Points to Ponder/A Wedding or A Marriage?

by Pastor Dennis Whitmore

As pastor of a historic Main Street church, we often receive calls from couples who are looking for a “pretty place” to have their wedding. Usually it is the bride, or her mother, who will call. Some couples will come on Sunday - after the worship service - to take a tour. We have even had e-mails from people we have never met, requesting prices.

As author and pastor Allster Begg has said of weddings, they are often just “words to get to the reception.” Selecting the hall and whether to have roast beef or chicken is for many a higher priority than counseling with a pastor (if they even know one).

My requirements before agreeing to perform a wedding are these: four or more premarital counseling sessions and regular church attendance. The latter requirement blows off about 50% of those who inquire (is it a coincidence that that percentage is the same as the national divorce rate?).

One women who wanted to use the church for her wedding tried hard to skirt my requirements. If the couple would just come to church services on Sunday morning for an hour and give me four 1 1/2-hour sessions of counsel time, they could set up their wedding with me. But, she’s looking for another pastor. I told her there are some out there who will take her check and “do the wedding.” So she’s diligently hunting for one of them.

From Genesis to Revelation, God is serious about the covenant of marriage. It is not just some pretty ceremony. It is about giving your life to another person ‘til death parts your union. When you are making a commitment of 20, 30, 40 plus years, it ought to be worth six or so hours of premarital counsel, don’t you think? It is a holy covenant. In the Christian tradition it is the earthly symbol of the heavenly relationship between Jesus Christ (the groom) and His bride (the church). Read Genesis 2:18-24, Matthew 19:3-9, and Ephesians 5:22-33. (just to name a few.) Marriage is about God! And God takes it seriously. However, many in our society do not. Our whole society is into the hype and so-called romance of weddings. There are magazines, bridal shops, and other businesses dedicated to making that twenty-minute ceremony and the three-hour party afterward exciting - and profitable. Meanwhile, before the bills come, the couple wakes up the next day MARRIED. Everyday, that’s how it is - no fanfare, no more King and Queen of the day. The work of keeping the commitment - for decades - has begun. Because so many couples are putting the emphasis on a successful wedding rather than a successful marriage, problems begin to erupt. Some find that they did not just “tie the knot”, they hung themselves. Next stop: divorce court.

We clergy often make it too easy for a couple to get married. Some of us do so many weddings that we really can not invest time into the lives of the individuals. We need to be devoted to the sacredness of the marriage covenant and uphold the biblical standard. We should not just do that for the couple’s sake, but also (and especially) for God’s sake. Marriage after all was His idea in the first place. Therefore, we need to be in the business of “doing marriages”, not doing weddings. We ought to be leading the culture, rather than reflecting it.

The following report prompted me to write this article.

“Reports today are noting that the institution of marriage may be in trouble. The result is the erosion of strong families. More than half of all couples now live together before getting married compared to just 10 percent three decades ago, claims a study, The Relationship Between Cohabitation and Marital Quality and Stability, by researchers at Penn State University in Pittsburgh. The annual report from the National Marriage Project titled The State of our Unions: The Social Health of Marriage in America, 2003 shows the shift away from marriage: More than a third of children are born outside of marriage, and the divorce rate continues to float around 50 percent. Since 1960 there has been an 850 percent increase in the number of cohabiting couples who live with children, and an estimated 40 percent of all children are expected to spend some time in a cohabiting household during their growing-up years.” (Pastor’s Weekly Briefing, 8-15-03)

The very foundation of our society is in the strength of our families. Unhealthy, poorly planned marriages (as opposed to weddings) as well as the growing acceptance of cohabitation has produced a generation of broken and emotionally scarred children. Ask the youth group leaders, the schoolteachers, the coaches. They spend a great deal of their time with our kids and they see these innocent victims of the irresponsible and/or tragic choices of their parent(s).

If you are planning a wedding, I strongly urge you to put your primary emphasis on planning the marriage. If you really want this marriage to last forever, do what it takes to make it that strong. Do it by the Book, the Bible.

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Dennis

Pastor Whitmore serves God at the First United Methodist Church in Laurel, MD.