome to continue in our fellowship if she becomes an ordained minister within another church body – most especially true as Scripture is clear that women are not to be ordained, period, WELS or not. I am struggling to answer her convictions that there is no scriptural/doctrinal problem here. I don’t want her to disgrace the ministry of the Gospel or bring unintended consequences to her spiritual well-being. She has rebuffed my suggestions of speaking to our pastor, saying it’s not about religion, it’s just about performing this ceremony for her brother. Can you provide some guidance in this situation? Thank you and blessings to you all.

Since governments regulate marriage, governments also stipulate who can—as agents of the government—officiate at weddings. Regulations vary from state to state. Ordination is not always a requirement.

It does look like you gave your friend accurate information. You could simply supply the scriptural support for why women are not to be ordained clergy: 1 Corinthians 11:3; 14:33-35; 1 Timothy 2:11-12.

Your friend stated to you that she wishes to officiate at her brother’s wedding because of a desire to “minister” to her unchurched brother and fiancée. While that might be a noble goal, a pastor would be in a much better position to minister to a couple like that by offering biblical pre-marital counseling and then officiating at their wedding.

I wish you well in your conversations with your friend and pray for God’s blessings on them.

Is marrying an unbeliever wrong? Or is it just foolish?

It is not wrong in that it is sinful. Sometimes people point to 2 Corinthians 6:14 (“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.”) as God’s prohibition of marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian. The context, however, is not about marriage. Without condemnation of any kind, 1 Peter 3:1-2 addresses Christian women who are married to unbelieving men.

Rather than labeling such a marriage as “foolish,” I would say that a marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian is going to be set up for many challenges. The Christian spouse will need to recognize that in that particular marriage, “two will become one” in many ways but not in the most important way. If the Christian spouse is not going to compromise the faith, he or she will need to face the fact that the unbelieving spouse will spend eternity in a different place, unless God the Holy Spirit changes the spouse’s heart.

That lack of unity in the faith can pose problems when it comes to devoting time to worshiping the Lord in church, giving back part of one’s income to the Lord, deciding how to raise children spiritually—just to name a few issues.

On the other hand, what a great blessing there is when a man and a woman can be “one” in marriage in the most important way: when they are fellow members of the family of God. Such a marriage is not exempt from problems, but it has a wonderful foundation because it is built on the love of God in Christ.

I am trying to help a family member answer a question. Is getting married again after being divorced many years ago (not for physical abandonment or adultery) living daily in unrepentant sin? She belongs to a church that teaches her that a second baptism is required to remove the sin. Also, they do not believe in the original sin in Genesis. I already explained baptism to her according to our WELS teaching in His Holy Word, however, I am not as well equipped to answer the marriage question.

There is important information I do not know regarding your question. Who filed for the divorce? Is reconciliation with the former spouse at all possible? What has been the attitude of this family member toward the dissolution of her marriage? Is repentance part of the picture? What might be appropriate fruits of repentance?

You would do well to present your question, along with all the information I do not have, to your pastor. He is in a much better situation than I to have a clear picture of the circumstances and offer a biblically-based response.

Considering your family member’s church membership and the false teachings to which she is exposed, keep pointing her to what the Bible teaches regarding repentance, forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ and baptism. God bless your efforts!

Does God choose your mate, your wife or husband?

People make those choices.  God certainly knows what choices people are going to make, but people are free to marry or not marry (1 Corinthians 7).  If they wish to marry, it will be their choice—and of course their spouse’s choice.

If it were a matter of God choosing a spouse for a person, determining who that person is would be terrifically challenging and frustrating.  And, finally, how would we know for certain that person was God’s choice?  We know God’s will when he reveals it us in his word.  When God does not reveal his will regarding individual decisions like whom to marry, or whether to marry at all, people make choices and ask God to bless them.

That is why single Christians who wish to marry will ask God to bless their endeavors to find a godly spouse.  And a Christian will regard his or her spouse as one of God’s gifts (Proverbs 18:22), freely given.

My friend married about a year and a half ago to a man who had recently found Christ. This changed him in so many wonderful ways. He has stopped his controlling behaviors, his jealousies, his abusive tongue. He started a youth group at church for troubled teens, etc. Problem is, he is extremely sanctimonious now. He calls her a heathen, says how unevenly yoked they are, refers to any material things she loves as "her God," constantly tells her she is going to hell. (She is a believer by the way.) While she would love a closer relationship with Christ, his words and attitude turn her off, not only to her husband, but to getting more involved in the church. The more "godly" he becomes to the outside world, the more judgmental and self-righteous he becomes to his own wife. I've referred them to their pastor, what other help can I give?

