What exactly is a wedding? These days many people think of a wedding as a ceremony where a man and a woman publicly announce their love for one another. Most often they verbalize their commitment to each other by making promises or exchanging vows. But I wonder; does anyone really understand what a wedding is all about anymore.
In a traditional Church wedding, the minister asks the man and the woman if they are willing to “live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony” to love, comfort, honor and keep each other in sickness and in health. The Bride and Groom are asked to vow to forsake all others and to “keep thee only unto him (or her), as long as ye both shall live.”
The man and woman then vow to one another to “have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance.”
Finally the man, while placing the ring upon the finger of his bride says, “with this ring I thee wed: in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
The Standard Civil Ceremony is similar except that the bride and groom make statements for themselves often saying something like; “I take you to be my lawfully wedded wife (or husband). Before these witnesses I vow to love you and care for you as long as we both shall live. I take you, with all of your faults and strengths, as I offer myself to you with my faults and strengths. I will help you when you need help, and will turn to you when I need help. I choose you as the person with whom I will spend my life.”
In either case binding vows are made before witnesses with the expectation that the promises will be kept. There is even a hint toward self malediction as the sealing oath. In other words, the vows are sealed with an oath not unlike a child’s promise to “cross my heart and hope to die” if either party breaks their word. In our culture we don’t think of marriage vows as self maledictory – placing oneself under a curse for breaking a vow. Nevertheless, the roots of the marriage vow reach deep into the past and find their origin in the oaths exchanged by covenanting parties in the ancient near east. This is why the Bible tells us that the joining of a man and a woman in marriage is metaphor for the union of Christ and His Bride, the Church. God made a self maledictory vow on behalf of Abraham and his seed when he made covenant with the patriarch. Centuries later the oath was fulfilled when Jesus stood in Abraham’s place (and ours), and paid for the sins of the world on Calvary.
Now, does it make a difference whether a man and woman are married in a church or in a civil ceremony? Absolutely. When a couple is married in a Church or by a minister, they are agreeing to be under the spiritual care of the minister who performs the wedding or another pastor in the place they will live. In other words, if a bride and groom have no intention of submitting to the authority of the Church, then they should not expect a minister of the Gospel to perform their wedding. They have no choice but to submit to the authority of the civil government (the entity which issues the license and enacts laws concerning marriage and divorcee), so they are better off sticking with the civil ceremony.