Weddings are often big, cultural events. And rightly so!
The tradition of celebrating the beginning of a marriage is a common event in almost every culture. For as long as civilization has been around, wedding traditions show up. Marriage is a big deal. Wedding ceremonies and celebrations are important.
-But recently, over the last 10 years or so, Weddings have become less about a sacred religious observance and more about “a moment” in time focused on the couple.
As a pastor, I both love and dread weddings. I love weddings because of the biblical richness of the event, and the deep gift of God’s grace that it represents. But, I also dread weddings because of what they have become. I tend to enter wedding rehearsals with a pit in my stomach, waiting to see if the couple is going to focus on God or on themselves.
-With the average cost of the modern wedding floating somewhere between $22,000.00-$30,000.00, and with as many as one-third of people going into debt for their big day, thinking through weddings is no small thing.
Christians, then, ought to be very careful. Not just thinking through the financial aspect, but thinking biblically and purposefully about the wedding itself. Christians must answer the questions of: What are weddings for? What do weddings mean? And, what do weddings communicate?
-Working through these questions biblically will help Christians navigate an increasingly difficult wedding culture.
So, let’s do that…
Where does Marriage Come from?
-Right from the get go, Christians must recognize and understand that marriage comes from God. The heart of a wedding celebration is God’s good gift to man and woman. We find this to be the case right from the beginning of the Bible.
Genesis 2:18-25 - “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”
Pastor John Piper summarizes a biblical view of the origins of marriage this way, “The most foundational thing to see from the Bible about marriage is that it is God’s doing. And the ultimate thing to see from the Bible about marriage is that it is for God’s glory.” (Momentary Marriage, pg. 21)
Marriage comes from God; marriage belongs to God. This is primary in the Christian understanding of marriage.
What are Weddings For?
-The next logical question is, then, “What are weddings for?”
We see weddings, wedding activities, and wedding language celebrated throughout the Bible.
Weddings are a way of publicly celebrating obedience to God’s command, the goodness of His institution, and the normative progression of human life. Most people get married. (Note: This is not to disparage or look down upon those who choose singleness.)
-So, weddings are a normal part of the God-given human experience. God performed the first wedding between Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:24-25), and that tradition, which provides the context for God’s creation mandate (Gen. 1:28), has become a normal part of the human experience.
For all of history, men and women have been committing themselves to one another in the sacred covenant of monogamous heterosexual marriage.
Note: I will not be discussing the perversion that is Same-sex union here.
-Finally, we note from Scripture that the end of this worldly age, and the beginning of the heavenly age, will be marked by a Wedding.
In Revelation 19:1-10, we see that King Jesus will receive His bride, the Church, in the eternal covenant of perfect marriage.
So, throughout Scripture, we see Weddings presented in a positive and celebratory light. It is right to rejoice, celebrate, and give thanks to God for the gift of every new biblical marriage.
What do Weddings Communicate?
-Something else we need to observe from Scripture is that weddings are not ends in and of themselves. They are not merely parties for the newlyweds. Weddings are meant to proclaim something beyond itself. We see this in Ephesians 5:31-32 where the Apostle Paul writes, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”
So, Paul is teaching the Church that marriage is meant to point to Jesus and His work on the cross. Marriage, then, is but a shadow of the greater relationship between Jesus and His Church. A relationship that will be fully realized and finalized in heaven in the great Wedding of Revelation 19:1-10.
Paul’s instructions in Ephesians 5 are general in that they apply to every married couple ever. Meaning that every marriage between a man and a woman is to be patterned after Jesus’ relationship to His Church.
Marriage is a gospel relationship. Weddings should put that on display.
-And this has great meaning for how we understand and perform our weddings. Weddings speak…They say things to those attending and through the many pictures that accompany modern ceremonies.
For Christians, our responsibility from Scripture is to make sure our weddings are communicating what God says about marriage. It is so easy to make that day about us…after all, we often refer to the wedding as “the Bride’s big day!” But it's not really about the bride, as beautiful as she may be. It's not really about the groom either.
The Bible helps us to see that weddings are about Jesus, His cross, His resurrection, and His promise of a future redemption by faith.
-What story are our weddings telling? Are they telling the story of Jesus, or the story of a lesser romance?
What Should be Included in a Christian Wedding?
