September 12, 1922. The day wedding vows were rewritten.
Over time, even something as traditional as the marriage covenant has to evolve. The section on matrimony in The Book of Common Prayer from 1662 has the classic line ” to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part…” This book has been just about as influential on the English language as the King James Bible or the works of Shakespeare. It has also influenced generations of newlyweds.
However, on Sept. 12, 1922 the Episcopal church voted to remove the words “to obey” from the marriage vows. Why did they do that? Most likely to align with a more modern view of women’s roles in the family and society at large. Perhaps even with the hope of establishing more egalitarian principles between a husband and wife.
Regardless of the Episcopal motivation, this divorce of love and obedience in the marriage covenant does have some legitimate implications. My point here isn’t to argue whether the word “obey” should or shouldn’t be included. Instead, my point is to imagine if we were to truly dichotomize love and obedience.
What would we have? Obedience without love is but religion and love without obedience are but empty words and promises. If I confess to love someone then I am binding myself to them and therefore obeying a moral and ethical obligation to them. The fact is that love and obedience cannot be separated.
Love for God, however, isn’t the rote memorization and strict adherence to a static list of commandments. Love for God is dynamic, breathing and perhaps even dangerous. Just like renewing marriage vows, we should continuously say “How can I love, honor and obey my Father?” I have the suspicion that if you were to ask the Lord how you can obey, He would answer in a clear voice.
On the one hand there is space between love and obedience. It’s a false space we create to hide in and hope that our religiosity will keep us comfortable.
On the other hand, there isn’t space between love and obedience. Kind of like the space that’s eliminated when we covenant with someone in marriage. There is no more ‘private’ when two become one. In the context of marriage vows, maybe obedience was never about the submission of one gender to the other but more so about simply offering ourselves to the other.
My hope in believing all this is both simple yet audacious. It’s to fearlessly obey the Father because He fearlessly loves me. My hope is that our obedience both begins with and is perfected by His love. My hope is to diminish the space between love and obedience, until the two are synonymous.
One thing hasn’t changed. The wedding vows in the Book of Common Prayer still say “…till death us do part.”
Now to obey the one who’s defeated death itself…that’s something else entirely.
- Love Makes Obedience (kevinnunez.org)
- Whereby Shall I know? – Daily Devotion By Oswald Chambers (gospelbondservant.com)