A peep into life in Africa, through the eyes of an African Reformed Baptist pastor.

Water, water, water, everywhere. What else do you expect? I am a Baptist, and I live in the land of the mighty Victoria Falls!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

We need to reform Christian weddings

I have been asked on a number of occasions, especially by young couples in the church who are about to get married, as to why I am rarely seen at wedding receptions. My standard answer is that I used to do so early in my pastoral ministry and found that the Saturday evening party mirth did not help me to get into the right frame of mind for the solemn work on the Lord’s Day. I found the changing of gears rather difficult, and hence, for the sake of my primary responsibility in life—the ministration of the Word on the Lord’s Day—I have opted to miss what others look forward to enjoying on Saturdays.

This has been the rule for many years now, though, as with every rule, there have been exceptions. Every so often, due to various circumstances, I have attended wedding receptions. Hence, out of the twelve weddings we have had at Kabwata Baptist Church since December last year, I have attended about two—or at the most, three—receptions. I must admit that I have been very concerned about the trend at these events, which I have observed over time. Maybe, if I was attending them frequently I may not have been as conscious of the worrying trends as I am now. Attending about once or twice a year has enabled me to clearly see the downward moral and spiritual shift.

Some wedding battles won in the past
The best way to summarise what is disturbing me is by putting today’s trends in some historical context. In the late 1970s and well into the late 1980s, when the first young English-speaking Zambian Evangelical Christians started getting married, the attitude was one of seeking to be different from the world. It was not easy. I know what I am talking about because I got married towards the end of the tide of persecution as we stood our ground for the sake of our Christian testimony. The prayer requests before young couples got married in those days had to do with weathering the cultural storm, as relatives (who themselves were often church-goers) tried to make us conform to cultural norms that were against biblical values.

One battle that we fought then—and won—had to do with the taking away of the bride immediately after the wedding reception by her relatives. She would be brought back late at night after serious negotiations (including extra payments) and an old lady would keep vigil in the house where you would spend the first night as a couple. I will not go into details as to why this was being demanded. Suffice it to say that, as young Evangelical Christians, we waged a relentless war against this. Whereas some Christians opted to just stage a get-away as the wedding reception was nearing its end, many of us put our foot down and insisted that after the vows we were a married couple and reserved the right to be together and to have our own privacy. A lot of blood was shed in this battle!

Another battle that we fought then—and won—had to do with having beer at our wedding receptions. We all knew in those days that alcohol abuse was the in-thing in Zambia, especially at parties and wedding receptions. We wanted to be different and so a moratorium was placed upon alcoholic drinks at Evangelical Christian weddings. To many would-be guests, this amounted to inviting people for a feast and then not allowing them to eat! Traditionally, the brewing of traditional alcoholic beverages preceded any major event—and weddings were no exception. In the cities, people went to parties and wedding receptions with the sole purpose of indulging themselves out of their senses. Hence, they did not give this up easily. Again, a lot of blood was shed in this battle.

Today’s watchword seems to be “conformity”
Today’s Evangelical young people do not have to fight these battles any more. Non-Christian relatives know that if it is a Christian wedding they should not expect any of the above issues to even arise. However, having inherited this benefit, our young people today are not waging their own wars. I am very concerned that the exact opposite seems to be happening. Whereas a former generation of young Evangelical Christians sought to be different from the world, the trend I am observing today is one of trying to be as worldly as possible. Apart from a few refreshing exceptions, our young people seem to want to outdo one another in worldliness at their weddings.

Without attempting to be exhaustive, let me mention at least two areas that fill me with grief.

The first is in the dressing of the bridesmaids. When we were getting married, the bridesmaids at the weddings of Evangelical Christians also used to look as if they fell from heaven. They also did their best to look like traffic lights—they were red, orange and green all over! However, in those days there seemed to have been an attempt to be decent—again, with a few exceptions. Today, very little is being left to the imagination, and this is becoming the general rule. The low-bra look, with half the breasts exposed for all to see, has become common fare. The dresses of the bridesmaids are so tight that anyone can see where the under-wears end. When you add to this the fact that these girls dance very suggestively during the wedding receptions (a matter I will address below), you can easily see why this matter is a cause of serious concern.

