The oldest segments of the Christian Church, the Eastern Orthodox and related branches, do not have marriage vows in their traditional wedding ceremonies. This was a surprise to me, and speaks volumes about how marriage should be understood by the Church in an age of grace. There is law, and there is grace. Vows belong to the realm of law. Jesus said not to make vows, but to let our yes mean yes, and our no mean no (Mt. 5:33-37).
Traditional Western wedding vows were taken from the Sarum Rite, established by Saint Osmund, Bishop of Salisbury, and Richard Poore in the 11th century and was originally the local form used in the Cathedral and Diocese of Salisbury, England. It was later formalized in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, and went like this:
Groom: I,____, take thee,_____, to be my wedded Wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.
Bride: I,_____, take thee,_____, to be my wedded Husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth.
Then, as the groom places the ring on the bride’s finger, he says:
With this Ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
There has been enough controversy over the words “worship” for the man, and “obey” for the woman, that the Alternative Service Book of 1980 gives two versions for the vows:
Version A: I, ____, take you, ____, to be my wife (or husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy law, and this is my solemn vow.
Version B is identical except for the clause “to love and to cherish” where the groom says “to love, cherish, and worship” and the bride says “to love, cherish, and obey”.
I have to agree that the controversy over how to word wedding vows continues, because there is no specific example of a wedding vow in the Bible, but Western governments in particular have made the marriage relationship – and divorce – a matter subject to numerous civil laws.
In my experience, it’s not good for me to demand obedience from my wife – on the basis of a vow. I feel honored when she gives it voluntarily, but for me to require it demotes her from being my equal to a subordinate. This has a destructive effect on any marriage, and I can’t recommend it on the basis of what Jesus plainly taught. It doesn’t follow the types we looked at in Part One of this series either.
Do we expect that we will always obey Jesus after we take him as our Lord? Of course not! We know how flawed we are, and how much we need his grace, even after walking with him for many years. The very idea of making a vow to obey Jesus seems ridiculous. I gladly vow to love and cherish Him, and hope that I will never be separated from Him for any reason. He is not hard of heart or unforgiving. I can handle that, in spite of my weakness, and love Him all the more because of it.
The other word of controversy is that the man with his body will worship his wife. It sounds great for the wedding night, but I think the ceremony has that backward. We, the bride, worship our Bridegroom’s Father. Speaking to the woman by the well who had been married five times and was now living with a man to whom she was not married, Jesus said:
But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn. 4:23-24).
Think hard about what this means. Jesus, our Bridegroom, treats us like equals; worshipping the Father with us, even though he is legally our Lord and Master. He lowers himself to our level, and elevates us to his… like Hosea did for Gomer when a vow would have stoned her for adultery.