WHEN A MAN AND A WOMAN WANT TO MARRY, WHAT ARE THE CONNECTIONS BETWEEN TRADITIONAL/CULTURAL VALUES, AND CHURCH OR CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLES?
When the marriage discussion crops us regarding traditional or cultural values versus Christian principles, and the arguments or opinions begin to fly east and west across the board, then we need to critically examine all the facts in the Bible as our primary source, carefully analyze our traditional and cultural values, discard outmoded and ungodly ones by testing them against true Biblical principles, explore all the intended and unintended consequences of our actions in the past, and constructively appraise the success stories of our marriages with honest intentions that are free of carnal compromises.
What some of us understand and believe is that you should first obey the Lord by accepting Jesus as your personal Savior and Lord, and follow it up with a demonstration of your commitment to God by submitting to parental and family authority and perform the required customary rites, in order for the woman’s family to grant (both of you) the permission to have the woman as your wife (or have the man as your husband) traditionally, and culturally.
Seriously speaking it still falls within the confines of Christian obedience, for a true Believer to adhere to the commandment of God that strictly charges children to obey their parents and show maximum respect to their elders. God, then, expects the gentleman and the lady to engage in pure courtship (free of sin, especially sexual sin), and allow their families and the Lord to put them together properly with legal permission and God’s blessing before living together and engaging in any sexual activities for a sexual union.
After the parental consent you MUST bless the marriage before God as a Christian. Non-Christians have no relationship with Christ, and are not considered by the Bible as Children of God with God’s Spirit living in them and controlling their affairs. Unbelievers do not therefore have any objective to do God’s will according to the Bible, so Christians should be very careful how they copy them, or how they lightheartedly dilute our cherished Christian holy and righteous standards by thinking and acting like people of the world who do not know God.
We must realize that the first thing God did to the first couple (Adam and Eve) was to bless them (Genesis 1:28). This is a major reason why we must bless all marriages in the Presence of Almighty God who is the author and creator of marriage, and who alone has the right to give instructions about marriage.
In the Book of 1Timothy 4:4, 5, God tells us that everything in this world is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. God instructs us in 1 Corinthians 7:39 that we must marry only in the Lord (according to God’s divine will and instructions, and calling upon Him to take charge of the marriage).
A marriage should therefore be respectfully blessed before God with utmost reverence exhibited by the man and woman, and the process must be directed and executed by a Minister of Jesus Christ. Our God is a God of order, and will NOT accept anything that violates His divine order.
With all the arguments and confusion about weddings, the real idea is “blessing of a marriage”, which is a term that should be used, just in case people find the term “wedding” too foreign or too elaborate to subscribe to. However, the concept of “wedding” is scriptural, especially when we read that Jesus attended a wedding in St. John chapter 2 and thereby sanctified the ceremony and made it wholly acceptable.
If, however, the people marrying do not want a formal wedding in a church sanctuary, they can discuss with their Minister or Pastor and have a simple blessing, in accordance with established principles of the Minister or the particular church.
I have handed over a sister before (who had no relatives around the US) in 1995 during a 15-minute simple marriage blessing ceremony when I was an Elder in Glad Tidings Assembly of God Church in the Bronx (New York City) on a Sunday immediately following the morning service. I participated in a similar short and simple but spiritually solemn ceremony after I had preached at a morning service at Trinity Baptist Church in West Norwood in London in the year 2001.
In both cases, the Pastors involved took the prospective couple through a period of pre-marital counseling (which is very necessary) before blessing the marriage. Vows and rings were exchanged nicely without any flamboyant parades, and the couples are still happily married today.
Some people also take the Minister along to a Court House where they go to register the marriage, and submit to God’s authority by letting the Minister bless the marriage there formally, with the exchange of vows and rings.
Others bless their marriages formally and exchange all the rings (engagement and wedding rings) at the engagement or customary rites ceremony. In such a case the two people must be present. The man, for example, cannot be overseas or in a distant city, and send his family to perform the customary rites, and work out for the lady to join him for the two people to start living together and engaging in sexual activity immediately the woman arrives. That is NOT right in the eyes of a holy God. But, we can kill our consciences, argue our way through, and do whatever our desires tell us to do, and bear the final consequences.
