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really matters. When this happens, the church begins to debate issues that are of little to no importance to the mission God has given it. These disputes range from trivial debates such as what color the new carpet at church should be to more controversial subjects. For Seventh-day Adventists in North America, the topic of the wedding ring is one of the more controversial subjects. According to Barry Tryon, professor of religion at Southern Adventist University, “The issue of the wedding band is one that ranges, in [his] experience, from general acceptance to tolerance.” In my experience, I can confidently go as far as to say that in many circles the issue ranges from total acceptance to absolute rejection. Despite the lack of scriptural support, many Adventists claim that the wedding ring is to be rejected because of its origins in paganism, parity to jewelry, and a statement on the topic by church prophetess Ellen G. White. One argument given in opposition to the wedding ring is that the wedding ring has pagan origins which faithful Christians should have no part of. In the Bible, God repeatedly urges His people to reject the customs of the pagan nations that surrounded them. Because of God‟s dislike for pagan practices, some Adventists have come to reject the wedding ring. This view is reflected by Adventist pastor Samuel Bacchiocchi who said he could not conscientiously wear one due to its origins (133). While I fully respect Bacchiocchi‟s point of view, I stop short of making pagan origin a blanket reason for disapproval. In his book Adventist Hot Potatoes, Martin Weber states the reason when he says, “Lots of innocent customs in our Anglo-Saxon culture come to us from paganism!” (39). Take for example the origin of the handshake, which according to the book Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things, has its origin in paganism. The author Charles Panati states that “[i]n its oldest recorded use [2800 B.C., Egypt], a handshake signified the conferring of power from a god to an earthly ruler” (42). In addition to this is the origin of the days of the
Torres 2 week. In his book Century Book of Facts, Henry Ruoff states that “[t]he names [of the week] were derived from Saxon idolatry” (?). If the wedding ring is to be rejected because of its pagan origin, then so should the handshake and the names of the weekdays. As a matter of fact, “Roger Coon of the Ellen G. White estate notes that in the earlier days of Adventism our pioneers refused to use the common names of the days of the week…. They felt that the… names possessed pagan connotations that devout Christians should eschew” (Weber 38-39). Today, many of us smile at such ignorance; however, it is the same reason that many devout and wonderful Adventists give for the rejection of the wedding band. In order to be consistent with this point of view we would have to reject many aspects of modern western culture which have pagan origins. Even SDA church prophetess Ellen G. White did not consider pagan origin a reason to discard a certain practice. “Mrs. White was most likely aware that the Christmas tree and spires and steeples had pagan origin, yet she voiced no concern over their pagan origins” (Coon). So what does this mean today? How should faithful Christians approach an activity or practice that has its roots in paganism? The best way to do it is by asking oneself, does the practice or activity with pagan roots still possess a pagan connection? For example, “[e]ven in ancient times, Halloween was a festival for witches, goblins, and ghosts” (Panati 62). Today, Halloween is still very much connected to its pagan roots because it basically celebrates the same thing. However, no one thinks of some strange pagan god when they are celebrating Christmas because any pagan roots in the origins of Christmas have been lost and the celebration has become – for many – an innocent season to rejoice over the birth of Christ. Likewise, “Just because we say its Monday today doesn‟t mean we worship the moon. And just because the Dorcas leader wears a wedding ring doesn‟t mean she‟s a pagan prostitute” (Weber 39).1
Torres 3 An even stronger argument in opposition to the wedding ring is the argument that the wedding ring is jewelry, something the Bible clearly forbids in the life of the Christian. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines jewelry as “objects of precious metal often set with gems and worn for personal adornment” (“Jewelry”). This brings us to three very important questions that must be asked to fully understand this issue. First of all, is the wedding ring an object of precious metal? I would say “yes.” Secondly, is the wedding ring set with gems? Not necessarily, but it can be. And finally, is the wedding ring worn for personal adornment? While I cannot speak for everyone, generally speaking the answer is no.2 Analyzing the answers to these questions leaves us with two different categories of jewelry. The first being ornamental jewelry and the second being functional jewelry. So what is the difference between these two? According to the book Adventists and Jewelry, “Ornamental jewelry usually, but not exclusively, takes the form of earrings, nose rings, bracelets, rings, necklaces, and anklets worn to enhance the appearance of the individual” (Rodriguez 2, emphasis added). Functional jewelry on the other hand is jewelry that serves a purpose other than that of ornamentation. Functional jewelry can take the form of a watch, a tie clip, cufflinks, a wedding band/ ring, and so forth. According to Mardi Johnson's 1982 article in Gleaner (North Pacific Union), “The important distinction is between that which serves a function and that which is for outward adornment” (3). As a matter of fact, one interesting point to note is that the tie that we love so much can more easily fall into the ornamental category than it can into the functional category. Martin Weber writes: “At the airport recently I met a Mennonite man in a plain black suit who doesn‟t believe in wearing neckties. He thinks they are useless adornment, nothing but a cloth necklace” (42).
