On July 13th a few years back, I took one of my most memorable walks.

I wasn't alone. Hanging tight to my arm and squeezing my hand was Ashley, our then 22-year-old daughter.

If I live to be 100, I'll never forget two things about that walk: her beaming face and the emotion that gripped my heart. We both knew that I was about to take her hand and place it in that of a young man named Michael Escue before kissing her and walking away.

It was Ashley's wedding day. The beginning of a new era in the Rainey family and the genesis of a new marriage. The whole event was a memory maker! Rebecca, then 16, caught the bride's bouquet-I cheered. Then it hit me: I think I need a bank loan!

But it was something that Michael and Ashley did that made an impression on all who attended.

For the past two years I have had a growing concern that the Christian community has passively watched the "dumbing down" of the marriage covenant. Marriage has become little more than an upgraded social contract between two people-not a holy covenant between a man and a woman and their God for a lifetime.

In the Old Testament days a covenant was the most sacred and solemn of pledges. When two people entered into a covenant with one another, a goat or lamb would be slain and its carcass would be cut in half. With the two halves separated and lying on the ground, the two people who had formed the covenant would solemnize their promise by walking between the two halves saying, "May God do so to me [cut me in half] if I ever break this covenant with you and God!"

You get the feeling that a covenant in those days had just a little more substance than today.

And so as Michael and Ashley contemplated their wedding day, we talked about how they could exalt God and about the pledge they would make with God and with one another.

Their vows were taken to an artist who then created a large document titled, "Our Holy Covenant on Our Wedding Day."

During the ceremony Ashley and Michael signed the document after they had recited their vows. Family members were then asked to come forward and sign their names as witnesses of their covenant. Then the pastor asked for a few members of the audience to sign it as well. By doing so, these people not only became formal witnesses of the covenant, but they also agreed to pray for Ashley and Michael's marriage and hold them accountable to keep their vows to one another.

Later at the reception more than 100 people signed their covenant, filling the parchment. As I stood by the covenant I heard people say, "They are really serious about this, aren't they?" I couldn't help but think, "Isn't this what marriage was intended to be in the first place? The most sacred promise we will ever make to another person?"

Today their covenant is framed and hanging proudly in their apartment as a reminder of their pledge to God, to one another, and to a group of friends who promised to help them succeed in their marriage.

I believe it's time we re-think the purpose of the wedding ceremony and the marriage covenant. So much effort is given today to all of the trimmings and trappings of the celebration. But more thought needs to be given to how we can help couples build a marriage that outlasts the wedding cake that they save in the freezer.

The world waits and looks-longing to see the hope that a truly Christian marriage brings. A marriage filled with the love and peace of Christ that goes the distance.

What God has joined together, let no man separate!

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Excerpted from Moments Together for Couples by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Used with permission. Copyright 1995 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. All rights reserved.

About the author: Dennis Rainey is the executive director of FamilyLife, an organization founded in 1976 with the goal of effectively developing godly families, one home at a time. Parents of six children, Dennis and his wife, Barbara, have written numerous books, including best-sellers Moments Together for Couples and The Questions Book for Marriage Intimacy.