Social Events Need Christian Moderation
JEWISH wedding feasts in ancient times were joyous occasions, with music, dancing, eating, and drinking. From John, chapter two, we learn that Jesus Christ and his disciples attended such a feast in Cana of Galilee. While the Bible does not specifically say that Jesus shared in all the things just mentioned, he did add to the festivities by miraculously producing wine, a beverage that makes man rejoice.—Ps. 104:15; John 2:1-11.
Does this mean that Jesus thought that “anything goes” at social events? No. First Timothy 3:2 says that Christian overseers, who are to set a good example for the rest of the congregation, are to be “moderate in habits.” And Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their “immoderateness.”—Matt. 23:25.
Christians are happy people who serve the “happy God.” (1 Tim. 1:11) They enjoy having upbuilding association with one another. When, in their busy lives, they have fellowship at social gatherings, they find it pleasant. Of course, they know that, because of human imperfection, improper things could develop at gatherings; they strive to avoid such by being moderate.
In what ways do social events need to reflect Christian moderation? We can illustrate the proper position by considering social events that relate to marriage.
RECEPTIONS OR WEDDING FEASTSa
The fact that Jesus attended a wedding feast shows that it is not improper for a Christian bride and groom to invite their close friends and relatives to share the joy of their wedding by attending a reception. Christ even wove three illustrations around the setting of marriage feasts.—Matt. 22:1-13; 25:1-13; Luke 14:7-11.
However, we should not conclude that a wedding feast is essential. It is not. If a couple desires to have a reception, and circumstances permit it, they may do so. But many Christians have married happily without having a wedding feast after the ceremony. And for those who plan to hold a reception, the matter deserves careful thought so that what is done will manifest Christian moderation.
Worldly receptions are frequently marked by one outstanding thing—excess! First there is excess in cost; a New York newspaper reported: “From June 1968 to June 1969, [Americans] will have spent about $7.2 billion on some 1,800,000 weddings that a good many of them cannot really afford. . . . Most of all, the money buys a catered reception.” Then there is excess in eating, drinking and entertainment. It is vital that Christians avoid such immoderateness.
How large should a wedding feast be? That is something that the couple can decide. Two parents in North America spent so much on their daughter’s wedding that they had to move to another location to find extra employment to pay for it. Does this resemble Christian moderation, or is it rather “the showy display of one’s means of life” that “does not originate with the Father, but originates with the world”?—1 John 2:16.
An overseer in western Africa mentioned a factor that adds to this problem: “Once it is known that the marriage is to take place, the whole congregation and some from nearby congregations feel that they must be at the reception, whether invited or not. Some think that those being married are obligated to have a reception and provide abundant food and drink for all present.” However, such a viewpoint is not in harmony with Jesus’ teachings. In two of his illustrations involving wedding feasts, he mentioned “invited” guests. (Matt. 22:3; Luke 14:8) He even spoke of some being turned away when there were no provisions for them to join the feast.—Matt. 25:11, 12.
After a wedding in Toronto, Canada, the couple shared a “sit-down” meal with only a few very close friends and relatives, and they later had “open house” with light snacks for the congregation in general. Following a wedding in Düsseldorf, Germany, just sixteen were at the feast in a restaurant. This allowed for relaxed conversation. The money saved by having a small gathering was wisely put to use by the couple in their new assignment as special pioneer ministers. True, others might have liked to be at the celebration, but they understood that the couple could not, as the groom put it, “invite all.” However, they were pleased to share in the couple’s happiness by being at the Kingdom Hall for the marriage talk.
So whether a wedding feast will include many people, or just a few, whether it will be by invitation only, or “open house,” or whether a reception will be held at all, can be decided by the couple getting married. Those who have cultivated Christian moderation will “live with soundness of mind and righteousness and godly devotion amid this present system of things.”—Titus 2:12.
MODERATION IN ACTIVITIES PLANNED
Should there be specific arrangements as to activities at the reception? Yes. At the feast in Cana there was a “director of the feast.” (John 2:8) Of course, in the final analysis the groom is responsible for the reception, no matter who finances it. But he may have someone to help him see that “all things take place decently and by arrangement.” (1 Cor. 14:40) A spiritually mature Christian in Rhodesia remarked: “The larger the group, the more organization is needed if everything is to operate smoothly. A scheduled program is a big help.”
Two Christians who married in Elsinore, Denmark, had relatives who were not true worshipers. They felt that if these worldly relatives were invited to the feast it would be difficult to be sure that moderation would prevail. Hence, they were guided by the groom’s statement: “On that occasion we wanted to be with our spiritual brothers.” During the meal, his father, one of Jehovah’s witnesses, asked various ones who had been notified in advance to make brief remarks. These—sometimes light, sometimes serious—were enjoyed by all in the small group. Later the husband happily said: “If I had it to do over, I’d do it exactly the same.”
