When Two Become One

14 04 2014

WeddingPastors are supposed to bring theological grounding to all events they administer. That is one of the reasons for the years of pastoral training.

Consider the issue of marriage. Its boundaries are becoming increasing fuzzy in the secular mind. A war rages on to open up the traditional definition — one man and one woman — to other options and perhaps soon to increased numbers in a union. This means pastoral care of the modern wedding must reflect what the Scriptures teach about marriage.

In my recent book, The Pastor’s First Love: And Other Essays on a High and Holy Calling, I spell out in brief some ideas about marriage as a rite of passage in Christian understanding. Here’s a sampling from the book:

A wedding is a ‘rite of passage.’ Across two thousand years, the church has considered certain events to be epochal moments in life’s journey: birth, baptism, marriage, conversion, death. These have not always come in the same sequence or been given the same weight. But such events are so momentous that they deserve appropriate celebration.

When a man and woman come to the altar, what happens there in a few minutes changes them forever. They approach the altar as two single persons, legally unrelated; they leave as a married couple; a new unit in society. Their status will be forever altered, and so will the church community of which they are a part. Should not anything so crucial deserve appropriate celebration in the setting of Christian worship? The event is more than a legal moment; it is a sacred moment of life-changing significance.

For a Christian couple, a wedding may be a very personal matter, but it cannot be a private one — limited to two people only. It is the couple’s wedding for sure, but it is also the church’s, meaning it also belongs in the context of a particular unit of the body of Christ.

“So, the Christian church has a large stake in the wedding: its sanctuary provides the setting; its congregation provides the witnessing community; its ministers provide the authorized officers; and its rituals provide the theological content concerning what the event means. It can be argued that all of this is brought together best and most coherently when the couple meet at a Christian altar and the people gather with them in a setting conducive to the worship of the God who is the creator of marriage.”

I recognize that across a lifetime of ministry spanning well over 60 years, secularizing trends have had their effect on church activities. On occasion, two people raised in a church setting may still need gentle and loving instruction as they approach their wedding – that is, on what the parts of the ceremony that solemnizes the relationship mean. And of course, pastors need to teach their people some basics even at a time when no wedding is in the offing.

For example, Christians consider marriage an “institution” ordered by God at the time of creation (Genesis 1&2). Therefore, the couple must not appear at the altar as though they were creating something new. They may be demonstrating a fresh version of the event but they are entering into something that has been there from the beginning. This should make the moment for them not only joyful but also humbling and worshipful. That’s why we are not so likely to speak of “performing” a wedding as “solemnizing’ the event.

Also the words spoken in ritual should reflect accurately the meaning of the event from a Christian perspective. Rituals that are designed by the couple to make feelings the dominant element are not nearly as useful as rituals that proclaim the event as ordained by God, call for comprehensive pledging, and ask God in deep earnestness for his blessing on the couple at the altar. To achieve this in the face of today’s secularizing influences may require some counsel of the officiating minister.

It seems to me that, as never before, Christian communions ought to give special attention to the wedding’s content and meaning. Weddings, insofar as possible, should be shining reflections of the grace of God which enables two, a man and a woman, to become one — profoundly united in all aspects of their life together!

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Photo credit: Adam Woodrow (via flickr.com)

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15 04 2014
Francis Hatfield

A Canadian Free Methodist converted me to full faith by addressing my pain at being unchristened as an infant,convincing me the Lord loved me personally and I was not excluded from His Love.This stated in 2011 and I was baptized and confirmed in 2013.n avid reader I’d already read the bible twice and also John Wesley’s ‘Plain Account of Christian Perfection’.Now it was brought to life.I read B.T.Roberts FM Handbook ,Holiness Teachings.From there I got The UK FMhandbook & read it carefully It was what I’d been looking for – biblical authority,original Christian principals,every hour Christian living not just Sunday Christianity…….The one thing that made me pause was about ‘gay’ love( presumably physical love since all spiritual love is surely good).Based on the bible,yes marriage is between a man and a woman and physical love outside marriage is not an option..And by Jesus’s new command – not even in thought……But the bible also commands us to love one another and not to judge – that’s for the Lord…..And now ‘gay’ marriage has been made lawful by the UK Conservative government.Though the Church of England ( The Anglican church) will not sactify it.So what about physical love inside marriage now?It seems indecent even to consider someone’s secret personal life.I couldn’t be comfortable doing so.The Lord knows our innermost secrets.Surely that’s enough.

UK FM Handbook posits treatment for those inclined to ‘gay’ physical love.If that means electric shock therapy ,is surely cruel and harmful,and against God’s biblical word.

.Why I accepted the UK FM Handbook,entirely,after careful contemplation,was the proviso of loving kindness to all others. including ‘gay’ others. My reading of the bible is that loving kindness is essential ( 1 Cor 13 & the very Person of Jesus).Is not love or charity,our primary duty?

I’m sceptical whether a non spiritual,worldly,material or medical ‘cure’ for ‘gay’ feelings exists.This is going to be a big problem for Christians in UK, now,I think.Our Conservative government has just passed a law legalizing ‘gay’ marriage.It will be in the Queen’s Speech.Will this cause conflict and Christian Unity and uncharitable words and actions

Having acepted and commited myself to our UK FM Handbook I sought an FM Church near me.There is none.I contacted UK FM Conference Office,Preston,Lancashire.They encouraged me to continue worshiping where I did,that God can use me where I am & has a plan for my life.That it’s important to fellowship with other Christians.Yes ! Our Saviour called us to Christian Unity on the night before He was betrayed.

.I was very encouraged by the positive message to stay close to God .live my life for Him,study my bible,pray for and serve others,teaching the Wesleyan Christian way of holiness.I found this great encouragement .

I follow the Christian Wesleyan way encouraged by Free Methodist doctrines which feels home for me.I worship at Coventry Cathedral,.an Anglican church.John Wesley was an Anglican pastor all his life ,as was Charles,though Revd.John was not always appreciated within the church,&forced to preach in the fields,even set upon by thugs hired by opposing Anglicans.John Wesley’s holiness and courage won those thugs to support him ,in the event.He was called the best loved man in England

The Anglican church I’m happy at is Coventry Cathedral where Anglicans,Methodists and Roman Catholics worship side by side and services and Lord’s Suppers are presided over by Anglican,Methodist or Roman Catholic ministers.But when an RC priest takes Lord’s Supper we Protestants recieve a blessing not the bread and wine.I long for the Christian Unity which Jesus asked for,while seeking to follow Free Methodist Christian guidance

.Sorry for the long comment,but Pastor,your 60 years of ministry certainly has seen secularizing trends .Boundaries are now so fuzzy and .I’m sure when you started your ministry such a stretching of boundaries could never have been predicted.Things astound me.

Pastor,I love to read your good words about marriage even though I am a bachelor and life long celibate.If I’ve made some errors in my thinking I hope someone will point them out.But those I love are married and I love good words on marriage..I loved reading Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffers beautiful words about marriage,in a letter to his dear relatives from his Gestapo prison,in his ‘Prison Notebooks’.. I remembered his execution/martyrdom of 1945 on it’s anniversary last Wednesday.

Congratulations to Kathleen and yourself for your long marriage.It’s heartwarming.I pray you have many more happy years together.I’m no expert but it seems to me the Lord blesses a union and then it’s up to the one flesh to live up to that blessing.It seems to me that Kathleen and you have lived up to the Lord’s blessing of your union.Best wishes.

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