Editor’s Note: We thought it would be fitting and needful to re-post Pastor Warner’s blog on Putting The "Christian" Back Into Christian Weddings.
I’ve been meaning to post this for quite a while but I’ve been delayed. I figured that this was the best time before it goes “viral.” In the world of technology that refers to a video that has massive circulation and viewership. In our fellowship it’s much less dramatic! It means that it makes it into the Prescott Conference pastor’s packet for distribution and usage around the world. Some of these thoughts were originally preached in a sermon I called “The Wedding Planner” in January of 2008. It was taken from the text in (Rev.19:6-9) which describes the ultimate wedding: the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, Jesus forever united with His bride, the Church!
It seems that not everyone loves a wedding! In fact, one of the things that triggered my thinking was an article inLeadership Journal written by a denominational pastor entitled “How I Stopped Dreading Weddings.” The title alone got my attention and piqued my interest. Here are some of his opening remarks:
“I hate weddings. There, I’ve said it. It feels good. Say it with me. ‘I hate weddings!’ See? You feel better, too, don’t you? Funerals? I love them. At funerals people are shell-shocked by the ultimate realities of life, death, grief, and God. You can do ministry at funerals. At weddings, though, goofy groomsmen in ill-fitting tuxedos try to outdo one another in sophomoric hijinks. The bride, a bundle of nerves, sweats off her make-up and frets about her gown, which is always a size-and-a-half too small. The mother of the bride ricochets like a pinball from one emotional extreme to another, now collapsing in tears, now barking out orders as if possessed by the spirit of a Marine Corps drill sergeant. I feel the most sympathy for bridesmaids, usually forced to wear dresses that highlight their worst features. And the groom? At most weddings he’s an afterthought, just one more prop on the stage, like the unity candle. Except everyone hopes he won’t get lit before the benediction. Do I sound cynical? Maybe it’s because I’ve had some bad wedding experiences.”
Hhmm. Some pretty strong feelings, and not just because he had become a cynical, non-romantic pastor. Another couple writing about Christianity and culture made this potent observation:
“But there is very little Christian reflection on our current preoccupation with weddings, the forms they take or even the money spent on them. Consequently, weddings involving Christians may have a certain spirit or content which other weddings lack, but in most other respects they do not seem to be very different from other weddings. Here, as in so many other areas of life, we take our cues as much if not more from the culture around us than from basic Christian principles.”(Robert and Julie Banks)
Every church, like every family, has their ways of doing things, but one of the distinctives of our church’s ministry for over 35 years has been our weddings! Generally, we will marry people during a public worship service. This has been a great blessing, a strong statement to God’s plan for marriage, and a positive and powerful testimony to unbelievers. Like many other things though, there are people who either don’t fully understand why, and others who don’t fully appreciate what is accomplished in a Christian wedding ceremony, in a Jesus wedding! There are some core principles at work here. It reminds me of the statement, “Methods are many, principles are few. Methods always change, principles never do.” Let me give you a few of these principles that help to put the “Christian” back into Christian weddings.
Ceremony vs. Covenant
Can we be honest here? We can easily get off track. This is especially the case when the wedding day and the ceremonybecomes the focus. The Banks’ couple who made the earlier statement also said, “Sometimes planing for a wedding takes up so much time and energy that couples put their relationship on hold while they go into business mode or, worse, find this puts pressure on their relationship and causes serious tensions between them. It is said when couples miss out on the benefits and pleasures of their engagement because organizing the wedding takes up most of their time and energy.” Let me translate that for you: ceremony takes on greater importance than covenant! This is amplified when people give in to the temptation of perfectionism. While it is important that the wedding day go well, perfectionism is the tendency to want every single aspect, every single item, and every single person to be “just so” without any blemish. Working toward this can be an anxiety-producing and fatiguing, and definitely not a Christ-focused approach. While we want to talk aboutceremony, God (the ultimate Wedding Planner) wants to talk to us about covenant! This is where He wants us to put the focus. A covenant is a solemn and binding agreement between two people. Keith Intrader said, “The covenant itself is actually a set of words that are spoken to define the nature of that relationship and set forth the principles of commitment to it. A covenant can be seen as an oath that seals the relationship between the two people.” God reminded the people through the prophet Malachi, “It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.” (Mal.2:14) Trust me, as someone who’s been married for 37 years, decades from now you will not care about the color of the dresses, the music, the flowers or the food. What will matter the most is the covenant. Is it still in force? Is it still being honored by you and your spouse?
Celebrity vs. Community
While marriage is an affair of the heart, the broader picture is that it is also a social and community affair. Just because something is personal is not the same thing as being private. Family, friends, the Church, the community, and even the country has a vested interest in the success of marriage. Abraham Lincoln said, “The strength of a nation lies in the homes of its people.” That’s why a wedding as part of a worship gathering is seeking to communicate this truth. While it is definitely the bride and groom’s day (both, not just “this is the bride’s day” and the groom is an afterthought) worship takes the focus off of them exclusively and puts it on God, making Jesus central!
Culture vs. Character
Sadly, much of our generation has forgotten that character counts! You may fall in love with a personality, but you will be marrying a character! The command of (Heb.13:4) “marriage should be honored by all” is done so by making a commitment to godly character. God’s standards have not changed done through the ages. It is still purity before marriage and fidelity within marriage. Any deviation from this or violation of this will stain and strain God’s wonderful institution. There are still practical ways that a wedding ceremony can help emphasize the priority of character. One involves costconsideration and putting the emphasis on good stewardship. While everyone wants a beautiful and memorable wedding, in North America it is not uncommon for people to spend $20,000 or more for a wedding and all the festivities before and after. I’m not advocating taking a miserly approach or doing things on the cheap. I am talking about doing things within your budget and not entering into married life with the increased burden of huge debt. Another good way to emphasize Christian character is by modeling the virtue of modesty. I know that this is going to sound old-fashioned because modesty seems to be a word that our generation, and even people within the church, do not seem to understand. The denominational pastor I quoted at the beginning also said, “I’m a preacher. I write and deliver sermons. I bless babies and bury the dead. I counsel the confused, comfort the bereaved, confront the complacent, baptize the lost, and pray. I hate being a religious decoration at the narcissistic cleavage conventions we call weddings.” Modesty is not prudery but theguardian of God’s precious gift of sexuality. Modesty treats it like a precious gem rather than like common gravel.
It was no accident that Jesus’s ministry began and was launched at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. That tells me a number of important things. First, is God’s priority is on, and His delight is in marriage! No matter what comes out of the insane debate today over the definition of marriage or the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. God’s Word is still the “last word” on the subject. This also tells me that Christ is able to work in and change marriages even when the “win has run out.” My point in all of this is that marriage and ministry go together! We recently renewed the wedding vows for Steve and Shirley Anderson on their 25th anniversary. His words stand out in my mind about our motivation not just in a wedding ceremony, but in all of life. He said, “I just want Jesus to look good!” Yes, and Amen to that! We wish nothing less than God’s highest glory, your highest good, and His highest blessing on you and your spouse!