A podcast listener named Gloria from Nigeria went to our online homepage and wrote us this follow-up email on weddings. “Pastor John, thank you for your episode on a simple wedding (episode 875). I would like to know if parental consent and involvement is necessary in a marriage when both parties are up to thirty years old. Also, is it wrong to not adhere to Western wedding traditions, such as a white dress, church ceremony, walking down the aisle, etc.? Can we not just get our marriage license from the registry and ask our pastor to bless us, instead of having a ceremony in the church?”
I hear three questions:
- What about permission of parents?
- Do you need to follow Western traditions?
- Isn’t legal registration and pastoral blessing enough without any kind of Christian church ceremony?
So, let me just take these one at a time and give you a few suggestions, a few pointers, for each one.
First, what about parental blessing? I think this is the most important one, and I have five suggestions.
1. Honor Your Parents
One of the most basic biblical commands is “Honor your father and mother” (Ephesians 6:2). That is a broader, deeper command than the particular command to obey them (verse 1). Therefore, I would encourage a couple to pray and work and wait for their parents’ blessing. How long they should wait will be determined by some of the other factors that I am going to mention in just a minute, but it is worth waiting for even if you should wait a long time. But probably not forever. And we should communicate to our parents that we long for their blessing. Many parents will come your way and bless you if they sense, if you show, that you are not defiant, but eager for their blessing. That is number one.
2. Not Absolute
Obedience to parents is not absolute in the Christian life, but, rather, loyalty to Jesus is. And I will base that on Matthew 10:35–37 where Jesus says, “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother. . . . Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,” and so on. In other words, devotion to father and mother is not absolute. Jesus is absolute. Now, that doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want to do without reference to your parents, but it does mean that there is a new factor in the world that is greater than allegiance to parents; namely, allegiance to Jesus.
3. Cultural Realities
We simply must admit that cultural realities in various people groups and tribes play a huge role in how to proceed with a marriage. And I think of when Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:5 that love — and I am going to use the King James Version here — “doth not behave itself unseemly.” Now, that word unseemly means, love doesn’t blow off traditions. Love doesn’t blow off customs. Love doesn’t blow off mores. Love does not unnecessarily despise cultural traditions. Therefore, the application of these suggestions that I am making right now are going to look very different in different cultures, and that is not sheer relativism. It is a discerning application of the principle of love.
4. Unfit to Judge
Here’s my fourth suggestion with regard to parents: If you believe that your loyalty to Jesus is leading you to marry someone, and you don’t yet have your parents’ approval, you need to ask seriously, “Have my parents really proved themselves to be unfit in making such kingdom judgments?” Perhaps they have. Maybe they are not even Christians. But don’t fail to be sure. That is a big question. “Have my parents, with all their experience and all their love for me and all their wisdom, really proved themselves to be, in this case, unfit for making such kingdom judgments as the one I am disagreeing with?”
5. Avoid Defiance
And the last thing I would say with regard to parents is, however you move forward, don’t let there be a spirit of defiance towards your parents or a spirit of indifference to what they say as if their opinions don’t matter. Let there be a spirit of humility and prayer and longing so that they can discern that your desire is for their blessings. So, that is the first question she asked.
The second question was: Do you need to follow western traditions in this marriage — white dress, church ceremony, walking down the aisle? And the answer is very simple: No. You don’t. But I would caution that if you live in a culture where these traditions are cherished, you need to have good, Christ-exalting, Bible-based reasons for doing things a different way.
Sign the License
Third question: Can we not just get our marriage license and get a pastor to bless us and dispense with the church ceremony? It might be helpful to point out that I used to hear the exact reverse question. Like, can’t we just have a Christian ceremony and skip the legal registration? It is really funny that things changed around. I think my answer to both of those kinds of questions is to encourage young couples not to reinvent the wheel so quickly when dealing with a God-designed chariot as old and venerable and sacred and God-ordained and state-sanctioned as the institution of marriage. I think there is way too much playing around with wedding ceremonies in the name of personal creativity. I think couples should pause and wonder whether they are fit to be so creative with something so majestic and so holy and so ancient as God’s order of marriage.
It may be that weddings should not express a couple’s uniqueness. “Oh, we have got to show our uniqueness here.” Well, why? Maybe it is exactly the opposite. Maybe you’re joining something that has been around for thousands and thousands of years and has its origin in heaven, and the last thing you should be thinking is creativity and uniqueness, but rather, “We are being given something here. We are being given admission to something here that God is creating. Let’s make it as holy and sacred and joyful and rooted as we can.” At least, I would like to change a lot of mindsets with regard to thinking about weddings in this regard.
The reason we have Christian ceremonies and legal registrations for marriage is not because the Bible says we have to, but because there are aspects of Christian discipleship which make both of these a matter of wisdom. On the one hand, we are citizens of this world, called to be subject to the authorities that exist in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2, which means that Christians will not try to get around the legal dimensions of marriage if they don’t involve sin.
On the other hand, however, it is not the state, it is not the national state, that creates a marriage. God does. Jesus said, “What God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6). God is the one who joins two in marriage — not the state, not the couple (for goodness’ sake), not the pastor, the priest, or the parents. God does. God creates a marriage in heaven and it is unbreakable except by death. God made this. Let not man separate it.
So, it seems wonderfully suitable to me that there be some kind of Christian solemnizing of this sacred, holy, divine work that can only be broken by death. So my final word to Gloria is: Cultivate a Bible-saturated, humble spirit of utter allegiance to Jesus and guard yourself from any roots of self-exaltation of defiance toward parents or toward tradition. Seek the kingdom first and God will show you the way.