If the man (who is expected to be the wise leader in the relationship) cannot exercise enough self-control and wait for a few weeks for them to be counseled adequately and make plans for their pastor to formally join him together with his fiancée, then they should consult their pastor and make whatever plans that could be put in place for them to possibly shorten the initial counseling period for a blessing to take place, and for the counseling to be continued after the marriage blessing or wedding ceremony.
Any form of blessing at an engagement or customary rite (traditional marriage) ceremony has to be properly arranged with the Minister for a formal and decisive process to be enacted where the two people are properly joined together with scripture and vows plus serious prayer, and pronounced husband and wife in a solemn fashion without making it appear casual and lackadaisical as if it is cheap sexual friendship that they are embarking on to merely enjoy each other for fun, make money together, acquire property, and have children for their benefit and prestige.
The Western world has a simple engagement between the man and woman without parental permission or any ceremony, but Africans and some other cultures (including Jews) take their engagement as traditional marriage. That is why Joseph was contemplating “divorce” for Mary when he realized that she was pregnant (by the Holy Spirit) after their engagement, although they had not yet slept together (Mathew 1: 18, 19). That is even an example to teach us that a legal and formal engagement (traditional marriage ceremony) does not warrant sexual activity between the two people before the entire marriage procedures have been completed according to God’s laws.
The word “engagement” was only borrowed by Africans etc. to name their traditional ceremony in the English language, just as Africans have borrowed words like “brother” and “sister” which mean more than blood relations pertaining to the same father and same mother in, for example, Ghanaian language in Africa.
Many Africans do not have strict differentiation in their language for “cousin” etc. but simply say, for example in the Ghanaian Twi language, “me nua” (my brother, or sister) which in English will be biological “brother” or “sister”, which does not therefore mean the same for an English-speaking person.
The use of “engagement” is not wrong as the name of the traditional marriage ceremony for educated ones in the African culture, because no African regards the process as a light ceremony without commitment, although calling the ceremony “engagement” might cause some people to think that it is simple, but it is actually customary marriage.
We, as committed saints and children of Almighty God, should note, however, that the customary marriage is NOT complete for the man and woman to engage in sexual activity, and for them to immediately consummate the marriage without allowing God to give them His final blessing. Christians should not just consider an end to everything in the marriage process because they have performed all the elaborate customary rites, without the completion of the process with the exchange of vows and proper blessing of the marriage before God Almighty.
If people ignorantly got stuck only to the culture they knew in the past without strict adherence to spiritual principles, and God apparently forgave them because of their ignorance, it does not permit those of us who live in this present age with adequate knowledge to intentionally refuse to do and teach the right thing, and try to use our old example in our time of ignorance to tell others that they should do things the way we did them because God accepted us anyhow. In this modern era, the young ones are far sophisticated than the older generation, and any misstep or careless counsel that deviates from strict Biblical principles will take them miles away from what is moral, upright, and spiritual, and create marital havoc plus family tragedies for generations to come.
Opinions may differ, but the scriptures cannot lie, and any violation of what God has set out in His word for obedience cannot be changed.
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, BUT NOW He commands everyone everywhere to repent (change and do the right thing)”(Acts 17:30).
Over the years I have encountered (and continue to encounter) the cited example of Isaac and Rebecca as the classic example of how we should marry (referred to, especially by people who do not want to bless their marriages the Bible or church way).
I have always asked myself: What about references to all the other scriptures regarding God’s instructions on general Biblical principles for God’s approval of things He has instituted to be strictly observed, total instructions about marriage, vows, and God’s ordinances and sacraments? Why do we focus only on one chapter in the Bible and ignore all the other verses of scripture, and several injunctions and admonitions of scripture that instruct us to conduct our business according to godly principles?
I know that it is really difficult for anyone to be very Biblical, if the person was raised up in deep traditions and cultural values of his or her environment without any balance with true and thorough Biblical training and application of total scripture for daily living. Culture and traditions, if not carefully tested against scripture, can tragically (and fatally) blind the victim. It has even happened to Ministers of the gospel, and other men and women of God, and leaders in society who rushed into ministry and ambitious leadership without God’s proper calling or preparation for what they impulsively plunged themselves into.
Anyone who was trained to be more religious than spiritually Christian, will adhere more to tradition and all the positives and negatives of his or her prevailing traditional values than adherence to strict holy principles of scripture. A church, Christian group, or organization can neglect, ignore, misinterpret, compromise, misquote, or even refuse to observe what exactly God says and means in His word as a whole, and simply pick bits and pieces of scripture, twist and bend the ideas to suit their way of living or church regulations, and still call it “Church or ministry acceptance and way of doing things.”
