Two weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the wedding of two Christian friends. The bride – we’ll call her Caroline S – had been a student with my wife Anne. We had got to know the bridegroom – let’s call him Clifford J – more recently.
We were touched – but alarmed – when Caroline told us what she expected of us on her wedding day. She wanted Anne to play the piano for her wedding – and she wanted our children as her attendants. Vicky was to be her (only) bridesmaid; Jesse, John and David her pageboys. As the weeks went by, the list of things they had to do grew. Would Jesse read a Bible passage in the wedding service? Would Vicky present a bouquet to Caroline’s mum? And we became more nervous. What if..? What if…? Our children can be unpredictable at times! But Caroline didn’t seem to share our nervousness at all. She knew that this was what she wanted, and was confident that they would play their part.
I was nervous about the wedding for another reason too. Every wedding between Christians ought to be God-honouring; an opportunity for Christians to show how different we are from the world around us; an opportunity for us to make our Bible-based convictions and standards clear. And too often it’s not like that. I have attended “Christian” weddings that were a sad display of worldliness and compromise. What if Caroline and Clifford planned their wedding in a way that undermined their Christian testimony? Neither of them came from families that shared their faith. Would Clifford and Caroline forget their principles in a vain attempt to keep unconverted relatives happy? Would we and other Christian friends be left saddened again?
Well I needn’t have worried. As the day came closer, I became aware that Clifford and Caroline were very determined that this wedding would glorify God, and would be a witness to unconverted friends and relatives. Let me tell you some of the things that encouraged me.
Where would the wedding be held? It was important to Caroline’s parents that she should be married ‘from home’. And it was right that Caroline and Clifford should respect their wishes. So they knew they would be married somewhere near the town where Caroline’s parents lived and where she had grown up (we’ll call it Bridgetown). But the question was, where?
It’s at that point that many Christian couples make their first sad mistake. They want a ‘traditional wedding’. And, in their mind, that means getting married in a traditional church building, ideally set in beautiful gardens, preferably in a picturesque rural setting Usually it means turning to the Church of England and asking the Church of England minister to marry them. They want guests to remember the beauty of the setting, they want a suitable backdrop for the wedding photos, they want the social status which comes with a traditional Anglican marriage – and they want the church bells to be rung for them.
Sometimes evangelical Christians have finished up being married by a liberal vicar (often a woman) who shared none of their evangelical convictions, and who showed no signs of personal faith in Christ. Why? Because they wanted the service to be held in the parish church with all its trappings. Convinced non-conformists – and baptists – become Anglicans for the day! What a sad compromise!
Clifford and Caroline didn’t make that mistake. Their first concern was not to find a picturesque setting. It was to find a chapel where the minister shared their convictions and would preach the Bible at their wedding. There aren’t many reformed churches near to Bridgetown. But in the end, they approached the minister at Bethel, a little reformed Baptist church in a village seventeen miles from Bridgetown and he agreed that they could make use of the chapel and that he would conduct the wedding.
Nobody could call it a picturesque setting for a wedding. A redbrick building in a back street, with no garden or impressive frontage. But it was clean, well-kept, and it was a place where God was worshipped in Spirit and in truth. In that building, Caroline and Clifford could feel at home. Members of that church were willing to do whatever they could to make Clifford and Caroline’s wedding day happy – out of love for the Saviour they shared. And most importantly, the wedding would be taken by a man who knew the Bible and loved the gospel.
Often it’s the little things that tell you what is important to people. We received our official wedding invitation. What was the first thing that struck me? That it was headed by a Bible verse: Jesus’s words in Mark 10:7, ‘And the two shall become one’. Caroline and Clifford were signalling to everyone invited to the wedding that their view of marriage was shaped by the Bible.
Caroline’s a musician by training and profession. She spent a lot of time discussing with Anne what music would be most appropriate for the occasion. She wanted something dignified and appropriate for her entry on her father’s arm, and her exit on her husband’s. But what about the half-hour or so when guests were arriving and taking their places in the building before the service? And what about the time when the bridal party have gone off to sign the register leaving the guests waiting in the chapel? She could have chosen some virtuoso classical piano pieces. But no, this is a church service. So what could be more appropriate than hymn tunes, tastefully arranged? So that’s what she chose. The people who sat in the service learned that Clifford and Caroline love hymns and hymn-tunes.
And what great hymns we sang in the service! Wonderful gospel hymns. Jesus your blood and righteousness; And can it be that I should gain; Guide me, O thou great Jehovah. Here was an opportunity to confront people with majestic truths about God!
They had asked Caroline’s pastor to read the Bible and Richard’s pastor to pray. The Scriptures rang out clearly; the praying was earnest, serious, God-centred. Our Jesse read clearly: Revelation 19 verses 6 to 9:
‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns! Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready… Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’
Even the acknowledgments at the end of the order-of-service sheet carried hints of Caroline and Clifford’s priorities: ‘Thank you… to family and friends who have travelled a long way to be here….’ And then they had listed the various pastors whom they had invited to be there, including myself. No doubt there were other people at the wedding who would have far more status in the eyes of the world. But it was the gospel preachers present who were singled out for that special thank-you. C & C wanted other guests to know that they, at least, give honour to men who preach the gospel.
