The Wedding Feast

Posted by on Jun 27, 1980 in Marriage

During my visit to Central Sumatra, I came across a quiet tribe, predominantly Christian, who had been neglected by missionaries since their first contact over one hundred and twenty years ago. By the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the one Bible they had in their language, they had grown in wisdom and spiritual maturity. In their isolation, the Christian expression of the major events in their lives has developed into somewhat strange but beautiful customs.

I was most impressed by their marriage customs. At first I thought they were slightly heathen, but on a closer study of the scriptures, I found them to be quite biblical. Rather than expecting young people to “fall in love” on a random basis and to establish a marriage on the basis of “compatibility”, so common in our world, the Church had a continuing, active participation in the whole process of matching and mating. (I couldn’t help thinking, “They put us North Americans to shame. We offer little help or guidance in helping our young people make one of the most important decisions in their lives.”)

In the context of a loving, Christian church community, young people were brought together for games and social encounters. Enjoyment and the opportunity to meet somebody of the opposite sex was the main conscious agenda. Because most flirting or showing off was not permitted, the games and festivities I watched were free of the silly embarrassments of western young people; everyone was very considerate and correct. The matching was not just self-selection but was a combination of both mutual attraction and arrangement with the family and the elders of the Church taking part.

When a young man had established himself independently and when he found himself becoming increasingly attracted to one girl, he would consult his parents. If they approved, he consulted the elders and then approached the girl’s parents. This procedure was followed equally by boys and girls so that either one could initiate the process of matching. I thought it was a fantastic advantage over our current North American situation where more women than men want to be married, yet women are expected to wait until men propose.

The elders, in discussing the young man’s focus and source of affection, would point out advantages or disadvantage of that particular coupling. Whenever a young person faltered while attempting to explain why it would be a good match, one elder would act as an advocate and speak a bit on his or her behalf. The young initiated these discussions sufficiently early in their courtships so that emotions did not overpower reason. Not infrequently they were dissuaded from a particular boy or girl or directed to someone else the elders felt would be a more suitable match. Often both boy and girl, unbeknown to the other, were making inquiries about each other.

Once the elders and the parents on both sides agreed the young couple became involved in a process of directing negotiation. They would discuss and agree on where they would live, what they would bring to the marriage, what things they would give up, what education or vocational pursuits they would each follow, how many children they would have, and most particularly, what was going to be the major Christian purpose of their individual and joined lives. Negotiation was done in the presence of one or two elders who would facilitate the discussion, help compromise, and remind them of issues to be settled. A comprehensive agreement was drawn up before a formal betrothal was made.

Once the betrothal date wax fixed, the couple were jointly involved in serious premarital counseling. It was generally selected grandparents who dealt with anxieties while providing a thorough family and sex education. The couple were given plenty of time with each other. Kissing and hugging was allowed, even encouraged, but other physical intimacy was frowned upon. Sexual intercourse was taboo. It became apparent that the culture engendered self-control by defining limits until the couple could handle the growing intensity of their feelings. It was conveyed more by the community culture than by spoken word that intimate sex at this point would spoil what was to come.

After a four to six week period of counseling, a formal and solemn betrothal (1) ceremony was arranged. Everyone appeared in his or her best attire. The young pair were resplendent in borrowed, almost regal robes. Their shining faces spoke of the importance of this ceremony. Vows that were ancient and yet updated for that particular occasion were exchanged in the presence of twelve chosen witnesses, who stood nearest the couple during the ceremony. The same twelve signed their names to the agreement while the whole congregation sang songs of dedication and praise.

The couple remained in the community for a few weeks following that ceremony. During this time, future housing etc. was arranged and any remaining problems ironed out. Then both had three days of isolation for contemplation and prayer. Finally, with only the knowledge of two principal witnesses, the couple disappeared from the community to an appointed retreat. The chosen spot was a lovely cottage by a lake or on a hill. It was strictly out of bounds to everyone in the community. The cottage had been well stocked so the couple had little else to do than enjoy each other.

I was told that the couple had a quiet ceremony of worship before and after intercourse, celebrating the fact that Christ was making them “one flesh” (2) (Since the current rate of North American divorce is 55%, it behooves us to recognize the lessons taught us by these villagers who understood that great importance of both a firm biological union and a formal lifelong commitment.) They lived together in isolation for three to four weeks, then hoisting a pre-arranged signal to let the community know they were returning, they headed for the home village.

As the mated pair walked hand in hand into the community, they were met first by the children, then the adolescents and then by the adults in what became a triumphal procession.

Branches were waved and congratulations shouted. There was a lot of mutual teasing back and forth, people doing cartwheels and children playing tag. The elders led the couple into the community’s main meeting place. Before the twelve witnesses and the church elders, the newlyweds were asked to respond to a few questions. They were asked, “Has God united you?”

In their own tongue and in a much more beautiful manner than I can describe, they replied “We were alone and incomplete, now we are one”. That affirmation signaled an outburst of jubilation, an almost wild celebration, of their marriage. Much praise was given to God, much embracing of the couple, many predictions of how many children they would have and many offers of help.

During the next year, the bride and groom had light duty. (3) He was not expected to have a full time job, nor was she expected to socialize to any great extent. They lived quietly on the outskirts of the village. To make their life easy, they received much support and many gifts for that year.

The final union of the couple was celebrated after their first-born arrived. The father was present throughout the delivery of their baby. As soon as the cord was cut, he took the infant and gently placed it to the mother’s breast. While he stroked the child’s back and spoke soothingly both to the child and to the mother, the infant responded by sucking.

I thought to myself what a beautiful way to establish the parent/infant bond (4) and thus, through the infant, the final element of the couple’s permanent earthly bond to each other. When I considered how frequently children are abused or killed by their parents, (5) most commonly because of poor bonding, I began to understand how important it was for a man and wife to be first properly bonded to each other.


1. Deut 20:7, Hosea 2:20, Matt. 1.18-19
2. Gen. 2:24, Matt. 19:5, Mark 10:6-9
3. Deut. 24:5
4. Klaus M.H., Kennel J.H. Maternal-Infant Bonding. St. Louis C. V. Mosby Co. 1976
5. Ney, P.G. Relationships between Abortion and Child Abuse. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 24: 610-620 1979