Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Marrying folk who are living together:

I suppose it is the pastoral equivalent of a lady hearing someone say, "Have you lost weight?  You look great!"  Someone recently commended me for "speaking the truth in love."  The conversation this friend spoke of was one that took place some years ago.  Two adults were living together without being married.  They had plans to be married--some five months in the future--and without thinking about it very much, they thought that made their present cohabitation OK.
I need to make known that I wasn't an outsider sticking my nose into somebody else's business.  On two levels (maybe more) I was being asked to be a part of the live-together now, marry later arrangement.  I remember swallowing hard just before I said, "I have a problem with that."
After I turned on the flashing red light in the room, I gave the couple an opportunity to end the conversation.  I know that the fact that I have a problem does not necessarily mean that I have a right to impose my standard on others.  The couple said little, but their eyes, and more the fact that they stayed seated, said, "Go on."  It's not a time for a complicated, long-winded, hard to follow tirade.  I used a one-verse observation to, as my friend, said, "Speak the truth in love."
There is nothing complex here, but it might be something that will help others who desire to lovingly speak the truth about a difficult problem in our culture.

Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge."  (Hebrews 13:4)

Use the semicolon in the verse above as the dividing line.  Before the semicolon the verse is marked by honor.  God says that what is going on here is to be held in honor.  Whatever is going on after the semicolon is something that makes one subject to God's judgment--hardly honorable.  The mention of the "marriage bed" is a tip-off.  If one were to make a video of what is going on in the marriage bed (something I very much don't recommend), and if a video were made of the activity that is described as fornication and adultery, the content of the videos would be identical.  So here the very same activity that in the front end of the verse is honorable, in the back end of the verse places one in the uncomfortable position of being the subject of God's judgment.
"So," I asked my friends, "what makes the difference between the two ends of the verse?  What has changed?"
The obvious answer is marriage.  At the beginning of the verse a married couple is being contemplated.  At the end a couple who are unwed.

Generally this scriptural observation/exhortation doesn't have the positive result that it had on this day.  I've been told that such matters are none of my business.  Frequently, I'm met with a look of incredulity, that eloquently says something like, "I can't believe that you believe (or "still believe") that."

I do believe it.  Further I don't believe it is just an arbitrary standard that God sent down from on high.  The sexual standard of the Bible is really rather simple.  Sex is to take place only between a man and a woman who are married to one another.  God gave us this standard because it is in line with the way that He made us.  Adhering to this standard leads to the greatest possible human flourishing.  Allowing it to erode does no one any favors, and for those of us who are given the responsibility to speak for the Lord, to fail to uphold this standard is sinful.

Here is where I have problem with some of my colleagues.  For too many of my fellow-pastors, this is the elephant that fills the room yet is politely ignored.   I'm  asking you to acknowledge the pachyderm.  It is tough, very tough, but I am convinced that if we are going to maintain our integrity we have to deal with it.
I appreciate the position that some pastors I know have taken:

  • The pastor of a mega-church in California says to couples who inquire about marriage, "If I am going to work with you in doing this wedding you need to enter into this commitment of purity.  I'm not going to judge you about the past, but I need for your to commit to a standard of purity (chastity) from this point until your marriage."
  • When confronted with the usual "problem,"
    "We can't get married now, we have to book a DJ, buy a dress, schedule a venue, etc. etc. etc."  Sometimes all of this is complicated by the claim that "we can't afford to live apart."  Leaving aside for a moment the fact that a family of six could live for a year on all they money they are proposing to spend on the big wedding, my friend offers the couple two alternatives:  Somebody needs to move out, or our church will help you put together a wedding.  It has to take place within two weeks.  (To those who would say that one more night is no different than another year, I would say, There is a difference.  My friend is encouraging the couple toward a commitment to do what is right, rather than what looks fabulous.)
  • Another uses a questionnaire to begin a conversation about what the couple really wants.  If what they really, really want is to do as they jolly well please in spite of what the Word of God says, what business do we as "Men of God" have in being involved?
Guys, we can help one another here.  If a couple says, in essence, "We really don't think that what the Bible says about marriage has anything to do with us."  Why should we be involved.  I tell couples, "I'm not in the marrying business.  I am, however, glad to help people build Biblical homes.  If we are going to do that, we need to start right now."

I'd love to hear from you.  I think a discussion--even an argument--could be helpful.


Anonymous said...


I think what you have to say here is very good. About two or three years ago, I had a fellow student at a Christian university challenge me on why sex before marriage was wrong. He wanted me to give him a verse to prove it. Instead, I asked him about why sex existed, and why marriage existed, and led him through the thinking in the whole of scripture on the subject. I know for a fact he was a rebellious individual at the time, but I wonder how many people are out there wondering if it's "really that bad" simply because of poor or wishy-washy teaching in the pulpit or in the classroom. I commend you for your biblical stand on the issue, and also your heart to see people's lives transformed.

Howard Merrell said...

I generally don't publish anon. comments, but this one is thoughtful & besides, agrees with me. :)