Member vs. Nonmember Privileges

Does the LCMS have a position on the public burial or marriage of a nonmember of a congregation?

I always believed that one of the privileges of being a communicant member was to be allowed public baptism of your children, public marriage of yourself or your children, and a public burial, or “Christian burial,” from your church. It appears that nonmembers request the use of our facilities for marriages, baptisms, and funerals, and the pastor gives it to them. Is this right in lieu of giving our gifts to support our “close communion of saints” church?

If this is mission work, why don’t we advertise like this: “Come to any LCMS congregation for all your needs, and we will give you the benefit of membership, even though you don’t believe or support a church of your own.” Will this further the Kingdom work?

B.S., Wisconsin

While there is no specific position statement of the LCMS on the matter referred to here, there are principles that pastors and congregations consider when dealing with issues of this kind.

First, it should be recognized that there are specific instances in the lives of people when they are more open to hearing the message of the Gospel: Baptisms, marriages, and deaths and illnesses in the family are such times. Occasions such as these, involving joy or sorrow, are often times when persons who have had little or no previous meaningful relationship with the church may be open to hearing God’s message.

Second, it is assumed that the pastor and the congregation will use these opportunities to share the Gospel and will not let those whom God has provided be lost. In fact, if they allow that to happen, the are failing in their responsibility. Such times are occasions for providing the kind of Christian counsel for which the situation calls, whether that is the need for Christian comfort and concern or a time for recognition of, and rejoicing in, the blessings that God provides in marriage and Holy Baptism.

Finally, it might be remembered that the church is to serve others and not only its own members. It is certainly true that there will be occasions—perhaps many of them—when it appears that individuals are taking advantage of the pastor or the congregation. Not all couples or individuals who receive Christian counsel will join the church. There is no surprise in that. In fact, we might expect it since the results do not depend on us but on the Holy Spirit. Not all those who heard Jesus and received His blessing became followers either. All we can do is share the message of His love. Providing Christian counsel together with the use of congregational facilities may be just the opportunity for doing that.


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