The second is in the music and dancing. When we were getting married, the bridal party at the weddings of Evangelical Christians used to come into the reception with “a step”. What that meant was that there was dancing with decorum, i.e. with modesty, restraint, respectability and etiquette. For those of you who were not there and may find it difficult to imagine what this looked like, it is the equivalent of the “step” we normally witness today when the bridal party is coming into the church auditorium or when they are marching out after the wedding vows—although the latter is rapidly deteriorating each year. (I readily admit that there were a few cases where the seeds of what we are seeing today already began to show and to worry some of us). Now, in contrast to this, the non-Christians even in those days danced to loud rumba music as they entered their wedding receptions. All the suggestive dancing, where a best-man followed a bridesmaid around the dance-floor, with both of them gyrating next to each other as if they were having sex in bed, was only seen at non-Christian weddings. Alas, today this is becoming normal at the wedding receptions of young Evangelical Christians, while their invitees ululate and whistle in excitement. The gyrating can only excite lust even in the holiest of men. I was at one wedding reception not too long ago where the girl (barely eight years old) bringing the knife for the cutting of the cake gyrated from one end of the reception hall to the other with such sexually suggestive moves that my wife and I had to look elsewhere until she had handed over the knife. Men and women ululated and whistled for her and kept giving her money as they could not believe the prowess they were seeing in her bedroom antics at such a tender age. And this was at a Christian wedding reception!

Please do not get me wrong. I am not suggesting that we reduce our wedding celebrations into formal worship services, so that there is no difference between the event at church where the vows are made and the wedding reception. That is not what I am saying. I think that a wedding reception ought to be a place where the nuptial joys should be given expression in music, eating and drinking. In other words, there should be mirth.

However, just as the mourning of Christians should be different from that of non-Christians, so also the mirth of Christians should be different from theirs! Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica saying, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thess 4:13). In other words, whereas Christians are human and so should grieve when they lose a loved one, there should be a marked difference in the way they grieve because of the salvation they know in Christ. Certain eschatological truths should comfort their hearts. They have hope! Surely, we should say the same about our rejoicing. We should rejoice because we are human. A wedding is a happy occasion. However, there should be a marked difference in the way we rejoice because of our salvation. Certain truths should temper our joy.

Christians should be characterised by modesty and decency, wherever they are. By modesty, Christians must exercise moderation in all things. They must never be excessive or extreme in appearance, speech, and behaviour, especially in spheres where there is sexual expression (e.g. dressing and dancing). By decency, Christians must exercise moral judgment wherever they are, so that their appearance, speech and behaviour uphold high moral values for the society to follow. They must have a salting effect and so arrest moral decay in society. Paul applies this especially to the dressing of women when he says, “I desire then… that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works” (1 Tim 2:8-10). When applying this to weddings, it is not possible to legislate as to which “steps” to use and how low the neck line of the dresses should be. However, the principle in this text is that of modesty and decency, and we can all tell when we exceed these limits. Weddings should not be an exception, so that we should throw all caution to the wind. We must still be biblical.

Godly grief and future pessimism
Since I rarely attend wedding receptions, it is my experience on Sunday morning that often tells me how the previous evening was. Often, as we meet to pray together with the elders before the worship service on a Sunday after a wedding on the previous day, the comment is almost always, “Pastor, you should thank God you were not at the reception last night. Yaba, these young people! You wonder where they are learning all these things. The way they danced, the music they played, the way they were dressed, we were really embarrassed. On a number of occasions we felt like leaving. It was the non-Christians and the backsliders who were excited and ululating, while many of us grieved.” Thankfully, that is not always the case. There have been a few Sundays when the elders have said, “Pastor, last night our young people did us proud. There was decency and propriety. We came away feeling that our Christian testimony was evident to the non-Christian world. Those young people need to be commended.”

It is clear to me that today’s young people need to address themselves to the issue of how they bear witness to their relatives and friends during their weddings. As long as they want to be as worldly as possible, they will not make their non-Christian friends and relatives see how real their Christian faith is. They will lose a vital opportunity to show them the difference that Jesus has made in their lives. A previous generation fought its battles and bequeathed to them their liberties. But I fear that today’s young people are using the liberties won for them by their predecessors to indulge themselves in worldly pleasures. I tremble to think of the kind of Christianity this generation of young people is passing on to their successors. Judged by the little I have seen at recent wedding receptions, the prospect is frightening!