You did well in encouraging them to speak to their pastor.  He is in a position to minister to them, using Scripture to offer rebuke, comfort and guidance.

No doubt, you are praying for your friend and her husband.  Keep doing that.  Ask that the Lord work through his word in the heart of the husband so that he loves his wife, “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).  Pray that the husband confesses his sinful attitudes and words toward his wife, receives forgiveness in faith and then treats his wife with love and respect as a fellow member of God’s family (1 Peter 3:7).

Finally, continue to support your friend by being a good listener.  At the same, recognize what you can and cannot do when it comes to improving her marriage.  God bless all your efforts!

Abuse was mentioned in my mother's church sermon as grounds for divorce. This brought up a discussion in our family of what are the biblical grounds for divorce. I read most of the Q and A under divorce and found that "malicious" desertion could be grounds. But I wasn't quite able to determine what exactly was meant by this. I would appreciate some clarification if possible. I thoroughly enjoy your magazine and read it cover to cover each issue. By the way, did you know that another church body has a magazine called Forward in Christ? I Googled Forward in Christ and was surprised to learn it wasn't the WELS version.

Beyond physically deserting a spouse, the Bible does not specifically list other ways in which malicious desertion can take place (I Corinthians 7:15).  As malicious desertion is characterized by sins that are unilateral, willful and permanent, it could take the form of physical or emotional abuse, refusal to have sexual relations with one’s spouse, or refusal to support the spouse financially.  Because of the complexities of relationships, Christian discernment and pastoral counseling are essential when it comes to determining malicious desertion.

I’m glad to hear of your enjoyment of Forward in Christ.  Yes, there is another magazine by the same title.  And, as you noticed, there is no connection between the two.

I would like to get a little clarification on a question someone else asked in the Q &A before about divorce. The person was asking about abuse and this is the answer that was given: "Beyond physically deserting a spouse, the Bible does not specifically list other ways in which malicious desertion can take place (I Corinthians 7:15). As malicious desertion is characterized by sins that are unilateral, willful and permanent, it could take the form of physical or emotional abuse, refusal to have sexual relations with one’s spouse, or refusal to support the spouse financially. Because of the complexities of relationships, Christian discernment and pastoral counseling are essential when it comes to determining malicious desertion." I would like clarification on the portion that says "refusal to support the spouse financially." Before we were married it was agreed that my husband would take a manager position and support both of us. We've been married for over a year now and he has decided that he no longer wants to do that, nor does he have any plans of ever supporting both of us. I feel in Titus 2 God clearly says it is not the wife's position to be made to be a co-provider. I feel lied to by my husband and taken for granted. We've talked about this extensively and he will not budge on his stance. He doesn't know any married man whose wife doesn't work, some of those wives even make the majority of the income, and he feels I should be no different. I feel trapped in my marriage now. Is this in any way a biblical reason for divorce, or should I submit to my husband as God also says in the Bible?

The portion of the answer that you quoted explains in general what forms “malicious desertion” can take, including “refusal to support the spouse financially.” It would not be wise or practical for me to try to get into the specifics of your situation. This forum cannot substitute for counseling with one’s pastor. So, I encourage you to speak to your pastor. He is in a much better position than I to counsel you and your husband on the basis of God’s word. I pray that God will bless your family with his peace and love.

My wife is seeking a divorce from me because she believes I'm abusive. She looked for advice from the pastor who directed her to our counselor. The counselor told her that divorce is the path she should take. Obviously there are more details to the whole situation, but is divorce the right step in this case?

I am not able to answer your question because, as you indicated, there are “more details to the whole situation.”  Malicious desertion (1 Corinthians 7:15) can take the form of abusive behavior.  Your pastor is best suited to answer your question.  More than that, he is in a position to minister to you and your wife—using God’s law to expose sin and using God’s gospel to bring the comfort of the forgiveness of sins when sins are confessed.  I pray that God will bring help and healing to you and your wife.

