The ritual of a Christian wed ding ceremony in most cases includes this significant statement: "By the authority committed unto me as a minister of the church of Christ, I declare that [names] are now husband and wife, according to the ordinance of God and the law of the state; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
This pastoral pronouncement seems to blend the twin notions of legal and religious authority in establishing the status of marriage. But the Bible nowhere insists on a religious ceremony to legitimize a wedding service; nor does it prohibit marriage by civil law. A justice of the peace or one endowed with similar legal authority can conduct a wedding with out any church service. However, it has been a historic tradition and a recommended practice of the church that Christian couples getting married have a church wedding.
Why a church wedding? Consider these seven reasons.
1. Marriage is an act of God.
A religious ceremony acknowledges that marriage is an act of God. Legally it could be done at the court house; the couple could pick up their license, go down the corridor, and ratify the marriage before an official of the law. But for Christians, that would leave out the most essential part. A miracle takes place in a Christian marriage. Each person is transformed into a different sort of creature. Before marriage they belonged to the families to which they were born; after it they belong to each other. At marriage a new family is created, a new home is established on earth. All this is not human doing but God's.
Marriage is a divine order of Creation. At their marriage a man and woman enter into what was given at Creation. The bride and groom need to recognize that they are entering into something that will always be alien to the life around them. If they cannot recognize this uniqueness of Christian marriage, they might as well get married at the courthouse.
2. Marriage is religiously established.
A religious ceremony reminds the bride and the groom that the greatest responsibility taken on in marriage is religious. A marriage partner who is spiritually a poor provider has failed in the most important obligation. It is awesome to think that those who marry are the keepers of each other's souls. This responsibility looks clear beyond this world. Augustine set as the final purpose of marriage "that the one may bring the other with him [or her] to heaven."
A secular marriage has a legal or sociological rationale, but a religious marriage has religion as its constituting element. Without religious attitudes and practices it has lost the foundation on which it was created.
3. Marriage inaugurates a Christian home.
A marriage ceremony formalized in a church setting is a witness of what Jesus Christ can do for life. A Christian marriage is not a contract be tween a man and a woman, but a covenant between three. The third partner is Christ, and when He is given no room in a marriage, there can be no assurance for a happy Christian home.
4. Marriage is a sacred covenant, not a civil contract.
A religious ceremony is a statement against the trend toward the secularization of marriage. Secularization of marriage, according to Samuele Bacchiocchi, holds "that marriage is a temporary social contract governed by civil laws, rather than a permanent and sacred covenant, witnessed and guaranteed by God Himself." Instead of promising to each other faithfulness "till death do us part," a couple pledge to remain together "as long as we both shall love."1
The diminution of marriage from a sacred covenant to a civil contract can be traced back to the French Revolution. Among the laws passed at that time, as Ellen White explains, "was that which reduced the union of marriage—the most sacred engagement which human beings can form and the permanence of which leads most strongly to the consolidation of society—to the state of a mere civil contract of a transitory character, which any two persons might engage in and cast loose at pleasure." 2
A religious ceremony affirms that marriage cannot be so loosely considered. It places upon the union of a man and a woman the sacredness and permanence of a covenant. It also conveys a divine warning to all who might try to come between the two. "What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate" (Matt. 19:6, NASB).
5. Marriage bonds the partners to the church.
A religious ceremony also affirms the church's role in the lives of the bride and groom. Church is not what is important; God is. And God has placed the church on earth to bring people nearer to Him. It may be too readily assumed that a "church connection" makes a home religious. Church membership is not a connection; it's a way of life. Those who accept this way of life may be getting what their homes need most of all. The very act of going together to a church and sitting side by side in worship can unite a married couple with something rapt and wonderful. If they have come with some sense of tension, the benediction may find them feeling far more tender toward each other.
The opportunity for service in the church can let a husband and wife come together in a tremendously satisfying hobby. There they can make the sort of friends that will be a blessing to their marriage. In small groups or classes they may share discussions of Christian issues. They may together catch that special glow that kindles from one heart to another when friends pray. At baptisms, marriages, and funerals a church has its homes within its keeping.
6. A religious marriage provides spiritual roots for children.
"As they become parents, a sacred trust is committed to them. Upon them depends in great measure the well-being of their children in this world, and their happiness in the world to come." 3 Children whose parents are not religiously united are less likely to have strong spiritual roots. As a child is dedicated, parents are urged to be the evangelists for that child. The Christian religion uses family relationships to express spiritual truth. Think of how many of our Christian concepts depend on what we have learned in families: God is our Father, we are His children; Christians are brothers and sisters; God's comfort is like that of a mother; new life in Christ requires nurture as newborn babes do; God loves His people as a husband loves his wife; the church is the bride of Christ.
A home not founded on religious roots deprives its children of a great spiritual nurture and heritage.
7. A religious marriage is a testimony to faith in God.
A religious ceremony gives the bride and the groom the sure ground of faith in God, which in turn helps them develop faith in each other. They can face the future full of hope because they know what will bring their marriage its daily comforts and ultimate success. Side by side they can start down through the years, held to each other by a love whose source is in the heart of God.
"Men and women can reach God's ideal for them if they will take Christ as their helper. What human wisdom cannot do, His grace will accomplish for those who give themselves to Him in loving trust. His providence can unite hearts in bonds that are of heavenly origin. Love will not be a mere exchange of soft and flattering words. The loom of heaven weaves with warp and woof finer, yet more firm, than can be woven by the looms of earth. The result is not a tissue fabric, but a texture that will bear wear and test and trial. Heart will be bound to heart in the golden bonds of a love that is enduring." 4
1. "Christian Marriage: Social Contract or Sacred Covenant?" in Adventist Affirm, Spring 1988, p. 6.
2. Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 270.
3. ____, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1942), p. 357.
4. Ibid., p. 362.