Why A “Justice Of The Peace” Wedding Is More Sacred Than A “Spiritual” One

While in a pre-marital counseling session earlier this week, I came to what I thought to be an interesting realization.

Incidentally, it was also one of those rare times when I “talked to think” rather than “think to talk” . . . in this case, I was yammering on with the prospective bride and groom and something good emerged from my words that had never before been in my mind.

Here goes: we got on the topic of a “justice of the peace” wedding happening in advance of a “church wedding” (not their plan, just a hypothetical).

And so I mentioned that the first wedding in that scenario is actually the more significant one because it is legally binding.  The second one — the one in church — then adds a spiritual overlay to what is already in the governmental system.

Which is why most pastors I know will not be party to a so-called “spiritual” wedding in which the bride and groom want to be married in the eyes of God only without going through the messiness of making it legal.

Anyway, I said at the conclusion of my off-the-cuff remarks, “It’s the legal entanglements of getting married by the courts that makes a justice of the peace wedding more sacred.  Because of those entanglements, it’s harder to get out of  than a ‘spiritual’ one.”  

And so it is.  Think about it:  a wedding is the one area of pastoral ministry in which the pastor acts as a representative of the state.  That’s what we do; we authenticate for the local jurisdictions that a valid marriage as in fact taken place.  It’s why we sign Marriage Licenses and mail them in.

I believe that is how it should be.   All the mundane matters which entangle husbands and wives together — such as the arduous process of getting the Marriage License, the establishing of joint residency, joint banking , and joint tax status — are what make a marriage sacred.

A spiritual wedding with no legal muscle behind it makes marriage little more than a saccharine sweet memento you can buy at Lifeway Bookstore.

It’s remarkable when you think about it.  It’s sacred because it’s secular.  Understood this way, marriage takes the raw material of life and mixes it together into something with the divine imprint upon it.

After all, what else would we expect from a God who took on flesh and tabernacled among us?