The Baptist denomination is one of the largest Protestant denominations in America and the world. Given that it has millions of members, Baptist churches host thousands of weddings every year. Baptist pastors commonly officiate weddings, but what about deacons?
Baptist deacons can marry a couple when certain conditions are met. First, the church must recognize the deacon as someone who can perform weddings and permit them to do so. Second, the deacon must have permission from the state in which the couple obtains their wedding license.
Is it common for Baptist churches to give deacons permission to marry a couple? How hard is it for a Baptist deacon to receive permission from a state to perform a wedding? Keep reading to learn more.
Also, see Are Baptists Allowed to Dance? to learn more.
Do Baptist Churches Let Deacons Marry People?
Protestant churches are more open to leaders performing weddings than Roman Catholic churches. Among Protestant denominations, Baptist churches are more likely to let deacons perform weddings than others that are more traditional, formal, and liturgical. (Also see Can a Baptist Marry a Catholic?)
Why are Baptist churches more likely to allow deacons to marry people than others? The Baptist tradition historically values local church autonomy as well as the separation of Church and State:
- Local church autonomy: The Baptist tradition values the autonomy — i.e., independence — of each individual church to govern itself. Leaders of Baptist churches aren’t under regional or state authorities. Churches may be a part of broad ministerial networks and associations, but they are cooperatives in nature, not governing bodies.
- Separation of Church and State: The Baptist tradition also values the separation of Church and State. Historically, some Protestant denominations in Europe experienced deep connections with political authorities. The first Baptists in Europe desired to be part of churches that were separate from state political affairs.
In summary, Baptist churches can decide on their own who performs weddings. They don’t need permission from regional ecclesiastical authorities, and they don’t seek permission from their state. The individual does, however, need to meet state requirements (see below). (Also see What Bible Translation Do Baptists Use?)
Also, see What’s the Difference Between Baptists and Evangelicals? to learn more.
Do States Let Baptist Deacons Marry People?
In America, states have different laws about who can perform a wedding. All states allow licensed and ordained clergy to perform weddings.
Beyond clergy, who can perform weddings varies from state to state. For example, in Florida, notary publics can perform weddings, and in Idaho, mayors or the governor can.
The trend in decent decades is that states are becoming looser on who can perform weddings and less strict.
- Those with a liberal and progressive social perspective often argue that marriage and wedding laws in America are outdated and reflect values associated with old ways of thinking.
- Those with a conservative worldview often argue that marriage and wedding laws are in place for good reason and shouldn’t be changed.
In states that have a large liberal and progressive population, marriage and wedding laws are changing. For example, in recent years, several states have passed laws that allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. Federal legislation followed, legalizing gay marriage throughout the country.
Many people, except for states that only allow clergy to perform weddings, eventually abandon those laws, which are seen as outdated and overly restrictive.
As the population in America becomes less religious and less Christian, it’s expected that more people won’t want clergy performing their wedding ceremony.
How can a person find out what their state’s requirements are? The easiest way is to go to their state’s website because they all have information about who can perform weddings. A link on the website may re-route a person to a county website, but the state website is the best place to start.
Contact information is provided on the website. Commonly, the person who wants to perform a wedding will need to fill out an application and pay a small fee.
Example | The Southern Baptist Convention’s instructions to pastors: “In American law, marriage is regulated by the states. However, since marriage is both a civil and a religious institution, states generally allow ministers to officiate over wedding ceremonies. You will need to check with the county clerk in the county of the state where you have been asked to perform a wedding ceremony to answer your specific question.”
Also, see What’s the Difference Between Baptist and Foursquare? to learn more.
Most Baptist Churches Believe Deacons Can Marry a Couple
Baptist churches that follow the Bible’s guidelines on who can be a deacon (e.g., 1 Tim. 3:8-13), hold that a person who meets those requirements can also perform weddings. In other words, if a person is qualified to be a deacon, then they are qualified to perform weddings.
Note: In Baptist churches that have turned away from the denomination’s classic orthodox doctrine, and embraced liberal and progressive values, the qualifications for deacons listed below are considered outdated.
1 Timothy 3:8-13 describe the requirements for being a deacon in a Christian church. Bible-believing Baptist churches adhere to these prerequisites. A man who meets these requirements, and serves in the role of deacon honorably, is considered qualified to perform a wedding.
Verse 8: “In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain.”
- Dignified: A man must be worthy of respect. He must not have a poor reputation as the result of ungodly living. (Also see Can Baptists Dance?)
- Not double-tongued (v. 8): the word translated as “sincere” refers to not being misleading or devious with one’s words. A man’s words must reveal him to be dependable, trustworthy, and of high character.
- Not addicted to much wine (v. 8): Addiction to wine implies, among many things, a lack of self-control and the inability to control one’s actions and words due to drunkenness. (Also, see What Do Baptists Believe About Drinking Alcohol?)
- Not greedy for dishonest gain (v. 8): Positions of leadership, even in a church, can tempt a person to pursue unrighteous financial gain and an unholy influence over other people. Deacons are charged with serving and loving others, not dominating them with selfish decision-making.
Verse 9: “They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.”
- Sound in faith and life (v. 9): The faith of a deacon must be strong. They must have a mature relationship with Christ. They must believe the core truths of the Christian faith without wavering. (Also see Here’s What Baptists Believe About Salvation)
Verse 10: “They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.”
- Blameless (v. 10): Many jobs today begin with a several-month probationary period. Likewise, people are allotted a certain amount of time to determine if the deacon role is a good fit for them. If the probationary period goes well, the person may serve in the role.
Verse 11: “In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.”
- Godly wife (v. 11): A deacon must be married to a wife who is Godly and pursues holiness through their own relationship with Christ. (Also see Why Don’t Baptists Have Crucifixes?)
Verse 12: “A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well.”
- Husband of one wife (v. 12): A deacon must be a Godly husband.
- Manage children and household well (v. 12): The Bible’s logic dictates that if a man cannot lead his own family well, then how can he lead a church?
Verse 12: “Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.”
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