What's the Difference Between a Christian Wedding and a Normal Church Wedding?

by JoHarrington

Most Western marriages begin at a church altar. So why do some couples differentiate between those rites and a Christian wedding? I found out.

Growing up, every wedding I attended was a Christian marriage ceremony.

At least I thought they were! We were all in a church, with a vicar presiding and hymns sung. The rites referenced the Almighty and vows were made before God. They looked, felt and - to all intents and purposes - were Christian weddings.

Hence I was more than a little confused to discover that many Christians differentiate between those ceremonies and proper Christian wedding rites. I was curious enough to find out the difference.

This is what I learned.

A Normal Wedding in a Church

There's a disparaging term called 'hatch, match and dispatch Christians', or those who only attend church for the rites of passage. Here's how they wed.

I've been to enough of these to know how it goes.

It used to be that people married in their own parish church. If the bride and groom came from two different parishes, they chose between them. But the banns were read out in both churches for three weeks before.

The banns are still supposed to be read out in those churches, but where the ceremony takes place is a separate matter.

Couples these days tend to tour around, looking for the prettiest places in which to hold their nuptials.

A quiet, ancient country church takes precedence over a loud, new city church, especially those built in the 1960s and therefore resembling a school sports hall.  The latter might well be the actual parish church, but it doesn't look great on the photographs. Most vicars now will conduct marriages for out-of-parish couples, though they will charge a little more to do so.

At the appointed time, family, friends, colleagues and associates will descend upon the holy venue. They'll all be wearing their finery and will be met by a cast of honored guests performing roles.

The ushers (usually male relatives and friends of the groom in tuxedos) will show people to their pews. Bride's guests on one side of the church, groom's folk on the other. Music will be playing, either ambient tunes electronically or someone playing the church organ. The songs may or may not be hymns. They could well be romantic tunes, as maintaining the mood is all.

Standing at the front will be the groom, accompanied by his best man and/or groomsmen. Even the most laid back men begin to nervously glance down the aisle as the time approaches, and often passes right by.

It's fashionable for the bride to be late.

Then there's a burst of enthusiastic notes from the organist - Here Comes the Bride played to an accompaniment of relieved sighs and the shuffling of people turning in their seats.

More exhalations, this time of fond coos indicating that SHE is the most beautiful bride ever to glide down an aisle. (Quickly forgotten by the next ceremony, when she's usurped by the next bride. All brides are beautiful, even the ones who aren't.)

The bride will usually be wearing white, clutching a huge bouquet of flowers and holding onto her father's arm. Behind her will trail several bridesmaids and maybe a little flower girl, scattering petals. If they're really pushing the boat out, then there will also be page-boys. They will all be in bespoke clothing, which not only matches each other, but the flower displays around the church too.

At the altar, the wedding ceremony will be Christian, conducted by a cleric of God. Then everyone relocates outside for the wedding photographs (some may have been done prior to the rites too). 

A special vehicle has usually been hired for the occasion - posh car, horse and cart, something different - into which the bride and groom now climb amid cheers and ovations.  The wedding party quickly piles into their own conveyances to follow them down the road.

They're off to the reception, where all will be met by servers with glasses of champagne ready for the toast. Usually a feast ensues - a massive several coursed meal, or a buffet banquet - with free-flowing alcohol from the bar.  Once the plates have been cleared away, the dance music begins from the DJ's deck, or the live band hired for the evening.  The party continues well into the night.

That is a church wedding.  So why might it not equally be called a Christian wedding?

Christian Music for Wedding Ceremonies

Why Church Weddings Might Not be Christian Weddings

An almost complete absence of Christ is a bit of a give-away. Not to mention most of the seven deadly sins ticked off one by one.

Church weddings, of the ilk described above, have nothing to do with Jesus Christ.  He may get a brief passing mention by the vicar, as the couple exchange their vows, but the emphasis is not there.

Instead the focus is almost completely upon the bride and groom, especially the bride. And she is not Christ.

That is the main distinction between a normal wedding and a Christian wedding.

