Thursday, January 21, 2010

Married and Buried? (1 of 2)

It is rare to find someone who does not associate weddings and funerals with church. Churches expect their pastors to officiate at these ceremonies on a regular basis. This is interesting because the Bible has nothing to say about what should happen at weddings and funerals.

The church is never given a charge to oversee ‘holy matrimony.’ Those words are not even in the Bible. Marriage is sacred and watched over by God, but the church is nowhere commanded to perform or officially sanction marriage. What we do have in scripture are passages that encourage husbands and wives to love and submit to one another, encourage men and women to honor God in the way they treat their spouses, compare marriage to Christ and his church, and present weddings as a time of celebration.

(Malachi 2:13-3:5 is an excellent passage that both shows how our commitment in marriage directly affects our relationship to God, and foretells the coming of John the Baptist to prepare the hearts of the people for the arrival of Jesus.)

Likewise, there are no apostolic instructions to the church concerning funerals. Jesus himself had no funeral, he was simply buried. The same happened for Stephen in the book of Acts, “Godly men carried Stephen to his burial and cried in sadness over him.”

There is one key New Testament teaching about burial: Just as marriage is a picture of the union of Jesus and his church, a pre-death burial describes our union with Jesus. “For in Him all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily, and you are complete in him… You were buried with him in your baptism, and you were resurrected with him through the faith you have in the great power of God, who resurrected Jesus.” Colossians 2.

Even though there is no Biblical mandate for it, these two life events are deeply associated with the church.  They are considered responsibilities of the church.  For many, weddings and funerals are the reason churches exists in society. Over time, churches have let themselves be redefined by culture. There is no scriptural prohibition against churches participating in weddings and funerals, but these events should never, ever define the church.   Jesus is the one who defines the church, fills her with life and gives her purpose.

When anything other than Jesus gets into the description of what the church is or what the church does, something has gone wrong.

Churches will continue to minister to those getting married and the families of those who have died. This is right. Churches do need to adapt somewhat, however, so that its services is not seen as a function, but as one more opportunity to shine the light and the love of Christ to all people.

Coming in Part Two: A full one in four Americans do not expect a religious wedding or a religious funeral at their death. According to modern culture, they will have no need whatsoever for ‘the church.’ (This is the problem with letting culture define what the church is.) In part two, we will look at how we can minister to people who have no association to church culture as they pass through these life events.

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