Mom, We’re Living Together

She stirred her coffee nervously and announced in a low voice, “My mother has moved in with a friend she met in her retirement community. I like him. Really. I think he’s good for her. But they’ll screw up their finances if they get married, so they didn’t really consider it. I don’t know what to say to my kids.”

***

“I miss church,” said the young woman who dropped into the university chaplaincy where I work. “I miss the singing. God matters to me. I want to hear someone explain the Bible to me. But I’m living with my boyfriend. He’s not a Christian, but he wants me to be happy and encourages me to go to church and even offered to go with me. I don’t want to go because I’m afraid they’d only condemn us.”

***

“Dear Mom,” wrote a university student, “I wanted to let you know that John and I are planning to move in together next semester. I know this will be disappointing to you, and want to reassure you that I value the principles you gave me, but we have been dating for a long time and we really love and respect each other. Sharing a single apartment would also save a lot of money. I still expect us to get married sometime, and I hope this makes sense to you. We’re not turning our backs on God, but we think this will be best for us.”

Perhaps you know of a situation like one of these. Cohabiting—living together as a sexual couple without being married—has become common in North America. Recent census data in the U.S. and Canada shows that the number of unmarried couples living together has exponentially increased in the last 20 years. And if George Barna’s research is to be believed, there is little difference between the attitudes and behavior of young adults raised in the church and their unchurched peers (to view this research, visit tinyurl.com/BarnaStudy). Moreover, Barna names “church experiences related to sexuality” as one of the top six reasons young Christians leave the church.

People don't expect relevant advice for their sexual lives from their church and can't imagine finding grace.

This should concern us. The gap between what has become cultural practice and what is taught in churches has become so vast that people don’t expect relevant advice for their sexual lives from their church and can’t imagine finding grace from the church in the midst of their choices. Even though families increasingly muddle through in a loving way in spite of disappointment—utterly casting off a daughter or son over “shacking up” with someone is largely the drama of a previous generation—few can imagine finding a church that could also lovingly muddle through.

We dream of faithful, loving, and committed partnerships—marriage—for our daughters and sons. For our friends. For ourselves. We recognize God’s blessing in and for such relationships. To an older generation of Christians, cohabitation appears as a challenge to this dream, a distorted second-best. But when I said that to a cluster of students—Christians and nonbelievers—at my university, they were all surprised.

“My parents really don’t want me to think of getting married until I’ve graduated and found a job,” explained a Christian student. “And that’s probably going to be years away. It would be weird to wait until I was 30 to have sex. But I guess I’m not likely to actually live with someone until we’re married.”

“I think my parents would be upset if I didn’t live with my boyfriend before we got married!” stated a non-Christian, somewhat bewildered by my assertion. “They’d think were just crazily throwing a party and weren’t taking the relationship and our commitments seriously.”

While Christians participate in our culture’s enthusiasm for living as we wish when it comes to money, fashion, career choices, cars, and entertainment, surely it should be no surprise that young people assume sex is part of the smorgasbord of things that they can grab as they desire. Hedging sexuality with rules—going this far is OK; that touch is too much; looking at pornography is bad but Victoria Secret’s “angels” are OK—only creates a new kind of legalism. We need to grab hold of the idea of offering up our bodies as living sacrifices in a fresh way. But cohabiting couples should not necessarily be the first people to face this challenge.

So how should we respond?

1. Remember the law of Christ—the rule of love. That rule is more important than drawing a line in the sand. Unmarried couples live together for varied reasons: seniors in a retirement community, new Christians who are in an established relationship with an unbelieving partner, a pair of recent university grads who plan to get married eventually. To respond lovingly, you need to know a person’s story. Galatians 6:2 calls for gentleness and patience as our response and goes on to talk about restoration, not condemnation, for Christians.

2. Be forthright as well as gentle. Explain your concerns. God does want his people to live within married covenants rather than merely cohabit. You can respectfully refuse to let your 20-something son share the guest room with his partner when they visit, but you should do your best to gently explain your thinking and make their visit possible.

3. Advocate for faithfulness and commitment—within cohabitation if that is the starting point. Support loving, exclusive sexual partnership—even if it lacks the legal status of marriage. This does not mean you consider marriage insignificant; it does mean you are willing to love people as they are.

