What is a Christian Wedding?
The key to making our wedding ceremonies truly Christian is to emphasize the teaching of the apostle Paul found in Ephesians 5:22-33. There Paul speaks of the union of husband and wife which is based on the union of Christ and the church. From that emphasis of Scripture, the relationship of husband to wife and wife to husband can be explained and understood. And the way our weddings ought to be celebrated will also be understood.
The form that is used in a wedding is crucial in establishing this Christian emphasis. Many young people today like to write their own forms, and I suppose there is nothing objectionable about that. However, those forms ought to emphasize the things that our present forms do, namely the essential spiritual symbolism of the Christian wedding that we are witnessing. The form that is found in the supplement of our Psalter Hymnal speaks of the symbolism of a wedding, the union of Christ and His church. Everything in a wedding should center around that symbolism.
The vows that are spoken to each other should also be based on that central emphasis. When Paul tells the husband to love his wife, it is because Christ loved the church. And when he says that the wife should submit to her husband, it is because the church is subject to Christ. These things should be reflected in the promises that are made at a wedding. For clearly a wedding is to reflect the most important relationship that exists among us, and that is the relation of Christ to His people. That relationship is most clearly expressed in the union of husband and wife.
When this emphasis is found in our Christian weddings, then young couples do not have to go to great extravagances in their weddings. It is not necessary to spend money we cannot afford for too many pictures, flowers, attendants, and expensive receptions if our purpose is to reflect the Lord's love for His church. Nor is it necessary to borrow the music of the world for our weddings if we are to reflect this spiritual emphasis. Certainly the practice which is becoming increasingly popular even among Christian people of drinking and dancing at our wedding receptions has no place when the emphasis of Christ and His church is central. There is a trend of secularism creeping into the celebration of marriages in the Christian Reformed Church which denies the central meaning of marriage. This secularism is seen in the effort to do everything like the world, and to "baptize" the wedding with a Christian form and a prayer by the minister. This is certainly not what the apostle Paul was talking about when he spoke of Christ's love for the church being the basis for the husband's love for his wife.
The implication of the apostle's teaching in Ephesians 5 is certainly that the husband and wife are Christians. This hardly needs to be said, and yet it is surprising how often a Christian man or woman plans to marry one who is not a Christian and expects the minister to legalize the marriage. How can a minister perform such a wedding? How, indeed, when the entire Scripture emphasizes marriage as properly resembling the union of Christ and His church? This resemblance is clearly lost when either the man or the woman is not a Christian. To officiate at such a wedding using a form which is based on and emphasizes the spiritual significance of marriage is surely wrong.
This is also plainly forbidden by the Church Order of the Christian Reformed Church. It is interesting that the Church Order speaks a great deal more about weddings and marriages than about funerals. The Church Order simply says that funerals are not ecclesiastical, but family affairs, and should be conducted accordingly. But when the Church Order speaks about weddings in Article 69, it says,
Consistories shall instruct and admonish those under their spiritual care to marry only in the Lord. Christian marriages should be solemnized with appropriate admonitions, promises, and prayers, as provided for in the official form. Marriages may be solemnized either in a worship service, or in private gatherings of relatives and friends. Ministers shall not solemnize marriages which would be in conflict with the Word of God.
There is, I think, a very real danger of accommodation to secularism in the idea which some ministers have that they are servants of the state, and that, as such, it is their duty to perform weddings even when their consciences tell them that the weddings are not according to the Word of God. These ministers persuade themselves that performing such a ceremony is proper because, as servants of the state, they are under a certain obligation of legalizing marriage. They also believe that even if the marriage is not really a Christian marriage, the presence of a Christian minister, the reading of a Christian form, and the use of prayer will certainly not hurt, and may well help this couple. But this is nothing but accommodation to secularism. It is a failure to see that ministers of the Word are servants of the Word of God and of the God of that Word. It also fails to see that unless the wedding joins two Christians, it cannot possibly symbolize the union of the church and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our weddings should seek to be Christian in the fullest sense of that word. They should be the kind of wedding that is pictured in John 2 where we read, "And Jesus ... had also been invited to the wedding." With a concern for every part of the wedding ceremony to be truly based on Scripture, we will celebrate in our weddings the symbolism of Christ's relationship to the church He loved.