“In Chile, a wedding reception without dancing is not considered much of a fiesta,” said a Christian in South America. Would it be wrong for dancing to take place at a Christian wedding reception? Well, dancing is not wrong. But there are dangers connected with it that should be recognized. An overseer in Nigeria observed that what is clean and proper can give “way to popular worldly music which usually appeals to sex and creates a desire for sexy dancing. This would be detrimental to those present.”b
Realizing that this can occur, especially if a worldly band is hired, a minister in Nova Scotia made a tape recording of the music to be played at his reception. Thus the dancing was in harmony with Christian morality and moderation. Many at that reception enjoyed sharing in the group square dancing.
Another notable point about that reception was the fact that no alcoholic beverages were served. It was not that these are forbidden to Christians, for Jesus even provided wine at Cana. But in this case the groom felt that some in that area might be stumbled if alcoholic beverages were served. He thought of the words: “It is well not to eat flesh or to drink wine or do anything over which your brother stumbles.” (Rom. 14:21) If at a reception such beverages are served, there should be ample provisions for those who prefer “soft” drinks. Apparently it was not uncommon for Jews in Jesus’ day to get intoxicated at wedding feasts. (John 2:10) Great caution, then, should be exercised by Christians today that such happy occasions are not spoiled by overindulgence.—Prov. 23:20, 21.
Need the celebration go on until very late to be a success? No. An overseer in one Latin American country said that occasionally “receptions go into the early hours of the morning. A full-course meal is served about 11:30 p.m. It is well known that groups meeting to share in the field ministry the next morning are very poorly supported.” Even if it is common in one’s land to celebrate at such lengths, need Christians follow customs that would leave them so tired the next day that they could not properly serve their Creator? Would that be demonstrating moderation? To the contrary, the arrangements that spiritually mature Christians make harmonize with the counsel: “Whether you are eating or drinking or doing anything else, do all things for God’s glory.”—1 Cor. 10:31.
So if Christians choose to hold a social gathering such as a wedding feast, it should not be patterned after the boisterous, immoderate feasts of the world that are plagued with overindulgence. Rather, it should be a well-arranged, happy gathering that manifests Christian moderation. The Christian from Nova Scotia mentioned above said: “Three years later we visited the congregation, and they still remembered the reception as a good example.” How pleasant are the fruits of Christian moderation!
In some lands it is common for friends and relatives of the bride and groom to hold a gathering sometime before the wedding. It is often called a “shower,” for those in attendance may, in a manner of speaking, “shower” the couple with gifts.
Again, this is by no means a necessity, nor need persons in countries where this is not common think that it must be instituted. But if such a social event is planned, it should also reflect Christian principles, including moderation. What has been said above about food, drink and entertainmentc would apply.
Special comments, though, are in order regarding gifts. How sad it would be if any Christian invited to a “shower” felt he or she could not accept the invitation because of being unable to give an expensive gift, or any gift at all. Would true Christians want to put one in such a position? A gift is supposed to be a spontaneous expression of affection. Such an expression can take many forms, and a tangible gift at a specific event should not be an obligation.
In some places when such “showers” are held, the gifts are grouped together without the names of the givers being attached. Why? Those Christians are conscious of Jesus’ counsel that gifts should not be given to glorify the giver. (Matt. 6:1-4) They feel that if one did not bring a gift, another brought a small token of affection, and yet another an expensive gift, unloving comparisons of who gave what might be made.—Matt. 7:12.
Does this mean that it is wrong to identify oneself as the giver of a certain present? No, that is not the point. In other places Christians at weddings and “showers” deliver gifts personally or sign cards attached to the presents. But if the presents are opened or displayed, the givers are not publicly announced. Thus there is no embarrassment.
Today people who do not worship Jehovah often hold immoderate social events that identify them as “lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God.” (2 Tim. 3:4) But servants of Jehovah, guided by his inspired Word, demonstrate their mature appreciation of the comment, which bears repetition: “Whether you are eating or drinking or doing anything else, do all things for God’s glory.” (1 Cor. 10:31) Thus they come away from social events, not with troubled consciences, but with the satisfaction of having had enjoyable relaxation and at the same time having been spiritually upbuilt.
a In this discussion the terms “reception” and “wedding feast” are used interchangeably, though we realize that in some places, such as Denmark, they apply to two different events.
c Additional suggestions about entertainment appeared on pages 20-23 of Awake! of February 8, 1966.