With the breakdown of faith and family has come a breakdown of the marriage rite. People basically equate shacking up with marriage. Many see a wedding ceremony as superfluous.
It is true that you don't need a fancy dancy wedding with all the hoopla. (I've encouraged people away from such things as the extravagance is just as unbiblical). But is there good reason for a wedding and official act of wedding?
There is no exact verse that you can go to to say weddings are mandated by God. That's because a wedding ceremony is something you glean more from the implications of Scripture rather than a specific proof text.
In the bible we do see that God required a certificate of divorce when a marriage was dissolved. Such, of course, implies that there is a formalized certification of marriage.
The nature of the vow is also something you have to understand. The vow is a serious one. Historically we have talked about the "solemnization of marriage." The grave nature of it necessitates witnesses and formal verbal expression. You can sort of compare it to a vow by a jury or court witness. (It has implications for church membership too, but a lot of churches don't have formal profession of faith or membership vows).
In sum, the ceremony is a way of indicating before God and man that you promise and covenant to be faithful to one another and that severing this relationship is radically evil.
You might also see the wedding in Cana as another text to think about. Jesus' attendance by way of implication seems to indicate that he countenanced the wedding ceremony.
If anything you can say that the wedding is at least a way of celebrating a beautiful relationship The Lord has brought together. Thus the whole water into wine thing.
There is also the issue of headship. A woman is subject to her father until she is married. Then she comes under her husband's authority. Thus she needs her father's permission and guidance in marriage. There is that small but very important part of the ceremony where the father "gives her away." This signifies the fact that he agrees with this decision (and therefore is partially responsible for it!).
We should also remember that marriage is not just religious in nature. It is a civil institution too. As the basic building block of society (Gen. 2) the family is integral to the state. That is why there are always fights to define it and regulate it (just look at the homosexual push today). Because the state has an interest in marriagethere is a need for official recognition.
Again, such does not imply a whole lot of hoopla. Running of to Vegas or simply going before a justice of the peace is just as legit (though lacking the divine element that Christianity would prefer).
There are such things as common law marriages where two people live together for so long that they are considered married. These vary from state to state and are sort of a cheap way around true marriage and therefore not to be commended.
These, however, ought to serve as a few reasons why a man and a woman should make every attempt to be wed and not just think that their agreement to live together is sufficient grounds for their relationship.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.