Marital union in any of the United States of America is not necessarily the same as marital union from a biblical point of view; one is merely legal in nature and the other is both spiritual and legal. When a man and a women desire to marry one another they will go to the state in which they reside and apply for a marriage license. In order to receive this license they must meet certain criteria. Examples would include: neither can be currently legally married to someone else, both must have identification proving their identity, they must be one male and one female (Supreme Court changed this as of June 26, 2015) and they must pay a licensing fee and then wait a short period of time while these facts are verified. Marriage by a government agency represents the legal aspects of a marital union.
However, marriage predates civil governments. The first covenant in the history of man is the Covenant of Creation (God’s Covenant of Redemption is the first covenant, which predates creation including humanity). Marriage is part of the Creation Covenant. God instituted marriage when He said that Adam needed a suitable mate, so He created woman from the rib of Adam indicating that a women is suppose to come alongside of a man and be his helpmate—ideally for life. A spiritual marriage is also legal under God’s law, which is not recognized by all men even though all men will be held accountable to God’s laws. Therefore, it is possible to enter into a biblical marriage (legal under God’s laws and spiritual) without getting civilly married in one of the fifty states–after all people have been getting married for thousands of years without a license from the state of California.
Consider a couple of biblical examples: In Genesis chapter 29 Laban tricked Jacob into becoming married to Leah when it was actually Rachel that he intended to marry. Laban’s deception could not have worked if they would have had civil ceremonies prior to the spiritual union that takes place when a man and women become one through sexual union. A week later we learn, from verse 30, that Rachel also became Jacob’s wife, and all that was necessary to make their seven years of love a marriage was for them to join in sexual intercourse—“So Jacob went in to Rachel also…”
A generation earlier Isaac married Rebekah by having sexual relations with her the same day that he met her. Genesis 24:67 says, “Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and he took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her; thus Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.” These spiritual marriages were not preceded by civil ceremonies nor did these patriarchs obtain a marriage license of any kind, yet they were real marriages that lasted until the death of one of the two partners.
Let it be very clearly stated that these examples are not biblical evidence advocating sexual relations early in a relationship. Rebekah was brought to Isaac for the express purpose of becoming his wife. He had already agreed to the process and she had agreed to the process that God was using to bring them together as husband and wife. They did not have physical relations on their first date; they came together in order to become husband and wife. Their commitment to marriage preceded their sexual union, which consummated the marital covenant. Sexual relations outside of marriage is fornication or adultery and must not be committed by the children of God.
Today in the United States of America many would likely argue that believers in Christ Jesus cannot be “Spiritually Married” without being legally married by the laws of one of the fifty states. The reality is that a marriage in the eyes of God does not require a license from any human government. If a man and a woman unite themselves one to another first by commitment and then by sexual relations they are in fact married in the eyes of God. Churches should welcome them into the family of God for worship, fellowship and for sharing in the work of the church. So why would a Christian get legally married under the laws of a government?
Being legally married in the United States endows one with over 1,000 benefits not afforded to the unwed. For example, they may file joint returns on their income tax forms, they may hold property together and it automatically passes to the survivor in the event of death, they have access to one another’s health records, they may receive social security benefits from their spouses income, the state will oversee an equitable distribution of property in the event of a divorce, and on and on.
To 501(c)(3) or not to 501(c)(3) That Is the Question.
Just as individuals may obtain marriage licenses from states, in the same way, churches in America usually get what is called a 501(c)(3) that allows them to be tax-exempt religious organizations. Sadly most church leaders seem to be ignorant of the fact that churches are automatically exempt and do not need to file an application for a 501(c)(3) with the government. Nevertheless, most churches get a 501(c)(3) upon formation just as most Christians get a marriage license from the state of residence upon marrying.
The purpose of getting a 501(c)(3) is not so that a body of believers can be a church. A group of believers who form a church without a 501(c)(3) are considered just as much a church. Not only are most churches unaware that a 501(c)(3) is redundant and unnecessary, but most people seem to be ignorant to the fact that marriage licenses are not necessary in order to enter God’s institution of marriage.
