The Christian wedding service includes an address (sermon, talk) on the purpose of marriage, bible readings, usually an exchange of rings, prayers asking for God's blessing, and emphasising that God is within Christian marriage.
There is no requirement for Christians to marry, but if a partner is found for whom there is love and commitment, then for Christianity marriage is the proper outcome of sharing life together in a loving relationship. The marriage then commits the person to the intention of lifelong union.
Talking point: are Christians who do not want lifelong commitment restricted to being just good friends?
Christian belief is that sex should be restricted to marriage and is primarily for the purpose of reproduction and the proper raising of children. Christians in the contemporary Western world, however, as will many others, may be more open in testing a relationship before marriage, and perhaps it is increasingly unusual for the man and woman to save themselves for just after the wedding ceremony. Traditionally a marriage is made complete by consummating the marriage. Most churches are quite practical about the fact that couples have tested their relationships, and may not even enquire, and in fact Churches have been practical in this sense for centuries. The reason is the view that people are sinners anyway, and so will sin, and so have in the marriage ceremony a chance to repent on what may have been happening until that point.
Talking point: Is cohabitation always likely to be promiscuity?
Marriage is preferred to cohabitation, which is seen as second best in the raising of children. Again churches are practical, so long term partners will be welcomed if coming to marriage especially if a couple want to start having children or bring children within the marriage bond and make that public statement of their family stability.
Once a couple is married there is a particular Christian emphasis against adultery. Couples must find sexual fulfilment within themselves in the context of their exclusive loving relationship.
It is simplest when the bride and groom are both Christians, particularly active Christians. Churches are happiest catering for their own believers, and the couple are not seen as wanting just a dressed up wedding, with all the trimmings, whilst perhaps not giving full attention to the Christian nature of marriage. This preference may extend to the marriage partners being members of the same Church or denomination. Roman Catholics, for example, are particularly interested that children are raised as Roman Catholics, but all main Christian churches are reassured by the prospect of children being raised within their Church or denomination, and actively.
One reason why churches prefer couples from within the religion and within the Church or denomination to marry is because it focuses understanding about what marriage means from a religious point of view. For Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy and the Anglican Church, marriage is a sacrament. This means that the act of marriage is itself the reception of the grace of God. This means God's blessing and will is given to the marriage at that point.
"Whom God joins together, no one shall put asunder."
Some Churches do not regard the act of marriage as the reception of grace in a sacrament, but that grace comes with prayer in the usual way. One seeks God's grace, which is hoped is given, and the marriage is strengthened.
Other people, perhaps people who profess some sort of Christianity but who are not active in church membership or commitment, or indeed those who are not Christians but wish to have a Christian marriage service, find comfort and strength in the fact that a ritual is made and that they have passed through it and it forms a marker for their lives. Their understanding of the place of God varies. It is the case that many people, who perhaps do not believe in God, who express no Christian faith at least in public and maybe not in private either, value their access to a Christian wedding ceremony made available in the State Church, for example the Church of England in England. The Church of England is perhaps increasingly unwilling to marry people who are uncommitted to the faith, and demand some sort of commitment to attend classes or discussions before and after the ceremony, but the Church of England is required to marry people one of whom is within the parish. The Church may regard it as valid, even for unbelievers, that the ceremony takes place, because the grace of God still operates even though the couple may not themselves be believers. Some Churches will offer services of blessing instead rather than the full sacrament of a marriage ceremony.
Talking point: Is the Christian Church too demanding in terms of marriage and commitment to the religion? On the flip side, should people be allowed to exploit Christian marriage ceremonies when they do not believe?
Christian marriage, according to its own understanding, facilitates a man and a woman sharing love and companionship together, having sex with one another in its proper framework, bringing and nurturing children into the world, raising children within the Christian faith, and is a public statement of family togetherness for the wider stability of society.
Sometimes marriage takes place between people of different faiths. This presents a dilemma for the Christian Church (in its various forms) because one partner will not share the fundamental meanings of the ceremony. Also the children may be raised in another faith, or in two, or be confused with the express intention to choose later their faith. It is quite possible then that a full Christian wedding is refused to such couples. This situation is more difficult than a Church accepting a marriage service for apparent unbelievers, because clearly someone is committed to an entirely different faith. Instead, there may be a service of blessing which takes place as part of a series of events for the couple, including a marriage service or blessing within the other faith community. This is still quite a dilemma for the Churches because one partner may well be a committed Christian who is being denied what may be seen as her or his access to grace and a sacrament.
Some Churches welcome people of different individual faiths and encourage them to make a ritual of commitment, and this can include Christians who feel that God still blesses the union.
Talking point: Should a church always marry a couple when only one of them is an active Christian believer?
There are also individual priests, ministers and denominations who consider that offering same sex couples something like a marriage service adds to the recognition and stability of their relationship, even though of course the same procreative purpose with a marriage cannot exist. Christians in particular may seek God's blessing for their relationship.
Talking point: Should anyone, particularly Christians, however they define their relationship, have access to a Christian ceremony of coming together, or should this be denied?