Melbourne Baptist Church Hosts Same Sex Wedding

A story broke on DavidOuld.net this morning, naming a Baptist Church in Victoria which has recently opened its building to host a same sex wedding.

The focus on DavidOuld.net is of several ordained Anglican ministers from the Diocese of Melbourne who were present at the ceremony, and who appear to have formally participated during the service. It is not currently known who the official celebrant was, but presiding over a same sex marriage is a violation of the government marriage licence for both Anglican and Baptist clergy. Anglican and Baptist marriage celebrants can only conduct weddings according to the marriage rites of their said denomination.

According to the Baptist Marriage Rites, marriage is “the union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.”

My concern is the news that a Baptist Church in Melbourne has hosted this wedding, and it appears as though at least one ordained Baptist minister was involved. This doesn’t project a view of Victorian baptists that will adorn the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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Community Church of St Mark belongs to the association of Churches that is the Baptist Union of Victoria. I cannot imagine that they would have received permission from the BUV to conduct a same sex wedding on their premises. Such permission is not however required as local churches have significant autonomy.

There is a question as to whether the Community Church of St Mark rented out their building to a third party or were  formally hosting and supporting the event? In one sense, that distinction is a matter of semantics, for either option is a clear promotion of same sex marriage. Footage of the wedding procession clearly shows the banner of St Mark’s being paraded, thus indicating at least some involvement by the Church. In addition, an ordained baptist minister was also present and part of the procession, and it appears that she was involved in a formal capacity.

Why does this matter?

It is important for baptists for at least these two reasons:

First, Community Church of St Mark have misrepresented what Baptists believe about marriage. They have welcomed teaching and have blessed a view of marriage that contravenes the clear doctrinal position of the Baptist Union of Victoria. In so doing, they are sending confusing messages to local communities as to what Baptist believe about marriage, and in so doing they are leading people astray from God’s good purposes. 

Second, Churches who are affiliated with the BUV are in relationship with each other. There is rightly a significant degree of autonomy given to each church, however an association is not arbitrary or meaningless. Without clear theological common ground that is affirmed and practiced, churches can’t work together. To what point can we share an identity together when that name is being misrepresented in such grievous ways?  The question is, should our Baptist Churches allege unity with another Church who has decided to act against Baptist doctrine? Is it appropriate to call Community Church of St Mark to repentance?

The issue of marriage is not unimportant or secondary in the Bible. Indeed, during last year’s plebiscite debate advocates made it clear that they believe it’s about human rights and amending one of the great social evils in our country. For Christians, our Scriptures define sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage as porneia, it being alongside many other activities which prevent people from entering the Kingdom of God. The Apostle Paul includes homosexual activity as being “contrary to the sound doctrine  that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.” If the Bible defines this as a Gospel issue, then it is incumbent upon us to do so as well.

This morning’s news is incredibly sad but unsurprising. For some time there have been baptist clergy and churches agitating to redefine marriage and to be given permission to formally conduct same sex weddings. These numbers are small, only representing tiny fraction of the BUV, but they are persistent. We are being naive if we believe that this matter will eventually blow over and that these advocates will simply give up.

A precedent can easily become a pattern if we don’t speak up.

As it currently stands, Baptist marriage celebrants cannot conduct same sex weddings. The position for churches is however somewhat murky. The spirit of the law suggests that a Baptist Church should not facilitate a same sex marriage, either by renting out their building or by inviting a secular celebrant to preside. However, the strict letter of the law does not (to my knowledge), prohibit this practice. This ambiguity needs to be attended to and fixed in the near future.

 


Update (Monday 7pm): I can now confirm that the officiating celebrant was Rev James (Jim) Barr. Rev Barr was formerly the Senior Pastor at Collins St Baptist and at Canberra Baptist. He is now a Welsh Methodist credentialed minister, and thus no longer holds a baptist licence. It is however unclear how how substantive his role was in this service, given that Baptist and Anglican clergy were also participating. In other words, one question is answered, but the original concerns remain, and they are substantive concerns for Baptists and Anglicans alike.

9 thoughts on “Melbourne Baptist Church Hosts Same Sex Wedding

  1. It makes you wish Paul was around today. If the church in Corinth though they got a brow beating, can you just imagine the rocket Paul would put up the church of St Marks!
    Good work Murray to keep this issue in front of us all, otherwise to have it quietly absorbed into the bubbling pit of PC.

