Dear Fr Andrew,
I have heard from a friend that some churches cannot marry a couple that has had a child before marriage because this is not considered to be “Holy Matrimony”.
Isn’t this WRONG of the church? Could you please give me some Bible references to answer this?
Thank you for your question. I suppose this is a recurring question young people of our day pose to the church leaders.
To be able to provide the right answer to your question we have to ask ourselves a fundamental question about the holiness of a marriage. What makes marriage holy? Marriage is essentially a holy covenant not because those who enter such a covenant are childless but because those who enter such a covenant have God as their witness. Marriage is essentially a holy covenant not because you enter such a covenant as a virgin, but because God, through His servants/ministers, is the witness between you and your spouse. Marriage is God’s own design (Matthew 19:8). It is something divinely instituted. Therefore, any validly contracted marriage, that is, one which is free from all diriment impediments is holy.
It is, therefore, wrong for the Church [leaders] to deny people the right to contract marriage simply because they have a child born out of the wedlock. However, the Church has a moral obligation to teach the truth about chastity and to encourage the faithful to lead a chaste life. The marital act (sex) seals the marriage covenant. To take advantage of the act before marriage is wrong. It is sinful for the only reason that the marital act is reserved for marriage only between a husband and a wife, not for a dating couple. The word of God clearly instructs that such an act between people who are not married is sinful and that we ought to remain morally pure. A few verses from the Bible for you:
Hebrew 13:4 – “Let marriage be honoured among all and the marriage bed be kept undefiled, for God will judge the immoral and adulterers.” That means, sexual relationship is to be shared by a husband and a wife. The marriage bed should not be defiled.
1 Corinthians 6:18
1 Thessalonians 4:2-5
So when couples give their consent and make marriage present, their bond remains until death separates them. From thereon, one is free to remarry since the bond no longer exists. While in marriage they have all the rights and duties proper to married people.
Moreover, in both the Old and New Testament the purity or virginity of a woman before marriage was crucial and was highly esteemed. As it was in the past so it should be in the present and the future (refer Deuteronomy 22:21).
Keep in mind that marriage is a covenant and like any other covenant there is always symbol to mark that covenant. And in marriage that symbol is the marital act itself which involves the total self-giving of oneself to the other. This act seals the covenant. If you are not in that covenant then do not fool around with its symbol because by so doing you pledge death for yourself when you go against the covenant. Remember, a covenant is more than just an exchange of property it is an exchange of persons.
So some of the church leaders are strict and it may appear that they are going into another extreme but I believe they want to protect the purity of marriage. But marriage will always remain a holy covenant if it is validly contracted. Even if you have had a child before your marriage, when you give your consent before God and so make marriage present, that becomes a holy covenant.
However, I have to insist the fact that the church has a moral obligation to remind all people to observe chastity.