For some Christian congregations, the horror of 'hatch, match and dispatch' type marriage ceremonies comes in the sheer amount of sins exhibited in a holy place. They add up to something that is wholly non-Christian, even while the couple and their wedding party are purporting to be so pious.

Like merely turning up at church makes anyone worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Not every Christian focuses upon the Seven Deadly Sins, but they are a usual illustration here of where some church weddings totally miss the point:

Greed - This includes simony (the selling of sacraments), which would surely include the extra costs incurred in selecting 'pretty' churches over local parish ones. Even if it didn't, then greed is in evidence everywhere else, in the tremendous expenditure involved when the bride and groom seek to create a fairy tale spectacle.  Everything from special vehicles to dresses to extravagant receptions will tick the boxes here.

Pride - Vainglory used to be highlighted as a separate sin, until Pope Gregory amalgamated it into the category of pride. It means to attract all focus onto your own glory, though that will be a futile venture in its temporary nature. ALL brides are the most beautiful, until the next one comes along. We might also call it vanity.

Sloth - Spiritual laziness is at the center of many perceived normal wedding ceremonies. For those only attending church during these rites of passage, that charge is obvious. But when all concerned are more focused upon the whole spectacle of the occasion, rather than the solemnity of the oaths spoken before God, then all spirituality is lost.

Gluttony - For many guests, the best part of a wedding is the free food. That feast, wherein each wedding couple tries to out-do those who went before.  People eat until they feel too full to move, and so much food goes to waste thereon. Then more food comes out later in the party.  Not to mention the alcohol, which some Christian congregations prohibit in the spirit of temperance.

Wrath - Ever heard the saying that no wedding is complete without a fight or a feud kicking off? That's what happens when the happy couple invite people from all areas of their lives, chucking a clash of worlds and individuals who would otherwise avoid each other, into an environment of free-flowing alcohol.

Envy - And many of those fights begin when a) the thwarted love rival declares they should have been the bride/groom; b) the festivities are compared to those of a couple who were previously wed, like it's a competition; or c) some guest makes a pass at someone else's partner.  Covetousness in all its dark glory.

Lust - See above, then couple it with the risque traditions surrounded with sending the bride and groom off for their wedding night.

But most of all, where was Christ in this order of ceremony?  In a Christian wedding, He would be right at the center, which is what gives those rites its name.

Guidebooks for a Christian Wedding

These Christian wedding guides put Christ at the center of the proceedings.

How a Christian Wedding Differs from Normal Weddings

They put the Christ back into Christian, and involve God in their marriage rites.

Christian weddings are not about the bride and groom. They're about Jesus Christ.

The bride and groom naturally feature, but only as a couple pledging their oaths to Christ first and foremost, then to each other.

They have brought their union to the altar, because they wish to declare before the Almighty, in a meaningful way, that they wish their future lives together to be recognized by all as a Christian marriage.

But the congregation is practically incidental.

They are gathered to witness the ceremony, as curtsey and support. Yet there is no real need for any of them to be present. The most important witness is God, and He is no bystander. He is present to hear and receive vows made by the bride and groom.

If they should break those vows in the future, then it will be God who is denied.

These are not oaths to be pledged lightly.  Therefore the couple will have been counseled for weeks, months, or however long it takes for both to understand fully to what they are committing.  They will be spiritually invested in every word spoken at that altar. They will have asked Jesus Christ to be their witness.

The pastor, vicar or priest will have spent hours with this couple, preparing them not merely for a ceremony, but their whole marriage too.  By the time they clearly speak their vows, they will be ready for a life-time together.

Naturally there is some celebration here - weddings are not glum affairs! - but the solemnity far out-strips the jovial atmosphere. These are religious rites, not the precursor to a party. Some Christian couples don't hold a reception for that reason.

Music here will always be hymnal, and a sermon will be included within the rites. Prayers will be spoken for the happy couple. They will be invested with all due spirituality, not merely recited. There will be no-one present just bowing their heads to get this bit over with.  It's to do with respect too. The bride won't be 'fashionably late' for her meeting with Christ and her beloved groom. If she wears white, then it is in the sense of virginal modesty. The attention should be always upon Christ, all else is vanity.

