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The biblical root of Church wedding

I stumbled on a very disturbing post on social media by Reno Omokri, a former media aide to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, themed: You don't need church wedding to be married - it isn't in the Scriptures. In this post, the author and activist shared his thoughts as regards Church wedding, saying it is not biblical. According to him, Jesus in the bible attended a wedding held at home and not a Church. Hence, all that is needed for a wedding ceremony to take place, is a man, his wife and their family members, not a Church, pastor or priest. He added that God simplified marriage, but Africans in copying the whites have complicated it.

In his words ''someone said Church wedding is necessary because pastors are God’s representatives on earth. What of your parents? Devil’s representative? No blessing on earth is greater than the Parent’s blessing. These European ideas about Church wedding are doctrines of men and there is nothing divine or holy about it. Holy matrimony only involves the couple and their parents.

Let me start by indicating that Reno Omokri’s argument about Church wedding lacking biblical foundations calls for a critical study of the origin, purpose and benefits of Church wedding. This will also be an avenue to catechize the couples that go through this rite without a sound understanding beyond ecclesiastical rites to solemnize their marriage.

A succinct look at the bible reveals that although lots of people were married in the Bible but there were no descriptions of wedding ceremonies. Adam and Eve were married simply by the fact that they were made for each other and they procreated. Jacob married Leah, and they consummated the marriage in the darkness of a tent. Isaac and Rebekah married without any type of ceremony. (Gen. 24:1-10), and Jesus attended a wedding in Cana which consisted of a family party, but no ceremony was described that engaged the couple.

The only ‘ceremony’ one may find in the Bible is Tobit 7:12-14 in which Raguel summoned his daughter Sarah and took her by the hand and gave her to Tobias saying” Take her to be your wife in accordance with the law and decree written in the book of Moses. Take her and bring her safely to your father. And may the God of heaven prosper your journey with His peace”. The corollary was that in Tobit 8: 4-5, Tobias got out of bed in the night and said to Sarah, “Sister get up, and let us pray and implore our Lord that he grants us mercy and safety”. So she got up and they began to pray and implore.

Though we might argue that wedding in the Bible simply consisted of a man and woman, with the consent of the woman’s father or guardian. No vows, pastor, ritual, pronouncement, license, registration etc but we noticed certain elements in this ceremony. First, it was done in line with the decree written in the book of Moses showing there were legal implications. Secondly, prayers were offered by the father saying, “may the God of heaven prosper your journey with His peace” (Tobit 8: 4-5). We may identify these two essential elements of wedding as biblical – the law/custom and prayers. These constitute the major elements of Church wedding as celebrated today. A legal framework to legalize the marriage and a solemn blessing on the couple by the Church’s minister in order to commit the marriage to God who is love. Traditional rites (engagement ceremony) however, enables the parents to also pray for their children as they marry but the blessing or exhortation from the pastor or priest (who stands in as the Moses/Church's witness) brings God’s blessings on the marriage.

The Bible tells us that God established marriage from the beginning of creation. In other words, He did this before the  Church was founded. In Biblical times, wedding was almost exclusively overseen by the family and local custom. The Bible doesn’t dictate what those cultural forms would be for generation upon generation in order to establish the public recognition of a couple that enters into a lifelong marriage covenant with each other before God. But it is assumed in the Bible that there is a public recognition of who is married. And it is not a merely private act but a public event. Genesis 2:24 explains, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” Jesus later called humanity back to these truths (Matt. 19:4–6; Mark 10:6–8), and the Christian story of the world is viewed as culminating in the wedding of Christ and his bride, the Church. All Christian discussions of marriage stem from this “great mystery,” as Paul called it (Eph. 5:32).

If God willed that a man would leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they become one flesh, the rite of joining the couple might have been left to the human community to decide. Such details might not be found in the bible but implied and left to the discretion of the human society to decide what rite would be appropriate to obey this custom that will definitely not be void of God and prayers since the source is apparently from God. It may however be recognized by the laws of the state in order to give it a legal backing.

If these two elements that characterize Church weddings can be traced to the Bible then it will be erroneous to state that Church wedding is not biblical. The only difference is that it is not expressly stated but implied. Again, the presence of Jesus at the wedding at Cana was a confirmation of the goodness of marriage and the proclamation that thenceforth marriage would be an efficacious sign of Christ's presence.

Church wedding today involves solemn prayers offered in the Church and verbal declaration of consent done in the presence of the Church’s minister who stands in as a witness. But these are all innovations that were added in the course of history. For most of human history, marriage has simply been an agreement, recognized or arranged by the immediate families, for a man and woman to live together.

It is also important to note that a public ceremony that includes vows and prayers makes the couple’s commitment to each other clearer, links the couple’s love to the sacred story of God’s love, and gives the community and congregation an explicitly supportive role in helping them to maintain their love for one another all through life.

Nevertheless, Christians undergo Church weddings because of the spiritual benefits of the solemn rites since they carry more spiritual weight as against the declaration made in the court of law which could sound the note of a contract. The principle is the same. What God looks upon is the covenant established by the man and the woman who make solemn promises to each other.

Again, back in the days, worship was done in people's houses but in the present society, the Church building enables better atmosphere of worship and this is why we use Church buildings. The people are the Church and not the buildings but the buildings afford us a better organization of spiritual rites and peoples.

Fr. Gregory Fadele

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