I got married a few years back. Well, I got married for all the wrong reasons. I am now in the process of a divorce and my soon to be ex was very abusive: very, very controlling. He had raped me numerous times in our marriage. I finally had it. I have continued to ask for forgiveness. I know God has forgiven me. But I know in the Catholic church divorce is looked down on highly. My dad was kicked out of the Catholic church for divorce. So my question is.... what is your view on divorce? I am going to make a better choice in my next marriage because seeing that my ex wants nothing to do with my daughter is hard on me. Even though my mom helps, it's still hard. So seeing the circumstances, what would be your answer, and what is your view on divorce?

I am truly sorry to hear about the abusive situation you experienced.  Hopefully you are talking to trusted counselors about your family life.

As you asked about church body’s view on divorce, I can pass along this statement that you will find elsewhere on this website:  “The Bible and Lutherans teach that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. It is a partnership in which the man is the loving head. Marriage is established by God. It is a holy relationship not to be broken. A married person sins if he or she divorces without a biblical reason. Before God, no divorce is valid except in cases of fornication or desertion. The tendency to consider marriage as unimportant results in great harm to the family, the church, and the nation.  Genesis 2:18; Ephesians 5:24,25; Hebrews 13:4; Matthew 19:9; 1 Corinthians 7:15; Psalm 51:10”

God help you to find healing and strength through the precious gospel of Jesus Christ.

Abuse was mentioned in my mother's church sermon as grounds for divorce. This brought up a discussion in our family of what are the biblical grounds for divorce. I've read abuse could be considered malicious desertion and could be grounds for divorce. But I wasn't quite able to determine what exactly was meant by this. I would appreciate some clarification if possible.

Beyond physically deserting a spouse, the Bible does not specifically list other ways in which malicious desertion can take place (I Corinthians 7:15).  As malicious desertion is characterized by sins that are unilateral, willful and permanent, it could take the form of physical or emotional abuse, refusal to have sexual relations with one’s spouse, or refusal to support the spouse financially.  Because of the complexities of relationships, Christian discernment and pastoral counseling are essential when it comes to determining malicious desertion.

Is divorce a forgivable sin according to the Bible?

I do not know what prompted your question, but in an attempt to give an adequate answer, I will stress three things: First of all, divorce does involve or give evidence of sin, real sin, on the part of one or both of the marriage partners seeking the divorce. God’s revealed will and desire is that marriages be lifelong.

Second, the sin or sins normally connected with a divorce are certainly forgivable. Christ paid for all sin and God delights in pardoning all sinners. The personal enjoyment of forgiveness, of course, assumes that the sinner is brought to repentance and thus takes both the sin and the work of the Savior seriously. Only a lack of repentance and a willful despising of the gracious working of the Holy Spirit in unbelief fit the “unforgivable sin” category.

Third, some have been observed saying that, despite all this, divorce is sometimes treated as though it were unforgivable. This may stem in part from pastors and spiritual leaders striving to stress the seriousness of this sin coupled with its epidemic spread in our society. There are seldom any real winners, only losers, in a divorce. This may also stem from the popularity of what has been called “planned repentance” in divorce cases. This means that people willfully and wrongly seek a divorce with the conscious plan of “repenting” afterward, after the deed is done. Biblically speaking, that is not the pattern of true repentance. “Repentance” that is humanly planned and produced is not the real thing and is not accompanied by forgiveness.

In 1 Corinthians 7 and Matthew 19 we read about the gift of continence. How does one know if one has this gift? I am single and so far all my attempts to find a life companion have failed. Would this be an indication that I should turn my mind to choosing to "live like an eunuch for the sake of the kingdom of heaven"?

In 1 Corinthians 7 the apostle Paul expressed gratitude that God had gifted him with the ability to have self-control in sexual matters and not “burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:9).  For that reason, Paul explained that the single life suited him well.  For others who did not have that gift of self-control, he saw the benefit of marriage, furnishing opportunities for sexual intimacy to take place without sin being involved.

Do you have that gift, you wonder?  You have to ask yourself how content you are with your present circumstances.  You have to ask yourself to what extent, if any, sexual temptations confront you and how you deal with them.  The apostle Paul made it clear that the single life he experienced was not for everyone.  For those who do not have self-control in sexual matters, he advised marriage.

There is so much about your situation that I do not know—your age being one of the most important pieces of information.  I say this only for information’s sake:  I know individuals who did not marry until later in life—some in their 50s.  They were content with their lives apart from marriage and were not going to marry just for the sake of being married.  I commend them for that attitude.  When we recognize that God’s design for marriage is to be a lifelong union, we do best in being very deliberate in how we approach it.