FYI: The 501(c)(3) designation is necessary for charities, para-church organizations and nonprofits, to gain the same tax advantages automatically afforded to churches.
If marriage licenses are not necessary for a true marriage, then why does anyone get them? Tax exemption for churches and legal benefits for marriages can be very valuable for numerous reasons. It is almost unheard of to marry in the United States without first getting a marriage license because of the over 1,000 state and federal benefits enticing the utilization of state licenses. In fact, those benefits are so coveted that homosexuals are waging very successful battles to win the right to be legally married in the United States (though the prize they most cherish is total cultural acceptance of homosexuality [including morally] as a normative lifestyle).
Note: The very same churchmen that refuse to recognize a spiritual marriage between a man and a woman if their marriage has not also been made official with a state sanctioned license will also reject a marriage between two homosexuals who have obtained the very same state license. Did you catch that? This alone should demonstrate the obvious fact that spiritual marriage in the eyes of God and state sanctioned marriages are, in fact, two separate entities—one instituted by God and the other observed by the nations. The fact that Christians almost always obtained these two at the same time must not cause believers to lose sight of the fact that they may also be obtained separately. Christians should be far more reluctant to co-mingle that which is from God with that which is by man because that which is by man will eventually become profane and the admixture will ruin the gifts of God.
Just as a genuine body of believers does not need a 501(c)(3) to form a legitimate church neither does a godly man and woman need a marriage license to form a legitimate marriage partnership. As individual states continue a rapid declension into morally corrupt entities, Christians may one day cease going to them for licenses to marry. It is not God’s institution of marriage that is being profaned by the inclusion of homosexual marriages into their marital statutes, but it is the moral authority of the state that is being profaned.
Governments descending into socialism begin to make laws that discourage Christian morality and ethics. The citizens of these governments begin to avoid marriage all together. Socialists/communists hate Christianity because Christianity and capitalism compliment one another just as atheism and socialism/communism compliment one another.
As governments slide toward socialism they begin to motivate their citizens to behave more and more irresponsibly. The millennial generation has rejected legal marriages in numbers that far exceed previous generations. This is because government benefits would be lost to single parents if they were to become legally married. So millennials still live together like a nuclear family, but they bypass the institution of marriage. Because they think that marriage via a state license is the warp and woof of marriage they consider themselves single, which means that they are not spiritually married either.
When the day comes that the states begin to drop all marital benefits or more likely extend them to everyone (effectively ending the demand for legal marriage) the very Christians who claim legal marriage is necessary will at that time make our argument and they will do so using God’s word as their source of truth (as we do now).
Legal marriages in the United States have been so expedient for believers and unbelievers alike that believers never concerned themselves with the possibility that the secular governments would someday become unrighteous in their dealings with God’s ancient institution. It appears that is changing.
Update: The Supreme Court took the gay marriage issue out of the hands of the states by legalizing it in all 50 states on June 26, 2015.
Do not misunderstand our meaning in this article. The state, like marriage, was instituted by God. Members of the body of Christ must submit themselves to the authority of the state unless its laws encourage or demand breaking God’s law. One of the critical functions of the state is to protect, uphold and support the institution of marriage. This includes making laws governing marriage and its dissolution. We believe that although the state makes laws governing marriage it is nonetheless
God who instituted it; therefore, a man and a woman may enter into the marriage covenant in accordance with God’s laws with or without the cooperation of the state.
Once married they must submit themselves to the laws of the state regarding marriage and its dissolution, but they are bound first by God’s laws regarding marriage and its dissolution. Thus they must first have biblical grounds for divorce before they get divorced. Merely getting a divorce under the laws of the state does not free the believer from God’s laws governing marriage and divorce. The result of a legal divorce without biblical grounds would be a legally divorced person who is still married to their spouse in the eyes of God, which is why Jesus said those who get a divorce will be guilty of adultery.
On the other hand, a believer can be caught up in a drawn out divorce preceding while already spiritually divorced from their spouse. Clearly in the later case the believer will be treated by the state as though they were still married, and they will need to abide by the state’s laws regarding marriage. Therefore, believers who become spiritually divorced should pursue legal divorce as soon as it is made available for them.