… Is traditional wedding complete on its own?
Is a traditionally wedded person supposed to wed in Church before moving in to live as couples? Is traditional marriage as good as the so-called Christian marriage? In this article, I would be discussing traditional marriage, Christian marriage, weddings and culture in general.
First of all, what is culture? Is culture divine? Was there any place in the creation story where God established certain culture? I think the answer is an emphatic no! Understanding what culture means will also help us understand what we call traditional marriage and Christian marriage today.
God established marriage in the Garden of Eden but did not declare certain rules on how it should be celebrated. God’s method was simple… He brought Eve to Adam, He served as their father both to Adam and his wife. He handed Eve over to Adam who beforehand had accepted that indeed Eve is the flesh of his flesh and the bone of his bone. The Bible said in Genesis 2:22 & 24
“And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man… Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. ”
There was no reception, there was no ring, there was no tying of the knot, there was no bridal train or bridal shower, there was no wine carrying. There was no price that Adam needed to pay before having Eve as a wife. The only requirement was to recognize Eve as the same with him and accept her as his wife. Based on Adam’s confession and God giving her over to him, Eve had become his wife. There was no wedding, there was just a marriage.
“And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman because she was taken out of Man.” Genesis 2:23
I would like to clear this confusion first.
Marriage is different from a wedding. Most times we use the two interchangeably to mean the celebration of the union of a man and a woman. We must understand that God is the author of marriage while man is the author of weddings. As a result, the synopsis of all wedding is human crafted. The suit, gowns, cakes, rings and all that are all human devices which is not wrong but not necessary for marriage to take place.
Traditional marriage is simply a union based on tradition while a Christian marriage is a union based on God’s word and the finished work of Christ. To be traditionally married means to be united with your spouse with respect to the traditional values of a place and to be married in the Christian way means a union with God’s word as it’s guiding light regardless of who officiated the wedding.
When believers are married together, it is Christian marriage, whether they wedded in Church, in court or customarily.
However, man is highly irrational and just like the Israelites who wanted a change from theocracy to monarchy without even considering God’s original design, men have always established their ways of doing things which is what we know today as traditions and culture.
Talking about the state of man’s heart after the fall, Jeremiah wrote in the 17th chapter of his book at verse 9
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
He was referring to the mind of men and their irrationality. In a bid to handle irrationality of men by men, rules upon rules are being introduced. These rules were also introduced even at wedding ceremonies.
God’s definition of marriage is portrayed when a man finds his soul mate and decides to spend the rest of his life with her. In God’s sight, marriage starts when the father hands the couples over to each other!
Wedding is a party and not the main thing just like a birthday party is simply a celebration of what has already happened. Marriage doesn’t start from the altar of any denomination, that is just a ceremony.
Does that mean God doesn’t have concerns over our own culture? No! God has concerns and even regard our different cultures because He handed the earth over to us. He knows the state of man and their irrationality after the fall of man but through the change of heart, He has rescued those who believe in Jesus.
He doesn’t dictate what we do here; He even had to set man free from the laws of Moses which happen to be the culture and tradition of Israel in those times. Before the advent of monarchy in Israel, this is what the Bible had to say concerning Israel
“In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Judges 21:25
Do you see that? There was no central tradition or culture because a man was not their king. God was their king then and he didn’t rule them with the law. He allowed them to do what was right in their own eyes.
God loves us in our diversity but wants us to make Him the centre of everything including our marriage. But because of men’s irrationality, they would always want to establish their kind of rules and to always deal with irrational behaviours, men make irrational decisions too. God understands and that was why God told Samuel to let the people do what they which. Culture is a generally accepted way of life but doesn’t mean God’s way of life.
The Bible puts it this way
“And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.” 1 Samuel 8:7
God has great regard for the voice of the people which is the foundation of culture. Sometimes, He allows them to learn from their wrong decisions.
Having said the above, how does this affect marriage? Does that mean culturally wedded couples can live together without doing what we call “Christian wedding”? Wedding can be done differently by different people…
Traditional weddings, registry weddings and Church weddings are all weddings. Certain traditions may define marriage as official enslavement of a woman to go and work for the husband. The court may define marriage as a union of a man and a woman who can separate when things go wrong while Church weddings try to give us an intro into the reality of what marriage is all about… For better, for worse.
Marriage is a union; the wedding is a celebration and public declaration of that union. Unlike tradition, Christian marriage is a union based on the words of Christ and not a celebration or wedding done in Church.
For instance, most African traditions don’t believe two shall become one, they rather believe the woman shall become the property of the man. It is not traditional marriage because of the traditional wears neither is it Christian marriage because of the gown nor suit.