Your questions definitely deserve a fuller and more personal response.  For that reason I would encourage you to speak to your pastor about these matters.  God bless you.

What does the Bible say about the role of husband and wife? Is the man the boss of his wife in a marriage?

The simplest answer is: “No.”

Yes, Scripture speaks of the husband as the head of the wife (Ephesians 5:23), but that is vastly different from what is often meant when we speak of a “boss” in our culture.

In what way?

Is the man as head more important than his wife, on the top position on the totem pole of important people in the family? No. A Christlike head knows that in importance before God, there is no difference between male and female since both are equally redeemed and valued in the blood of Christ (Galatians 3:26-29).

Is the man as head able to make sure that what happens around the house is what he wants to happen, regardless of the wishes of his wife? Is he the “king of his castle?” No. A Christlike head knows that he is not called to lord it over or dominate his wife, but he is called to love and serve her as Christ loved the church—making her needs and concerns his first priority, just as Christ did for us (Mark 10:42-45; Ephesians 5:25-28).

Headship in Scripture is, at its heart, humble leadership that has as its prime concern the spiritual and physical welfare of all others whom God has placed in that head’s care. Headship is not perk and privilege; it is an awesome responsibility to be God’s representative in caring for others. Yes, there is a bit of Christ’s authority whenever God gives someone such a position of responsibility, yet that authority is not to be used as a club or a threat. That authority is a solemn trust from God to be used for the benefit of those in our care. It is a trust that needs to be exercised wisely as those who will give an account to God for the trust he placed in us as his representatives.

Where we fail in that, we run to Christ’s forgiveness. There at his cross, we find the strength of his grace to live out this awesome responsibility of being representatives of his selfless love in our homes.

One last thought: please notice that in Ephesians 5 Paul does not address husbands about being the head. He does not tell them to make their wives submit! He speaks instead to wives and urges them to respect their husband’s headship. When Paul does speak to husbands, what does he say? He speaks of sacrificial love patterned after Christ. As husbands, we have more than enough to concentrate on right there. If we carry out that self-sacrificing love well for the spiritual and physical needs of our wives, we will have carried out headship well.

What does the Bible say in regard to getting married by elopement or quick marriage in a courthouse and then doing a renewal of the vows at a later date?

The Bible says nothing at all about the place (church or courthouse) or officiant (pastor or judge) for the establishment of a marriage. This is fully in the realm of Christian freedom and therefore subject only to Christian love, wisdom and discernment, and a concern for how other believers might perceive it (in case the weak might stumble spiritually and misunderstand). Marriage is really a civil matter, but Christians usually want to have the Word of God and prayer prominent at the occasion. So clergy (authorized by the civil authorities to perform weddings) and churches serve them.

The mention of elopement and civil weddings often causes the subject of motives and circumstances to surface. These deserve the attention of every bride and groom and their respective families. Are they avoiding church and God’s Word for a particular reason? Are they honoring their parents or hiding something from them? These and other similar questions are deserving of attention. But assuming that Christian faith, hope, and love are present and accounted for, civil marriages are just fine. And a later “consecration of civil marriage” can be done and will likely be appreciated by all Christians involved.

Does the church ever preach against racism? I have been in interracial marriage for almost six years. My husband and I are both Christians and love each other very, very much. I have two beautiful stepdaughters as well. My marriage is a blessing and God meant for my husband and I to be together. Yet, my parents and brother have totally disowned my own nuclear family because of their race/ethnicity. I have been married almost six years and they have never even met them. My parents and brother have been faithful WELS members for decades.

Yes, the pastors of our churches preach against racism and they preach on the topic of marriage.  Sermon texts have different focuses and our pastors preach on the basis of the content of the sermon texts.

Our pastors preach that God’s will is:  “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).  Racism runs contrary to that command.  Our pastors preach that God instituted marriage and that marriage is to be a lifelong union between a man and a woman (Genesis 2:21-24; Matthew 19:3-6).  There are no scriptural prohibitions of interracial marriage.

What our pastors preach and what some church members may think are not necessarily the same.  That seems to be your situation and that is unfortunate.  All I can really do from a distance is encourage you to reach out to your family and see if you can re-establish lines of communication.  If they really have sinful attitudes, that needs to be addressed.  Perhaps enlisting a friend, another family member or their pastor would be helpful in getting the conversation started.  I wish you and your family well.

