June 5, 2013

Wedding Vows

by Jesse Johnson

skydiving weddingWhile I concede that every marriage is unique and that the wedding day is often a reflection on a couple’s creativity, I have never been a fan of ceremonies where the couple write their own wedding vows. Before English majors rise up against me, I grant that there is romance inherent in poetry, and it is a labor of love to craft a commitment befitting your passion to your spouse. Writing one’s own vows shows the individual’s thoughtful care in approaching this momentous occasion, plus it makes all of the ladies in attendance politely and simultaneously gasp “how cute!”

But ultimately the vows are the one part of the wedding ceremony where a couple demonstrates their connection to something outside of their love for each other. The rest of the ceremony can be however you like it: have whatever kind of cake you want, let the bridesmaids and groomsmen stand in any order whatsoever, or in any place whatsoever, or have them hang from the rafters if you please (or ditch them all together, for all I care). Play any kind of music you desire. If you want your gerbil to be the ring bearer, or if you have the ceremony in an amusement park, or if you chose to wear a blue suit, then more power to you.  

But the vows are the one place where before God you stop, and you acknowledge that you didn’t invent marriage. It was designed by God, and has been passed down through world history. You are making a commitment that is not unique to your marriage, but rather you are embracing a commitment that has been made since Eden.

In that sense, using older vows is a public way of aligning yourself with what you have in common with millennia of marriages. Your love may not predate you, but the institution of marriage does, and using vows that have been handed down through time demonstrates that.  Here are the vows that I normally use when I officiate weddings. I found them in an old book on the Protestant Reformation in Scotland, although Google tells me that they may be Irish. Either way, they predate me:

Do you, [groom], in the presence of God and these witnesses, promise to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health, in prosperity and in adversity, this woman whose hand you now hold? Do you promise to perform your headship over her even as Christ does over you?  Do you promise to guard and protect her, to provide companionship for her and to delight yourself in her, from this day forward, in joy and in sorrow, in abundance and in want, through trials and tribulations?  Do you promise to be to her in all things a true and faithful husband, to cleave unto her, forsaking all others, as long as life shall last? If so, say “I do.”

Do you, [bride], in the presence of God and these witnesses, promise to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health, in prosperity and in adversity, this man whose hand you know hold? As he has pledged to you his life and love, do you happily give him your life, and in confidence submit yourself to his headship, as to the Lord? Do you promise to make a home for him, to provide companionship for him and to delight yourself in him, from this day forward, in joy and in sorrow, in abundance and in want, through trials and tribulations? Do you promise to be to him in all things a true and faithful wife, to cleave unto him, forsaking all others, as long as life shall last? If so, say “I do.”

[Groom}, take this ring and place it on her finger as a symbol of the faithful pledge you are making to her.

Repeat after me…

I, [groom], take you, [bride], to be my wedded wife,

to have and to hold from this day forward.

With this ring I thee wed,

with loyal love I thee endow,

all my worldly goods with thee I share,

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

[Bride], take this ring and place it on his finger as a symbol of the faithful pledge you are making to him.

Repeat after me…

I, [Bride], take you, [Groom], to be my wedded husband,

to have and to hold from this day forward,

With this ring I thee wed,

with loyal love I thee endow,

all my worldly goods with thee I share,

in the name of the Father, and of the son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

My point here is not that couples should use these vows, as much as they should use vows that they didn’t invent. I recognize that this may seem like a silly preference issue, and in many ways it is. If a couple asks me if they can write their own vows, I’ll send them this link, and then happily read whatever vows they give me to read. After all, it is their ceremony, and a chance for them to show how unique they are–just like every other couple that has ever been married.

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • Scottish reader

    Like what your saying here. Never thought of this before but it does shed another light on the craze for making ones vows original. Iv only once heard someone say their own vows which they had written. They were really quite silly in a way that were overly romantic and detracted , in my opinion, from their importance. When we my wife and I got married we simply added the line “or if The Lord shall come” to then end of “till death do us part”.

    • Scottish reader

      And I can’t explain where that avator has come from! 🙂

  • Drew Sparks

    Jesse, thanks for the though provoking post. I serve at a church that is completely the opposite of what you just said. Our pastor requires that couples write out their own wedding vows. One on hand, I understand your objection to couples writing vows about their love for each other, but are you opposed to couples feeling that their commitment is between God and them stirring them to write their own vows?

    I felt that traditional vows did not capture the convictions that were taught in scripture that God had used to mold my view of marriage, leading me to write my own commitment to my wife, and my Lord based on what he had taught me in his word. How would you respond to a member in your congregation who stated the same?

    You state, “In that sense, using older vows is a public way of aligning yourself with what you have in common with millennia of marriages.” True, but the vows you record were at one point not, “older.”

    • Good point, Drew. It can be like the difference between reciting the Lord’s prayer and belting out a prayer to God from your own heart in your own words.

      The heart attitude is what really matters. Either can be done wisely or poorly. It is the thoughtfulness behind the words expressed that matters most!

      • Drew Sparks

        Exactly. Whether formal or self written the issue is recognizing your vows, like everything else about your wedding, is not about you but about God.

  • Christina

    Thank you for this post. I have long felt uncomfortable with the self-written vows at weddings and couldn’t really say why. Now I am realizing the one thing often left out of these personalized vows is God…..and that is the most important thing.

  • Daniela O

    I’m with you, Jesse. I’m thankful we didn’t write our own vows. (And I did major in English). Not because I lacked confidence in my ability to communicate my love and commitment to Sergio, but because a covenant with God was being established. Vows penned by people far wiser than myself would more likely address important aspects of that covenant that I would likely neglect. Considering the seriousness of making those promises, it made sense to us to go with vows that, though were not unique to us, were solid, timeless, and God-exalting. Besides, I think our officiate did a great job! 🙂

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