Is the “Safest Thing” Really Scriptural? (Or Is It a Reflection of Brotherhood Politics, Leading to Binding What God Did Not?)

Several years ago, I was asked to perform a wedding ceremony for a couple from another congregation. I hardly knew the couple, but I knew the other congregation and their preacher were both sound. When I learned the preacher from the other congregation would not officiate their wedding, I also refused. That decision slightly bothered me at first because it seemed the only reason I refused was because the preacher whom I highly respected refused. As the years progressed, it became more apparent the decision was not based on Scripture but on conforming to another man’s decision. That couple remained faithful and were in full fellowship at that same congregation, which would not be the case had the marriage been unscriptural! If God allows remarriage in certain circumstances (cf. Mt. 19:9; Rom. 7:2-3; 1 Cor. 7:39), and those circumstances are present in the couple wanting to marry, why should I consider that wedding ceremony second rate and not worthy of consideration and support (cf. 1 Cor. 12:26; 13:4-7; Rom. 12:15)? Years later, I did repent by letting the groom know I was wrong. Then recently (after all these years), I learned other preachers have that same policy of never performing the wedding ceremony of any second marriage. Since that policy is not taught in Scripture, it must be the reasoning of man! This, of course, is not to say the policy is inherently sinful, but the principle behind it (and similar policies) is definitely worthy of evaluation.

“Whatever Is Not From Faith Is Sin”

To be sure, if we cannot do something optional with a good conscience, we must not do it. Eating meat is a good biblical example. Some Christians in Paul’s day were converted from paganism (cf. 1 Thes. 1:8-10). The only time in their former lives they ate meat was in connection with idolatrous worship. Thus, the Corinthians asked Paul whether it was Scriptural to eat meat (1 Cor. 8:1-4a). Paul let them know there was no such thing as an idol god but only one true God (1 Cor. 8:4b-6). However, since all were not fully convinced of that, Paul declared it was wrong for Christians to eat meat if it violated their conscience or if it would cause someone else to sin by violating their conscience (1 Cor. 8:7-13). Paul discussed similar issues in Romans 14, whether Christians “may eat all things … [or] only vegetables,” and whether they can “esteem one day above another … [or] every day alike” (Rom. 14:1-6). After much discussion, the apostle concluded, “But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). The word “faith,” in this context refers to personal conviction, or conscience. If a person cannot eat meat (or participate in any other God-authorized optional matter) in good conscience, he or she sins (cf. Rom. 2:15). This does not teach that anything a person does in good conscience must automatically be morally right (cf. Acts 23:1; 2 Tim. 1:3). It does teach, however, that doing potentially scrupulous optional matters are sinful, unless the person doing them is “fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5).

“Do I Seek to Please Men?”

In the beginning of Paul’s defense of his apostleship to the Galatians, he wrote, “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10). Paul had likely been accused by his enemies of preaching a message that was “seeking the favor” (NAS95), or “approval” (ESV) of men. Nothing could be further from the truth, for he had just pronounced a curse upon any who would change the gospel (Gal. 1:8-9). Serving Christ and pleasing people at the gospel’s expense are incompatible! Being a “bondservant” of Christ means willingness to give up all for Him, including having the favor of men (cf. Jn. 12:42-43). This harmonizes with First Corinthians 9:19-22. Paul would not unnecessarily offend others, and thus adopt their customs as long as they did not violate God’s word (cf. Acts 5:29). Paul did not place pleasing others above the gospel of Christ (cf. Mt. 6:24). Paul gave insight to his former life by using the word, “still [yet, KJV]” (from eti, ἔτι) in “For if I still pleased men” (Gal. 1:10b). This reveals that when Paul served Judaism, he was doing it to please men (cf. Acts 7:58; 8:1-3), though he was deceived into thinking he was serving God (cf. Jn. 16:2). No person can serve two masters (Mt. 6:24)! Rather than pleasing men, Paul’s post-conversion message was in part to “make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man” (Gal. 1:11). All that we preach and teach must be “the gospel,” not the “commandments of men” (cf. Mt. 15:9; Titus 1:14).

“But Let a Man Examine Himself”

One person’s conscience over optional matters is not God’s standard of judgment over another person’s actions (cf. 1 Cor. 14:3-13). Thus, for a spiritually mature preacher to have a “safest thing” policy that automatically excludes Scriptural options and faithful brethren is questionable. Consider the second-time wedding ceremony mentioned above. Do preachers with policies to never perform such ceremonies not trust those involved, even their own earthly family members whom they know have a Scriptural right to remarry? While it is true some people are not trustworthy, it is also true some are, and in such cases, does not love demand consideration (1 Cor. 13:7)? Do preachers with such policies not want to be bothered by the “extra work” of a wedding ceremony? While it is true a preacher’s time may be overwhelmed, it is also true that sacrificing time to encourage Christians (and non-Christians) is worthy (cf. Eph. 5:15-17). Are preachers afraid if they perform one second marriage and not another, they will offend the ones involved in the other? While it is true preachers should not want to unnecessarily offend anyone (cf. Eph. 4:15), would it not be better to state the reason they could not perform a particular wedding ceremony than to make a blanket policy (cf. Rom. 12:17)? Is not that what preachers do with first wedding ceremonies they cannot perform?

Lastly, and very importantly, are preachers with such “policies” merely trying to please men whom they highly respect in the brotherhood? While it is true we are to love and respect the brotherhood (1 Pet. 2:17), we should not let brethren be our source of authority (cf. 2 Cor. 10:12, 18). When brethren’s example and teaching were commended in Scripture, it was because it harmonized with truth (cf. 1 Cor. 11:1; 2 Pet. 3:15-16). Could some preacher’s refusal to do certain optional matters be to keep in good standing with influential brethren? While it is true we need to respect brethren’s positions on optional matters, we must not cave to their demands of conformity, whether explicit or implicit (Gal. 2:3-5). The potential problem with this conformity (i.e., brotherhood politics) is that those participating begin to think this opinion over an optional matter is equivalent to God’s law on the subject! We jeopardize our souls and the souls of others when we bind what God has not bound (cf. Mt. 16:19; 15:8-9; 23:15; Col. 2:20-23; Rev. 22:18-19).


Ultimately, a preacher’s (or any Christian’s) decision on optional matters is between him and the Lord with consideration of others involved. However, we should evaluate the motives behind our policies to make sure we are not falling prey to the deceptive tactics of the devil. Unfortunately, sound brethren have been shunned because they participated in optional matters that more influential brethren would not have done because of their “safest thing” policies. Are those forbidding policies, though, really based on Scripture or do they reflect brotherhood politics and/or elevating human opinion as if it were God’s law? Let us always be “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3)!