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    • A person is free to believe what they want, but they are not free to represent a church or denomination while holding disparate views. This is a clear case of clergy acting against the doctrinal convictions of their denominations

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      • The whole point of Baptists is that we DO not hold ONE VIEW. There is NO CREED. No Baptist Church represents a “denomination” of Baptists. Even the groupings in Australia, we call “Unions” need to be careful of claiming to speak on behalf of all Baptists. There is the old joke: “where there are two Baptists, there are three views”.

        Murray, a clear distinctive of Baptists is that “The local church is an independent body accountable to the Lord Jesus Christ, the head of the church. All human authority for governing the local church resides within the local church itself. Thus the church is autonomous, or self-governing. No religious hierarchy outside the local church may dictate a church’s beliefs or practices”. Likewise, “every individual, whether a believer or an unbeliever, has the liberty to choose what he believes is right in the religious realm. No one should be forced to assent to any belief against their will.
        I do not see how what St Marks has done violates these key Baptist distinctives. In fact, preventing them from exercising their autonomy, violates a Baptist distinctive. I also do not see how they are representing every Baptist Church. If you hold to Baptist distinctives, then we must fight to allow freedom across Baptist Churches, just as Baptists have done for 100s of years.

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      • 1. That’s not historically accurate
        2. That is not true of contemporary baptist churches
        3. Baptist Churches while having autonomy can also choose to be in association with other churches, hence the BUV. Without assent to common theology and practice the very notion of association is void
        4. St Mark’s violates the baptist definition of marriage which has been adopted by the churches, and it is only this definition of marriage that is legal for baptists in Victoria.

        For future reference, please use your real name, as it’s polite. thanks

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  2. Pingback: EXCLUSIVE: Melbourne Anglican Church and Clergy take part in Same-Sex Wedding – davidould.net

  3. Thanks for your article Murray. We have been grappling over one of the issues that you have raised being:
    “As it currently stands, Baptist marriage celebrants cannot conduct same-sex weddings. The position for churches is however somewhat murky. The spirit of the law suggests that a Baptist Church should not facilitate a same-sex marriage, either by renting out their building or by inviting a secular celebrant to preside. However, the strict letter of the law does not (to my knowledge), prohibit this practice. This ambiguity needs to be attended to and fixed in the near future.”
    I also noted that there was an inconsistency between the spirit of the law and the letter of the law. My research showed that it wasn’t something that was on the radar of the Baptist Unions (NSW or Vic) were dealing with at the moment. Another issue that was identified was the issue of gender. Given the gender debate, this is something that we will have to look at closely as well.

    While we can ensure that a marriage happens only between a man and a woman in our churches at this point in time, given the push for gender fluidity, we could find ourselves stuck in a sticky situation. For example, if someone identifies as a sex different from how they were born biologically, and then comes to the church and requests to be married, to somebody of the same biological sex. If the government recognises gender fluidity then as a Baptist or Anglican Pastor/Priest, we cannot use the reasoning in this instence that

    “presiding over a same-sex marriage is a violation of the government marriage licence for both Anglican and Baptist clergy. Anglican and Baptist marriage celebrants can only conduct weddings according to the marriage rites of their said denomination.”

    Both these issues need to be addressed.

    We have addressed this issue at our Baptist Church in which I am one of the pastors, by calling a special meeting of members and adding to our church constitution the following (Based off info from the Nashville Statement).

    MARRIAGE
    (Churches name) Baptist Church, affirms the Traditional Biblical understanding of Marriage. That being that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant of love between Christ and his bride the church.
    Therefore given this belief, no building or other assets of the church shall be used or utilised in any ceremony or union of people, outside of this definition of marriage. This also includes specifically the definition of a man or woman being based on the Belief system of the Parkes Baptist Church as seen in the section entitled ‘gender’. 

    Gender
    (Churches name) Baptist Church, affirms that the differences between male and female reproductive structures, or the physical biological attributes that make up a male or a female are integral to God’s design for self-conception as male or female. We believe that the gender that a person was born, is the true identity and ideal plan for that person, under God. In the case of those born with a physical disorder of sex development, we encourage them to accept and embrace their biological sex insofar as it may be known.

    This is how we have addressed it, although I would strongly recomend the Baptist Unions have a close look at these issues and come up with a unified understanding of how we as a denomination protect our pastors and our churches as these issues arise.

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    • It is encouraging to read that your local church has taken positive steps to uphold the biblical definition of marriage! It appears to me though that using the autonomy of local Baptist Chuches as a loophole for the denomination not discipline Baptist pastors and ministers who go against the Bible teaching is cop out given the clear teaching in the Baptist Confession.

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