-In modern Western culture, weddings are not only an important moment in the lives of two people, they also tend to be large, cultural moments for many. In many ways, couples (brides in particular) are being challenged to have a wedding that lives up to the standard of cultural expectations.
Where does this standard come from? Well, for one thing, it's an ever-changing standard. The goalposts are always moving. Which makes the whole thing impossible and miserable.
Pinterest and social media tend to be the driving forces of wedding celebrations today. “What looks the best?” “What will produce the best pictures?” “What will make the day magical?” “What will other people think?”
These are the sort of questions that are driving modern Western wedding planning.
-But these are foreign ideas to a Christian wedding. Cultural and personal expectations should not drive our discussions and planning.
“What does God want?” “What will be most honoring to Him?l”
These are the primary questions that Christians should be asking when it comes to planning a wedding…
-So, what things should Christians look to include in a biblical wedding ceremony?
Charge/exhortation from Scripture to the couple.
-Other things are either optional/ unnecessary or contradictory.
Things such as the typical dress for weddings: The bride’s dress, the groom’s suit; etc.
-Receptions seem to have precedent in Scripture, such as John 2:1-11. It is good and right for the community to celebrate the newly created family and the God-given gift of marriage.
But again, the reception should be Christ-honoring and should not devolve into worldliness.
What Should Not be Included in a Christian Wedding?
-Put bluntly, anything that detracts from God as the center or violates Scripture. It could be…
Songs that focus on the couple rather than God;
A photographer that treats his/her role as more important than the officiant or the ceremony itself;
Personal vows that detract from the godliness or God-centeredness of marriage;
Revealing or scandalous attire on the wedding party;
A wedding party that stands or acts disrespectfully;
Disrespectful or lewd behavior at the reception;
What About Communion?
It is somewhat popular to see couples observing communion during the wedding ceremony. And while this can seem meaningful, it misunderstands the purpose of communion itself. According to the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:17-33, communion is meant for the gathered body of Christ, and serves the purpose of unifying the body.
Recognizing this, then, it is out of place for a couple to observe Communion individually as part of a wedding ceremony, because to do so fundamentally misunderstands the biblical teaching on Communion.
The Lord’s Table is meant for the gathered body, not as an individual act.
Where Should a Christian Wedding take Place?
-While this has faded in recent days, it is most appropriate for Christians to hold their wedding in their local Church building.
After being a ring-bearer in a number of weddings I’ve officiated over the years, my young son was greatly surprised when a couple opted for a local Church over a barn-like venue. “Dad! People can get married in a church!?”
-To hold a wedding in a venue is not sinful by any means, but it seems to be done primarily for atmosphere, pictures, and memories. A venue tends to be selected according to what the Bride, and less so, the groom desire for their “magical” day. But this is a wrong way for Christians to approach their wedding day.
The physical location of that sacred ceremony most neatly fits within the regular gathering place of the local Church…at the very place where the sacred Word of God is delivered week after week.
It is quite a sacred thing for couples to submit and pledge themselves to the covenant of marriage in the very place where the Church does her ongoing business of Word, Table, and prayer.
-While many Church buildings do not offer the atmosphere and photo opportunities of many wedding venues, it offers the sacred space where the people of God gather to regularly experience the grace of God…and marriage is one of His many graces.
Should Couples Write Their Own vows?
-My own position is: No. Couples should not write their own vows. I hold this position for a few reasons…
First, and primary, marriage is more about God than it is about even the couple getting married. Ultimately, the act of marriage is an act of submission. And by utilizing the sacred vows of Christian marriage that have been used throughout the centuries of the Church, it is another way of submitting ourselves to God’s design.
Second, couples who write their own vows tend to make the vows about themselves rather than about God and His requirements.
Third, many couples get married young and come to regret silly things they said early on.
What is the History and Purpose of the Wedding Ring?
-Interestingly, the wedding ring is not a biblical requirement. The history of the wedding ring dates back to ancient times; specifically, to ancient Egypt where it was a symbol of infinity.
Nowhere does the Bible command wedding rings; and we never see them as part of the recorded biblical ceremonies. That does not mean, however, that rings are bad.
Christians began incorporating rings into marriage ceremonies around the 9th century A.D. as a representation of the lasting commitment of Christian marriage.
