From the Rev. P. De Boer we received the following contribution:
Rev. H. Hoeksema,
Marriages In The Church.
This article is being written on a rented typewriter while I am sitting in a room in the Kahler Hotel here at Rochester, Minnesota. The latter part of February my wife and I spent the greater part of two weeks here at the Mayo Clinic, and now (the third week of March) we are here again. This time we are staying in a hotel connected with the Clinic by a sub-way to make it as easy as possible for my wife for whose condition we are here. As you may remember—the people of Redlands certainly will—some four years ago my wife was very seriously ill with what was finally called “encephalitis”, from which it took about a year for her to recover. Well, about six weeks ago the double vision that started things off the other time began again. Gradually the pain in the left eye became more severe, the eye finally remained closed entirely, and the repeated spasms of pain leave her very weak. We hesitated to come to Rochester this week wondering if my wife could stand the trip, but doctors advised us at all events to take her to Mayo’s because the case was a difficult one. There is something fundamentally wrong but to date the doctors are not yet sure just what the trouble is, although they now seem to think they are on the right track and hope to be able definitely to say within a few days. In the meantime my wife spends most of the time in bed, resting-up between appointments. Our prayer is that it may please the Lord to give the physicians the necessary wisdom to discover the nature of the ailment and to prescribe some remedy, but that above all He may teach us Christian submission to His way, knowing that all things work together for good to them that love God and are the called according to His purpose.
The purpose of this article, however, is to write about marriages in the church. Some months back you as editor of the Standard Bearer placed a question concerning this matter and briefly gave some of your views on the matter. At that time you invited Edgerton’s consistory to write on the matter in the Standard Bearer. To date nothing appeared. However, with the permission of the consistory, I would like to quote various decisions of our consistory on this matter of marriages in the church and thereby bring this entire matter before the attention of our people. Without intending exactly a debate I would like to hear what you think of our present decisions. If we have erred we want to know our error and go in the right direction with this matter. Rather than write personally for your opinion I’m writing publicly. This discussion is in the nature of the case one in which our people in general are interested and can profit by.
Let me begin by saying that, as I understand, it has well-nigh been a prevalent practice in Edgerton, not only in our Prot. Ref. Church, that marriages are solemnized in the church. By the latter I do not mean that marriage ceremonies were merely solemnized in the church buildings, but that marriages took place in a divine worship. Marriages in the church here in Edgerton do not generally mean ceremonies performed in the building, but regular divine worship during which the marriage vows are taken by the bridal couple. If marriages are performed in the church they are solemnized in divine worship, though not necessarily on Sunday.
In March 1944, a request came from someone in the congregation for the solemnization of a marriage in divine worship, requesting however permission for bridesmaid, best-man, etc. At that time—this was while the Rev. G. Vos was minister in Edgerton—the consistory ruled as follows: “that the bridal pair only shall appear before the pulpit, and that in harmony with sober and correct Reformed church polity no other worldly usages shall be tolerated”. (Consistory minutes, March 6, 1944). According to this, ruling all attendants at weddings are called “worldly usages”, which to my mind can mean nothing more than sinful. If they are sinful they are sinful in divine worship not only but also in all other places where marriage may be solemnized. The appearance of the bridal pair alone is called in harmony with sober and correct Reformed church polity, in plain words a “mouthful” that demands evidence which is not expressed. Though naturally I would submit to this decision in practice, I cannot personally subscribe to the view that all the attendants, etc., are in themselves “worldly usages”, worldly in the sense of sinful.
Again in September 1948, the consistory received a request for the solemnization of marriage. This request was for marriage in a divine worship together with two attendants and flower girls. However, the request was also that in case the consistory would not allow the attendants, flower girls, etc., in a divine worship, the building would be granted for the ceremony apart from a worship. At this time the consistory reconsidered its decision of March 1944, and now decided “that in a divine service the preaching of the Word should have all emphasis, and to have more than the bridal pair before the pulpit tends to distract rather than add to the sanctity of Holy worship. Hence the consistory considers it advisable in a marriage ceremony that takes place in a full divine worship to allow only the bridal pair. Otherwise we see a danger that couples may seek to outdo each other, which will hinder rather than add to the basic idea of divine worship of God meeting with His people”. (Consistory minutes, Sept. 10, 1948). You will notice that in this decision the consistory does not at all speak of “worldly usages”, of “sober and correct Reformed church polity”. The consistory feels that a divine worship consists of God meeting with His people, that more than the bridal pair before the pulpit will open the door to more and more additions to the forms connected with the marriage ceremony and thereby focus the attention upon matters other than the primary idea of divine worship. We granted the use of the building in that case for a marriage ceremony arranged as the bridal pair wished it, but without divine worship. Personally, I have in the past been in favor of marriages solemnized without divine worship, whether in the church building or in some other suitable hall. In the past I have not felt too much for Church Order, article 70, that obligates the consistory to see to it that all marriages are performed in the church, which means not the church building but a regular divine worship. Yet, the more I think of this entire matter the more I am in favor of Church Order, article 70, which (by the way) we are obligated to carry out, or in the way of gravamina to change.