I hadn’t met the pastor at Bethel before. But I had heard that he was a man of reformed convictions (indeed, the church registered its support for the Grace Baptist Assembly this year). Pastor Mike led the service and preached so attractively and appropriately. His opening comments explaining the meaning of marriage set just the right tone:
‘We are met together in the presence of God to witness the union of these two persons in the sacred covenant of Matrimony. This is according to the general custom of the Christian Church, and in obedience to the law of our country, and to implore on their behalf the blessing of Almighty God.
Marriage is increasingly seen as something old_fashioned – often of little more significance than providing a memorable day for two people in love, an excuse to dress up, a time to party. Weddings are happy occasions and it is appropriate to celebrate but here today we celebrate this marriage because it is something seen as special in the eyes of God.
Marriage was given by God that a man and a woman might find love and companionship together as part of God’s design that families might be trained up in obedience, love, wisdom and holiness as set down in the Holy Scriptures’.
In part, those words are traditional words. But I suspect the second paragraph was his own. And how much it needed to be said. A wedding is more than just a social occasion, a happy party. It is ordained by God.
That God-centred note continued throughout. And the gospel was preached in a warm, wise, appropriate way. The preacher smiled as he addressed the guests. “You saw a couple in love, you received an invitation, you decided what you should wear…” And then he spoke of the love that God has for sinners, the invitation he has extended to us, the need to be clothed in a righteousness which only Christ can give. His talk was laced with gentle humour, but it was very serious and direct.
And I was glad that he said this:
‘God designed marriage not only for our good but as a great illustration of His love. It is sad that government and society have downgraded marriage and now want to redefine it – because in doing so they tamper with that which belongs to God. You can’t redefine marriage – marriage is the coming together of a man and a woman anything else is not marriage’.
Even a year ago, it might not have been necessary to declare that marriage is between a man and a woman. But at this point in our history, it was important that he should speak up against attempts to pervert the meaning of marriage.
We weren’t able to stay to the end of the reception. We had to get our children home and I knew I would have to preach the following morning. But I was glad we could be there at least for a few hours. And again, it was a happy and, I believe, God-honouring time. There was champagne – but there was no pressure on those like ourselves who preferred fruit-juice. I have often cringed, listening to the speeches at wedding receptions. Often the humour is ugly and bawdy. But all the speeches on this occasion (unusually, they were given before the ‘wedding breakfast’) were appropriate, sensible, and short. The bride’s father paid tribute to the seriousness of Caroline’s faith. The best man – the bridegroom’s brother – made it clear that whatever dubious entertainments he and his friends might have pursued in the past, Clifford was different – he wanted none of it. Caroline’s pastor gave thanks for the food. The hotel, the food, the music (Caroline had booked a harpist to play throughout the reception), were all first-class without being ostentatious or unduly extravagant. And Caroline had even prepared personalised gifts for all the guests. We all found a little jar of chocolates on the meal tables, each one tied with a three-stranded cord, on each cord a tag with the guest’s name, and on the reverse of the tag, a verse from Ecclesiastes:
“A cord of three strands is not quickly broken”
One more little reminder to the guests that the Bible is to be Caroline and Clifford’s guide through life. The strands of Caroline and Clifford’s life are now woven together: I wonder if all the guests realised who the Third is, whose life is interwoven with theirs? Perhaps one of the guests will ask Clifford or Caroline one day why they chose that verse and what it means!
We could be happy to be at the reception, and we could be happy to have our children there.
This wedding was held on a Saturday. I guess that’s true of most weddings these days. And that creates a real dilemma for serious Christian couples. Tradition says that the couple vanish from sight after the wedding, not to be seen again by family and friends until they return from their honeymoon. But if wedding celebrations continue late on Saturday, and the couple set off for to some distant location the same night, how likely is it that, having travelled for some hours, they’ll be in a place of worship on the Lord’s Day morning? I’m glad that Clifford and Caroline decided that whatever the tradition, they wanted to be with the Lord’s people on the first Lord’s Day of their married life. So Mr & Mrs J were sitting in the congregation at Bridgetown Evangelical Church the following morning, worshipping God for the first time on his day, as a married couple. Could there be a better way to start married life?
I said to Caroline a few weeks before the wedding, ‘Don’t spend all your time thinking about the wedding. Instead think about the marriage. A wedding only lasts a day. A marriage lasts a lifetime.’ Marriages are more important than weddings. And yet, a wedding is a wonderful occasion. And for Christians it is a unique opportunity to honour God publicly. Christians who fail to honour God in their wedding, are not likely to honour him in their marriage.
As the children and young people of this church grow up, our first concern is that they should all come to Christ and be saved. But then, if God’s will for them is marriage, we pray that they’ll be led to godly partners and build godly marriages. Godly marriages begin with godly weddings!
We thank God that we witnessed a godly wedding two weeks ago. (And we’re very thankful that our children played their parts impeccably). Now we pray that that wedding will be the beginning of a godly and God-honouring marriage.