FIRST-PERSON: Weddings are best in a church

DULUTH, Ga. (BP) -- When our granddaughter Hayley and her husband Taylor Echols celebrated their first wedding anniversary, Hayley wrote on Instagram, "Contrary to popular belief, your life is not over when you get married. I think I have had more fun this past year than in any other year of my life!"

Our culture sometimes makes marriage seem lame and outdated, but marriage is a precious gift from God, ordained and designed by Him so we can bring glory to Him by serving Him together, keeping our commitment to each other and enjoying one another.

"I am so thankful," Haley wrote, "for a man who prays for me and with me, forgives me, challenges me, says, 'I'm sorry' (because neither of us are perfect), laughs with me, works hard, serves others and reminds me that God is always in control."

Hayley's comments remind me of her church wedding, which I recommend for Christians. It doesn't have to be elaborate or expensive, but here's my case for church weddings for believers:

First, a church wedding recognizes God's divine plan for marriage and indicates that the bride and groom seek the blessings of heaven upon their relationship and the home they are establishing.

Second, a church wedding signifies that the couple acknowledges the importance of being bound together by a spiritual love. In premarital counseling as a pastor, I always urged engaged couples to understand the significance of three Greek words for love: "eros," "phileo" and "agape."

Eros is the Greek word from which we get our word "erotic" and signifies the importance of intimate, sexual love, which is to be reserved for marriage. Phileo is more of a social or friendship kind of love, and in a marriage both the bride and groom should be marrying their best friend. They cultivate that kind of love by sharing life and doing things together.

Agape is a spiritual love, the kind of love God has for us and the kind of love that is enhanced as each partner in marriage grows in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. It is agape love that will bind the couple together in cords that cannot be broken. When a couple say their vows at the altar of marriage they should understand they are promising to love each other with eros, phileo and agape love until death parts them.

Third, a Christian wedding should be considered a worship service. It has all the properties of a worship service. There is a minister, a congregation of people, a message (the citing of biblical principles and a charge to the bride and groom) and Christian music.

In a Sunday worship service most people do not know the commitments made at the altar, but in a wedding the whole congregation is able to witness the commitments made by the bride and groom at the altar and help keep them accountable to their vows.

Fourth, a church wedding that is supported by prayer and careful planning may result in young people seeing God's divine plan for marriage and give married couples an opportunity to renew their vows as they watch the bride and groom pledge their solemn oaths to each other.

Fifth, since unredeemed people often come to weddings and funerals I generally have requested permission from the bride and groom to present the Gospel on such occasions. In weddings I would typically recount the salvation stories of the couple and urge each attendee to open his/her heart to the redemptive work of Christ.

Sixth, marriage is more than a civil contract; it is a sacred covenant. Since the Supreme Court has diminished the whole concept of marriage by legalizing same-sex unions, it is all the more important to counter the secularization of marriage by celebrating God's divine plan for marriage in a church worship ceremony. Furthermore, a civil contract can be easily broken; a sacred covenant is meant to be binding and for a lifetime.

Seventh, a Christian marriage establishes a spiritual foundation for the couple's children. Wedding vows should include the couple's promise to "bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."

Indeed, a church marriage -- whether large or small -- should signify that Christ will become the centerpiece of the new home and that both partners resolve to become more like Christ toward developing a strong, vibrant Christian marriage.

Gerald Harris is editor of The Christian Index (www.christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention, where this column first appeared.
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