Can Lutherans Marry Non-Lutherans?

A person’s perspective on marriage and family often provides a valuable look into their beliefs and worldview. Christianity and its various traditions, including Lutheranism, have much to say about these two issues. For example, many people have wondered if Lutherans can marry non-Lutherans.

Lutherans can marry non-Lutherans. The largest Lutheran denominations don’t forbid their members from marrying outside the tradition, yet conservative pastors implore them to marry Christians. Conservative Lutherans may not say it’s sinful to wed a non-Lutheran, but some would question the wisdom of it. 

How exactly do orthodox Lutherans view the institution of marriage? How do mainline church members? What do the largest Lutheran denominations say about marriage and divorce? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.

bride and groom
Did Martin Luther believe marriage was only for procreation? See below

What is the Lutheran View of Marriage?

Martin Luther once said, “There is no more lovely, friendly, and charming relationship, communion, or company than a good marriage.”

Traditionally, Lutherans have viewed marriage following the views of Luther, although some in the tradition have changed their perspective in recent years. (Also see What Do Lutherans Believe About Divorce?)

Luther defined marriage as a covenantal relationship between one man and one woman. Any sex outside of this union is, according to Luther, fornication. This activity includes premarital and extramarital sex for heterosexuals and sex between people of the same gender. [1]

The primary purpose of marriage for Luther was the creation of a family. Luther saw marriage as a vocation, and the rearing of children formed the primary source of discipleship for a husband and wife. Because it existed before the Fall, Luther did not view marriage as a sacrament.

Although he carefully nuanced his views on marriage through the years, Luther believed that it primarily belonged to the legislation of the civil government.

For this reason, all people — believers and non-believers alike, can partake in it. At the same time, marriage for Christians holds unique value, reflecting Christ’s love for the church. [2] (Also see Do Lutherans Drink Alcohol?)

Is marriage just for procreation or something more?

Luther wrote in his commentary on Genesis: “Today, after our nature has become corrupted by sin, a woman is needed not only to secure increase but also for companionship and protection” (cf. Gen. 2:19).

In all three of these denominations, many Lutherans have started viewing the purpose of marriage as not solely the creation of the family. Instead, clergy and lay people have emphasized the importance of companionship, sexual enjoyment, and unconditional love. This conviction mirrors larger trends that exist within mainline churches.

Does the ELCA support same-sex marriage?

Yes. In recent years, modern Lutheran denominations have held divergent views concerning homosexuality. For example, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the “mainline” Lutheran denomination, has revised its definition of marriage to include homosexual unions.

At the same time, their official documents recognize that a range of opinions exist concerning this matter, and each local ELCA church’s actual practices vary. (Also see Can Lutherans Marry Non-Lutherans?)

Do the LCMS and the WELS support same-sex marriage?

Accepting homosexuality as a valid sexual expression diverges from the views of the two other primary Lutheran denominations in the United States: the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. These two denominations still define marriage as only existing between a man and a woman. [3]

wedding rings
Can Lutherans marry non-Christians? See below

Can Lutherans Marry Catholics?

In general, Lutherans support one of their church members marrying Catholics or a person from another Christian denomination. They base this upon the teaching of both Luther and the Bible.

Luther, who viewed marriage as a civil institution, not only supported Christians marrying those of other Christian traditions but did not oppose them marrying those of other faiths.

He based this upon the fact that the Bible assumes that Christians will be in martial relationships with unbelievers while never explicitly condemning the practice—2 Corinthians 6:14, which many use to argue against such unions, is not talking particularly about marriage.

2 Corinthians 6:14 reads, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (ESV)

Because of this, ministers are free to counsel and advise concerning this matter as they see fit. None of the largest Lutheran denominations have explicit policies on the issue.

On the other hand, the Catholic Church clearly outlines the parameters of marriage in this regard. Catholic canon law differentiates between natural marriage and sacramental marriage. A natural marriage refers to a man and woman committing to each other for life.

A sacramental marriage refers to, among other things, a baptized man and a baptized woman who commit to each before God for life. A sacramental marriage does not require that either of them be Catholic.

However, if either person is divorced, it must be annulled by the Catholic church before they can remarry. If a Lutheran meets these qualifications and others, they may marry a Catholic in a sacramental marriage.

“The Christian is supposed to love his neighbor. And since his wife is his nearest neighbor, she should be his deepest love.” ~ Martin Luther

Can Lutherans Get Divorced?

Although Lutherans do not consider marriage to be a sacrament, they still take it very seriously. Scripture gives numerous and serious warnings about divorce and how spouses should cherish and protect the marital state.

Nevertheless, according to Lutheran teaching, the Bible does allow divorce in certain situations. The interpretation of verses like Matthew 5:32 leads to the differing views of the various major Lutheran denominations.

Matthew 5:32 reads, “But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery” (NKJV).

Despite this difference of opinion, all the major Lutheran denominations in the United States allow divorce on some level. The ELCA is generally more permissive in its grounds for divorce, while the LCMS and the WELS tend to be more strict.

Lutheran church
What does the ELCA say about divorce? See below

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America on Divorce

Specifically, the ELCA allows divorce when there is so much mistrust that the couple can’t repair it. Interestingly, the denomination doesn’t go into detail on the specifics of the broken trust.

Couples should seek wisdom: As with all essential theological matters, the ELCA recommends that a married couple or estranged partner consult their parish pastor to know the best and right thing to do.

Couples must fill their marriages with grace: They also stress that in a fallen world, marriage, relationships, and sexuality are messy and that grace and forgiveness should always inform a Christian’s actions and decisions.

While Christians should strive to make their marriage last for life, sin can and has distorted all human relationships, including marriage.

WELS and LCMS on Divorce

On the other hand, the WELS only allows divorce in the case of unfaithfulness and malicious desertion (see Matthew 19:9 and 1 Corinthians 7:15).

However, even these reasons lend themselves to different interpretations. For example, does malicious desertion only mean physical desertion, or can it also mean financial or emotional desertion?

Because of this, the WELS also counsels the concerned parties to consult a pastor. The LCMS holds similar views concerning the grounds for divorce. [5]

[1] Source
[2] Source
[3] Source
[4] Source
[5] Source

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see his About page for details.

Related Questions

error: This content is copyrighted.