John Piper says non-Christian marriages are valid but 'fall short of God's highest purpose'

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Pastor and author John Piper, head of the influential theology website DesiringGod, recently stated that he believes non-Christian marriages are valid even though they "fall short" of God's purpose for marriage. 

In an episode of the podcast “Ask Pastor John” posted online on Monday, a listener named Steve asked Piper, who also serves as chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota, about whether secular marriages are considered valid by God.

“A coworker asked me if I thought God honored secular marriages. My gut reaction was yes. My coworker said no. He believes that if two parties don’t believe in God, then God is not in that marriage, and therefore God does not recognize the marriage,” he wrote.

“He went further to state that God does not even hear non-Christian prayers. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know how to respond or defend my opposition to his stance. Is there biblical backing for the legitimacy of secular marriages?”

Piper responded that while he considers non-Christian marriages — or the marriage of two non-Christians — to be marriages in the literal sense, he still believes that they “fall short of God’s highest purpose for marriage.”

The theologian focused on Romans 14:23, which reads: “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

“God intended food to be eaten and drinks to be drunk with thankfulness and faith in him. All other uses of his gifts are sinful. They are failures to live up to God’s design for meat and drink,” Piper reasoned.

“God does not require of unbelievers that they stop eating; he requires that they trust him and thank him when they eat. And if they don’t, they’re going to be in big trouble. The same thing is true of marriage, since marrying without trusting Jesus and thanking Jesus is sinful.”

Nevertheless, Piper noted that non-Christian marriages can still reflect the ideals of marriage, as described in the New Testament even if the husband and wife do not intend to do so.

“The ultimate purpose of marriage, according to Genesis 2:24 and Ephesians 5:32, is to portray the covenant love between Christ and his church. This is done most clearly in an obedient, faithful Christian marriage,” he continued.

“But it is done obscurely even in a lifelong, promise-keeping, adultery-avoiding, unbelieving marriage. So marriages accomplish some of God’s purposes imperfectly, even when the spouses are unbelieving.”

Last December, Piper said in an episode of “Ask Pastor John” that he believes a Christian who marries a non-believer should be excommunicated from the Church.

Piper concluded that excommunication was the best response since the Christian who marries a non-Christian “is defying and rebelling against an explicit command of the New Testament of God” and showing “how deeply compromised the believer’s love for Christ is.”

“How can the heart of a believer embrace Jesus as its supreme treasure and satisfaction, and reject the words of Jesus in order to be in the arms of one who has no faith and no true affection for the believer’s most treasured possession?” stated Piper at the time.

“It’s inconceivable to me. I’ve always found that incomprehensible. Something is deeply, deeply wrong with the heart’s affection for Christ.”

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