Is there such a thing as annulment of marriage in the Lutheran church? What are the grounds for it? Also, while I know what the Bible says about divorce, provided both partners in the marriage stay faithful to their vow and don't get involved with another person romantically, is legal separation permissible and acceptable if the main motive is to resolve the issues that are causing problems in the marriage and the other goal is to get back together as soon as possible?

In the Lutheran Church there is no provision for an ecclesiastical or theological annulment of marriage. This means that we do not recognize any Biblical basis for declaring that a marriage that took place never really existed, theologically speaking. Roman Catholic marriage annulments are based on church laws and decrees, not the Bible. We do well, however, to distinguish a “theological” annulment from a legal, civil annulment. A civil annulment is part of the laws of the state in which you live and those rules are distinct and clear. A civil annulment declares that while a marriage took place, it was illegal and will not be recognized as valid. If an already married person gets married to another spouse — that is, when bigamy results, — the second marriage is declared illegal and void.

A formal separation, whether established legally or merely agreed upon by the partners, is a legitimate action as described and with the purposes stated by you. 1 Corinthians 7:5 establishes that kind of pattern, although with a distinctly different purpose (to devote yourselves to prayer) and also with the reminder that separations may bring with them other pressures (unfulfilled sexual urges). To seek a formal separation by mutual consent as described by you cannot be classified as wrong. But this should be done carefully, cautiously, with ongoing appraisals of the situation, and renewed resolve to deal with issues in anticipation of reunion. Pastoral counseling and perhaps other professional supervision is advised.

I am in a serious relationship with a WELS man and we have been talking about marriage. I was raised Catholic but identify now as Christian. I do not want to become a member of WELS, but I don't have a problem having a WELS ceremony. However, does a WELS wedding require the verse about being an obedient wife? Is there any other verse about marriage in the Bible that can be said? I make my own money, I make dinner, I shop, I do everything a man does and I make decisions with my man as an equal and that is not what that verse seems to convey I should be doing. I really do not want this verse read, as it would be a broken promise to God.

The order of “Christian Marriage” in Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal contains this preface to the marriage promises made by the bride and groom:

“The pattern for Christian marriage is the intimate union of Christ and his church, which the apostle Paul depicts in Ephesians 5. After urging believers to ‘submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,’ he makes this application for Christian spouses: ‘Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church…Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.’ It is reverence for Christ on the part of husband and wife that lays the foundation for Christian marriage.”

The wording of the marriage promise by the bride is: “_____, will you take _____ to be your husband? Will you be guided by the counsel and direction God has given in his Word and submit to your husband as the Church submits to Christ? Will you be faithful to him, cherish him, support him, and help him in sickness and in health as long as you both shall live?’ If so, answer, ‘I will.’”

The word “submit” can be greatly misunderstood. It can seem that it is demeaning, degrading and insulting to submit to another person. That misunderstanding is removed when we keep in mind the context of God’s instructions for Christian wives: “As the church submits to Christ…” There is nothing demeaning, degrading or insulting when we, the members of the Christian Church, submit to Christ. Submitting to him means we have an attitude of recognizing his loving leadership in our lives.

And, just to complete the picture, the husband is asked in his marriage promise: “_____, will you take _____ to be your wife? Will you guided by the counsel and direction God has given in his Word and love your wife as Christ loved the Church? Will you be faithful to her, cherish her, support her, and help her in sickness and in health as long as you both shall live? If so, answer, ‘I will.’” The husband to whom the wife submits is promising that his love for his wife will be like that of Christ’s: sacrificial.

It is clear that the marriage promises between husband and wife are based on the loving relationship between Jesus Christ and the Christian Church.

The WELS church where your marriage service could take place may use this order of service, with this wording, or it might utilize something similar. You would want to contact the pastor of that church regarding the order of service and the wording of the marriage promises.

With Matthew 5:28 in mind, is it a sin to lust sexually after your spouse (if you are married)?

God designed sexual relations for the marriage bond (Hebrews 13:4). Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount speak of sinful thoughts toward someone who is not part of the marriage bond.

With your question in mind, it could happen that a person’s thoughts of his/her spouse could distort God’s design for marriage, in that the person looks upon the spouse as a sex object. 1 Corinthians 7 tells husbands and wives how to view each other and themselves when it comes to their sexual lives.

