The last time we wrote that marriage, in the land of our forefathers, took place in three stages. First there was the engagement in which the parties to the marriage solemnly pledge themselves to each other. Then there was the actual solemnization of the marriage by the civil authorities. This was followed by the confirmation of marriage by the church. In our present article we are concerned with this final stage.
Confirmed by the Church
Previously we have expressed why the church has a vital interest in the marriages of her members and, therefore, also the reason that these marriages should be confirmed by the church. This we will not repeat but will now concern ourselves solely with the manner in which this confirmation of marriage takes place by the church.
Strictly speaking the only marriages that are “confirmed” by the church are those that are performed by the church and not every wedding that is performed by the minister of the Word. The church cannot confirm private weddings even though these may be held in the church building. In such weddings the minister simply functions as an agent of the state and performs the marriage but the church has nothing to do with it. In real church weddings, however, this is different. In such weddings the church confirms the marriage with the Form that is adopted for this purpose and which is part of the Confessions of the church.
All this is very evident from the Form For Marriage itself. Strictly speaking this Form cannot be used for private weddings. At the very beginning it speaks of the bride and bridegroom, “who desire to have your marriage bond publicly confirmed, here in the name of God, before this Church . . .” This must be altered for private weddings where you might speak of confirming the marriage “before this assembly or gathering.” Then it is simply the friends, relatives and witnesses who confirm the marriage but not the church. A bit further in the Form you find this statement made by the minister: “I take you all, who are met here to witness, that there is brought no lawful impediment.” This makes no sense when the marriage is performed privately since neither the church nor anyone else has been given opportunity to object to the marriage. This is quite different, however, with the church wedding that is publicly announced on the bulletin of the church in advance. Then opportunity is given to bring lawful objections to the consistory.
The marriage form that appears in the back of our Psalter has been subject to much criticism. Some say that the form is too solemn, too serious. Others object that it speaks too bluntly concerning the realities of married life. Others criticize the fact that nowhere in the form is there a definite or specific statement pronouncing the bride and bridegroom to be husband and wife. Then too, in line with modern thinking about weddings, the objection is not infrequently heard that “the old form is too long.”
We do not concur with these criticisms. It may be admitted that our marriage form is a “solemn” confession but this it also ought to be. After an introductory statement the form traces the origin of marriage in the creation of the woman to be an help-meet for man. It points, out that this creative act of God is indicative of the fact that marriage is pleasing to Him and that, therefore, this holy state ought to be kept honorably by all. The form then continues to show the reasons that God instituted marriage. These are given as follows: “First, that each faithfully assist the other in all things that belong to this life, and a better. Secondly, that they bring up the children, which the Lord shall give them, in the true knowledge and fear of God, to his glory, and their salvation. Thirdly, that each of them, avoiding all uncleanness and evil lust, may live with a good and quiet conscience.”
In the second part of the form it is shown how the husband and wife are to conduct themselves in the marriage relation. The beauty of this part of the form is its Scripturalness as it portrays the duties of the husband, who is the head of the wife, to lead, instruct, comfort, and protect even as Christ is the head, wisdom, consolation and assistance to His church. He is to love his wife and provide for her even as Christ loved and provided for His bride. Likewise the wife is exhorted to love, honor, fear and obey her husband in all lawful things even as the church is subject to Christ in love.
Following the speaking of the marriage vows the form cites two significant passages of Holy Writ to impress upon those wedded the binding character of marriage and the blessedness for those who live therein according to the will of God.
All of this is indeed very solemn. This is proper and that it is not too much so is evident from the fact that even within the church the solemnity of this holy relation is all too frequently disregarded.
Concerning the second objection that is raised we may say that here also the facts of life are clearly stated and this is as it ought to be. At the beginning of the form, for example, it is said that married persons are generally, by reason of sin, subject to many troubles and afflictions. This is not to paint a dark and pessimistic picture of the marriage state for those about to enter it. On the contrary, it is simply expressive of the truth, the reality of life. Why present things as a bed of roses and ignore the thorns that are there. Reality is that “by reason of sin” all will not run smoothly. After the honeymoon is over the hard facts of trials, problems and afflictions must be faced. Before one enters this state they had better be instructed in these realities lest they wake up later only to be greatly disillusioned.
The marriage form speaks of “whoremongers and adulterers and fornication.” Some object to this language. Do they forget that this also is the language of Scripture and that, therefore, it is proper to warn, as Scripture also does, that all uncleanness within the marriage state God will surely punish as much as He punishes that which is done outside of the marriage state. The marriage state is no license to sin. It is a holy institution of God and must be honored as such by those entering it or they cannot expect the blessing of the Lord upon them.
The third objection which is that the form does not in so many words unite the parties in marriage, may be answered very easily. We ask which of the following is the stronger, more emphatic statement:
1. If a man, be he minister of the Word, says: “I pronounce thee man and wife . . .”
2. Or, to quote our form: “The Father of all mercies, Who of His grace hath called you to this holy state of marriage, bind you in true love and faithfulness, and grant you His blessing.”
We have no objection to including both of these formulations if that is desired. However, if it is a choice of excluding one or the other the former can be omitted without any real loss. The latter must certainly be retained. We are speaking about Christian marriage and then it must be remembered that it is not man, the church or that stand that unites in marriage but GOD Himself joins us in holy matrimony. This the form for marriage clearly states.
The last objection is really no objection at all. That the form is too long and ought to be abbreviated is simply not true. The entire form takes less than ten minutes to read and bearing in mind that this form is designed for church weddings, we aver that if that is too much time the whole ceremony isn’t worthy to be held in church.
The form for marriage also contains a brief but important prayer. The church confirms the marriages of her members also with her prayers. It is through prayer that the Lord provides His grace and Spirit and without these blessed gifts it is futile to embark upon the sea of matrimony. The prayer of the marriage form ends with what is commonly referred to as the Lord’s Prayer. This prayer, we believe, is to be spoken and not sung, as is frequently done. This is distracting from the prayer. It does not lend itself to the proper reverence in prayer. The minister of the Word is uttering the prayer when suddenly he seems to be interrupted with the voice of song. In our opinion this just does not fit and we prefer to see the prayer concluded as it was begun.
In concluding this matter of marriage we like to quote the following paragraph from “The Church Order Commentary” reflecting upon the statement of Article. 70 of the Church Order that, “the Consistories shall attend to it.” This refers, of course, to the proper confirmation of marriage in the presence of Christ’s church and according to the form. Monsma and Van Dellen state:
“The present article states that ‘the consistories shall attend to it.’ Consistories should therefore encourage weddings before the church of Christ. The matter should be mentioned to young people’s classes, in sermons, at the time of family visitations, etc. Church Visitors would do well to inquire whether the consistories are faithful in this respect. Very often much is made of funerals. A ‘service’ in the church is insisted upon. But the confirmation of marriages before the church in Christ is considered as unnecessary. This is not as it should be. Let consistories enlighten their people regarding these matters.”