Our Westa.org Marriage Series continues! This week, Dr. Kenneth Hammonds takes a look at changes to modern Christian marriage vows. Should our vows change for good? Please CLICK HERE to take our poll on Facebook.
As my wife, Naomi, and I enjoyed a rare day off today, I looked at her and thought, “You know – I really love this woman” (and by the way, I rarely miss a day telling her so). We are soon to celebrate 42 years as husband and wife.
The moment reminded me of an episode of one of my favorite TV shows called “Rhoda,” from back in the late 1970s (yeah, way back in the last century). Rhoda was a beloved character from the wildly popular “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” She was a wise-cracking, single woman whose dating ups-and-downs were the subject of her humor. But in Episode 1 of “Rhoda,” she’d meet Joe…and Rhoda was going to be married.
MARRIAGE FOR RHODA MORGANSTERN
I remember the special hour-long episode where Rhoda and her fiancé, Joe, exchanged their wedding vows. Viewed by more than 52 million people, the episode was a touching TV moment. A recent article about the show described ‘Rhoda’s Wedding’ as “a television landmark,” becoming the highest-rated television episode of the 1970s, a record it kept until the original Roots miniseries claimed the title in 1977.
While watching this historic event back in 1974, I also remember clearly being shocked and surprised, however, to hear Rhoda and the man she loved vow:
“to live together as husband and wife, as long as we both shall love.”
Well, I’ve been to a few weddings in my day, and being a Christian minister, I’ve also officiated some, yet I have never heard any couple speak this phrase. But in today’s world – and even in the lives of Christians – the idea of marriage “as long as we shall love” seems to be lived out by many couples.
Although the American divorce rate is down in comparison with the 1970s, 80s and 90s, it is still higher (on a per capita basis, for every 1,000 people in the US) than it was almost 80 years ago, after the nation had endured the Great Depression. Today, article after article continues to promote the idea that ½ of all marriages end in divorce. So, is marriage really supposed to be forever? And should the vows be changed to “as long as we shall love?”
TO VOW OR NOT TO VOW: THAT MAY BE THE QUESTION
If a man makes a vow to the Lord, he shall not break his word. Numbers 30:2
God takes vows pretty seriously. A “vow” in the Old Testament could be made between an individual and God or between two people. Whether to God or to man, a vow was considered a sacred, consecrated promise. It was a personal obligation that was to be fulfilled.
Today’s views on wedding vows and their content, however, are divided. Some still prefer the traditional phrase “As long as we both shall live,” while others seem to prefer the more modern “love.” An informal survey of both celebrity and civilian wedding vows around the world reveals that the phrases “as long as we both shall live,” or “’till death do us part” are still utilized and may even be preferred.
- At their 2011 wedding, the Prince and Princess of Wales promised matrimony “so long as ye both shall live,” and “’til death us do part.”
- Some Hindu wedding vows use the wonderfully poetic phrase, “Till both of us, with age, grow old.”
- The book, 50 New and Traditional Wedding Vows, plus How to Write Your Own Vows: 10 Guides by Maria Kay, includes the modernized phrase, “all the days of my life.”
Many seem to believe that even if “forever” is not attainable, they still prefer the idea. Could concepts such as “promise,” “sacred,” “consecrated,” and “personal obligation” be of a bygone era?
WHAT IS LOVE?
If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. 1 John 4:12
Love is an interesting human emotion (pain, pleasure, pressure, or whatever you wish to term it), particularly as it relates to the Western “civilized” society’s understanding of marriage. For many couples seeking holy matrimony today, love is that wild emotion; that tingling feeling down on the inside, that little taste of sexual fornication before marriage (if the marriage even happens at all). Others call it “indigestion” or “infidelity”: a breach of trust against God; the kind of stuff that is well below God’s righteous standard for our Best Christian living. This kind of personal, self-absorbed human love for many is merely a blind coagulation of looks, lust, and lucre.
The Greek word psychō (pronounced PSUE- ko; ψύχω in Greek) refers to a human love that is gradually lessening in its fervor, power, and joy; waning, disintegrating, and evaporating away into non-existence. And the Scriptures do speak of a lower, less developed human-level type of love in Matthew 24:12, where Jesus predicted that the last days would be a time where “the love of many will grow cold” (NKJV). Bible Commentator, Marvin Vincent, defines this growing-colder-human-kind-of-love as a “spiritual energy blighted or chilled by a malign or poisonous wind.” I would say that this “psychō”-type of love changed up on you! It was passionate, fiery, hot, and alive; but now, cooled off by the winds of time, adversity, or simply the desire for change, it has become cold, distant, impassionate, and dead.