Torres 4 The Bible takes a clear position against jewelry that is used exclusively for the purpose of adornment in passages such as 1 Timothy 2.9 and 1 Peter 3.3-5, however, the Bible does not speak against jewelry that is used for a specific purpose such as the ring that the father gave to the prodigal son in Luke 15.22. Still, many honest and sincere Adventists have failed to make this distinction. Just recently a very close friend told me that the wearing of the wedding band showed that we as a church are “slipping.” Ironically though, he has no problem sporting a gold watch. The final and most influential argument against the wedding ring is the one that relies upon Ellen G. White‟s statement in regards to the issue. This should in and of itself raise a red flag for Seventh-day Adventists. When God‟s people reach a point where they cannot defend a point of view from the Bible and must then rely on Ellen White as their rule of practice, they have ceased to be “a people of the book.” Ellen White herself said, “Let all prove their positions from the Scriptures and substantiate every point they claim as truth from the revealed word of God” (Hayden 12). Kevin Hayden, author of Principles of Adornment, says it well when he states, “It is actually from [Ellen White], and not scripture, that the church has historically found it‟s best defense for it‟s strong position on the subject” (11).3 This goes contrary to all that Ellen White ever stood for. Nevertheless, her statement does merit careful observation. When Ellen White wrote her views about the wedding band she did so to missionaries in Australia. At this time, it was not cultural for Americans to wear a wedding band. The missionaries felt pressured to conform to the customs of those around them, and it was to this that Ellen White wrote with strong objections. The missionaries were also very poor and the church struggling to move forward, therefore, to spend money on something that was not necessary was both bad stewardship and unnecessary. Nevertheless, it is important to note two
Torres 5 things. Number one is that Ellen White never condemned the wedding band. If the wedding band were an issue of loyalty to God, then she would have condemned it in all cases. Secondly, Ellen White‟s statement bears many semblances to some of Paul‟s statements in the New Testament, one in which he says, “Let your women keep silence in churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law” (Meyers). This statement is very strong indeed and has been taken by some Christians today in a literal way. However, this statement, (strong as it may be) does not apply to Christianity as a whole. The statement applies to a certain place at a certain time and nothing more. A study of the historical and cultural context of this passage makes that very clear. Ellen White‟s statement is exactly the same. For one, both Ellen White‟s and Paul‟s statements are very isolated. One cannot find many other texts in the Bible to uphold Paul‟s statement and develop a doctrine out of it. Likewise, in all of Ellen White‟s writings she spoke of the wedding band once and only once under historical and cultural circumstances that are not necessarily applicable today. “This is shown that in all her writings of about 100,000 pages, we find only one single explicit statement about the wedding ring” (Bacchiocchi 125). Just as times and culture have changed since Paul‟s writing of 1 Corinthians 14.34, “times and customs have also changed in our United States” (Tuland). “Today a well-intentioned young man may wait for just the right time to invite a young woman out only to find out that she is married. A simple wedding ring would save both of them a lot of embarrassment” (Johnson 3). This means that the same set of circumstances that moved Ellen White to write her letter are not necessarily around today. In our culture, a married man and woman are expected to wear a wedding band as a sign of virtue.4
Torres 6 Before I conclude I would like to clarify an issue with regards to the wedding ring that I believe is often overlooked. Angel Manuel Rodriguez states that “„simplicity,‟ although not a biblical term, is considered to be an important Christian virtue” (3). While I see no Biblical reason to reject the use of the wedding band, I believe that as Gods people we must remember the virtue of simplicity. I remember when some friends of mine got married, a lot of people in the church where very impressed over the size of the diamond on the wedding ring that the man purchased for his fiancée. When I got married I felt pressure from the same people to purchase something similar – as though the bigger the diamond the greater my love. I believe this is a huge error. Although I agree with the use of functional jewelry, I do not believe that that gives license to stuff as many jewels and pearls into our functional jewelry as possible. Rodriguez states it well when he says, “functional jewelry could be made in such a way that it‟s ornamental function outshines any other useful purpose” (3). Although I do not claim to be the definer of simplicity, I would encourage every Christian who is planning to purchase a wedding ring to refrain from spending large amounts of money for the sake of having a fashionable one. I do not mean that we ought to purchase a ten cent toy that looks like a wedding ring, or that we ought to tie a string on our finger instead. What I am simply trying to convey is that we ought to be wise in how we spend our money, and that we ought to aim for simplicity. No one person can define simplicity for another, but the Spirit of God can certainly lead us into making the best decision. Moreover, it is important for us as Christians to remember two things. The first is that we should not allow the issue of the wedding ring to consume us to such an extent that we forget about our real mission as followers of Jesus. Rodriguez states that “the subject of jewelry should not be allowed to distract our attention from the good news of the salvation through faith in
