Ecclesiastic Marriage


Classis Georgetown proposes to Synod 2019 (in Overture 14 on page 518 of the Agenda) that a study committee be appointed to examine the morality and advisability of  Ecclesiastical (Non-Civil) marriages. It is acknowledged that the authority regarding marriage has vacillated between church and state for hundreds of years but today it is clearly under the authority of the state which both authorizes marriages and maintains records regarding them.

The overture lists a number of reasons why this might be beneficial but the primary reason given is that for couples considering marriage, joining in wedlock also means joining their individual finances and having an ecclesiastical marriage only will avoid paying income taxes to the governments. This is primarily directed to seniors and one of the consideration is that if one of the partners later becomes ill and needs significant care, the other partner's finances are in jeopardy. How is that situation different from similar burdens in a first marriage? Where is a the commitment of "for better or for worse?"

Some Muslim men use this deceitful practice in order to marry more than one wife (with the full knowledge and participation of their Iman, an ecclesiastical marriage is performed, not registered and not a civil marriage). The CRC in reverse situations currently will deny the state's recognition of a couple's legal marriage if that does not conform to the church's view. We must be consistent in church policy and not cherry pick our positions as convenient.

The Bible clearly teaches in Matt. 22:21 to "render unto Ceasar what is Ceasar's" and we all know what that means. If in doubt, see Romans 13 which is undeniably clear and starting at verse 6, scripture there speaks specifically about paying taxes. In our respective democratic governments on both sides of the border, we recognize that although we may not agree with them on all items, they are the recognized civil authority. We have the right and the privilege to openly work to change legislation that we fell is unjust but we must never become an agent to covertly undermine that legal authority.

I urge all delegates to Synod 2019 to defeat this overture.

Allen (Al) Brander

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When an overture needs to give as an example" the marriage between a widow and a widower", what other examples are possible in today's environment? For that reason alone this overture should be withdrawn.

Here is an extract from a Google inquiry that seems to me to make the overture irrelevant:

""Married and common-law spouses do not file “joint” tax returns. That is a US/IRS option. ... Once you are common-law, to be considered common-law, two people must live together in a conjugal relationship for 12 months or immediately if you have a child together, then you must file as common-law. There is no choice here."

In Canada you can make pre-nuptial agreements that cover the economic issues. And have a normal wedding.

Read European news and it will tell how some countries  deal with this! The options for tax dodges are legion so let's not gp there. Agree with Mr. A. Brander.


I concur.

Community Builder

I disagree. Only God can truly join people together in marriage. And only the Church is empowered to be God's voice on the matter (and even then only in a limited way). It is a matter of convenience for the state that the state recognizes marriages as helpful to it and provides certain tax benefits or burdens. What the state recognizes as a marriage should not be taken in any way to represent a God's-eye perspective on the situation.

In the past decades the governments of Canada and the US have been slowly encroaching on authority given by God to the Church. In the US that is in direct violation of our constitution, but the Church can do nothing but air its grievances. This is a rare moment when the Church actually has the ability to take action and refuse to recognize the usurpation of authority by the state. 

Regarding your state intervention concerns - historically the recognition of marriage in the Judeo-Christian tradition has shifted back and forth between the state, church and/or family. When my parents were married in the Netherlands in 1946 they were legally required to be married first before the governmental civil registry before proceeding in procession to the church for the ecclesiastical ceremony.

Legally, the substance of the overture coming to Synod 2019 would mean these individuals though married in a church would be considered to be living in a common law relationship, i.e. not legally married. The state has had to move into a legal vacuum created by men and women living together without a civil or church marriage by recognizing common law relationships to provide protection and aid to children, and women. The overture is proposing to recognize common law relationships which the church has historically opposed. A conundrum.


Here is the sentence that underlies this Overture:

"To get around a financial difficulty like that, many couples desire to be married in the eyes of
the church but not in the eyes of the state; they want to separate ecclesiastical marriage from civil marriage."

The CRC form for the solemnization of Marriage in the back of the blue Psalter (now missing in many  CR churches) there is a comment at the end which starts out "According to the laws of the State and the ordinances of the Church..." and assumes that Pastors have the legal standing to marry a man and a woman. There is nothing in form specifically about finances.  So if the Church sticks to the Word of God and marries only a man and a woman it has covered its responsibility. From there on church discipline (or lack thereof) and its ordinances take over. 

The state ever mindful of using its authority puts in place the (100's of pages) laws governing all the financial issues can happen and be considered in a marriage break up. 

This is a great discussion topic.  I wouldn't be surprised if there are many of us who have encountered situations where a study on this topic would prove to be helpful.  

Years ago, when I was first asked about this kind of marital arrangement, I was skeptical and uneasy.  I found myself wondering what kind of unintended consequences could arise from a couple trying to avoid financial detriments in order to live as husband and wife.

In recent years, however, many of us have come to recognize that what the church and state recognize as marriage can have very different definitions.  

I believe I would still be uneasy to endorse a covenant marriage that avoided legal recognition for financial benefit (or in order to retain a level of separation between husband and wife), but I would like to see what kind of report a study committee would generate to help us navigate the differences between the legal and ecclesiastical ideas of marriage.

Community Builder

Thanks Bill, you said it better than I did :)