Is it a sin not to get married in a church?
I am in my late twenties and my fiancee is a year younger than me. We live in an African country, and we have been engaged for several years now. We have been waiting for the approval of my fiancee's parents. They don't want the marriage because I am a pastor and I'm not from the same tribe. This has been delaying the marriage for years. We've used everyone around the family to talk to them. They don't really want to see me at all, let alone listen to me. Recently we plan to ask one more time for their approval and in case they still stand on their point, which is usually the case, we will go ahead with a court wedding. Another problem is that no pastor is willing to bless the marriage without their consent as many ministers uphold cultures here in Cameroon. I wish to ask if we can go on and get married. Will it be a sin if we don't get married in a church due to the condition?
While God requires couples to get married before having sex and children, nowhere in the Bible does God say that a marriage is only legitimate in the church. In fact, He states the opposite. "And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy" (I Corinthians 7:13-14). When a person becomes a Christian, he doesn't leave his spouse. He is still married.
Some try to use the Old Testament laws that forbade Israelites from marrying people from seven specific nations (Deuteronomy 7:1-4; Joshua 23:12-13). If someone violated this law, they and all their descendants were not allowed to be Israelites. Christians are not under the Old Testament law, but what Paul points out is that if you claim that it is wrong to be married to a non-Christian, then you are also arguing that all their descendants can never become Christians. But this leads to a conflict because Christ died for all men so that all men can be saved. Thus, the Old Law cannot apply to Christians.
If a Christian's marriage prior to becoming a Christian is still legitimate, then that means that a marriage doesn't have to take place in a church. In fact, there is no passage saying that churches are to conduct weddings. All Christians should be encouraging marriage, but the details about how and where that marriage is to take place are purposely left open.
In your country, both you and your fiancee are well past the minimum age requirements. If her parents refuse to grant you access to a traditional marriage, you still can have a civil marriage. Either marriage is equally valid as far as God and His laws are concerned.
See Scriptural Marriage, Traditional Customs, and Civil Laws for more details.
Thank you so much, sir. This makes things easier for us. It's actually clear.
Sir, my worry is that the custom here is so deep that, everyone will consider us sinners if we live together without a traditional wedding, and this may really affect us ministerially. What can we do? Secondly, when exactly does God consider two people married? Because even a civil marriage here requires that you show proof that the families are in agreement or that the traditional marriage is done.
I looked up the laws in your country. The law requires you have witnesses, preferably your parents or a close relative, testify that both of you are willingly consenting to the marriage. Since it is a preference and since neither of you is a teenager, there is no firm requirement that your witnesses must be relatives.
When people use traditions to deny what God has said, God comes first (Matthew 15:1-9). God authorized marriage. You are both adults. There is no biblical requirement that your parents must consent to your marriage. Therefore, you will not be sinning when you get married. If someone claims that, hand them a Bible and politely ask them to show you where they found it in the Bible.
Being a preacher is not about popularity but about teaching what God requires of men. That will, at times, make you unpopular (Matthew 5:10-12). Consider how often Paul was run out of towns or stone for teaching the truth.
A marriage occurs when a couple enters into a marriage covenant. See Is a marriage only bound after sex?