… a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)

There are two usual reasons people give for wanting to have a wedding ceremony inside a church building.

1. It’s traditional. Tradition is the experience of a lot of people over a long time, and this is the only authority that tradition has: time. Do you know why brides carry flowers? Several hundred years ago, people would have their annual (and I do mean that literally) bath in May. By June, when most weddings took place, the bride’s own aroma had an earthy tang to it, which the fragrance of the flowers covered up.

2. A church building is holy. This view comes from the belief view that the church building is the Christian temple, and the temple is the place where God is. This belief is allied to the assumption that if you have a connection with a holy thing, then you will be blessed. We only need to look at the Old Testament to see the fallacy of this. Israel had several objects that were quite closely connected to God: the Most Holy Place in the temple (where God’s presence was – but wasn’t limited to), the chest of the (Mosaic) covenant, in which were placed a jar of manna (which God divinely provided for the Israelites every day for forty years), the Ten Commandments (which God wrote) and Aaron’s staff (a stick of dead wood) that budded.

Much good all of that did Israel. They were blessed because God chose them to be an example to the rest of the world. When they rebelled against God, holding sacred relics didn’t save them: look at 1 Samuel chapter 4, where the Israelites brought the chest with them to the battlefront, so God would help them win. Instead, they were given a royal thrashing … and the chest was captured by the uncircumcised Philistines. Having the temple, the house of God, didn’t stop the Babylonians or the Romans from invading the land and ransacking the temple.

Touching or being near a supposed ‘holy’ relic doesn’t bestow any benefit on us, unless we own it and charge money to let others near it. We can’t get holiness or blessing to rub off on us, like wiping satay sauce off your face with a napkin. Yet there is truth to the belief about being blessed if we are joined to a holy entity; but it isn’t any thing – it is our relationship to God.

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance… (Ephesians 1:13-14)

Being wedded in a church building doesn’t convey any blessing: being joined to Christ Jesus is how God ultimately blesses us.

If then, a church wedding isn’t necessary for a marriage, what is? Genesis 2:24 gives us two criteria: to leave and unite. Simply, this means that each person will leave the home of their parents and to declare, formally, that they will devote themselves to each other as a new, separate family. Some scholars say that the process includes sex as an integral part of a true wedding – not in front of people obviously; it’s probably where our “you may kiss the bride” tradition derives from – and well they should. God determined marriage as the situation for sex.

Sex begets children, and children benefit from a stable home environment, a place where they can feel safe, where love in all its ways is properly shown: through affection and discipline and communication with people of both sexes – this by seeing their parents relate to them and to each other. This environment is the ideal one to help us to grow up psychologically healthy.

If a true marriage is leaving and uniting rather than a specific ceremony, why do we have a specific event at all, whether in a church building, a garden or a registry office? Being wedded in a ceremony is a public, official and legal event, but merely moving in together and living in a de facto marriage isn’t: there is no public, widespread, announcement; there is no “clean break” of the new couple from their families of origin. There is no event to formally mark the couple as a new, separate family.

This break is important for the emotional health of every person involved, so the parents or siblings don’t start interfering in the affairs of “their” family, or so the partners don’t go running back to “their” family when there’s a problem. We benefit from advice from family and friends who can see the issue more objectively, but we have to work out the problem ourselves, with our spouse. There is no real going back. When two people unite, they are a new family: this is what a wedding ceremony celebrates.

copyright 2007 Troy Grisgonelle.