Do Christians Have to Get Married in a Church?
By Lisa Loraine Baker, Crosswalk.com
Around the world, wedding ceremonies occur in various locations, from church buildings to local parks. In this post-pandemic time, destination weddings are still popular, and couples choose to invite their guests to a favorite locale, be it tropical or in view of a snow-capped mountain.
Nontraditional? You bet. Biblically sanctioned? It depends.
What Do Traditional Christian Weddings Look Like?
Christian wedding customs have varied throughout history and largely depend on the culture where the ceremony occurs. Time-honored U.S. traditions include pre-wedding bridal showers and then simple or elaborate ceremonies in a church building or chapel. The celebrations have grown to include groom’s and couples’ showers to honor and equip the man and woman for married life.
The wedding ceremony begins with music selected by the couple and is timed according to the arrival of the guests. Honored invitees (close friends and family members) are given front or near front row seating to witness the wedding. A clergyman or other officiate settles in the front center, facing the assembled guests, and the groom stands and faces the spectators in front of the clergyman and to his left (spectators’ right). Once the groom is in place, his groomsmen accompany the bridesmaids to the front of the sanctuary and separate at the front — the men go to the groom’s side and the bridesmaids go to the left, all facing the sanctuary. A special song begins (as chosen by the bride and groom) and the father of the bride accompanies his daughter to the waiting groom.
The usual progression is the father gives his daughter to the groom by placing her right hand in the groom’s. The officiating minister then performs the ceremony, thereby marrying the couple and then presents them to the assemblage as, Mr. and Mrs. __________.
A reception held after the wedding gives family and friends an informal way to honor and celebrate with the newly married couple. Receptions are either at the wedding venue itself or at a remote location.
What Does the Bible Say about Weddings?
As expected, the weddings mentioned in the Bible were Jewish, and without explicit details, we can glean the following:
The father of the groom chose the bride for his son. The betrothal period (Deuteronomy 20:7) lasted up to a year and it was a covenant before consummation. The groom would make all preparations for the wedding day, and upon his father’s approval, the wedding feast day (which lasted up to seven days) commenced when the groom went for his bride and brought her back to the house he had prepared for them.
Must a Christian Get Married in a Church?
Herein lies the crux of the matter. A marriage between a man and a woman (as created by God), is a covenant, and vows made between the man and the woman are in the sight of God. Because God instituted marriage, it must conform to His guidelines and purposes.
As such, a Christian couple is to:
1. Make sure they are equally yoked (2 Corinthians 6:14). Both the man and woman are to be true Christians, that is, people who have surrendered to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior according to the Gospel. And each is to pray about and for the spouse the Lord has for them.
2. Meet and pray with their pastor for marriage counseling so there is a greater understanding of what a Christian marriage entails. Once their pastor approves based on what the Bible says, they can then move forward.
3. Secure a marriage license from the authorities God has placed over us for our protection (Romans 13:1). In the sight of God and men, a man and a woman are joined in holy matrimony. This demonstrates the betrothed are endeavoring to keep themselves from every sort of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22), which a public declaration of their union in part assures (as far as being wedded under the law).
4. Arrange for a date and a venue for the wedding ceremony to be performed by their pastor (or another Christian officiate). And be very discerning to make sure the pastor provides a biblical wedding ceremony. A solid Bible-teaching pastor will expect this and will probably give the couple a huge “Attaboy” for their care in making sure they are entering a covenant which glorifies the Lord.
Whether the couple has their wedding in a church or somewhere else, the important factor is meeting all the criteria listed in the four points above. In marriage and in all of life, we are to honor the Lord (1 Corinthians 10:31). God established marriage when He created Eve as a suitable helper for Adam (Genesis 2:20). When a woman marries the man God has chosen for her, she is obeying the Lord in her submission to her husband as the spiritual head of their household, and each should honor the other as they love the Lord first (see Ephesians 5).
We are the church, so true believers always get married “in” the church no matter the location of the ceremony (assuming a Christian couple would not choose a questionable site). Weddings performed in a church setting, however, have a special nature about them because it’s where the church gathers every week to worship the Lord. The sacred setting lends itself to the solemnity of the couple’s vows as they make their covenant to each other before the Lord. But to reiterate, it’s the hearts of the couple that matters as they come before God to pledge their love and loyalty until death separates them.
A beautiful saying that exemplifies the vows as the rings are exchanged is, "Before God, I give you this ring as a sign of my vow, and I promise to honor you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
Will There Be Weddings in Heaven?
While our thoughts are on weddings and spouses, let’s look at what the Bible says will happen when we are in glory.
The Lord Jesus answers this question about marriage in heaven:
“At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:29).
“But those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage; for neither can they die anymore, for they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” (Luke 20:35-36).
Pastor Don Stewart adds, “Marriage, as we know it, is not necessary in heaven because there is no need for continuing the race. The number of people in heaven will not increase or decrease - it will remain the same. Believers will be married to Christ and have even deeper relationships than we have ever experienced on the earth.”
Instead, believers from all earth’s ages will be married to Christ. “’Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready; to her it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure’ - for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ’These are true words of God’” (Revelation 19:7-9).
A wedding is a beautiful affirmation of a Christian couple’s covenant to each other before the Lord. It should be a joyous event for everyone involved, no matter where the wedding ceremony takes place. When God is in the center of it all, He is sure to be glorified.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Rawpixel
Lisa Loraine Baker is the multiple award-winning author of Someplace to be Somebody. She writes fiction and nonfiction. In addition to writing for the Salem Web Network, Lisa serves as a Word Weavers’ mentor and is part of a critique group. She also is a member of BRRC. Lisa and her husband, Stephen, a pastor, live in a small Ohio village with their crazy cat, Lewis.