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!