Less than Holy Matrimony
Dr. James Emery White
- 2018 Dec 06
From churches to barns.
From minister officiants to mail-order-credentialed friends.
From “until death do us part” to “here’s to my best friend.”
The New York Times recently reported that it’s a new day for weddings. They’ve been moved from sacred settings to the most secular locations possible; pastors/ministers are no longer desired to officiate, replaced by a friend who has an outgoing personality; and vows are no longer prescribed, but created.
Welcome to the shift from matrimony to marriage.
Marriage has become a social construct and, as such, something we can define for ourselves by voting on one definition or another. It’s become a legal matter, a tax issue, a question for courts to manage—who gets benefits, who gets recognized, what gets accepted. But when we bracket off marriage as a legal term and talk about marriage as a biblical idea, then we move from marriage to holy matrimony. And holy matrimony is not something plastic that we can simply shape to our desires.
There are four foundational truths the Bible teaches about true marriage.
The first is that marriage is the first and most foundational of all institutions (Gen. 2:21-24). Marriage was ordained by God and set apart by God – before children, before the family, before government, even before the church – at the very onset of creation.
Second, marriage best describes and depicts the supernatural union between Jesus and the church. We were created to be in relationship with Him, and He’s done everything He can to reach out. When somebody comes to Christ, what could possibly be holy enough, special enough, sacred enough, honored enough, to capture the love dynamic between Christ and those who have come to Him as Leader and Forgiver, Savior and Lord? What could describe His love that would die for us, and our love that would repent and return to Him? Only marriage (Eph. 5:23-32). Just as the two become one through earthly marriage, we become one with Christ through a spiritual, eternal marriage.
A third truth about marriage in the Bible is that marriage is the event that God has selected to consummate all of time (Rev. 19:1-7). At the end of all time, when the final chapter on this life is closed and the first chapter of eternity is opened, at the grand moment when those in Christ are united with Christ to enter into heaven, it is not going to be done through a coronation. It will not be done through a graduation. It will not be done by an installation, inauguration or initiation. It will be done through a wedding.
The final truth about marriage flows from the first three—that marriage is to be held in the highest honor (Heb. 13:4).
This is not written to enter into the larger cultural debate about who should be allowed to be married, as holy matrimony has little to do with civil unions. This is about those who consider themselves Christ followers and where they should stand in relation to the biblical idea of marriage. And it is about the slippery slope of increasingly submitting not simply their wedding, but the very idea of marriage to the secular, individualistic mindset so prevalent in our world.
It’s about the bride who petulantly and defiantly says, “This is MY wedding!” and then proceeds to dictate every moment as if the act itself is a matter of personal self-fulfillment, akin to a birthday party or vacation. In truth, it is her wedding only in the sense that she is the one engaging it to enter into holy matrimony. As such, it should be less what she imagines, and more what she embraces.
So have your wedding in a barn. It’s the current “thing.” Just make sure the barn doesn’t become reflective of assuming that the wedding itself is whatever you want it to be. Whether a barn or a sanctuary, you are standing on holy ground and submitting to a God-ordained institution.
At least, that is, if you are entering into holy matrimony and not simply marriage.
James Emery White
Tammy La Gorce, “A Word From Your Officiant (for Better or Worse),” The New York Times, November 13, 2018, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.