18 comments:

  1. Pastor, I can't agree with you more!You have rightly pointed out the need for decency and modesty. Much of what the bridal party at some Christian wedding receptions nowadays is, is about entertaining in a wrong way, and mostly because other people (relatives & friends) dictate what and how things should be done. All Christians should be radical about the gracious difference, testimony and witnesss in this sin-sick and perishing world! Mwango

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  2. Your message is timely and is needed desperately in the western churches as well as Africa. I know you have opportunities to speak in Europe and America, God bless you as you encourage Christians to be different from the world.

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  3. Pastor Conrad,

    I praise and thank the LORD for your righteous response to a real concern! This trend is also being seen in South Africa.

    Sadly, Jesus' words ring true: "...every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit." (Mat 7:17-18).

    We will unite our hearts in prayer for you and the rising generation of professing Christians in Zambia and South Africa!

    David

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  4. WOW! Hallelujah!
    At long Last here we ave ONE Elder (My Pastor) need I say "divinely inspired" to pen down his thoughts concerning what we(young people) have been battling with for some time now.

    My dear Pastor I can't wait to hear to hear you ADDRESS this matter quote; "...(a matter I will soon address), you can easily see why this matter is a cause of serious concern."end quote.

    You have BLESSED MY HEART BY starting this discussion and I share your concerns entirely and suffice to say, I for one have had to turn down some music that young couple have asked me to play on their wedding do to the fact that my conscience JUST won't let me play it and also like you said, IT DOES NOT MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE between a christian wedding music and a non-christian wedding music!

    Brethren Let us be encouraged. I have been entirely BLESSED with the sentiments raised by Pastor Mbewe and oh I pray that we may heed the challenge here and do the right! You have challenged me Pastor Mbewe with the sentiment of WHAT BATTLE AM I FIGHTING IN MY PRACTICAL CHRISTIAN LIVING?

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  5. Thank you for writing this , Conrad . It is about time that this matter was addressed . Fraternal Greetings , Joachim - Namibia

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  6. Thanks for timely message you penned down here.
    For me I have not being to many weddings here in
    the western world. The wedding I attended was
    a friend of mine who was getting marriage to a brother from Uganda and I was among the bridegroom, it went well everything was decent
    and the music was gospel, though some people said it was boring. For me the war I am witnessing here is the one marring none believers. It is so common with those who call themselves christians. While they justify themselves saying we are here if you find someone to marry you why not, not thinking of what God's will say about marriage.

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  7. It is my trust that this article can help young people re-look at what really should be in a Christian wedding. The reception can be made a simple affair. Or if temptation to dance is high why not just have some drinks at church and forgo reception?

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  8. Amen! Thank you for a well written article on a vital subject. We face similar issues in the South Pacific. Thanks for being a voice for the Lord.

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  9. Dear Conrad
    The situation here in New Zealand is surprisingly similar to that which you describe. Revealing dresses, especially the bride's dress, coarse 'jokes' at the reception and alcohol abuse are very common even among those who claim to be evangelical believers. Another issue in this country is that large amounts of money are spent on reception venues, food and drink, bands, and clothing. Professing children of Christian parents often demand such extravagance.
    Thank you for alerting me that this sort of thing is not just a problem here in New Zealand.
    (Pastor) David Marshall

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  10. Amen! Thank you for expressing the concern and drawing the lines publicly. We are called to be different from the world. Praise the Lord for the battles your generation fought and won, you have ably pointed out there there is a new battle that must be waged for the sake of His Name!
    Philip Hunt
    Kitwe

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  11. Thanks to all of you for your feedback to this blog. It is clear that MANY Christian leaders have been getting VERY concerned about the modern trends in Christian weddings. I have just received a comment from one of our church elders, Charles Bota. He writes:

    One couple who are counsellors at Kabwata Baptist Church (Barnabas and Grace Chiboboka) had this to say-and I have taken the liberty to paraphrase: "The deafening silence over the obvious abuse of Christian liberty at wedding receptions in Zambia has not been helpful, and has sent confusing signals for some. Breaking this silence is not only appropriate but will also compel all who love holiness and righteousness to think in terms of reformation at their wedding and especially at the wedding reception for their guests. We have decided to include the matter of modesty and testimony as a section in the pre-marital counselling sessions hereafter."

    I think that this is probably the best place to slowly eat away at this cancer--one Christian wedding at a time. I don't know about other countries, but all Christian couples in Zambia seek pre-marital counselling. What a place for engaging their minds for reformation at weddings before they finalize their wedding plans!

    Thanks Charles!