Having spoken of a cold non-agapē love, we must ask, “Exactly what then is agapē in the fuller Christian expansion of this Greek word?” The best description of agapē in summary says:
Agapē is the highest form of love, a God-kind-of-love, whereby the one loving loves the one being loved unconditionally and also seeks that individual’s highest good and well-being.”
And in any human relationship, marriage or otherwise, we will need God to reach into the depths of our spiritual being to show this Christian agapē-love.
GOD’S IDEA AND GOD’S STANDARD
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” saith the LORD – Isaiah 55:8
Jesus’ theology of marriage was too much for even His disciples to take in. He said, regarding the short-term marriage idea, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so… whoever divorces his wife… commits adultery.” You might respond in shock like the disciples did, saying, “Well Jesus, if this is your view of marriage, it’s better for us not to get married, at all!” (Matthew 19:1-10).
There may also be some young adults today who may say of the Christian marriage vow to love someone for the rest of their lives, “I can’t make that kind of commitment. I don’t know what may happen in the future.” Maybe modern believers in Christ should just make no such “vows” at all if they are too hard to keep!
Okay, I’m in my 60s. I came from a different era (the generation which created the modern sexual revolution, by the way), but I still believe in the fervent seeking which lives out (or loves out) the biblical standard of marriage: “One woman for one man for life.” Yes, I know there are sometimes extreme challenges to this concept, but in our Christian life’s teaching and living, we must still speak and seek to live up to the best of God’s will, and God’s standard for the best functioning of human society, especially in these modern times. With Jesus, and our own personal commitment, we can perfect, improve, enhance, and advance love.
That’s possible: so, let’s do it daily.
WE NEED TO HEAR FROM YOU!
Now back to the phrase, “as long as we both shall love”: should the Christian marriage vows be amended or changed to, “as long as we both shall LOVE” for this modern day, or remain “as long as we both shall LIVE” as it is has stated for the past 500 years or so?
Please answer on Facebook with a simple one liner. Include:
- Your age group (20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, etc.) and
- One word: “love” or “live” for how you think the vow should read.
Please, be honest. Don’t answer what you think we want to hear! Please feel free to forward this piece to your Christian friends and family; I’d love to hear their answers also.
As for me, I don’t see my 40 years of marriage to my lovely wife as some drudgery or lifelong slavery to an old vow, but rather as a wonderful and joyful relationship. It is for me a daily opportunity to say and honor “I do,” as in “I do love you and cherish you, as well as all the other good and the difficult stuff that’s part of any agapē relationship.”
“Dear Lord, I thank you for the spouse of my youth. It is an honor have him/her chosen for me by You for the enjoyment of our lives together serving Your purpose and glory.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES – Numbers 30:2-4, 1 Corinthians 13:8, Matthew 19:1-10, 24:12; Isaiah 55:8, 1 John 2:5; 4:12, 17.
DR. KENNETH HAMMONDS (M.Div., Ed.D.) is a Discipleship Thinker- Teacher-Doer and Director of Christian Discipleship (Perfecting Believers) for West Angeles Church of God in Christ and Sector Leader for the Adult Ministries Division of the church. Of special theological interest for Dr. Hammonds is the discussion and development of a Theology of Discipleship that is spiritually vibrate, biblically sound, and personally practical.Dr. Hammonds has been a member of West Angeles for 30 years and serves on the Executive Staff as a Division Head. He also serves the Body of Christ as a Certified Life and Leadership Coach, and as a passionate New Testament Greek Trainer. He has been in Christian Ministry for over 45 years.
DID YOU KNOW?
- Two years after the “Rhoda” show began, Rhoda and her husband, Joe, broke up and later divorced. Joe revealed to his stunned wife that he had never really wanted to marry her. He said he only married her because she had pressured him into it after he’d invited her to live with him (it seems that an invitation to “move into my apartment” is not the same as an invitation to “move into my life in marriage.” Interesting ending to the vow, “as long as we both shall love”)!
- The English word psycho is not related in meaning to the Greek word psychō, but rather a slang form of the term “psychopath.” The relationship between the Greek and English words is just an interesting coincidence!
- The first known reference to the English phrase, “till death us do part” is in the Church of England’s “Book of Common Prayer” in 1529.
- The idea of a marriage ceremony in the Christian Church seems to have become practice around the 9th century; however, as early as the 4th century there is evidence of couples seeking the blessing of the Church. Couples married in keeping with local customs and/or family traditions, making their own wedding “vows” of commitment, or having vows handed down to them.
- On Valentine’s Day 2014, Pope Francis challenged 10,000 engaged couples who gathered in St. Peter’s square to consider marriage not as a temporary relationship, but as “The Joy of ‘Yes’ forever.” He said “It is still possible to take the risk of saying ‘forever’…it takes courage, but forever is a prospect that brings joy and allows us to look to the future.