Suppose a young community couple approaches a pastor seeking his wedding services. They are not members of any church. They are not believers. Thoroughly secular in their outlook, they nevertheless have a residual sense that a wedding should in some way be religious and, motivated by that sense, they seek a pastor’s help. Can they have a Christian wedding?
In such cases, if the pastor’s ritual is Christian in content – that is, faithful to the word of God — and his prayers are offered in the name of Christ, and if the songs sung have Christian lyrics, then in a broad sense, what he offers may be called a Christian wedding. It’s not Buddhist, Hindu, nor even broadly secular. It carries the notes of Christian truth about marriage throughout.
But if the couple are a man and woman who love Jesus Christ devoutly and who make known that they want their wedding in every way to honor him, that promises a Christian wedding in a much fuller sense. The event has a discernible authenticity. It is this kind of Christian wedding that I write about today.
I remember with particular warmth Ken and Judy, or Larry and Cheryl, Jim and Fern or David and Faith, and a string of others across the decades. Often they were young and inexperienced when they arrived at the altar, starry-eyed, eagerly anticipating the adventure they were about to launch. Sometimes there was slight apprehension over the serious nature of the vows they were to make. But each couple, in their own way, saw the event as a time to reflect the faith they so ardently held.
A wedding marks one of life’s most important rites of passage. It is an adventure and – one hopes — a once-in-a-lifetime event. One couple steeped in romance may approach it as the fulfillment of a dream; to another more down-to-earth couple it may be more centered on the making of vows. Couples come to the wedding altar with a variety of concerns. For all these reasons, the event deserves the full attention of the pastor asked to officiate.
A Christian wedding deserves to be theologically grounded, beautiful, well-ordered, with logical sequences, free of unnecessary distractions, and in all, an experience of the sacred for both the wedding party and the worshiping congregation.
But, it seems to me that the Christian essence of even some church weddings is under siege. It is threatened by the incursion of materialism – the impulse to make the event into a theatrical spectacle that fairly drowns out the Christian notes of reverence and worship. Materialism calls for props, showiness, the piling up of expense. The families involved may be unable to afford the cost and this may trigger a lot of behind the scenes conflict.
Another peril the mood of our times seems to encourage is narcissism – the tendency for one or both parties to make the event into an ego-trip rather than a covenanting service carried out “in the sight of God and the presence of these witnesses.” When narcissism takes over, the wedding becomes exlusively a “now” and “me” moment. The couple cheat themselves of valuable insights about weddings. For example, they deprive themselves of wisdom the church has gleaned across two millennia.
They are likely to scorn the value of traditions which serve an important function – to bring together two families as harmoniously as possible. Traditions have been accumulated across the centuries to meet this goal. It’s a demanding task, and in observing these traditions, family rivalries and interpersonal tensions are reduced.
So, to avoid these perils, what should we aim for in planning a Christian wedding? Here are three goals:
If the wedding is to be seriously Christian, from the start the couple must keep in mind that Christ is to be the guest of honor. Therefore, all planning must be to please him. What better situation than a wedding to put into practice the advice of the Apostle Paul who wrote, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Col. 3:17) Wanting his blessing above all else will assure the proper sense of reverence and restraint.
The couple should also do all they can to lay a groundwork for the expression of Christian joy. Where Christ is honored, there is joy. Joy is a great Christian grace. It is a key element in worship (Ezra 6:22) so it should be in evidence at a Christian wedding. When preparations have been well laid, joy will be present, subdued but deep, and at the later reception it may become jubilant and overflowing.
Finally, in all the planning, the aim should be for simplicity. That doesn’t mean stark plainness — without color or beauty. It means keep things as uncomplicated as possible. Remember that understatement often reveals the heart of beauty. If a main line of planning is established and adhered to this will reduce distractions and mishaps as the big day approaches.
Are such goals worth the trouble? I have in my memory weddings of unforgettable Christian witness and loveliness and I say, Yes! Without hesitation, Yes!