This is what the church of Jesus Christ is suffering from in several quarters and in many respects today. No wonder many churches have become “toothless bull dogs” whose cutting edge is woefully blunt or lost, and have become more societal and powerless organs that accumulate religious and half-baked believers, rather than the Holy Spirit channel for the demonstration of God’s love, holiness, and power for the expansion of God’s Kingdom on earth that challenges the devil and the enemies of the Cross of Christ.
Jesus hit the nail right on the head when He emphasized: “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? You have therefore made the commandment of God of no effect (nullified God’s commandment) by your tradition” (Mathew 15:3, 6).
Some people have the excuse of considering themselves FULLY married and able to indulge in sex after the normal customary rites (traditional marriage), and especially if any casual prayers were offered at the ceremony.
No wonder the unbelievers in our families do not see much fire of God and devotion to God’s covenant in us, and are not drawn by the power of God and our devotion to follow us to church and seek for the power of God, because they can see that some Believers take the things of their God very lightly, and even mislead the non-Christians to take godly things lightly as well, which causes them to feel that they are spiritually casual like us (the true Believers).
Rebecca and Isaac had no Jesus living in them at that time, and God led them by His Spirit but in a different fashion. They lived in a time when only Old Testament revelation was in place, and this was even at the beginning of time when God was gradually preparing mankind for His salvation plan through Abraham and his descendants, and when the Israelites had not even multiplied and been gathered to received the Ten Commandments from God.
If you study the scripture carefully you can see that there was a proper parental consent and family send-off, and Rebecca put on a veil, implying that it was a ceremonial custom of some kind which had a godly basis and was recorded for us to follow godly patterns OF OUR DAY just as they did FOR THEIR DAY.
Look at the way God inspired His will for Isaac through spiritual revelation to the father Abraham, and how it was given as a message to Abraham to be given as elaborate instruction and prophetic utterances to Abraham’s servant (Genesis 24:1-9).
See how the servant was led by God to get the wife for Isaac after following the strict instructions (Genesis 24:10-27), and see how the servant rejoiced at God’s leading (Genesis 24:26, 27).
How many of the people who argue and make themselves “Isaacs’ and ‘Rebeccas’ know even a fraction of God’s leading from start to finish in this manner for their marriage plans?
How many of the Christian marriages are really shining for God, with the couple knowing God’s will for their lives? How many know what ministry God has for them and why God brought them together, and are fervently serving the Lord as required of them by God?
Even some couples who are pastors, elders, deacons, ministry leaders, evangelists, and prominent Christian leaders in our society do not read the Bible and pray together as a couple. Some pastors do not even study the Bible together and take joint decisions together with their wives! Solemn!
Why do we have so many failed and unhappy marriages these days after our numerous excuses of “marrying the right way according to Isaac and Rebecca” or “the way we view the process of marriage in the traditional sense”?
Are people dodging commitment to holy principles of God in their relationships, and therefore having little or no Hand of God following them in their marriages?
In Genesis 24:63 Isaac was in meditation and prayer before God when Rebecca was brought to him with a veil on. Do we know what God told Isaac during his communion with God as the woman came along? I believe that every man who marries should do the same — go into prayer and let God talk to you as the leader of the family and Head of your wife, so that whatever decision you take after that will not condemn you before God when you stand before Him on the Judgment Day.
You can give any excuse and offer any explanation you want for the manner in which you secretly and publicly went through the processes for your marriage, but finally it is between you and God!
We should also be very careful how we compare Old Testament processes (when Jesus was not living in the people) with New Testament enlightenment and instructions (when the Sprit of Jesus is living in us).
I have even found out that many of such people who do not want to properly bless their marriages, have either fondled themselves intimately, kissed passionately, or indulged in wrongful sexual activities before the final day of the customary rites. In several instances you will discover that the lady is pregnant already, and the violation is being hidden and covered with an excuse to “cut matters short” and marry quickly.
Others have no self-control (due to sexual addiction, mind controlled by pornography, personal sexual weakness, shallow spirituality, un-committed Christian lives, and even sometimes being mere church attendants without the Holy Spirit living in them), and do not therefore have any urge to die to themselves and open their hearts for holy things of God.
When the person (or people) plays a special role in church or in our lives, is a close relative or a special friend, donates money to support us, provide important resources for us, and is prominent, we are intimidated by the help, support, power, position, or threats, and we therefore gloss over their sins and mistakes, and support the one to do the wrong thing.