What do you think about a spouse sleeping in another room after an argument, or during a period of dissatisfaction/disagreement with one's spouse? I'm trying to help someone with his marriage? Thank you.

A couple of Bible sections come to mind. “’In your anger do not sin’”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27). “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:3-5).  This last section would especially have application if the sleeping arrangements you described are frequent.

Relocating to a different part of the house may temporarily suspend the arguments, but it is honest conversation between husband and wife that will lead to resolution. Continue to do what you can to encourage these people to communicate in their marriage. A suggestion to consider marriage counseling would also have their best interests in mind. God bless your Christian concern.

God's design for marriage has always been between one man and one woman right from Genesis. When many of the Israelites started having polygamous marriages, why didn't God speak out against that sin, and lead them to repentance?

In the Bible God does not always explain his actions or his inaction. Nor does he have to. Job learned that lesson the hard way. When the Bible narrates events and people’s actions, it does not always do so with commentary on the morality or immorality of the people involved. Sometimes, the reader is left to evaluate the actions using other parts of Scripture.

When it comes to God’s design for marriage, it is clear that marriage is to be the lifelong union of one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4-6; Romans 7:2-3; 1 Corinthians 7:2; 1 Timothy 3:2; and, Titus 1:6). While not necessarily providing commentary when individuals went beyond that design, the troubles and unhappy home life that resulted from polygamous marriages illustrate the truth: God’s ways are wise and God’s will is the route to happiness in our lives.

My ex is considering remarriage to another person. We divorced not because of any adultery or abuse. I tried to reconcile to her before the divorce was final, but to no help. Question: can her new marriage be in a WELS church? She is now living with this person and thinks there is nothing wrong with this since they are in love.

The questions you ask and the situations you describe call for pastoral counseling and guidance. A question and answer forum like this cannot replace the personal applications of God’s word that are needed for the scenarios you have described. I encourage you to speak with your pastor.

I've read through some of the marriage rites performed by the WELS church. I was wondering if there are any options that do not include the word submit? Or if couples may write their own vows and have them approved by the pastor? Also, if a husband and wife are not in compete agreement on all religious doctrine (specifically two or three very small interpretations), can they still come together before God in prayer, or do the WELS fellowship beliefs not allow this?

If you plan to be married in one of our congregations, you want to speak to the pastor of that congregation about your questions that concern the marriage promises. It could be that he uses the order of service from Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal; he might use another order of service.

If he uses the order of service from the hymnal, it becomes very clear what “submit” does and does not mean. The part of the service that precedes the marriage promises states: “The pattern for Christian marriage is the intimate union of Christ and his Church, which the apostle Paul depicts in Ephesians 5. After urging believers to ‘submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,’ he makes this application for Christian spouses: ‘Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church…Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her.’ It is reverence for Christ on the part of husband and wife that lays the foundation for Christian marriage.”

Those words illustrate what “submit” is all about. In love, Christians—men and women—submit to one another. While our sinful nature can rebel against putting other people first, our new self delights in doing that. In love, Christians—men and women—submit to Christ. Again, while our sinful nature rebels in putting Christ first, our new self delights in doing that. When we submit to Christ, it means that we look to him as our loving leader. Similarly, wives look to their husbands as the loving leader of their marriage. At the same time, God looks for husbands to love their wives with a sacrificial love patterned after Christ’s love for the Church.

As to your last question, when people have a common faith, then they can express their fellowship by praying and worshiping together.

Again, you would do well to address your questions to one of our pastors.

Since love is from God and God tells us to love one another, why is it a sin for two men or two women to be married and love each other? Why is it a sin for two men or two women but not for men and women to be married to each other?

The Bible teaches that marriage is a union between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:18-24; Matthew 19:4-6). The Bible makes it clear that sexual activity is to take place in marriage (Hebrews 13:4) and that sexual activity between people of the same sex is a violation of his will (Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

It is not a sin for a man and a woman to be married to each other because they are in a relationship and institution that God designed. There is no sin when people’s actions line up with God’s will.

Why does God not want people to be married to unbelievers if we are called to be examples for others to follow? If I meet someone when I am older and he doesn't believe in God, wouldn't it be unloving of me to reject him and leave him? Why, since God is loving, does He tell people not to be with people who don't know God's love?

