In all fairness, the expression "church weddings" is used in three senses: Church weddings in the sense of a church sacrament; a wedding conducted in a church building, and a combination of the first two with attendant variable nuances. In actuality, it is often difficult to determine what is meant in a specific case by "church weddings," because so many who use the expression are not themselves certain as to exactly what the expression means or entails. It should also be pointed out that a study of church weddings is important in view of the command to possess Bible authority for all that we believe, teach, and practice (I Thes. 5: 21, I Pet. 4: 11). If a religious practice is biblically flawed or lacking scriptural endorsement, it must be abandoned.
It extreme cases, there is the position that two people are not really spiritually bound in marriage unless they have had a church wedding. "Yes, I committed adultery, but we were never really married," I have been told. Upon further questioning, I have learned that because they were married before a justice of the peace and not a priest or minister in a church building, they believed they had never really been married in God's sight. Members of the church of Christ are sometime heard saying, "I want my daughter to have a church wedding." As already indicated, many have not given serious thought to church weddings.
Marriage and the wedding viewed as a sacrament of the church. The concept of church sacrament involves the notion that the act is especially endowed and empowered because of the involvement of the church. This tenet is a result of Catholic teaching. Catholicism typically uses I Corinthians 7: 14 to advance the belief that marriage is peculiarly holy when experienced in the climate of the church. Moreover, some say, "marriage is only recognized when it exists in the atmosphere of the church." Consider some official writings of the Catholic Church:
"Those who attempt to contract matrimony otherwise than in the presence of the parish priest or of another priest with the leave of the parish priest or the ordinary, and before two or three witnesses, the Holy Synod (Council of Trent) renders altogether incapable of such a contract, and declares such contracts null and void" (Council of Trent, as reported by the Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, 1). "But impious laws taking no account of the sacredness of this great sacrament (marriage, dm), placed it on the same level as all merely civil contracts; and the deplorable result has been that citizens, desecrating the holy dignity of marriage, have lived in legal concubinage instead of Christian matrimony" (Life of Leo XIII, pg. 332).
There is no doubt that Paul is setting forth the fact in I Corinthians 7, verse fourteen that the believer contributes holiness (spiritual influence and views) to the marriage (see the context, vs. 13-16). However, Paul had already shown that even two pagans who were in the marriage relationship were recognized by God as maritally bound (I Cor. 6: 9-11). If not, then how could they, while pagans, have committed adultery (I Cor. 6: 9)?
It must be understood that marriage predates the New Testament and Jesus' church. God instituted marriage in Geneses chapter two (vs. 21-25). Jesus only re-instituted the original marriage law (Matt. 19: 4-9). This marriage law was given to Adam and all his posterity. Two eligible people who have the intent to be married, declared such intent, and comply with all applicable civil law are married (bound), both civilly and spiritually. It matters not (as to the marriage bond), whether or not a minister or justice of the peace performs the ceremony or if the couple is married in a church building or in a secular facility (cp. Mal. 2: 14).
The issue of weddings in the church building. There are different views relative to the appropriateness of weddings conducted in the church building. There are essentially three stances: (1). Some believe weddings in the church building are purely incidental to the preaching of the gospel, (2). Some believe weddings are involved in the work of the local church, (3). And others contend that weddings are a function of the family and should not be viewed as a work of the local church ("church weddings" conducted in the church building, etc.).
As to the belief that weddings are the work of the church (view two), there is absolutely no biblical authority (such a belief looks to the sacrament of the church doctrine as taught by Catholicism). God has enjoined the local church to preach to the lost and edify the saved (I Tim. 3: 15; Eph. 4: 16, benevolence for needy saints was practiced out of the treasury when there was a need, I Cor. 16: 1, 2).
