One more story. A couple is married at the age of 8 days. They are from a province in India where the parents arrange and make marriages for their children.
Many years later, when the children are of age, there’s a ceremony designed to confirm the marriage. According to the law, either one could refuse to confirm the marriage, but rarely does anyone do that. Rather, they remain true to their upbringing and voluntarily go through the confirmation ceremony.
The boy and girl, now 21, have never met and have never confessed their love for each other. But they are genuinely committed to the marriage. Indeed, these marriages have a better success rate than Western marriage built on romantic love and the passions of the young couple.
[Not as unrealistic an example as you might imagine. Until the last century, child marriages had been practiced in India for centuries, and remain practiced today in a few places. After the government imposed a law requiring that the couple be at least 18 (bride) and 21 (groom), previously made marriages would have become illegal and so would require confirmation when the participants reach legal age. I make no claim of any expertise in Indian marriage law. I’m just saying the example is well within the realm of possibility.]
In God’s eyes, is the Indian couple married? If so, when were they married — according to God? When their parents declared them married, with the parents making vows for their children? When the ceremony was held when they were babies? Or when they confirmed that decision? And does it matter all that much?
Well, what if the couple refuses to go through the confirmation ceremony? Is that a divorce in God’s eyes?
Well — you know what? — I’m not sure I know the answer. But this much I know: if they confirm the marriage, they’re married — even though the ceremony is contrary to the marriage practices we read about in the Bible. The rite matters.
Now, I oppose infant baptism. I think it’s an unhealthy practice for the body of Christ. After all, in nations where infant baptism is nearly universal, the church is extremely weak. Evidently, the church does a very poor job of making confirmation a real confirmation. It can easily become too much ritual and not enough substance.
But, of course, Churches of Christ have sometimes so focused on baptism that a large percentage of the teens who are baptized do so out of social pressure and not a real commitment to God. Yes, we can do the rite exactly right as a matter of form and theology and yet still get the heart of the rite entirely wrong. Of course, you can also do the rite wrong and get the heart wrong. And God certainly wants the rite right and the heart rite. But the heart is the thing that matters ultimately.
(1Sa 16:7b ESV) “For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”