We rather come down hard on other people who fall into similar situations in the church, group, or community, who appear powerless and distant from us.
Sometimes the person (or people) violating the marriage principles is a son or daughter of a church leader on the same board with you, or very close family friend or respectable and powerful or rich parent or family member whom we are afraid of offending, and we therefore prefer to offend God by keeping quiet or compromising with scripture, and ultimately plunge everyone into God’s judgment rather than pleasing God with the right instructions and taking a firm righteous position on marriage and family matters.
Many others also do not simply understand marriage itself, or are very ignorant about marriage according to the Bible (including even some counselors and church leaders in some instances who mislead the people with wrong counseling and poor example).
We should distinguish between any prayers offered by pastors or men and women of God during an engagement (customary rite) ceremony which is only prayer to bless the food, drinks, articles presented, and the ceremony in general.
People have mistakenly taken any prayers at the beginning and end of the ceremony, and especially for the man and woman, as “the real blessing of the marriage”.
Why don’t we do not do the same for baptism, Holy Communion etc. Can we, for example, start partaking of Holy Communion in church, and simply start eating the bread and drinking the wine without any formal introduction of the sacrament, reading of appropriate scripture, praying on the bread and wine, and letting the participants enter into prayer of preparation, with the argument or excuse that we prayed at the beginning of the church service, and even engaged in good prayer and worship before announcing the communion, so everybody should come and grab some bread and wine and enjoy the communion? We must do things orderly and with the required reverence.
If we study the Bible carefully we can see God’s ways and God’s character. We should know that our God is very orderly, and will NEVER accept anything that we do carelessly and lightly that He has instituted to be revered, respected, and done His way in a God-fearing manner, for us to receive His full approval and blessings.
One of the problems is that carnal and worldly people have hijacked weddings by making the ceremony cheap and unsanctified with all kinds of meaningless ceremonies at the beaches, parks, restaurants etc.
In all cases, if it is the real blessing of a marriage, then scripture should read by an ordained servant of the Lord, appropriate prayers must be offered, and there should be vows exchanged, because marriage is a covenant relationship (which should not be broken).
Marriage is the highest human institution on earth compared with the relationship between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:21-33).
A Covenant is made with words as taught by scripture (e.g. Psalm 89:34). The man and woman must therefore exchange some vows to create and agree on a permanent covenant bond between them. Family members and friends present at the ceremony are witnesses of the vows that the husband and wife make to each other, and the witnesses are required to pray and offer any future support for that specific marriage to become fruitful and successful.
If you know that you made mistakes in the past before you married (or during the process of marrying), then the best thing to do is to accept your disobedience or ignorance, confess your sins and ignorance to God, plead for the Blood of Jesus to wash both of you (husband and wife), and ask God’s Holy Presence to be with you in order to receive all the blessings that God has originally planned to give to your family, and to also close all open doors for satanic attacks (present or in the future) on your marriage and family life.
We need to clearly explain and teach people (youth and young adults in particular) what steps to take and marry properly according to God’s principles, and when they can live together under one roof, share one bed, and indulge in intimate sexual activity for God to smile and say: “Yes! You are doing my will. I am with you. Receive my blessings!”
Our children and the young ones in our churches and society are getting mixed messages from too many violations, compromises, bad examples, and failed relationships among the adult folk, especially their parents, older family members, leaders in our communities, and leaders in our churches.
Young ones are already exposed to too many raw materials for sin (pornography, demonic movies and games, filth at home, immoral ideas at school and on the streets etc.), and are therefore sinking into more confusion and lack of productive focus, with constant exposure to our loose and unprincipled marital activities and wayward love relationships.
Let us make every offered to establish the best Biblical principles and excellent family values for our marriages and family lives, in order to leave a good legacy for our children.
If we fail to do this, then the present moral decadence and degradation of family values, will plunge the next generation into marital recklessness, chaos, doom, and gloom that will promote the breakdown of the traditional family which is the foundation of the church and every productive and successful society!
Copyright Nov. 2008 Rev. Dr.Samuel A. Kisseadoo (Professor of Biology, Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia, USA)
Founder and President, Fruitful Ministries International Inc., 6 Red Robin Turn, Hampton, Virginia 23669, USA.
Ph 757-7289330 Fax 757-7289335 [email protected]