Traditional Vows, part 1

trad vows1


When I was a younger Christian, I enjoyed modern worship, as it was very emotive. However, in the past 15-20 years, as I’ve gotten older, I find that I appreciate more and more the stability and meaning of older forms of worship and prayer. For me, there is a connectedness in the creeds that we say; after all, I am making the same confessions of faith as Luther, Wesley, Zinzendorf, Spener, Wycliffe and Hus. I sing the same faith that Watts, Newton, and Charles Wesley sang in their hymns. I find that standing in tradition helps to keep me grounded in my faith.

Which brings me to another tradition, the wedding vow. I know that it is all the rage to have couples write their own vows, but the more I have thought about it, I wonder if this trend is somehow connected with the degradation of marriage as a whole in today’s society. Think about it; marriage has lost its place as an institution, and even lost its definition. After all, the world tells us that all of the following are just modern permutations of marriage:

Serial marriage
Open marriage
Polygamous marriage
Same-sex marriage

I think we can agree that all these, and more, aren’t ‘redefining marriage’ so much as pummeling the very concept of marriage, reshaping into an unrecognizable mass of mess on the anvil of today’s perverted values. And I’m wondering if Christians aren’t somehow complicit in this degrading of marriage. Doesn’t our redefining the promises of marriage, rewriting the contract so to speak, indicate a desire to create marriage in our own image, rather than God’s?

“With My Body, I Thee Worship”

This is a line from the Book of Common Prayer and for centuries was part of English wedding ceremonies. According to my reading, this line was spoken by the groom during the service, and he pledged to worship his wife with his body. I also discovered that the wife, in the BoCP, did not make the same vow. While not a reciprocal promise, I thought the statement to be intriguing, because of the promise to worship. When I read that the husband promises to worship his wife with his body, I ask, “How?” I know to worship God, with prayer, praise, singing, etc., but how am I to worship my wife “with my body”?

It seems to me that one important clue can be found in the meaning of the word “worship”, specifically, its derivation: worthscipe. In Old English worthscipe meant to see the worth of something or someone. When we worship God, we are saying that He is worthy of our devotion. After all, Jesus did tell us that the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Sure sounds like living in worship to me.

Guess what? We get to do the same thing for our wives. We are to see the worthiness of our wives, to love with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength as well. And no, she doesn’t replace God, nor even become His equal. But she certainly rates above my buddies and my hobbies. Oh, and for all you GCHs™ who actually take the Bible seriously, guess what? In your estimation and service, you are to show her as much care as you show yourself (Eph. 5:23). After all, despite the fact that the Church has distorted the teaching about LYWACLTC™, there is a core teaching of the Bible on loving your wife as Christ loved the Church.

“How Do I Worship Thee…

Let me count the ways” (apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning.) Guys, guess what? The Bible does encourage you to worthscipe your wife. That old saw about JOY being comprised of “Jesus, Others and You” isn’t half bad, and just stating the obvious here, the wife comes at the head of the line of the Others category.

“Worship her? Really?” If we go to the meaning of worship, ‘to ascribe worth, esteem, and value,” then, yeah, worship. I’ve written about this before, in a post about love and respect being a two-way street. To me, the biggie verse is 1 Peter 3:7, where Peter tells husbands to

“… live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”

In my Two-Way Street post, I demonstrate that Peter isn’t just talking about being a physical protector, but being a loving, godly husband.

So, how do we worship “with my body?”


To my mind, one word pops up: Service. We talk of serving the God we worship, so why should showing our wives our feelings and beliefs of her Worth-ship to us be any different? After all, if a man claimed that he loved God but ignored His Word, His Church, His commands, etc., why would we believe him? Wouldn’t the same thing fly for husbands?

Now, I could attempt to provide a checklist of services that husbands can and should provide, but I’m not going to go there. (Right about now, I’m remembering the preacher who told his congregation that he wasn’t going to give a catalog of sins on the off-chance he might accidentally leave off one that was somebody’s favorite.) So many writers have created their lists of “Five Ways to Serve Your Wife Today,” or “20 Easy Steps To Making Her Happy.” They’re all good and they’re all over the internet, so they are easy to find.

No, I want to go to one thing, the biblical obligation to try. I’m writing to Christian husbands, so if that’s you, then I know that you take your relationship to God and His Word seriously. I know that it’s popular to say that husbands are not responsible for their wives happiness and vice versa. And that’s true. (And for the record, I do think that Roger Miller said it best when he sang, “You can be happy, if you’ve a mind to.”)

So, yes, you aren’t responsible for your spouse’s happiness. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t do your best to help, to accept the responsibility to try. Rom. 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” No, you can’t make someone happy, but as much as depends on you and your Christian service, THAT you are called to do. And do I need to say that your wife comes at the head of the line of those you are called to live peaceably with? I don’t think so.

That old vow from the Book of Common Prayer, “With my body, I thee worship,” wasn’t just pulled out of thin air because it sounded good. No, it was based on the Bible and its views of the obligation of husbands to serve.  People may write their own vows, but if they are Christians, they should understand that they are promising that they will be assuming their biblical obligations. For husbands, that means that we are called to love our wives at least as much as we love ourselves, and that will mean preferring them over ourselves. Not to the point of being subsumed (I’ve addressed that before), but as a life of love and service.

To be continued… (more on older vows [wifely vows?] in my next post)



Filed under Marriage & Sexuality

2 responses to “Traditional Vows, part 1

  1. Pingback: Traditional Vows, part 2 | The Curmudgeonly Librarian

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