I will be doing a wedding next Saturday for a faithful couple (well, at least the bride), and she sent me an e-mail earlier this week that said the following, among other things:
"We... read the vows, and we are wondering why the female part includes "obey", but the male part does not include that. I'm a bit too independent to say that, and T-- agreed he would be uncomfortable with me saying it, but not him. So, we would both like to say the "obey" part, or neither of us. Maybe you do automatically make them the same, but I just want to make sure. Afterall, it's not 1950... :) "
I responded to this with the following (I thought I had covered this in "pre-marital counseling"):
I apologize in advance for the long response. I understand your concern about the word "obey" in the vows for the woman. It does indeed go against the grain of what is commonly promoted in our society. Give me a chance to explain why it is that way. The reason that "obey" is in the vows for the woman, but not the man, is rooted in the passage from Ephesians 5:21-33. You see, in the Christian teaching on marriage, the relationship between the man and the woman is a picture or image of the relationship between Christ and His Church. As you know, Christ is the head of the Church (His Bride) and the Church is to submit to or obey the Word of Christ. St. Paul draws this connection in the Ephesians 5 passage, and there is also more imagery of Christ as the groom and the Church as the Bride in the book of Revelation. Therefore in marriage, the husband is considered the head (not only of the wife, but of the household), so the wife is to submit to him as the Church submits to Christ.
Of course, the husband is also supposed to love his wife as Christ loved the Church (unconditionally, and to the point of even dying for her if need be). The kind of "headship" the husband has is rooted in love, just as the submission of the wife is rooted in love. The husband being the head is not some kind of "lord it over" the wife kind of position, because then it wouldn't be done in love. There is mutual love and submission, but the husband is the primary head. This is often called "the order of creation" as man was created first and then woman. God creates order in our earthly society.
Now I know this isn't popular or well-understood in our more "democratic" times. However, as Christians we are to submit to God's Word and conform ourselves to Him, instead of trying to conform his Word to our thoughts and opinions. It is not easy, but it is what we are called to do, which is why the vows are the way they are. God's Word is the same now as it was in 1950, 950, and will be in 3250 (if the world is still here by then). Just because we float further away from it and become more rebellious, it does not change. As a pastor in the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) I am bound to use an order of marriage that has been approved by our synod. I can give you one other option. You can use either the vows that I already gave you, or the ones listed below. The vows listed below have been approved by our synod for inclusion in a new hymnal that is coming out this year. They do seem to reflect the language of Ephesians 5 a bit better. Here they are:
"P Name of bridegroom , will you have this woman to be your wedded wife, to live together in the holy estate of matrimony as God ordained it? Will you nourish and cherish her as Christ loved His body the Church, giving Himself up for her? Will you love, honor, and keep her in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others remain united to her alone, as long as you both shall live? Then say: I will.
R I will. [Eph. 5:29]
1. The pastor asks the bride:
P Name of bride , will you have this man to be your wedded husband, to live together in the holy estate of matrimony as God ordained it? Will you submit to him as the Church submits to Christ? Will you love, honor, and keep him in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others remain united to him alone, as long as you both shall live? Then say: I will. [Eph. 5:24]
R I will."
If you would like, we can use these vows. I strongly think that the "obey" or "submit" language must be included in the vows for biblical, theological reasons. The husband and wife each have a different vocation (calling) in a marriage. If you take out the submit/obey language, you are, in a sense, giving both the man and the woman the vocation of husband. If you have both of them use the submit/obey language, you are, in a sense, making both of them the wife. It is because, in our times, that we see both sexes or genders as interchangeable that we have widespread confusion about what marriage is (leading to some seeing no problem with gay marriage).
If you still have any concerns or questions about this, I would be glad to discuss it further. I hope this answers your questions and makes sense. I would be more than happy to clarify.
I hope this was clear. If anyone thinks I am offbase, please let me know. Anyway, I was worried that I would receive a hostile response, but this morning I received this message from the woman:
"Thank you so much for the great response. Now that I know the meaning behind it, which I'm ashamed to admit I never knew, I definitely want to keep them the same. I prefer the traditional version, rather than the newer one. I really appreciate you going through that with me, and I have a new respect for the vows in a way I never did before."
Sometimes people do hear your teaching.