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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Marriage ceremonies not religious in Bible times: musings

In a recent post, I concluded that marriage ceremonies, in Bible times, were not religious in nature, but were civil, social, and secular. (I also indicated that God is interested, deeply interested, in marriage!)

So what? What might happen if we went back to the way they did things in the Bible? Should we? Let me muse about this matter.

1) One disturbing trend is the number of young people who are living together, having children, but not marrying. I believe that one reason for an increase in such couples is economic. Weddings cost too much. They don't have to, of course, but they often do. So the couple decides to live together without marriage. Years ago, in the church I attend, a couple got married after the morning service. The pastor just said, to the congregation, something like, "You are dismissed. However, if you wish, you can stay for the wedding of X and Y, who will be undergoing their marriage ceremony right after the service." Most of us stayed. Some people were there for the ceremony, who wouldn't have been there otherwise. The pastor performed a simple marriage ceremony, and that was it. No big reception. No invitations. No florist. No photographer. The couple are now grandparents, and are still married. I don't know if they are part of a church now. The last I knew, they were. (My wife and I eloped, also getting married without any of the expensive trappings.)

(However, it seems that marriage ceremonies in Israel were also expensive, or at least often were, perhaps lasting several days, and requiring an abundance of food, and other preparations. See here for an article on marriage ceremonies in Bible times.)

I suggest that church wedding ceremonies should be short and simple. That way, people who want to marry and live together could do so, with the blessing of a church, without burdensome expense for the parents and themselves. Anyone who wants to could have a big party, with catered food, flowers, music, and photographer, but let that be separate from the church ceremony.

2) Consider how little time is spent on the religious part of getting married, compared to all the rest of it, in a "church wedding." The actual ceremony, conducted by a minister, is often considerably shorter than the time the guests have to wait for the family photographs to be taken. Throw in the showers, the rehearsal party, the reception, and other events, and the formal wedding ceremony, itself, becomes insignificant -- a minor appendage on a big event.

3) Churches, or pastors, or parents, often seem to hope that, if an unchurched couple is married in church, they will decide to become part of that church body. Perhaps that happens once in a while. I don't think it happens very often. In some respects, having an explicitly Christian ceremony for non-Christians seems like hypocrisy. On balance, wouldn't it better for churches and pastors to not encourage non-churched couples to get married in church, but rather to discourage it?

C. S. Lewis (who had never been married at the time) said this:
If people do not believe in permanent marriage, it is perhaps better that they should live together unmarried than that they should make vows they do not mean to keep. It is true that by living together without marriage they will be guilty (in Christian eyes) of fornication. But one fault is not mended by adding another: unchastity is not improved by adding perjury.

and this:
A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognise that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not. both quotes from "Christian Marriage," pp. 96-103, in Mere Christianity. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. Orig. published by Macmillan, apparently in 1952) Quotes are from p. 98

Thanks for reading.


Keetha Denise Broyles said...

Deep waters you discuss!

Did you happen to SEE the Badgers beat Ohio State???? It was just spectacular - - - we "badgered" 'em!


FancyHorse said...

I agree with you. Simple weddings, and simple funerals, too, for that matter, are more meaningful. The focus of a Christian wedding should be the uniting of a man and woman in holy matrimony. All the rest is just "extra." I like the one you described in 1).

I really dislike the practice of many churches of charging a high price for members to use the church building for a wedding. I understand that electricity, janitorial services, etc. cost money, but couldn't that be included in the church budget, for members anyway? An "honorarium" for the pastor used to be all that was expected.

Martin LaBar said...

No, Keetha, I didn't see that. I just saw the score.

Thanks, FancyHorse.

As to charging members a high price for use of the facilities, that seems out of line. It seems reasonable to charge for cleaning the church and auxiliary building(s) that are used, or requiring the family to clean them, as church weddings are almost always on Saturday (sometimes late on Saturday) and the church should be presentable for Sunday services, but not for power, etc.


Pastor Jason said...

This reminds me of a post that I did a while back. A little different, but similar issues. Enjoy.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Pastor Jason. (I commented on your post.)

atlibertytosay said...

I personally have always had issues with rings. I do not wear a ring because of it's pagan origins to seal a bond. I've always thought of rings as "dark".

The Bible doesn't mention rings as a bond either.

I think one problem is also with the modern church.

Pastors make boatloads of money performing weddings and funerals these days. They love "religious weddings" and promote them selfishly in my opinion.

I certainly think a pastor should be paid - they are human and need to live and often support a family. But I also consider them like teachers - are they there to make money for making money sake or their for the public service (or spiritual service)?

chris said...

There is no Biblical requirement of ceremonial religious wedding. so its juts tradition and waste of time and money, and a lot of stress for everybody.....

respect the civil, state rules of the territory you live and you are fine.. Church has no specific direction for marriage in new testament covenant

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, chris. That's the way I see it.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, atlibertytosay. For some reason, this is taking me months to comment on. Sorry.

I have no idea how much pastors get for performing wedding ceremonies. No doubt some don't get enough, and some probably get too much.

Symbols are what we make of them, I guess. I wear a wedding band to remind me, and anyone else, that I have made a commitment to my wife.