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  12. This write up is most timely if not long overdue! I stopped attending wedding receptions ages ago because every time I attended, I came away grieved most of the times. Hedonism has really ambushed the Christian church today. People rarely ask critical questions nor think Biblically. Its high time we set standards especially if the church leaders rightly take the stand. We have waited long. Other areas of life need urgent reform as well. I fear we have too many "Reformed Christian parrots" who are not really deeply convinced in these things most surely believed amongs us. Hats off to you Pastor Mbewe!

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  13. Thank you for this post. In America as well we have a flippancy about marriage. It is no longer a sacred covenant.

    In Christ,
    Shelby
    http://christianhomeschoolblog.blogspot.com/

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  14. Timely message. There is need for the church leadership to help the young by taking an interest in planning of events leading to wedding receiptions. Pastor Mbewe Thanks, you are a blessing.

    In Christ
    Titus Samona

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  15. I have received an email that comments on this particular blog entry.

    * * * * *

    Dear Pastor Mbewe,

    I recently visited your blog, as I usually do, and found your article on the concerns you raised on the current trend in wedding activities. I concur with your observations, as I have also been very concerned at the way the “compromise” with the world has reached, in so far as the activities, especially at receptions. In addition to what you indicated in your article, I have a few additions that I see as some of the concerns that need to be addressed by the Evangelical Christians, especially of the reformed faith.

    1. Professional photographers – I recall we used to have Christians taking pictures during the wedding ceremonies, they were conscious of the goings on during the whole ceremony. They paused during prayer, exchanging of vows and preaching. Now we see photographers whose interests are to take as many pictures as possible, even to the extent of distracting the most solemn events. They are moving throughout the ceremony – in one event the minister had to order the photographer to sit down during preaching!

    2. Professional Matrons of Honour – We used to see matrons being selected from among the mature and Godly women in the local or sister churches. Now, we see an emergence of matrons that are hired and they specialise in creating unnecessary anxieties like deliberately delaying the bride for the ceremony as well as delaying the start of the wedding receptions. I took the trouble to check out on why these delays have been happening and I was told that it is deliberate to make invited guests more anxious, can you imagine! Very few receptions have started exactly on the time indicated on the invitation cards. I am also glad to see that ministers of the gospel institute punitive measures for delays in the sanctuary for the ceremony like, no preaching or outright cancellations of the wedding.

    3. Best men and Bridesmaids – We have now slowly moved from the norm then when we best men and bridesmaids were usually Christians and usually members of the local or like-minded churches. What we see now is the inclusion of brothers and sisters, workmates, former school mates, and such like, most of who are not Christians at all. You can see how lost some of them are during the wedding ceremony – their faces show, they want to leave the church surroundings as soon as possible. We now have dress codes for church ceremony - usually very casual, and for the reception – usually very smart. Just shows you where the focus has now shifted to.

    4. Master of Ceremonies – This is another sad development as there is now an emergence of professional MC’s, mainly comedians and radio and TV personalities. Some of these crack jokes throughout the receptions and lack seriousness. The worst part is that their jokes even trespass into mocking God as they make references to Christians – when they themselves are totally strangers to the Grace of God. I have walked out on two such situations in protest, when one such MC opened the occasion in “prayer” that sent the audience into laughter. I recall, we used our own men in the church to play this role and the ceremonies were very solemn, yet enjoyable.

    5. Dancing Coaches – I recently tried to understand why the centre stage of the reception is now the dancing, or is it the procession of marching in. At one ceremony, the whole thing took 50 minutes as the team trooped in and out of the hall, as people ululated. You touched on how the dancing itself is done, I won’t belabour the point, but what I found of interest is that some dancing coaches are hired to “train” the best men and bridesmaids to perform better than the ones done in the past. The idea is to make each ceremony better than any other and evangelicals have gone through these episodes.

    Your article, in my view brings out issues that need to be urgently addressed by the church, otherwise, as you mentioned in your article, the prospect is very frightening.

    Warm regards, JM

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  16. Very timely article from you pastor and very valuable observations and comments from all especially JM. The message is clear, let us immediately reduce it to practice begining with the pre-marital counsellors, Christian to-be couples, church leaders and those that have 'tested' that the Lord good. Gabriel

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  17. Thanks for this article. May the Lord give us more young people like Daniel who become pressure to the culture instead of fitting in with the carnal expectations of others.

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  18. agree...but im just thinking, how would inter-religion weddings sound? i would like the idea of an Islam wedding while a christian music is being played in the entourage..

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