In America, it was not common for men to wear a wedding ring until after WW2.
-Today, however, it is appropriate for men and women to wear a wedding ring for a few reasons:
First, it is a cultural symbol of marital commitment. When we see a man or a woman with a ring on their left ring finger, we assume “they’re married.” And for that reason alone it is wise for men and women to physically proclaim their role in a marriage through wearing a ring.
Second, and less important, the infinite nature of a ring is a beautiful reminder of both the human marriage covenant, but more so of the infinite covenant we have through Jesus Christ.
Who/What is the Focus of a Christian Wedding?
-As we have noted several times, the Bible makes clear that marriage is about God and His work to save sinners through Jesus Christ.
Paul tells us (Eph. 5:22-33) that human marriage between 1 man and 1 woman tells the story of Jesus’ perfect life, sacrificial death, triumphant resurrection, and the future hope of heaven!
So, for a wedding to be a “Christian wedding,” and not simply the “wedding of 2 Christians,” it must focus primarily on Jesus Christ.
Jesus is to be the centerpiece of our Christian weddings. Not the bride; not the groom; Christ alone.
What are Bridesmaids and Groomsmen for?
-While most modern wedding parties have both bridesmaids and groomsmen, the tradition itself is loose at best.
In Scripture, we see a few instances that come somewhat close to the modern practice of a bridal party.
In Genesis 29 when Jacob marries Leah.
And in Matthew 25, we see Jesus telling a parable about ten virgins/bridesmaids.
But neither account seems to indicate that these bridesmaids serve the function of modern bridesmaids.
-The practice/tradition of having a wedding party is optional for the Christian. It is not wrong or sinful, but it is also not a biblical requirement. If a couple chooses to have a bridal party with them as part of their wedding ceremony, here is some practical wisdom to consider…
Make sure each member of the wedding party is there to affirm the Christian character and commitment of the Groom and his Bride, and make sure their dress and behavior is honoring to the Lord and appropriate for the sacred religious ceremony at hand.
Does a Christian Pastor have to Officiate?
-Yes. Most States require a licensed or ordained person to solemnize a wedding, which most Elders/Pastors in a Church will have one or both State credentials. A Christian Pastor is specially equipped as a minister of the Word of God to lead the couple and the audience to see the glory of God in the wedding ceremony.
When couples opt for having a friend officiate, it removes the sacred trust that Pastors bear before the Lord, and cheapens the wedding ceremony.
Also, because the office of Pastor/Elder is restricted to qualified men, only men who serve the Church as recognized and appointed Pastor/Elders ought to officiate.
Why are Guests Invited?
-Most couples invite their family and friends to join them for the wedding ceremony and time of celebration that follows. This has become a tradition, and it is a good tradition. John 2 seems to indicate that weddings and receptions were attended by the immediate family of the Bride and Groom, and the local community in which they lived.
Having our families and friends surround us while we take our marriage vows does several things…
It puts the glory of God on display for many;
It gives the Bride and Groom accountability;
The Bible puts emphasis on the power of multiple witnesses;
It deepens the celebration;
Guests also tend to provide gifts that help the new couple get started in life.
-So, whether you have 10 people or 1000 people, the audience is there to witness the act of God joining a man and woman in the sacred union of biblical marriage.
Should Christians Think More Critically about Social/Cultural Norms when it Comes to Weddings?
-Absolutely. When we stop thinking biblically about things, we almost automatically start uncritically accepting cultural practices. And while some cultural practices are not bad, many of them lack meaning, or teach a different meaning than the message of Scripture.
Weddings are one of the most sacred acts Christians can observe. It is the singular human relationship through which God reveals His great act of redemption. We should treat it with respect, humility, and honor, seeing it as an opportunity to worship God through obedience, putting His goodness and glory on full display.
-Here is my pastoral advice for couples when thinking about planning their wedding…
Celebrate what God has done in your lives, and what He is doing.
Listen to the counsel of your Elders/Pastors.
Pattern the wedding in the ancient Christian tradition.
Let the Pastor lead in planning the ceremony.
Sing congregational hymns of the faith.
Read lots of Scripture.
Include lots of prayer.
Include elements that make it your own and personalize it within reason.
Celebrate the good gift of God afterwards with a reception.
Put Jesus on full display.