Weddings and Discipleship in a Post-Christendom Era
Throughout the 1600-year era of Christendom, Christians generally assumed their societies would reinforce and uphold Judeo-Christian values. Christendom more or less began when a pre-Christian Constantine raised the banner of the conquering Christ as he won a major battle. For many historians of the Christian faith, this launched the great compromise of Christianity. Good citizens of "Christian nations" were always Christians, and good Christians were also loyal citizens. Christianity was watered down. Discipleship was replaced by citizenship. As Christendom fades in the West, it's time to return to the historical roots of our faith. We have to learn to live as resident aliens in a world that resists the will of the Father. Weddings provide a looking glass that allows us to see the challenge of living in a post-Christendom world.
The uncoupling of faith from the ways of our society means that we mustn't blindly carry forward any aspect of our lives or faith without careful analysis. As the last vestiges of Christendom fade away in the West, Christians must carefully consider the ways Christendom-thinking has compromised their ability to follow Jesus. It's no longer enough to be good citizens. Christians have to be good disciples.
One small yet important piece of this puzzle is the way faithful Christians do weddings. It's no secret that families are in crisis in North America. Many churches are fighting for "family values," but most of this fighting is a misguided effort to reconstruct Christendom. These churches want a new Constantine to raise their banner rather than sorting through the challenges of living as resident aliens.
Christians of North America, listen up please. Marriage in our country is definitely in crisis. But it’s not the fault of politicians, the Supreme Court, or even Lady Gaga. Marriage is in crisis because too many Christians are doing marriage and weddings in ways that mimic society's shallow priorities rather than following the hard path of discipleship. Christian young people are missing the chance to serve as witnesses to the power of God’s work in and through the church.
Christians need to find ways of living peaceably in the world while staying committed to Jesus. In the process, Christians need opportunities to crack open the dividing wall between world and church, when non-church friends get to see into the world of faith and vice versa.
Weddings provide just such an opportunity. Sadly, too many weddings between Christian young people have nothing to do with faith. Their weddings too often reflect worldly values in ways that squander a perfect opportunity to be Christian ambassadors.
Young adults in the U.S. clearly place a high priority on weddings. While the marrying age has steadily increased, so has the amount of money spent on weddings. Society seems to value a particular kind of wedding: dream destination, fabulous experience, Instagram-worthy. Those are the expectations of our non-Christian society.
So here's a challenge to Christian young adults. What if you didn't settle for society's expectation? What if you aimed even higher for your dream wedding? I don't mean more spending, greater photography, or a grander experience. Instead, I want you to consider allowing your marriage ceremony to serve as meeting place where heaven and earth come together, where those inside and outside the faith can witness the beauty of loving God and loving each other. Set the bar high. Let your wedding be a living witness.
What does this look like? Let me be clear that I'm not advocating for the kind of in-your-face, YouTube-channel-streaming, "we-love-Jesus" publicity stunts of couples who try to become famous on the backs on their so-called faith. I don't want you to hand out fliers at a wedding or shove Christianity down guests' throats. That's not how this works.
To learn, we can turn to non-Christendom cultures where the church is growing. We may live in a non-Christendom culture, but we poorly understand how to be witnesses within it. One helpful example is Kenya—just 50 years ago a country full of relatively receptive people with little knowledge of Christianity.
When Western missionaries went to Kenya, they occasionally found polygamists. Having more than one wife was generally a symbol of wealth and power that few could afford, so it wasn’t a pervasive problem. But it became an issue for these Western missionaries as soon as a polygamous man wanted to become a Christian along with his family. Some made what, to me, was a tragic mistake. They insisted that this man divorce all but one wife, thereby creating an economic and social catastrophe for the women he divorced.
A better model exists among some American missionaries who worked with the Kalenjin tribe in Central Kenya. They accepted polygamous families as Christians. But they simultaneously launched a strong campaign to teach about Christian marriage (one husband and one wife for life) and to look for ways to model church weddings.
An important opportunity arose when Jackson Rono, a prominent Kalenjin Christian, lost his wife. When he was ready to remarry, he willingly allowed his wedding to serve as a template. Church leaders called together Christians and non-Christians from the surrounding area. There on Jackson's picturesque farm some 7,000 feet above sea level, they celebrated the event and taught about the blessing of living in a faith-filled marriage. Jackson and new wife courageously created a sacred moment where the Lord was present in a gathering of believers and non-believers. Weddings continue to be an important part of the church's living witness in that part of Kenya.
If you’re a young person, please consider aiming high for your wedding. Dream about how your marriage ceremony could be a sacred, missional moment for your worshiping community. Doing so will give us all reason to hope. You'll help form a new generation of Christians who understand what it means to live visibly as disciples of Jesus in a world needing redemption. Rather than expecting the world to reinforce your version of morality, maybe you’ll feel you have something truly helpful to offer those who’ve lost their way.