The Wedding Band, Ellen G. White, and the Seventh-Day Adventist Church
B. The “Wrong” Reason Versus the “Right” Reason:
The Christian religion is a “reasonable” religion; and the Apostle Peter urged all sanctified Christians to “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” [1 Peter 3:15] And lest any Seventh-day Adventists adopt the Jesuit-inspired dictum that “the end justifies the means,” and thereby be tempted to use a bad argument to support a worthy cause, Ellen White added this pointed testimony: WBEGWSDAC 10.1
Agitate, agitate, agitate. The subjects which we present to the world must be to us a living reality. It is important that in defending the doctrines which we consider fundamental articles of faith we should never allow ourselves to employ arguments that are not wholly sound. These may avail to silence an opposer, but they do not honor the truth. We should present sound arguments that will not only silence our opponents, but will bear the closest and most searching scrutiny. With those who have educated themselves as debaters there is great danger that they will not handle the word of God with fairness. In meeting an opponent it should be our earnest effort to present subjects in such a manner as to awaken conviction in his mind, instead of seeking merely to give confidence to the believer. 6
I believe that there are two very Wrong Reasons that have been advanced by Seventh-day Adventists for the removal of the wedding band in North America: WBEGWSDAC 10.2
a. That the wedding band is “bad” because it had its origin in paganism.
b. That the wedding band is “bad” because it is a part of the total “Jewelry Question”—and SDA Christians are called to lay off all forms of jewelry.
Let us first examine the validity of each of these arguments. WBEGWSDAC 10.3
There can be no question but what the wedding band had its origin in paganism; that fact has been too carefully documented historically to be seriously challenged or doubted. For example, Roman Catholic Cardinal John Henry Newman, in discussing various pagan customs which crept into the early Christian Church, states: WBEGWSDAC 10.4
“The ring in marriage [among other customs] are all of pagan origin.”
He claims, however, that the adoption of them by the Church of Rome “sanctified” them and made them legitimate. 7 O. A. Wall, in an historical study, demonstrates in rather vivid and explicit clinical detail just how the wedding band came to be worn. 8 WBEGWSDAC 10.5
Certainly SDA church members and prospective converts ought to be acquainted with the pagan origin of this custom. But solely of itself, is this a good and sufficient reason to urge the abolition of the custom? I think not. And for these reasons: WBEGWSDAC 10.6
I have no trouble accepting the fact that Mrs. White was probably clearly aware of the pagan origin of the Christmas festival in general, and of the Christmas tree in particular. Yet she approved (and in the case of families with small children, even urged) the recognizing of this festival in the homes of SDAs, and she approved the use of unadorned Christmas trees even within the sanctuary of the SDA houses of worship, where offerings for missions might properly be placed among the boughs! 9 WBEGWSDAC 10.7
I also am satisfied that Mrs. White and the early SDA church leaders were probably aware of the pagan origin of the practice of placing spires or steeples on the top of houses of religious worship (and of affixing crosses to them as well). Yet when the “Dime” Tabernacle was built in Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1879 (it seated 3,000 and was one of the largest SDA church buildings ever built), it had not one but a number of steeples or spires adorning it; and on top of the main clock tower there appears in old photographs of the structure something that very distinctly appears to be a Maltese or Celtic cross. At least four other lesser spires are also apparently adorned with additional ornamentation. Also, I understand that when the South Lancaster, Mass. church was built in 1899 (adjoining what is now the campus of Atlantic Union College), that it, too, had a similar spire arrangement; and many SDA houses of worship built in the 1870s, 1880s, and 1896s resembled these two pioneer churches in Battle Creek and South Lancaster. 10 WBEGWSDAC 10.8
I conclude, therefore, that—on the basis of the practice of the prophet of the church in our midst in the latter part of the 19th century—the origin of a custom or practice in paganism was not, alone, in and of itself, sufficient reason to abandon it. WBEGWSDAC 11.1
Some—perhaps many—in the SDA church in North America have tacitly concluded that the wedding band is a ring; that rings are a part of jewelry; that jewelry should not be worn by good SDAs; and therefore the wedding band should not be worn by SDAs for this reason. It is apparent that the publishers of Testimonies to Ministers were of this conviction, for in subsequent editions of that work they have added, at the conclusion of this single statement on the wedding band on p. 181, cross-references “for further study” which deal not with the wedding band but, rather, with statements on jewelry in general! WBEGWSDAC 11.2
There is evidence, however, that there was a distinction between the two in Ellen White’s thinking. A survey of her statements upon jewelry in general make it clear that she made no exceptions for any category of ornamentation—she unsparingly condemned it in a total and forthright manner. Yet she never linked—in print or in oral instruction—the simple, non jeweled wedding band with jewelry in her prohibitions against the latter. Not once. And she did make provision for the wedding band, when society was perceived as making it socially obligatory and the SDA Christian could, in good conscience, wear it. WBEGWSDAC 11.3
