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Marriage vows renewed by the Pattersons & 1,100 others at Southeastern Seminary

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–With tears in her eyes, the brown-haired mother of three smiled as she looked up at her husband, as he vowed before their children to uphold the godly principles they promised each other years ago on their wedding day.

Led by a tux-clad Paige Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Southern Baptist Convention, and his bride of nearly 37 years, Dorothy, about 550 couples, hand in hand, restated marriage vows and signed a covenant pledging to “exalt the sacred nature and permanence of the marriage covenant,” April 13 in Binkley Chapel on the Wake Forest, N.C., campus.

In unison, husbands voiced promises to their wives of sacrificial love and provision of needs, physically, mentally and emotionally, while covenanting to be the spiritual leader of the union, remaining faithful “to avoid all that is pornographic, impure or unholy.”

Wives reciprocated, in one accord, pledging to graciously submit and honor their husband’s role as servant leader while acknowledging their responsibilities as wife and mother “as priority above all else except God.”

The vows, penned by the Pattersons, mirror the covenant between Christ and the church, echoing the Baptist Faith and Message’s article on the family, approved at the 1998 Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Salt Lake City.

“Even as I wrote these vows I couldn’t help but think, ‘Lord, how on earth can I ever achieve this?'” Patterson told the 1,100 husbands and wives present. “I know it is what is expected of me and it’s only by the grace of God that I could possibly achieve it.”

Patterson said he hopes the vows will be used as a testimony to “a world gone crazy that never keeps its covenants anymore.”

According to a December 1999 survey conducted by the Barna Research Group, 25 percent of evangelicals have been divorced at least once, equaling the national average. The survey also reported Baptists are more likely than any other Christian denomination to get a divorce, mirroring the quick-fix mentality of the world by dismissing sacred wedding vows as insignificant.

“God has ordained the family as the foundational institution of human society,” Patterson said, quoting the 18th article in the Baptist Faith and Message confessional statement of Southern Baptist beliefs. “It is composed of persons related to one another by marriage, blood or adoption. Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. … The marriage relationship models the way God relates to His people.”

Patterson said the secret for a fulfilling and exemplary marriage is reflected in 1 Corinthians 13.

“Love recognizes human frailty,” Patterson said. “There is no way that two people can live together in marriage without making mistakes. But you don’t remember the mistakes that [are] made. You put [them] aside because that is what love demands. If you want God’s best, there is never a reason for marriage to end in divorce.”

Patterson said the “exception clause” given by Moses in the 24th chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy and recounted in Matthew 19:8 is not to be interpreted as God’s affirmation of divorce.

“The exception clause in the New Testament is given for only one reason,” Patterson said. “It is because of the hardness of your hearts that Moses gave you that escape from marriage.”

Patterson said the verse is valid only in the case of unfaithfulness and is not God’s ideal for marriage even then.

“Even if your mate is unfaithful to you, God’s prescription isn’t divorce,” Patterson said. “God’s prescription is found in the Book of Hosea, when Hosea goes and buys Gomer off the slave block and says to her, ‘Now, my sweetheart, you’re going to go home and be for me and I’m going to be for you.’ That’s God’s best.”

Roger and Mary Patrick*, who are enrolled in Southeastern’s master of divinity in international church planting program in preparation over overseas ministry, said signing the marriage covenant sets a higher standard for their commitment and for their ministry.

“Vows are not just a one time thing,” said Mary, who has been married eight years and has three daughters. “It’s a continuing process. For us, it’s a good time to renew because our marriage will be a huge witness to those around us.”

“I think it’s good to think about the vows as recommitment to each other,” Roger added. “Our society has made marriage a disposable thing, but it is commitment for life.”

Orrett and Marva Bailey have been married for two years and are expecting their first child in September.

“I think signing a marriage covenant and saying your vows over again is special,” Marva said. “I kept thinking about how many times God restated his covenant with Israel. Sometimes you don’t remember the actual words you said on your wedding day. It is just so easy to forget in the mundane details of life. Renewal is always good.”

The restating of the vows and signing of marriage covenants as a written symbol of the spiritual contract between husband and wife is an outgrowth of FamilyLife of Campus Crusade for Christ and the efforts of Dennis Rainey, FamilyLife director. Most recently, the covenant renewal ceremony has become a vehicle for evangelical Christians across America to stand up and declare marriage as sacred in the light of staggering divorce rates.

“To end in divorce is a confession of the hardness of your own heart even if you’re the party against whom the sin has been committed,” Patterson said. “To end in divorce is a confession that you do not love, and you forget that love is unquenchable. If it is real love, there is nothing that can drown it out. Great flooding waters cannot drown out love.”

The vows voiced during the ceremony were:


My precious and honored wife,

This day I renew before God my covenant with you.

I covenant today, sacrificially to love you as Jesus loves His church.

I covenant to bestow always upon you abundant honor.

I will seek to know your needs and to provide for them materially, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

I will seek your well-being, happiness and success above my own.

Above all, I covenant to be the spiritual leader of our union, to provide spiritual example through my walk with Christ, to teach the Bible, and to pray for my family, to lead family worship.

I will be faithful to you physically, mentally, and emotionally and to avoid all that is pornographic, impure, or unholy.

I will not be angry or bitter against you nor allow the sun to go down on my wrath.

I will not keep books on evil.

I will cultivate tender affection for you both in private and in public.

I will compassionately give to you my body and spirit in the union which we alone enjoy together.

I covenant this day to accept the role of servant leader.

And to be to my children and grandchildren, should God grant a compassionate, encouraging, and guiding father.

This day, I seal this covenant for as long as we both shall live.


My precious and honored husband,

This day, I renew before God my covenant with you.

I covenant this day to love and respect you with all the fervency of my being.

I covenant to make our home a place of repose and comfort.

I will honor you as the spiritual leader of our home.

I will devote myself to you and the offspring God may give above all others.

I will graciously submit to your servant leadership never allowing the sun to go down on my wrath.

I will not keep books on evil.

I will regard my responsibilities as wife and mother as priority above all else except God.

I will seek your well-being, happiness, and success rather than my own.

I will compassionately give to you my body and spirit in the union which we alone enjoy together.

This day, I seal this covenant for as long as we both shall live.
*Names changed due to security concerns.

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  • Melissa King