Question: "What biblical principles should be applied to a Christian marriage ceremony?"
Answer: Biblical principles can be applied to every area of life, including a Christian marriage ceremony. However, there is a difference between preparing for a marriage ceremony and preparing for marriage. Many people put far more effort and thought into the marriage ceremony than they do into the future marriage, and the divorce statistics reveal this sad truth. But, when Christians marry, every part of the ceremony and the resulting marriage can be guided by biblical principles. When those principles are honored and obeyed, not only is the ceremony meaningful, but the marriage is built upon a solid foundation.
Marriage ceremonies vary greatly from culture to culture. Christian marriage ceremonies can differ in style, length, expense, and elements and still be God-honoring. The elements a couple chooses to include in the ceremony are not of great significance. What matters more are the hearts of the bride and groom and their willingness to keep God at the center of their lives and family. As indicators of that commitment, Christian marriage ceremonies often include the following:
1) A brief, biblical sermon by the pastor performing the ceremony
2) An exchange of vows and rings between bride and groom
3) A prayer for the couple
4) Some type of symbolic act representing the union of two individuals. This may be the lighting of a unity candle, combining two colors of sand into a keepsake vase, or any other creative way the couple can express their oneness.
A Christian marriage ceremony may even incorporate an invitation for guests to respond to a salvation message.
The biblical principle that is most important in a Christian marriage ceremony is an understanding of what marriage is and how God views it. Our world treats marriage as one option among many for establishing a household, to be sustained only as long as both parties want it. Marriage has become as disposable as plastic-ware and is being bypassed many times in favor of non-married cohabitation. But cohabitation is sin according to Scripture and not to be considered an option for Christians (see Hebrews 13:4). An understanding of the purpose of marriage will help couples choose to honor God in their relationship and will also influence the ceremonies they design.
Marriage was God’s idea, and He established its definition and parameters. In the Garden of Eden, God created one woman (Eve) for one man (Adam), saying, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18). He told them to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:22), a command that can only be obeyed in a union of two different genders. Jesus reinforced this truth in the New Testament when He reminded those who questioned the permanence of marriage that “at the beginning of creation God made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mark 10:6–9).
Several principles about marriage are clear from Scripture:
1. Marriage as God designed it is between one man and one woman for life (Genesis 2:18, 22).
2. Marriage is the combining of two distinct individuals into a new entity, a new family (Genesis 2:23–24).
3. Marriage is witnessed by God Himself as He makes two people one (Malachi 2:13–15).
4. Divorce was not an option in God’s original design (Matthew 19:7–10).
5. Marriage is a small glimpse of Christ’s intimate, loving relationship with His bride, the church (Ephesians 5:31–32).
When Christian couples keep these principles in mind, the ceremonies they design can be beautiful, meaningful, and God-honoring without going to great expense. The extravagance of the marriage ceremony has nothing to do with the strength of the resulting marriage. But, when biblical principles are applied to a Christian marriage ceremony, those principles follow the couple throughout their lives and provide a strong and lasting foundation for life.