I am not sure where you are looking in Scripture to come away with a conclusion that God forbids Christians from marrying outside the faith. It could be 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. People often cite that section of Scripture as proof that Christians are not to marry unbelievers, but it is clear that the context of that section is not speaking about marriage.

Allow me to pass along a “Light for our path” column that addressed a similar question about a year ago in Forward in Christ. The response in that column is much more complete than what I can provide in this question and answer forum.

This link will take you to that column.

After marital and Christian counseling, I have decided to file for divorce from my husband due to marital unfaithfulness and forms of abandonment. My question is, as I look forward, is it ever OK to date again? At what point would that be acceptable?

If your marriage ends because of your husband’s unfaithfulness and desertion, you would certainly be in a position to date again. There is no set time that would need to transpire between your divorce and dating again.

I can say this: dating quickly after the divorce might raise questions in the minds of others, but then what is “quickly”? That definition is going to vary from one person to another. Your pastor could offer you good counsel on this matter. God’s blessings to you.

Do Lutherans believe married couples can reunite after this life?

If you are asking whether Christian spouses will see each other again in heaven, the answer is “yes” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). If you are asking whether Christian spouses will be married to one another throughout eternity, the answer is “no.” Jesus’ response to the Sadducees’ question makes it very clear that marriage is an institution and gift from God for this life only (Matthew 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-40).

My sister (raised WELS Lutheran) married a Catholic man over ten years ago. She has continued as a WELS member, and he as a Catholic. They have gone back and forth attending Lutheran and Catholic churches over the years, but haven't officially joined one (they have moved several times). They just recently had their third child - the first was baptized Lutheran, the second was baptized Catholic, and the third is going to be baptized Catholic. Is it better for one of them to convert and raise their family under one denomination? Or, do they remain separate?

Your questions about faith are very important, and your concern for family members is commendable.   I can address your questions, and you can then determine what your concern for family leads you to do.

For starters, we want to understand what happens when churches baptize.  A Trinitarian baptism brings a person into the Holy Christian Church.  That says much more than someone was “baptized Catholic” or “baptized Lutheran.”  Baptism brings a person into the Christian Church.

But churches do more than baptize; they teach.  And at some point, baptized individuals are given the opportunity to profess the teachings of the church that has taught them.  Confirmation, for example, is a time when individuals profess that the teachings they have learned from their instruction in the Lutheran Church are the teachings of the Bible and are correct.

Obviously, the teachings of churches differ.  In your question you are referencing the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church.  A key is understanding that the differences between the churches are teachings—doctrines—and not “philosophies.”  A major difference of doctrine is the way of salvation.  Is salvation God’s gift, offered freely through his Son Jesus Christ, and received in faith?  Or, is salvation a combination of faith and works?  Those questions paint a picture of the huge contrast between Lutheran teaching and Roman Catholic teaching.

If a husband and wife hold to these different beliefs, a great unity in marriage is missing.  “Mixed” marriages like that might “work well,” as you indicated, but how so?  Often, they “work well” in that husband and wife are loving toward each, they raise obedient, respectful children and outwardly they have a happy home life.

But marriages like that do not “work well” when it comes to spouses trying to worship and commune together, and providing unified spiritual direction to their children.  What “works” much better is when husband and wife have a common faith and a common membership.

I do not know what your sister and her husband have done to examine the teachings of their churches.  They would benefit greatly from a study and discussion of what each church teaches about the Bible.  There are several books from our publishing house that could assist them in that study.  Keep in mind also that our churches regularly offer no-obligation Bible Information Classes, where people can receive an overview of the Bible’s teachings and answers to their questions.

Is it sinful to lose respect for a spouse who is an alcoholic and continues to drink? Is it sinful to divorce an alcoholic who continues to drink?

Those are questions that you need to address to your pastor. I don’t know the struggles and circumstances of your spouse. I don’t know what treatment he is receiving and what his attitude is toward alcoholism. For these and other reasons, I encourage you to speak to your pastor. I pray that God blesses your home with Christian love and peace.

I have been married for twenty years. My husband I have been experiencing intimacy issues for the past fifteen years. Can you please send me the biblical references that talk about married couples withholding sex from one another as being wrong? I am too embarrassed to ask our pastor. Thank you.

1 Corinthians 7:1-5 addresses your question.

As uncomfortable as you might imagine it to be to talk to your pastor about this, I encourage you to speak to him. He has the scriptural resources that are helpful for you and your husband.