And THAT is the difference between a Christian wedding and a church wedding. They're Christian.

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Updated: 11/17/2014, JoHarrington
 
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JoHarrington on 08/13/2014

I see that you're a preacher yourself. Did it ring true at all?

LizMac67 on 08/12/2014

A very interesting perspective on how a Christian wedding should be.

JoHarrington on 08/03/2014

Ah! That's where I probably heard about John the Baptist and Elijah! Let me link it here for those seeking it out now: http://wizzley.com/the-afterlife-what...

I had two cuppas before attempting a response here. :)

frankbeswick on 08/02/2014

Re reincarnation. Have you read my article on the afterlife? Scholars argue argue about John the Baptist and whether or not he was Elijah reborn.

Lesson to be learned: don't write an article on only one cuppa. I have at least three before I write anything

JoHarrington on 08/02/2014

I've just re-read my comment from earlier. Can I just say that I wrote that during my first cuppa in the morning? I didn't mean 'carnation' - that's a flower - I meant 'incarnation'. And I was suggesting that Aguasilver write the article, not asking where an extant one was.

Frank - I should have also remembered that reincarnation isn't a thing in Christianity. Though I do vaguely recall John the Baptist being the reincarnation of an Old Testament prophet.

Lack of knowledge about the next life is why I won't officiate at All Lifetimes handfastings. The whole concept just seems spiritually suspect to me.

frankbeswick on 08/02/2014

Good question about the all lifetimes marriage in Wicca, but it has never been examined because Christianity officially does not believe in reincarnation, though there have been and are Christians who do.

The general Christian case is "Till death us do part." so marriage is for life. What happens in the afterlife we don't know. However, you are right about spiritual needs changeing, as if you accept reincarnation you cannot guarantee a return as the sex you are. That might or might not be a problem for marriage.

JoHarrington on 08/02/2014

The one body stuff is Christian theology that I haven't fully looked into yet. Perhaps there's an article there from you explaining it all?

Until I grasp that part, I can't really compare it to anything in Paganism. Is it akin to the All Lifetimes marriage in Wicca? Wherein the couple vow to become handfast in every life - every carnation - hereon? I refuse to officiate at those, as I believe that none of us can fully know what is needful spiritually in our next incarnation. Marrying for this life-time should be good enough without binding a couple together through the entire reincarnation cycle!

JoHarrington on 08/02/2014

Frank - I never asked my relatives about pre-wedding courses. I'll do that and report back.

aguasilver on 08/01/2014

Good article Jo, especially emphasizing the difference between Churchianity and Christianity!

In effect God views marriage as promise + consummation = married, which explains why so many in the world have problems, as most have 'married' before, sometimes many times!

Christians commit to marry 'in the sight of the congregation' i.e. their fellow believers who all know them well and normally have done for a long time.

The 'in the sight of the congregation' bit is a public declaration that they have made that promise, they will consummate the relationship AFTER they have married 'in the sight of the congregation'.

All members then know that this man and woman are now ONE BODY.

The one body bit also answers some reasons for confused marriages as many token Christians or non believers have become one body with multiple partners.

In those instances the former one body spiritual ties need to be broken (and repented of) or there can be problems later in the marriage. (the marriage bed may be too small to accommodate all those 'bodies')

All the other formalities are just legal paperwork to ensure taxes and divorce settlements, child support and more taxes are paid efficiently.

The commitment to each other before Christ is essential to the marriage, the legal stuff is just secular bookkeeping!

How does a Pagan marriage compare?

frankbeswick on 08/01/2014

Not all churches are as detailed in their pre-wedding courses as others are. My daughter, who married last year in the Catholic Church, underwent a day's course, and her non-Christian husband was quite surprised by how easy it was. It was more concened to ensure that people were aware of what they were doing than it was about religious dogma.


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