"Are you saying marriage is not ordained of God?" some ask when it is pointed out that the work of the local church is not that of performing weddings. Government is also "ordained of God," however, politics and political meetings, rallies, and gatherings are not the work of the local church (Rom. 13: 1-7, cp. Heb. 13: 4). Such activities should not, therefore, involve the use of the church building, a building that has been paid for out of the treasury and to only be used for the work God intended.
A number in churches of Christ insist that people do not gather for a wedding at the church building, but they assemble to hear the gospel, the wedding is purely incidental (view number one). They thus reason because they know Christians must have authority for all that they believe and practice. Relative to this rationale, please consider the following:
The beginning and the progression of the involvement of the local church in a wedding is seen in the subsequent typical protocol. "Our daughter just got engaged and they have set the wedding date. We have so much to do, we must obtain the permission of the local church to use the church building for the wedding and contact minister Jones to officiate during the wedding ceremony." The parents meet with the elders and say something to the effect: "May we use the church building on Saturday, June 5, for the wedding of our daughter?" As the time approaches, they send out wedding invitations that read: "You are invited to attend the marriage of and , June 5 to be conducted at the building of the Southside church of Christ ." People receive these invitations and they make plans to attend the wedding. When June 5 arrives, they all assemble at the church building, the bride and groom to be, all the parents, those officiating in the wedding, including the preacher and those invited (some churches also make a general public announcement in which they invited all the members to be present for the wedding).
The assembly in the church building June 5 has a different configuration than the assembly that normally assemblies for worship. The preacher and certain others are standing in front of the auditorium, facing the audience. As a norm, the bride marches down the isle with her father and they stop at an imaginary line. "Who gives this bride in marriage," asks the preacher. The bride then moves forward to stand by her husband to be, taking his hand. The preacher then usually opens by saying, "We are gather together here to join in holy matrimony." He then proceeds to present a short sermon on marriage. The two then exchange marital vows. The preacher then asks, "do you wish to seal these vows by the giving and receiving of rings?" A ring ceremony with additional vows follows. "I now pronounce you husband and wife," says the preacher, and, "you may kiss the bride." The preacher often closes by saying to the assembly, "I now present to you Mr. and Mrs. John and Jane Doe."
Concerned reader, I have included the foregoing to present to you the anatomy of a "church wedding," from beginning to end. The wedding is planned and deliberate, it is advertised as a church wedding, conducted as a wedding, and the people generally come for a wedding. Yet, we are told that the wedding is simply incidental to the preaching of the gospel, the work of the church that justifies and involves the church building (Heb. 10: 24, 25). Such an argument based on incidentals is a challenge for the most elastic and imaginary of minds!
One should not be opposed to a church preaching on marriage and the home in reference or preparatory to a wedding. Here is a scriptural alternative to the church wedding: The church announces, "We are going to have a sermon June 5 here at the building, along with congregational singing, and prayer, pertaining to marriage and the home. You are invited to attend." The wedding (work of the family) can immediately follow this worship period at a location, which will also provide the wedding reception. Such an arrangement clearly distinguishes between the work of the church and responsibility of the family.
Allowing weddings to be conducted in the church building is a precursor to a myriad of practices such as basketball counts, pool tables, and family life centers. I realize that there is a difference in the nature of a wedding and the aforementioned fun and frolic activities. However, allowing church weddings, for which there is no Bible authority, sets the stage for the allowance of other practices, for which there is no Bible authority. The wedding that is held at another location other than the church building can also be punctuated with scripture and be conducted by the minister. Hence, all the desires of all involved should be satisfied without forcing a work on the local church that God has not enjoined.
Notwithstanding the simple preceding material, there will be those who demand a church wedding. These people need to ask themselves why they are so insistent and determined to have a church wedding. Many times such people attempt to force their desires on others to the point of dividing a local church. It is tragic that churches have been thus divided over a matter that is not even the responsibility of the church (cp. Matt. 22: 2 f.). (To read an exchange on "church weddings," simply click on exchange. To return to this page, click on the "return" on your browser. You may also want to read, "The Church Building.")