Sunday, 7 December 2014

Marriage: Rethinking What Makes it "Christian"

“Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her …” (Genesis 24:67; NIV).

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about marriage, and specifically the question as to what constitutes marriage in God’s eyes. For the purpose of this musing, I’m not interested in the current popular discussion about whether or not the homosexual community should or shouldn’t be allowed to get married, nor am I interested in society’s definition of marriage at all, but rather only about God’s view of marriage for His children.

Having said that, and for the purpose of this post, I’m defining “His children” as true Christians – born again, filled with the Spirit, Bible believing – as opposed to those who might identify themselves as such simply based upon their lineage or denominational upbringing, without having any real relationship with Jesus Christ.

If you would call yourself a true child of God, a Christian as described above, then what does it take to be considered “married” before God? Assuming there is such a thing as a “Christian wedding,” what is it? Is it getting married in a church building as opposed to in a courthouse or a park? Is it having a pastor (priest, reverend, minister, etc.) presiding over some special ceremony in such a church building as opposed to a justice of the peace or some other provincial/state sanctioned person saying a few words and making the declaration that these two people are now married?

And what about the term “Holy Wedlock?”

The word “Holy” suggests that it’s a God-thing for sure, and there is a “lock” in wedlock suggesting a permanency to the union, but again, how do we get to that part? Oh, I know how we get there in our modern society; I’ve been to enough weddings. But do those ways of getting there truly make “Holy Wedlock,” or are we still missing something here?

At the risk of digressing too far, many years ago while I was still a pastor, I remember thinking of how I would rather officiate a funeral than a wedding any day. No, I didn’t preach that from the pulpit. However, the few select individuals I did mention it to, often had that “deer in the headlights” blank stare, thinking such a thing as rather odd. After all, funerals are often seen as depressing and sad, whereas weddings are happy times. But as an evangelical pastor, I saw more opportunity for pastoral care and to present the important things in life - such as the Gospel, our mortality, and eternity – at funerals than I did at weddings. Do people really pay attention to the words the pastor says at a wedding, or are they just looking at the beautiful bride and thinking ahead to the party that’s about follow?  At a funeral, however, we are all forced to deal with the question of death and the possibility of life afterwards. That question never comes up at a wedding. But back to the original musing:

What does it mean to be married in the eyes of God?

First of all it means being yoked to someone of like Christian faith. Paul said, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14; NIV). Many have understood that to mean that a Christian should never marry a non-Christian, because in the important things in life, there simply is no common denominator.

I remember getting myself in hot water one time when I refused to marry a couple in the church I was pastoring. The bride’s parents were active members of the church, but she lived in another community and simply wanted to get married in her “home church,” a term that I understand less and less as time goes on. And though she claimed to be a Christian, and certainly grew up in a Christian home, she was marrying a divorced man who was clearly a non-Christian. They were not yoked together in a common Christian faith, and though the wedding still happened, because of my own convictions at the time, I refused to officiate it. Needless to say, it didn’t make me very popular with the family.

Likewise I used to cringe when people would come to the church office and ask to “book the church” for their wedding and ask me to officiate it. I wondered why they, non-Christians, wanted to be married in a church building. After all, if you clearly don’t believe in God, then why choose the place where people who do believe in Him hang out as the place to get married? Why not just go to the courthouse, or some little Las Vegas chapel where they don’t care what you believe? Or do they think that by getting married in a church building that they suddenly are having a “Christian” wedding? Does standing in front of a pastor as you exchange vows make the whole thing somehow more Christian and legitimate? On more than one occasion I’ve mused about the hypocrisy of it all.

Sometimes I think we kid ourselves. The only thing that makes a wedding “Christian” is when two genuine Christians choose to get married to each other. It has nothing to do with where the event happens, and I’m beginning to think, nor does it have anything to do with who leads or officiates it. Having said that, and at the risk of further toying with a possible sacred cow, do we really even need a pastor at a genuine Christian wedding at all? Sure, the state/province requires certain approved individuals there for legality’s sake, but again, that has nothing to do with whether or not we’re married before God. In fact, I am hard pressed to find any biblical reference to a pastor (priest, reverend, minister, etc.) involved in the wedding ceremony, but I do find mention that “God has joined together, let man not separate” (Mark 10:9); the Officiator is God, not man. This begs another question:

Does God Require Man’s Pomp and Ceremony?

Could it be enough for a genuine Christian man and a genuine Christian woman who love each other and who want to spend the rest of their lives together to simply make the decision, perhaps announce their intentions to a couple Christian friends as witnesses and to pray over them, and then simply move in together? Then, having consummated that relationship, are they not, based upon their faith, already married before God? Is that perhaps not a better definition of “Holy Wedlock?” Is that not a “Christian Wedding” in the truest sense of the term? Does man’s officiating it in a solemn ceremony make it any more so? Does the reciting of man-made vows trump the two hearts, already joined together in the Holy Spirit?

Let’s take this one step further. Is this too not a part of our being called “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a people belonging to God, that you may declare … “ (1 Peter 2:9); that you and I, average and ordinary Christians, have just as much authority in the eyes of God (if not more so based upon our relationships) to declare someone married as the pastor or judge? The power may not be vested in us by the state to do so, but as a child of God and joint heir with Jesus Christ (Romans 8:17), could it not be said that all genuine Christians already have all the authority they need to bind or to loose (Matthew 16:19), including praying for and declaring a couple married before God?

I remember one wedding I went to several years ago where a non-clergy friend of mine performed such a small ceremony. There was no pastor or priest, and to make it legal in the eyes of the province, the couple still had to visit a justice of the peace afterwards, but by then the real “Christian wedding” had already happened. When I asked the bride afterwards why she chose our mutual friend to “officiate,” she told me it was because he was the most godly man she knew. What I found interesting (and sad at the same time) was that none of the local pastors even made her list, but that’s a topic for another time.

The Ironic Dichotomy

In a day and age when it is said that there are now more so-called Christian marriages ending in divorce than non-Christian marriages, it makes me wonder. Could it really be possible that we Christians, who preach love and forgiveness, ironically have yet to learn how to truly love and forgive one another? So much for those marriage vows, and so much for the pomp and ceremony in which we uttered them.

In a day and age when even cohabitating people, if they break up, are considered married by the courts and are given the same rights with regards to property and wealth distribution as married couples are, it all makes me wonder. It also begs another couple questions: What is marriage really? Where is God in those marriages?

Have we perhaps turned our so-called Christian weddings into simply another religious event? Given the distain many have for being religious, and based upon the previous statistic, have we perhaps in some ways ironically become even more worldly than the non-believing world around us? Ouch! And if so, it also begs the question: Why do we bother with the whole pomp and ceremony at all?

Am I still missing something here? Something to think about. Peace.

May God bless, protect and preserve our marriages.

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother 
and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
(Genesis 2:24)

1 comment:

  1. the challenge to be backing away from institutionalism, so that we might recover what was never truly lost?