One of the quirks of being a Christian minister associated with an historic building like St Michael’s Wollongong is that I end up officiating a lot of weddings. But occasionally I also get to attend weddings which others officiate. Not long ago, I attended a wedding at another church. It was a great wedding, full of joy and wonderful testimonies to the grace and love of God through his Son Jesus. However, I did notice something that I thought was very strange: throughout the wedding, from the processional to the final speech at the reception, no mention was made of children at all. Not once.
Now I don’t think this omission was deliberate. I have no reason to think that the couple are averse to having children, nor that the minister in charge of the service tried to leave out any reference to them. I think it was just an oversight in the wedding planning process. Furthermore, the reason that I noticed it is not because I’m particularly astute or virtuous; rather, it’s because I’m an Anglican minister who has done lots of weddings, and I just noticed that the wedding was different to the way I normally do it. Whenever I officiate a wedding, I’m required by the laws of my denomination to bring up the subject of children in two places: firstly, in the introduction to the wedding. The words I use are modernized and adapted from the Marriage Service in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which lists three reasons for marriage. The first is children:
First, It [i.e. Matrimony] was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.
Secondly, after the marriage is solemnized, I am required to pray for the couple using the ideas expressed in the following words (unless the woman is past childbearing age):
Merciful Lord, and heavenly Father, by whose gracious gift mankind is increased: We beseech thee, assist with thy blessing these two persons, that they may both be fruitful in procreation of children, and also live together so long in godly love and honesty, that they may see their children Christianly and virtuously brought up, to thy praise and honour; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
In hindsight, as I reflect more on the biblical teaching, it seems to me that the Book of Common Prayer is spot-on, and the fact that children were not mentioned at all in the wedding I mentioned was a serious oversight. In the Bible, children are always seen as a blessing from the Lord, and childlessness in marriage is always a cause of grief. The command in Genesis 1:28 is just the beginning of a consistent biblical theme: marriage is for children, God loves children, and God’s people are to reflect God’s attitude:
And God blessed them [i.e. man as male and female]. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen 1:28 ESV)
I’m not talking here about the details of family planning and contraception—I accept that different families will have different capacities, timings and situations. Nevertheless, the consistent biblical teaching is that marriages should have a warm and welcoming attitude to children, for this is one of the primary purposes of a marriage. It follows that in a wedding ceremony, the bearing of children should not simply be assumed, but should be given a prominent and explicit place.
Indeed, the general conservative Christian stance against abortion requires us to have a strong, firm and outspoken culture of warmly welcoming children, otherwise our opposition to abortion will just become a hypocritical farce.
Just as an aside, some might argue that today’s world is different from biblical times, and that the world is so overpopulated now that the second part of God’s command in Genesis 1:28 (to “have dominion”) actually negates the first (to “multiply”). The argument goes like this: we have come to a point where there are simply too many people in the world, and any more ‘filling’ will mean that we aren’t taking care of the world properly; we have already completed our obedience to God’s command to “fill” the earth—and now we can stop procreating.
However, it’s not really true that overpopulation itself is causing the strain on the earth’s resources. What is causing this strain is a much more basic problem—a problem which Francis Schaeffer identified way back in the 1960s, and a problem which the Bible talks about again and again: human greed (e.g. Exod 20:17, Rom 1:29, Jas 4:2-3). It’s not that there are too many people, it’s that certain people (especially in the West) are insatiably using more and more resources. Think of Australians: in general, on average, we are gobbling up oil to get ourselves around more conveniently, and we are gobbling up land because the average household size has dropped, so fewer and fewer people are now living in bigger and bigger houses (not to mention the extra cost in electricity for heating and lighting, etc). The strain on the earth’s resources would be stopped overnight if we all became content with what we had, and were happy to live with larger families under one roof.
Or take food resources, for example. To quote a statistic I heard recently, there are now more obese and overweight people in the world than there are malnourished people in the world. (That includes countries such as China.) That statistic means that there is more than enough food for everybody many times over. It’s just that it’s not being distributed properly—because of corruption and greed. Overpopulation isn’t the problem; it’s the age-old problem of greed.
In fact, I reckon a better way for western Christians to combat the problems that are so often blamed on overpopulation would be to have more children—providing that they are committed to seeing that all of their children are “Christianly and virtuously brought up”. For if that is true, there should be more and more people who have been brought up to be less greedy, more patient and more generous, to use less resources, and therefore to effect a good and lasting change in our world.
The Bible teaches that marriage is good, and that one of the indispensable reasons for marriage is children. So if you notice references to children being marginalized or omitted at a Christian wedding in your church, perhaps you could have a quiet word with your minister and politely ask them why.