Columnists > Judgment Calls

Goin' to the chapel

But the weddings there have changed dramatically

Issue: "Schundler's bliss," July 7, 2001

with Tim Bayly-In a recent column, Miss Manners took pastors to task for their refusal to stand on principle at modern weddings. "There's nothing we can do," they wail when admitting that some of the arrangements strike them as being undignified, if not sacrilegious. "That's what people want nowadays." Weddings have changed dramatically in recent years. In the 1940s, weddings were generally simple and dignified. Bridal parties were small, expenses were minimal, and receptions took place in the church or at home. The liturgy of most Protestant ceremonies was largely unchanged from that of Thomas Cranmer's 1549 Anglican Prayer Book: "Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the presence of these witnesses ..." Although weddings have undergone many changes over the past 50 years, none has been more serious than changes made to the ceremony itself. Novelties have been introduced: the unity candle, romantic declarations from bride to groom (and vice versa), secular songs, and brides given away by two fathers, both of whom say, "Her mother and I do." Worse than the additions Protestant pastors have accepted, however, are the subtractions they have allowed. The Bannes: For centuries the first step in Protestant and Roman Catholic weddings was the "reading of the bannes." Vestiges of the bannes can be seen in ceremonies which ask, "Therefore if any man can show just cause why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him speak now or forever hold his peace." Bannes were read in the home parishes of the bride and groom for several weeks prior to the ceremony as a public proclamation of their intent to marry, giving opportunity to anyone aware of an obstacle to the proposed union to object. Today not only have bannes been dispensed with, but most Protestant ceremonies no longer contain even this rudimentary caution. Why? Pastors don't relish the bannes because of the nightmare of dealing with issues such as fornication, divorce, promises of committed love made to extract physical favors, among other problems. Three Purposes of Marriage: A second notable deletion from the classic wedding ceremony is the failure of Protestant pastors to declare the purposes of marriage. Historically, Protestants have recognized marriage's three biblical purposes : (1) mutual encouragement; (2) a legitimate sexual outlet; and (3) the bearing of children. But today this third purpose is largely viewed as a Roman Catholic concern and pastors have removed the recitation of these purposes from the liturgy. Why? It seems impossible to ignore the acceptance of sex as primarily a recreational activity within marriage and the increase in use of birth control over the decades in which these words disappeared. Sadly, only Roman Catholics consistently speak today of the importance of keeping together the unitive and procreative functions of sex in a Christian view of marriage. Exchange of Vows: The vows are the heart of the wedding service and here, if nowhere else, it's imperative that bride and groom have a sense that they are not engaging in a romantic act of personal creativity, but submitting to the eternal Word and walking in lockstep with their fathers and mothers in faith. For several decades it has been popular for couples to write their own vows. Such efforts pale in comparison to the traditional ceremony. Their sentiments are woefully inadequate to keep the home fires burning through years of living with an alcoholic husband or a wife who has Alzheimer's. At such times, the meaning of the words "for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health ... till death us do part" become clear and nothing else will do. But perhaps the most egregious, if least obvious, alteration of the traditional vows in today's typical wedding is the failure of the bride to promise the one thing that, more than any other, Scripture requires of her in her relationship to her husband, namely, that she "love, honor and obey [submit to]" him. When pastors fail to discuss the obligations of husbands and wives, it's no wonder that confusion reigns. Miss Manners is right: Some things a pastor must not do no matter how great the pressure. The wedding ceremony does not belong to the bride or groom, nor is it the pastor's to trifle with. In its broad strokes, it belongs to the ages. Wedding ceremonies today need to be reformed backwards toward the Bible-based model that served well for centuries, with the goal that every part of the service aim at honoring and pleasing God-not man, or more likely, the mother of the bride.

We see you’ve been enjoying the content on our exclusive member website. Ready to get unlimited access to all of WORLD’s member content?
Get your risk-free, 30-Day FREE Trial Membership right now.
(Don’t worry. It only takes a sec—and you don’t have to give us payment information right now.)

Get your risk-free, 30-Day FREE Trial Membership right now.


You must be a WORLD member to post comments.

    Keep Reading


    Life with Lyme

    For long-term Lyme patients, treatment is a matter of…