Yesterday we talked about gifting a body to science, a natural question from your cremation article. The most unexpected follow-up question from your cremation article is on weddings. Summer from here in Minnesota asks: “Dear Pastor John, in your recent article, you wrote: ‘Pastors should lead the way in cultivating a church ethos where expensive funerals (and weddings!) are not the norm.’ This is something I hadn’t given much thought to before and really appreciated. Thank you! I was hoping you could speak more directly on the topic of expensive weddings. How can we design a ‘Christ-exalting, simple wedding’?”
I will have a plea to couples in a minute for courage to be countercultural in this regard, because that is what it is going to take. But I am mainly pleading with pastors in that article to take the initiative to teach and preach and help in the church to build a culture of simplicity in the church that makes the focus of marriage celebrations the Lord Jesus, the Christ-exalting meaning of marriage, the awesome importance of the vows, the preciousness of the people, the lovers — and not the clothing, the flowers, the location, the music, the whole production that can make the actual act of God in marriage seem like an incidental prelude to the big, fancy party afterwards. That is sad, I think.
“Build a culture where no one with modest means feels like a simple wedding is somehow less honoring to God.”
But, of course, this is not an attack on joy. Just the opposite. It is a plea for drinking from the deepest pools of joy, not the peripheral puddles of happiness. Godly poor people regularly have more joy than rich people. There is no correlation between expensive and joyful — none. Unless it is this: more expensive means more hassle, more stress, more distraction — less joyful.
This is a plea to leaders to cultivate an expectation of simplicity so that no one with modest means — and that is a lot of people — feels like a simple wedding with a mints-and-nuts reception — no meal, no dance, just joy — is somehow less honoring to the Lord and the couple. That is tragic if we have cultivated a situation like that.
Come and See
Now here is the underlying worldview. She was asking why. A decisive turn happened in redemptive history when Jesus came into the world. The Old Testament was, by and large, a come-and-see religion, while the New Testament is largely a go-and-tell religion. That is why there is a lavish expenditure in the Old Testament on the temple. Come see from Egypt and from Ethiopia and from the ends of the earth, come see this expensive temple that we have built. That’s why wealth was seen so regularly as a sign of God’s blessing.
That has radically changed with the coming of the Son of Man, who had no place to lay his head and told us to go risk our lives to disciple the nations (Matthew 8:20; 28:19). We are not living in the Old Testament times. This is not a come-see religion. Christianity doesn’t even have a center geographically. This is a go-tell religion.
So, the revolution is in the use of our resources. What governs our lifestyle now is the effort to show that our treasure is in heaven and not on the earth. What governs us is the effort to maximize our giving to finish the Great Commission and to love the hurting of the world. The New Testament is relentless in pushing us towards simplicity and economy for the kingdom and away from luxury and away from affluence and away from finery, including luxurious weddings.
Just to give you a taste of what I mean when I say it is relentless, consider a few Bible verses.
“Plan weddings at one fourth the cost and one fourth the stress — and double the focus on the glory of Christ.”
- Luke 6:20, 24, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. . . . Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”
- Luke 8:14, “They are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life.”
- Luke 9:58, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
- Matthew 6:19, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy.”
- Matthew 6:25, “I tell you, do not be anxious about your life. . . . Life [is] more than food . . . and clothing.”
- Luke 12:33, “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with . . . a treasure in the heavens.”
- Luke 14:33, “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
- Luke 18:24, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
- 2 Corinthians 6:10, Paul was “poor, yet making many rich.” He had “nothing, yet [possessed] everything.”
- 1 Timothy 6:7–8, “We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”
- Hebrews 10:34, “You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.”
When Noel and I were married, she wore her mother’s wedding dress. Free. No, she had some alterations to make — probably a few dollars. I wore my best and only Sunday suit. My best man did the same. Her matron of honor wore a nice Sunday dress. We had an open Bible and a cross on the platform just to show what our values were. The church organ was played. My father preached. The church provided a reception which was in the fellowship hall: no meal, no refreshments. There was a cake. I borrowed my father’s car to go on a honeymoon — a seven-hour drive to St. Petersburg, Florida where we stayed in a single-story motel on the beach.
It was all simple. It was all full of joy. It was explosive with happy expectation. Nobody borrowed any money. The Lord, the Word, the vows, the lovers were the foreground, and God was honored — and we are just as married 47 years later as anybody. I think that is a good idea.
Now, let me stress again. There is a place for special, okay? Hear me. There is a place for special: special dress, special expenditures, special beauty in the simplicity of the Christian life. There is a place for beauty.
But what is happening in the evangelical church today, it seems to me, is careening out of control, and somebody needs to put the brakes on. So, I am pleading with pastors especially. Let the service and the Word and the vows and the Lord and the love be the main thing. There does not have to be a meal after the wedding. Believe me. There doesn’t. There doesn’t have to be a dance. It doesn’t have to be in an expensive hotel. There doesn’t have to be a paid quintet. Really, it doesn’t have to be.
Besides pastors who lead on this, we need young people with backbone and radical Christian courage to stand against a culture and show what truth and beauty and joy can look like at one fourth the cost and one fourth the anxieties and one fourth the stress — and double the focus on the glory of Christ and the advancement of his kingdom.