A scant thirteen months after the death of the prophet, her son, Elder W. C. White, was writing to a church member in Florida in response to an inquiry concerning his mother’s position on the wedding band vis-a-vis jewelry. He wrote: WBEGWSDAC 11.4
“Mother was always opposed to the wearing of jewelry of any sort as a matter of ornamentation. When we were in Switzerland [in the 1880s], one of our Swiss ministers took a very radical and harsh attitude toward the wearing of the wedding ring. Mother [Ellen G. White] reproved him, and protested against that kind of work, and we all understood from what she said that it was right for us to discern a difference between wearing rings as a matter of adornment and wearing the wedding ring as a token of loyalty to the husband. In some countries custom has led people to put special emphasis upon the wearing of the wedding ring as a matter of loyalty. While serving in Australia, Mother encouraged our brethren [American missionaries serving there] not to press the matter of our sisters laying aside the wedding ring [there], but when some of our American sisters, wives of ministers, put on the wedding ring because they were criticized while traveling among strangers, Mother advised that this was not necessary.” 11
It seems unwise, then, to me at least, to employ what I perceive as unsound arguments—origin in paganism or linking the simple, non-Jeweled wedding band to ornamental jewelry—in trying to persuade members and prospective members to abandon, in North America, the wearing of the wedding band. Does that mean, then, that there are no sound arguments that may be usefully employed? By no means. Let me share an approach with you that I employ in personal work which has never yet failed me (when presented in the right way, and not in the wrong way!). WBEGWSDAC 11.5
There are Right Reasons, in North America, for a minister to work—in the right way—toward encouraging members and prospective members to abandon the practice of wearing the wedding band. In my opinion they involve: WBEGWSDAC 11.6
a. The question of financial stewardship.
b. The question of avoidance of idolatry.
c. Questions associated with the dress-code for Christians.
d. The question of one’s personal influence, within the church and without. 12
The question of financial stewardship WBEGWSDAC 11.7
The doctrine of stewardship holds that the Christian does not own anything; all the possessions he may have are owned by God, and as a “steward” he manages these goods for the “real” owner, recognizing that ultimately he is accountable for the faithfulness in which he operates in this trust relationship. WBEGWSDAC 11.8
Stewardship is not concerned merely with 10% (tithe) of a Christian’s money; it is concerned with all of it. God should be consulted, and His will followed, as far as it is possible to ascertain it, in the expenditure of every penny. WBEGWSDAC 12.1
Of course, if the individual already owns a wedding band before coming to Christ, and becoming acquainted with the claims of Christ upon one’s pocketbook, the question of stewardship does not apply; it is moot. But for those contemplating marriage, it is a serious question which cannot be evaded. Many couples are pressured by jewelry salesmen into expensive purchases for engagement/wedding band sets which they cannot afford; some are still paying for them when the marriage disintegrates and a divorce is sought. WBEGWSDAC 12.2
The question of avoidance of idolatry WBEGWSDAC 12.3
Wedding bands, with their big stones, beautiful diamonds, jewels, etc., can easily become an idol for some Christians. Idolatry was condemned in both Old and New Testaments—and in both the warning is given that it leads to eternal destruction. The danger of idolatry is probably one of the biggest reasons why the church historically has frowned upon jewelry and taken a negative attitude toward anything that “smacked” of jewelry. Of course, a minister cannot tell a church member whether or not his or her wedding band is an idol—or merely an object of sentiment. But the Christian must honestly face the possibility that idolatry could be involved here, and honestly face God with a heart willing to be led by the Holy Spirit. WBEGWSDAC 12.4
While Ellen White appears to have excluded the wedding band from the category of ornamental jewelry, it is nevertheless a legitimate consideration to examine its relationship to the dress-code of a Christian. Andrews University Religion Department professor Carl Coffman, in instructions to prospective young ministers, has made some helpful, if pointed, suggestions for consideration: WBEGWSDAC 12.5
a. Ellen White discusses a “sacred circle” about Adam and Eve before sin in Eden. 13
b. In Genesis 3:7-10 two points are worth noting especially:
1. With the entrance of sin, the circle was severed, and deterioration began.
2. An external covering was formed to take the place of internal purity.
c. with the passage of time, far more than clothing was added externally:
1. See especially Isaiah 3:16-23.
2. It is a human characteristic that the less one has on the inside, the more he seems to feel he needs on the outside.
3. Note, also, that God did not approve.
d. The great object of the plan of restoration is to restore inward purity. 14
e. Hence, we have the New Testament counsel:
1. “Women again must dress in becoming manner, modestly and soberly, not with elaborate hair-styles, not decked out with gold or pearls, or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, as befits women who claim to be religious.” 1 Timothy 2:9-10, NEB.
