Thursday, July 10, 2014

Revisiting the wedding ring question

My wife and I stopped wearing our wedding rings a few years ago after 20+ years of marriage. It still feels a little weird after so many years of marriage. You can sort of see the mark the ring left on my finger even years later but we don't really think much about it anymore. This morning a friend linked an audio clip from John Piper asking the question Are Wedding Rings a Waste of Money? While he recognizes that they are not necessary, he then proceeds to break down why he thinks they are both helpful and not a waste of money based on a) serving as a warning to the world that the wearer is off the market and b) serving as a reminder of marriage to the wearers. I get what he is saying. I disagree. No surprise I wrote a post about this topic, reprinted below.

I am confident in saying that John Piper is a better husband to Noel than I am to my wife by a wide margin. Having said that and with the deep respect I have for John Piper I think this issue of wedding rings is rather analogous to "church membership" as being a unhelpful tradition. I will loop back to that in a moment but here are my objections to his two points.

First, if people that get to know you well enough in a setting where they might be sizing you up for a relationship, they darn well ought to know that you are married whether you wear a ring or not. The wearing of a ring is sadly not a dissuasion to many people seeking liaisons and the lack of a ring ought not be a green light to anyone that knows you. If you are hanging out in places where people hook up without getting to know each other, what the heck are you doing there in the first place? Pretty much anyone who knows me for very long knows that I am happily married with 8 kids.

Besides, the Bible already a) gives a warning about adornment, specifically costly materials like gold and pearls and b) also provides a symbol of marriage in the wife's covered head. Many Christians think nothing of wearing gold wedding rings and often with a very pricey stone set into one of them because that is what our culture and the jewelry industry marketers tell us we have to have but recoil at the idea of a wife covering her head. Imagine a Sunday morning in some 250-500 attendee suburban evangelical church where the parking lot is full of new cars and most of the ladies in attendance are fashionably dressed with the latest hairstyle being told that they shouldn't be wearing that $1000+ wedding ring and that they should have their hair covered. Hopefully that pastor updated his resume Saturday night!

Second, the same goes for our relationship to one another. If I need a ring to remind me I am married to my wife, that is a flaw in my relationship to Christ, something that a ring won't fix. Since my wife is still as selfless in our relationship as she has ever been it clearly wasn't the ring making her do it. The "symbol of our love" is our clinging to one another through thick and thin, including some pretty tough times (like right now). It is our children. It is not some golden adornment that can be slipped on and off the finger at will.

That may sound harsh and I don't intend it to, nor am I calling as sin the wearing of rings by fellow believers. I would however like to see the church as a people start to reject the perceived requirement of buying weddings rings made of the costliest materials as a requirement for getting married in the upcoming generations as they marry. Our marriages and our weddings already look indistinguishable from the world, the eschewing of the wearing of wedding rings might be a good place to start in distinguishing Christian marriages from whatever concoction the world thinks up next to call marriage. I did appreciate Piper's brief rant against the obscene amount of money people spend on their receptions. Now that really is a waste of money!

So back to church membership. I also wrote about a while ago, Marriage and membership. Basically, if the church doesn't know who to love without formal membership, it isn't much of a church. If elders don't know who they are to love and serve without a list, they shouldn't be elders in the first place. Membership and wedding rings are artificial crutches to remind us of something that should be second nature. Anyway, here is my post on this topic from a few years back.


So this is an interesting conversation that has come up among some friends and one that generates a visceral reaction when broached.

Wedding rings are firmly entrenched in our culture. The exchanging of rings and wearing of them to signify that the wearer is married is part of our cultural heritage even to the point of being the focal point in a whole bunch of country music songs (“I put that little golden band on the right left hand this time….”). Removing a wedding ring can be an indicator of a marriage that is broken. Cultural nostalgia is a big deal when it comes to these small symbols of marriage. Getting an engagement ring is a huge deal for women (if you have ever worked with a young woman who gets engaged the next day at work is filled with her friends and co-workers ooohin and aaaahing over the diamond)

Here is the question. Should Christians wear wedding rings or for that matter should Christians wear any sort of jewelry at all? My wife wears a modest wedding ring and has a couple of other pieces of frankly fairly inexpensive jewelry that she rarely wears. Should she? Why not you ask? Because it certtainly seems that Scripture doesn't permit this tradition.

Scripture seems pretty clear on this, generally in the idea of meekness and humility which seems ill served by a ring made out of a precious metal and often adorned with a pricey diamond as well as more specifically in two passages. I copied the whole section, not just the verse in question to give us a more full view and highlighted the particular verses:

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. (1 Peter 3: 1-6)

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. (1 Timothy 2: 8-10)

The principle invoked here is of not being adorned with attire (which would include jewelry) that is prideful and designed to draw attention to the external but rather women in particular should be adorned with good conduct, good works, a gentle spirit and submission to their husbands.

This of course raises some questions. If we are not supposed to wear wedding bands because they are costly adornments, what about a plain band? What if the band was plain and also not gold? Should we eschew any sort of accoutrement that sets us at all apart from someone else? I also note that these two passages apply to women, so is it OK for men to wear wedding bands but not women? Is the wearing of adornments something of particular prideful temptation for women but not for men?

What about name brand clothing with logos ? Clothing companies put their logos on the outside both as an ad for their product as well as to let the wearer signify that they are wearing something more costly than you are. The horse and rider on Polo brand shirts is a great example. I used to sell The North Face jackets to rich kids because the logo tells people that this is not mere fleece or rainjacket, it is a $300 North Face jacket! I think the principle might hold true here as well.

I wonder if we should wear anything that is not plain and handmade. I need to wear suits and appropriate business attire for my job but outside of work, what about that?

There is a real issue and an important principle here that we don’t seem to address in a straightforward manner in the church. I think it might be for the same reason headcovering is glossed over, because it flies in the face of our cultural expectations. On the other hand, this can turn into a point of pride. It is easy to see your own plainness as a point of pride, that I am more holy than that person because of the manner of my dress. Those sorts of heart issues are far more troubling than external obedience and that is true not just about adornment or modest dress or headcovering but also wearing suits to church or lengthy prayers or being contentious or giving our of obligation. It is not difficult at all to be externally pious but have hearts in rebellion.

Peter and Paul are both unanimous and unambiguous about this issue. This strikes me as a topic where the text is clear, so rather than trying to prove from Scriptures that we cannot wear wedding rings, we should see this as explaining why from Scriptures that we can.

There is also a stewardship issue, is the buying of $1000 golden ring topped by a diamond foolhardy in light of the very real temporal needs of our brothers and sisters, of orphans and widows, of missionaries? That is an ancillary topic but a real one.

Is it a coincidence that the One Ring, a golden band that looks suspiciously like a wedding ring, is the embodiment of evil in The Lord of the Rings? Hmmmm…..

Seriously though. Should we give up the wearing of wedding rings or am I making too big of a deal about it? Is this an issue of hyper-literalism and legalism or are we resistant to the idea of eschewing rings because we have been so heavily marketed to by jewelry companies that we have bought into the idea that we simply must wear rings if we are married? Maybe someone more familiar with the Greek text (Alan?) can help us out here, is there something in the context that I am missing.

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