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I would say that any ceremony (whether it was done in a civil or religious context) that complied with the laws of the jurisdiction in which it was performed, and caused the individuals involved to be regarded as legally married in the eyes of that jurisdiction, would be equally valid in God's eyes, unless it violated Biblical principles (as in the case of same-sex marriage, even if such a marriage would be legal or valid from a civil standpoint).
A civil union with vows or a marriage with a license have nothing to do with a biblical marriage. These are cultural ceremonies concluding in a social and legal contract between two people. The concept of marriage in society, whether modern or ancient, constitutes the establishment of a family unit which is the basic building block of civil society. Marriage is governed by civil laws. A couple must apply for a marriage license for the right to be married and following some type of marriage ceremony, they will get a marriage certificate confirming that they are in fact married. Marriage is a legal contract between two people. That is why divorce is so difficult because it involves the breach and breaking up of this contract. From God's perspective, the marriage of a man and woman also creates the family unit as the fundamental building block of a God-honouring human society. The family unit becomes the ideal environment for procreating children and raising them to become the God-honouring adults of the next generation. A Christian marriage is primarily a sacred religious ceremony that also leads to a legal contract under civil law. The religious ceremony is based on our understanding of God's perfect will for Christian marriage as revealed in the bible. Here are some elements of that perfect union: 1. Marriage is intended only for a man and a woman 2. Marriage is intended for believers only 3. Both parties agree to forego primary loyalty to their families and affix their loyalty to their spouse as a new family unit 4. Marriage is a sacred religious ceremony that takes place in the presence of God and of family, friends and the local church as witnesses 5. A Christian couple who meet, fall in love and decide to get married will take a marriage instruction from their Pastor, so they fully understand what marriage is from God's perspective 6. A Christian marriage is intended for the life of a couple 7. A Christian couple make their vows firstly to God, secondly to each other, and thirdly to their witnesses at the ceremony 8. A Christian marriage is a "one-flesh" union of body, soul and spirit. This union gives the world a picture of the love that Jesus Christ has for his church 9. All the Christians who attend a sacred marriage ceremony are held accountable by God to encourage, support, instruct, correct, and nurture the union created by God 10. A Christian couple works through the problems that come up in any marriage including confession and forgiveness of sin 11. A Christian couple is willing to make sacrifices to meet the needs of their spouse, always with the commitment that their relationship is for life The traditional vows of a sacred Christian marriage ceremony show us God's will and heart for this one-flesh union. "I (Name), take you (Name) to be my wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God's holy law, in the presence of God I make this vow." A vow is a solemn oath made in the presence of many witnesses. The Christian couple vows to obey God's holy law as contained and revealed in the bible. This pledge of allegiance is made in the presence of God because it is a sacred Christian religious service. For a Christian couple, having a marriage service conducted as civil union or a marriage with a licence, is not in accordance with God's perfect will. As a result, God will not bestow all of his intended blessings on the couple because of their disobedience to his will. The couple will not experience the one-flesh union of body, soul and spirit that God intends through marriage. They will also not have the full extent of God's protection from the temptations of the world that cause so many marriages to breakdown and fall into divorce. Doing marriage according to God's perfect will, leads to a married life that is abundantly fulfilling and deeply satisfying.
When my husband and I married 46 years ago, we were not believers, and were married in a civil ceremony. It was a second marriage for both of us, and back then second marriages were entered into with a lot less fanfare than they are now. We became believers many years ago, and now understand the concept of marriage being the earthly representation of the relationship between Christ and His Church. We are committed to God and each other, and strive to treat each other as Christian spouses are commanded to, although we don't always succeed. God has blessed our marriage and our lives, notwithstanding that we began with a civil ceremony. The most important aspect is whether or not God is at the centre of your marriage, regardless of whether or not it is merely a civil union.
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