The question you received was in regard to this request, just mentioned in the fore-going paragraph. In this instance the consistory did not condemn attendants as “worldly usage” but laid down a rule for divine worship and what should form a part of it. In such a wedding that takes place in a full divine worship the consistory clearly is within its jurisdiction when it draws up some general rule that shall obtain for all marriages performed as part of a divine service. Certainly in such services there should be a general practice to which all must conform. The consistory simply was seeking to establish some general practice for divine worship. We did not open the door for the use of weddings in the church arranged as the couples might desire. But this left out the ministry of the Word, which I felt more and more to be more important than all other forms and practices.
But this is not the end of the matter. In February we received a request for the use of the church building for a marriage by someone though a daughter of the church no longer a member. Again this whole marriage matter came before our attention.
Now the consistory decided as follows. I quote: “In view of the fact that repeatedly requests come for public church weddings with divine worship, or for the use of the church building for marriage ceremonies without divine worship, by those in the church and even outside the church, with or without bridesmaids, flower girls, etc., the consistory decided the following:
- That henceforth all marriages in our church building shall be in a divine worship. Church Order, Art. 70.
- That only such marriages shall be solemnized as in 1, where both parties are members (by baptism or by confession) of our Prot. Ref. Churches, or declare their intention to become such. Ground: only those that are members can truly before God take part in a Prot. Ref. divine worship.
- That in these public marriages only the bride and the groom shall appear, as per our decision of Art. 3 of Sept. 10, 1948.” End quote.
The second point needs some explanation. It has happened in the past that a marriage was solemnized in divine worship in our church where one of the parties was not a member of the Prot. Ref. Church, nor intended to become one, and where the couple intended to affiliate with a church of another denomination after their marriage. Personally I am convinced that it is not proper to solemnize a marriage in a divine worship where one of the parties involved is not of the Prot. Ref. Churches nor intends to be. Church weddings in the full sense of the Word, which imply approval before God on the part of the consistory and the church, ought to take place where both are of the Prot. Ref. Churches, or where the one not a member declares his intention to become such. Only such marriages can properly be contracted in the presence of God and His church and with the official sanction of the consistory. At any rate our consistory has expressed that only such marriages where the parties involved are members of our church, or where one who does not declares his intention to become such, shall be solemnized before the church. Other weddings can take place in the home or in a hall, if the parties wish, but marriages in the church are only for those who are members of the Prot. Ref. Church. How can anyone who in his heart says that some other church institute is the true church, that the Prot. Ref. Church is not the church institute to which he is commanded of Christ to belong, properly before God’s face take part in a divine worship of the Prot. Ref. Church? You understand we realize some may look at this matter differently, but we are seeking objectively to determine some method by which to determine these matters: and concrete church membership is the objective standard by which we must go. In the back of our mind is Art. 27 of the Confession of Faith.
Well, Rev. Hoeksema, I have written enough to start some discussion on a matter that is repeatedly a problem to consistories. We are convinced that in view of the general American disregard for the sanctity of marriage, it is fitting that marriages be performed according to Church Order, Art. 70. The preaching of the Word ought to be on the foreground. We are also convinced that marriage in a divine service ought to be solemnized only between those of the Prot. Ref. Churches. And we are further of the opinion to avoid all the present day frills connected with marriages, general as they have become, we shall limit the bridal party to the couple concerned, not because bridesmaids, etc. are in themselves sinful, but because in a divine worship we need a general limitation, applicable to all, lest the propriety of a Reformed worship be forgotten. Aren’t our present day marriage customs departing from the primacy of things and losing themselves in secondary matters? Is the line we are drawing to your mind the best to lead these matters in the direction of Church Order, Art. 70?
If anywhere we err in our present stand we want to correct our stand, but we want to keep marriages as part of church services, and not just in the building. We look forward to your comments, and very likely after that ask for more space.
P. De Boer.
We all deeply sympathize with Rev. and Mrs. De Boer in their affliction. We assure them that our prayers are ascending to the throne of grace in their behalf. May they abundantly experience that God’s grace is always sufficient.
The rest of this article I hope to answer as soon as I have time and space.