By David C. Brand - Posted at The Christian Observer:
“One man, one woman–,” the minister bellowed, “do not try to improve upon it!” A young man could hardly restrain himself: “Reverend, I have no intention of trying to improve upon it–I just want to get in on it! Can you help me?”
I,—–, take thee, ——-, to be my wedded wife/husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge thee my trust.
In our wedding vows we acknowledge that marriage is “God’s holy ordinance.” What makes marriage holy? Marriage is holy because (1) God instituted it at creation to be foundational for human society; (2) God instituted it for a man and woman created in His image and likeness; (3) God designed marriage as the template for the relationship between Christ and His church; and (4) retrospectively, God instituted the church as the mirror of holy matrimony; and Christian marriage, based upon the apostle Paul’s instructions in Ephesians 5:22-33, best reflects God’s design. Marriage is a covenant, a sacred agreement between a man and a woman. Does this mean that if a husband and wife are not Christian, marriage in their case is not holy? Not necessarily!
Do wedding vows have to be exchanged in the presence of a clergyman in order to constitute a Christian marriage? Not necessarily. The pilgrims at Plymouth Plantation believed that since marriage was a civil institution applicable for all mankind, marital vows should be exchanged before the civil magistrate. This consists well with the fact that civil government was instituted by God.  The government has a legitimate interest in, and responsibility to safeguard and uphold, the institution of marriage which involves such critical things as procreation, and custody of children, as well as property ownership. The legal obligations associated with marriage help establish order in society. Until recently in the United States, the state issued a marriage license only for a man and woman to be legally united in marriage. That license had to be signed by a person legally authorized by the state to conduct marriages, as well as by witnesses of the actual wedding event. In order to officiate at weddings, an ordained Christian clergyman has to be licensed by the state and has to sign the official marriage license as an agent of the state.