2. “In the same way you women must accept the authority of your husbands, so that if there are any of them who disbelieve the Gospel they may be won over, without a word being said, by observing the chaste and reverent behaviour of their wives. Your beauty should reside, not in outward adornment—the braiding of the hair, or jewellery, or dress—but in the inmost centre of your being, with its imperishable ornament, a gentle, quiet spirit, which is of high value in the sight of God. Thus it was among God’s people in days of old: the women who fixed their hopes on him adorned themselves by submission to their husbands. Such was Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him ‘my master’. Her children you have now become, if you do good and show no fear.
“In the same way, you husbands must conduct your married life with understanding: pay honour to the woman’s body, not only because it is weaker, but also because you share together in the grace of God which gives you life. Then your prayers will not he hindered.” 1 Peter 3:1-7, NEB (note especially verses 2-4).
f. The great object of restoration is to restore inward purity. The restored “sacred circle” of holiness is God’s circle of genuine safety about any married couple.
The question of a Christian’s influence—within the church and without—must be studied and safeguarded. In at least two of Paul’s epistles he expresses a concern for the Christians of his day that they safeguard their influence, and not become “stumbling-blocks” to their fellow (and weaker) Christians. (See especially Romans 14:21, 13; and 1 Corinthians 8:9). He elaborates the doctrine of “expedience” by stating that although some things are “lawful” for him to do—perfectly all right in and of themselves—yet he will not do them because it is not “expedient”—a weak brother in the church might take offense, and be led astray. (See 1 Corinthians 6:12; 1 Corinthians 10:23) WBEGWSDAC 13.1
In 1 Corinthians Chapter 8 his ideas are most fully developed along the line of the Christians’s responsibility for the stewardship of his personal influence, in the context of an immediate, local problem in Paul’s day: whether or not a Christian should eat foods that had been consecrated to pagan idols before ever sold on the public market. Farmers often received higher prices for food if first offered to heathen deities by pagan priests. Sometimes it was the best, choicest food. (Nutrition is a legitimate consideration and concern for a Christian—get the best food possible.) Paul’s position: it is perfectly permissible for a Christian—legally—to eat this kind of food, because he knows it isn’t poisoned, and idols do not exist in the “real” world in which the Christian operates. And if these were the only considerations, there is no impediment to his eating food “offered to idols.” WBEGWSDAC 13.2
The “rub” comes, however, in the fact that not all Christians of that day had this knowledge. Some still believe that eating this food is a betrayal of Christ and their faith in Him. If they ate it, their consciences would be defiled; and if they saw you eat it, it might be enough of a stumbling-block to cause them to lose their way spiritually and be lost eternally. And so Paul said, Even though it is perfectly all right for me to do this, I will protect my influence—and my weak brethren—and refrain from doing something that otherwise would be perfectly acceptable. WBEGWSDAC 13.3
Many in the church today, incredibly, are saying in effect, How close can I live to Satan, and yet win eternal life? For Paul, the question was, How close can I live to Christ, so that in every aspect my influence is going to tell for Christ in a way that won’t offend anyone weaker in knowledge than I am? Paul made it abundantly clear that the issue was not eating the food itself; and he did not restrict anyone on that ground. But there was a moral issue: we are responsible in great measure for the effect of our influence upon others, within and without the church. A Christian wearing the wedding band, in North America, where there are many “weak brothers—and sisters” who are morally offended and affronted by a fellow church-member wearing it, needs to ask God (not any mere man): What is the effect of my action upon others? How can I best preserve my influence and credibility among the church of Christ? WBEGWSDAC 13.4
There are moral issues involved in the wearing (or non-wearing) of the wedding band, as we consider all of the ramifications, even though the matter in and of itself may be merely a matter of culture or custom. And there are questions that each Christian must ask himself—and God—in this context. WBEGWSDAC 13.5