11 July 2007

What Makes a Lutheran Wedding?

As I am working away on my own book, I am also consumed with thoughts of marriage and weddings and such. I mentioned yesterday that I had opportunity to read and consider Dr. Luther's "Order of Marriage," and that I might do some thinking out loud about that. It will probably end up being a multiple-post undertaking (though I can't compete with Susan!).

Asking what makes a Lutheran wedding, as various others have apparently been doing lately, can probably be approached and answered in a dozen or more different ways. Wait, how many Lutherans are there in the world? There may be about that many different responses.

If you look at Luther, the starting point is an understanding that marriage is governed not by the Church but by the civil authorities of this world. I suspect this perspective is tied up with the Lutheran definition of what is and isn't a "Sacrament." Marriage is not a Sacrament in the way that Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Holy Communion are. (Interestingly, Luther does at times use the Latin "sacramentum" in his discussions of marriage, from the Vulgate of Ephesians 5.) Holy Matrimony is a divine institution, established and governed by the Word of God, but it is administered throughout the world, also among the pagans and all the wicked, not only in the Church between Christians. The government is not free to redefine the substance of marriage, the union of a man and a woman. Yet, it does have the prerogative to determine the "matter and form" by which a marriage is contracted, as well as those things that fall under God's permissive will, for the sake of fewer and lesser evils, such as polygamy and divorce.

I've long been of the opinion that the Eastern Church has a better understanding of marriage as a divine work, as compared to the more anthropocentric view and approach of the Western Church (including Lutheranism). The East emphasizes that God is the One who joins a man and woman together in holy matrimony, whereas the West tends to view the bride and groom as the "celebrants" of this sacred mystery. I believe there is something to be learned from both sides. Luther's emphasis on the role of the government points us to God's authority in the Kingdom of Power, which He administers (for the benefit of His people) through multiple masks and earthly means. The long and short of it is, that Lutheran theology will recognize a wedding and a marriage according to the law of the land.

In Luther's "Order of Marriage," the legal wedding occurs on the steps outside the door of the Church. Then everyone proceeds inside to pray, praise and give thanks, to sanctify the couple and their marriage with God's Word and the preaching of it. I'm assuming, now, that this is why the LSB specifies that the marriage rite should occur at the beginning of the prayer office or Divine Service. I disagree with that rubric, as a matter of preference, but more on that later.

To start with, a Lutheran wedding is one that is administered according to the law of the land. That leaves to be answered a different sort of question: How does a Lutheran approach the sanctification and celebration of marriage with the Word of God and prayer? There is a great deal of freedom in this respect, but also degrees of appropriateness and liturgical decorum to be considered. I suppose that will be something to take up in a follow-up blog post.


Susan said...

>>LSB specifies that the marriage rite should occur at the beginning of the prayer office or Divine Service. I disagree with that rubric,<<


The pastor who married Rachel and Matt worked on the Agenda. And for their wedding, he did not have the marriage rite at the beginning. During the rehearsal, he told them that we would sing and pray and hear the word of God read & expounded upon. THEN, after hearing all that, he would ask "Will you have this woman/man ...?" to make sure they knew what they were getting into before they made their vows.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I appreciate this input, Susan.

Not surprisingly, I agree with that pastor (as I usually do). What he said corresponds more or less exactly with the way that I have thought about this. The Word of God leads to the joining of the man and the woman in faith and with thanksgiving.

Zaripest said...

I'm still in the middle of catching up on posts, so I haven't read the rest of your marriage posts yet, but I'm inclined to leave a comment before I forget it. Forgive me if I ask a question that is already answered in a later post...

After hearing you describe some of your reasons for having the marriage rite at the end of the service and not the beginning, I found myself fully agreeing with you, and I still agree. However, in reading the prior comments left on this post, I find myself wondering how important the particular reason that Susan set forth really is, because it seems to me like the pastor should already have made sure that the bride and groom knew full well what they were getting into in pre-marital counciling and discussion. Of course I think that it's a very good idea to speak the Word of God to people concerning their decisions before they are made, but I think that should probably already have been done many times before the ceremony begins, shouldn't it?

Phillip Magness said...

Pastor Stuckwisch,

I just posted a lament on this topic over at Fine Tuning.

Certainly LSB has helped the church in this regard, but our Lutheran culture and church need so much more help in this area.

I hope you'll take some more time to develop your thoughts on this. Perhaps the 4 + 20 guys might weigh in on this as well!

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thanks for your feedback, Phil. I certainly have continued to think about the theological meaning and significance of weddings and marriage, especially with my two oldest children having each been married this summer. As I have opportunity, perhaps I'll be able to share some further thoughts "out loud" here on my blog, though I can't promise when or to what extent that may be. I agree that the Four and Twenty Blackbirds should take this topic on at some point.

Incidentally, Rev. Phil Meyer will be speaking on the topic of Lutheran weddings and funerals at our Indiana District Worship and Spiritual Care Workshop in September (Saturday the 20th, 2008).