What we call Christian wedding today is christened white men’s culture. Wedding gowns have nothing to do with Christianity, the philosophies surrounding the white gown, the black suit, the ring, the flowers, the wedding cakes and all that may be nice and applaud-able but it has nothing to do with Christianity.
Marriage can happen without a gown and suit. So, does that mean in Africa, a traditionally wedded couple doesn’t need to wed in Church? Like I said earlier, culture is a general belief guided by people’s perception and orientation. That is why there are different cultures in different regions.
The coming of the white men and indeed the gospel to Africa brought lots of changes and challenges. At a point, the Church had to reach a compromise and some traditions also had to reach a compromise. This is evident in burial ceremonies, seasonal festivals and weddings where traditional obligations and religious obligations are fulfilled together.
What happened? The white men who brought us Christianity had modified their cultures and traditions to fit into Christianity, they have replaced the readings with Bible words and verses to make it sound Christian enough.
When they were introducing Christianity to us, they were also introducing some of their cultures to us. Some missionaries preached that people who don’t wed in Church won’t make heaven, they preached that those who don’t baptise their kids will lose them to hell if they eventually die as a baby. Gradually, Africans were adopting those cultures and practising it alongside theirs.
African traditions had its ups and downs, part of that culture were meant to be an act of worship to idols, part of them was meant to make people law-abiding, part of them was meant to bring orderliness and so on. The killing of twins for instance was an act of worship to idols while ‘palm-wine carrying’ was meant to symbolize a woman who has found her husband and accepted his proposals.
On one hand, the cultures had good sides and on the other hand, the culture and traditions of Africans were grounded on idol worship.
The Church as an organization has its traditions and cultures. The Church is bigger than our ethnic divide; the Church is what unites believers as one. For instance, an Asian Christian is the same with an American Christian by the reason of the oneness we have in Christ.
Like we noted earlier, culture is a generally accepted way of life and not necessarily a divinely endorsed way of life. In that view, while a Church wedding is not bad, it doesn’t have any endorsement from God more than others do. God recognizes marriage when two persons come together as one, he doesn’t recognise it because a Pastor prayed.
In the entire Bible, we do not see Jesus and the Apostles officiating any wedding, we do not see them commanding Pastors to take over weddings, they recognised and endorsed marriage for what it was – a union of a man and a woman. Until centuries later after Jesus and the Apostles, the Church never officiated weddings, it wasn’t their business.
Does this make Church weddings any bad? No! Depending on one’s denomination, you may need to do Church wedding so that your marriage can be recognised by them. However, whether you do a Church wedding or not, you are not living in sin if you had gone on to consummate the marriage.
In Africa and some parts of Asia, Christians go through burdens just to be labelled “married”. In Nigeria for example, many Christians do three weddings: traditional wedding, registry wedding and Church wedding. Why all the stress when we can just go to the registry after our Parents approval and get married?
While I encourage anyone who belongs to certain denominations to obey their rules, I also tell people the truth: you aren’t sinning if for any reason you decide not to do Church wedding. The duty of Pastors is to teach and disciple believers, not to officiate weddings.
Many Africans saw Christianity as a threat to their own culture and tradition which to them is a heritage they will never do away with. In a bid to project Christianity as something very beneficial to the African culture, the missionary had to compromise to some point. They didn’t outrightly condemn traditional weddings but presented Church weddings as the final consolidation of marriage.
In some Churches, you are not allowed to do Church wedding before the traditional wedding because it is believed that Church wedding is superior to traditional wedding. While I know that there could be benefits to doing a Church wedding in licensed Churches, these benefits can also be accessed in the marriage registry.
Couples become married the moment the father officially hands the woman over to the man just as God handed Eve over to Adam. Wedding isn’t marriage.
I like to think the Church like a family but I believe that the duty the Church owe believers who are getting married is teaching, guidance and encouragement. Not necessarily officiating of the ceremony. Churches shouldn’t make people who didn’t wed in Church feel guilty. In some Churches, if you don’t wed in Church, you’ll be denied some privileges like holy communion, Child dedication and so on.
In summary, while I encourage believers who belong to certain denominations to follow what works for their denomination, we must emphasize that you aren’t living in sin, should you for any reason not wed in Church.
On George’s Diary, we recommend everyone to do statutory marriage (“court marriage”) which gives them some kind of security in marriage. Customary marriages leave no form of protection to the women in any case the man decides to marry a second wife or have concubines. Many Churches are licensed to issue statutory marriage certificates by the marriage registry. Read more here.