Torres 7 Christ” (7). The second is that regardless of how someone‟s views differ from ours we should always treat one another with love. There will be plenty of people in heaven who wore wedding rings, and there will be plenty in hell who did not. Hayden points out that “[j]ust as much pride – if not more – can reign in someone‟s heart over the fact that they don‟t wear jewelry” (8). The real issue resides in the heart, and only God knows our hearts. We should, in all things, seek to emulate the love of Christ to one another. In conclusion, I would like to state that the wedding ring can in fact be worn by faithful Christians, and doing so is not in violation of Biblical principles. Pagan origins are obsolete with the absence of a modern pagan connection; likewise, the wedding ring cannot be considered ornamental jewelry but functional jewelry which the Bible does not condemn. Lastly, Ellen White‟s statement, like Paul‟s, was written for a specific situation that is not necessarily applicable to circumstances in our modern day and age. While this does not give us an excuse to purchase glamorous jewelry under the guise of “functionality,” it does leave us with the freedom to decide – a freedom which sadly many do take advantage of. At the end of the day, our mission is to bring souls to Jesus Christ. If we focus on that we will find we have less time, if any at all, to argue back and forth over matters of such little importance.
Torres 8 Notes 1. A Dorcas leader is the head of the Dorcas department, a department of the church that is focused on providing donated food and clothing to those who are underprivileged. 2. This is where the answer is not so black and white. While I am certain that for some, the wedding ring presents an opportunity for extravagant diamonds, for many other it does not. The wedding ring is, to the majority of the public, a symbol of marriage and not adornment. However, there are exceptions and it is for this reason that the choice to use a wedding band should be a personal choice between God and the individual. 3. The context of this quote is in relation to the topic of jewelry as a whole. This paper does not endorse Hayden‟s full position on jewelry. Nevertheless, the quote still involves the wedding ring, and accurately reflects a problem for many Adventists who rely on Ellen White more than, or in place of the Bible. 4. While context is key to a proper interpretation of both the Bible and the writings of Ellen White, we must be very careful with the “that was in her days” argument. This position should only be taken when careful study of the historical and cultural context has been examined, and when no other statements are available to clarify the issue in question such as our current topic. In addition to this, some would argue that Ellen White did not speak much on the wedding band simply because it was not a big issue in her day and not because she didn‟t view it as important. However true this may be, the argument still fails in two areas: Proving that Ellen White condemned the wedding band and showing Biblical support for that position.
Torres 9 Works Cited Bacchiocchi, Samuel. Christian Dress and Adornment. Berrien Springs: Biblical Perspectives, 1995. Print. Coon, Roger W. “The Wedding Band, Ellen G. White, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church: A Few Personal Observations by Roger W. Coon.” Adventistbiblicalresearch.org. Biblical Research Institute, 10 Dec. 1987. Web. 3 Oct. 2011. Hayden, Kevin. “Principles of Adornment: An Excerpt from the Book Lifestyles of the Remnant.” Adventist Review. Adventist Review, 2000. Web. 25 Sept. 2011. “Jewelry.” Merriam-Webster. An Encyclopedia Britannica Company, 2011. Web. 13 Oct. 2011 Johnson, Mardi. “A Wedding Ring Is Valid.” Gleaner: North Pacific Union Conference. 15 Nov. 1982: 3. Seventh-day Adventist Periodical Index. Web. 25 Sept. 2011. King James Version. Meyers, Rick. e-Sword: The Sword of the Lord with an Electronic Edge (Version 9.9.1) [Software]. Available from http://www.e-sword.net Panati, Charles. Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things. New York: Harper & Row, 1987. Print. Rodriguez, Angel Manuel. “Adventists and Jewelry: An Excerpt from the Book Jewelry in the Bible: What You Always Wanted to Know but Were Afraid to Ask.” Adventist Review. Adventist Review, 2000. Web. 25 Sept. 2011. Ruoff, Henry W. Century Book of Facts: A Handbook of Ready Reference. Standard ed. Springfield: King-Richardson Company, 1935. Print. Tryon, Barry. Personal interview. 29 Sept. 2011. Tuland, C. G. “Let‟s Stop Arguing Over the Wedding Ring.” Spectrum Magazine. Spectrum Magazine, 1969-80. Web. 25 Sept. 2011.
Torres 10 Weber, Martin. Adventist Hot Potatoes: Celebration Churches, Sabbath No-No’s, Rings n’ Things and More. Boise: Pacific Press, 1991. Print.
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