If such a conversation is not possible, you might want to consider the counseling services available through Christian Family Solutions, an organization within WELS. In addition to in-person counseling, they also offer video counseling. God bless you and your husband.

When a couple is living together and wants to be married in a WELS church, what should a pastor do?

A pastor will be interested in meeting with the individuals to apply God’s word to their situation. He will be interested in encouraging repentant attitudes toward sin, delivering the gospel message to penitent sinners and working with them to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). A pastor will be interested in having the couple recognize the offense their situation can cause others and address how to remove that offense (1 Corinthians 10:32). A pastor is interested in having a man and a woman follow God’s word and the laws of the state before they begin living as husband and wife.

When two people of the opposite sex live together without the benefit of marriage, they put themselves into tempting situations where they can break the sixth commandment. The Bible tells Christians to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). God explains that he “will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4). If a man and a woman living together without being married claim to be refraining from sexual activity, they are still in a position of causing offense to others (Matthew 18:6-7) and emboldening them to sin. In addition, their lives are not in line with what God says: that “among you, there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality” (Ephesians 5:3).

The proliferation of couples living together before marriage definitely presents pastors with ongoing challenges in addressing sin and interacting with the family and friends of those involved. So, pray for pastors. Theirs is a weighty responsibility to warn people about sin (Ezekiel 33:7-9) and to watch over their souls (Acts 20:28).

Is engagement seen by God as marriage? If not, why does the Bible say Joseph was going to divorce Mary when she was found to be pregnant, even though they were only engaged at that point? Is it sinful to have sex during engagement?

Our marriage customs and laws today are different from those in biblical days. At one point in time, “Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph” (Matthew 1:18). Joseph and Mary had given each other their word, in signed papers, that they would become husband and wife. That action legally established the marriage. That explains why Joseph had thoughts of “divorcing” (Matthew 1:19) Mary when he first learned of her pregnancy.

While Joseph and Mary were legally married by the signing of legal papers, they did not have the right to live together as husband and wife until the time of the public wedding celebration that took place days later.

You can see that our manner of “engagement and then marriage” is different from the customs and laws of first century Palestine.

When a man and a woman in our country become engaged, they are not legally married. States regulate marriage, and the laws of the state need to be obeyed. Sexual activity between men and women is reserved for marriage (Hebrews 13:4). Sexual activity outside the marriage bond is sinful.

As a long-time divorced person (my spouse chose adultery), would joining WELS divorced, and choosing to remain single, be an issue? I have forgiven my ex, but will never go back to him, and have no desire to marry anyone else.

No, as you explain this to me, your marital status would not be an issue in affiliating with a congregation of our synod.

I encourage you to contact one of our pastors to discuss possible routes to membership. God bless you.

Will a WELS pastor marry, in a WELS church, a WELS member and a person who belongs to a different Christian church?

Yes, our pastors can officiate at weddings in the scenario you described.

Our pastors would especially look forward to offering pre-marital counseling to the individuals planning to be married, involving them in discussions on, among other topics, the challenges that their different church affiliations can bring to their marriage.

If you have more specific questions, please contact one of our pastors.

My relative has asked me to officiate their wedding, which I am really excited about doing for them. However, becoming certified to officiate a wedding has made me nervous as all I've seen are some online free options that don't seem to align with WELS. Does WELS offer anything to certify someone to officiate a wedding without being a pastor? Or would it be considered that I agree with all of the denomination's practices if I became certified through them?

WELS does not offer certification to enable individuals to officiate at weddings.

Since governments regulate marriage, governments also stipulate who can—as agents of the government—officiate at weddings. Regulations vary from state to state. Ordination is not always a requirement. You will want to find out the requirements of the state in which you live.

Your concerns about the implications of being certified through an online ordination agency are valid. In short, online ordination is a caricature of what ordination really is.

If you were to take the place of an ordained pastor in officiating at the wedding of your relative, I wonder who would provide biblical pre-marital counseling for the prospective bride and groom. That counseling is so very important. Your pastor can provide guidance in this matter.

What are grounds for divorce?

If a spouse breaks the marriage bond through unfaithfulness (Matthew 19:9) or malicious desertion (1 Corinthians 7:15), the other spouse is in a position to have a court of law recognize that the marriage bond has been broken.