4. Hold off on your judgment. What would your judgment accomplish? Ask questions: Why are you living together without getting married? What can I do to support you and love you without giving you the impression that I think this is right? In a youth culture in which hook-ups are unremarkable, cohabitation is a kind of commitment toward faithfulness, sexual exclusivity, and responsible shared life.

5. Drop the old arguments and scare tactics against cohabitation. They’ve lost credibility. Cohabitation may once have made long-term marital success less likely (a claim you can find on many Christian websites), but that is not based on reliable data. It is the casualness of the relationships rather than cohabitation itself that predicts future trouble.

6. Avoid biblical proof texts about the “abomination of fornication.” In both the Old and New Testaments, God affirms marriage as a picture of his relationship with his people, and so it is right to honor marriage and to aim for it. But consider Jesus’ response when the woman who was caught in adultery was brought to him (John 8:11).

7. Challenge people to delve into Scripture and to grow in God. Other parts of our lives fall into order when first things really are first. A friend in a large student church in Oxford, England, caught our attention when she said, “We used to have a sermon on sexual morality each term. Then we noticed that hearing a clear sermon on sexual morality was less successful in teaching sexual purity than getting the students to dig into the Bible themselves. A year of consciously trying to apply Scripture reshaped people’s lives—including their sexual lives—in ways the old sermons never did.” God himself became the center and everything else fell into place.

About the Author

Virginia Miller Lettinga shared the position of Christian Reformed campus minister at the University of Northern British Columbia (Prince George) with her husband, Neil Lettinga, from August 2003 to December 2011.

See comments (50)

Comments

Overall, this is a very well-done article. The seven responses are helpful. If I may add a new #1:

Encourage a true relationship with the supreme, amazing, all-powerful, all loving, almighty Jesus Christ as the apostles proclaim him.

In his letters, Paul always begins with an explanation of Christ, and the power of his new life in us, Christ in us, Christ living through us, this teaching, this doctrine, before he gets into the application: how to live with Christ in us. In grammatical terms, Paul begins with the indicative (what is done) then moves to the imperative (what shall be done). The reason why this is necessary is because it avoids judgmentalism and legalism.

I am dissapointed with this article. It paints churches as judgmental, which is a caricature, and downplays the harmful affects of cohabitation, and the benefits of reserving sex for marriage, which is the biblical view. It will also serve to undermine churches in their minsistry to those who cohabitate. And where is this alleged research that says cohabitation is harmless? I doubt it. Encouraging faithfulness in cohabitation will be a failed strategy, because cohabitation arises out of an inability to commit. Most of all, cohabitation hurts women and children, who end up left alone because of this kind of pseudo-commitment. Basically, this article isn't as much about being gracious (which churches, pastors, parents and believers do seek to be, despite the assumption of the author), but about lowering our standards. That is very disappointing.

Well said, Raymond Blacketer. I think many young people associate marriage with an expensive and complicated wedding ceremony/reception. This often keeps them from making a public committment before they live together. The church could provide help to these young people by leading and teaching them into an alternative, such as making a public committment on marriage, and then celebrating with a party later, perhaps a year or two later. For those who the expensive wedding is not the issue, then indeed, it is simply a lack of committment, and it is difficult to see how such a lack of committment can lead to a good result.

Randy and John, just to clarify, I understood the article to address those who have already put the cart before the horse. The church still needs to faithfully proclaim God's truth concerning marriage, encouraging everyone to express their love and honour of God through obedience.

I share some of Randy's dissappointment here -- I think I see what the author is trying to get at, but it seems soft on the consequences of living together. I would add one piece of advice, and that is that the church learn to articulate and develop a healthy and robust theology of sex, something I think is sorely lacking in many churches. (If all the church does is say "no!" then we aren't saying enough...)

I like to talk with cohabiting couples, including family, about how much MORE they would have in a marital relationship grounded in Christ. Instead of focusing on right or wrong I remind them of how much more God would bless their relationship if they were married.

Is the church judgemental? Those of us inside tend to think not, but the unchurched (see UnChristian by Lyons and Kinnaman for good supporting documentation) see judgementalism as one of the three main characteristics of the organized church.

Generationalism raises its head in the discussion. For many of our young people this is simply not an issue. There is a disconnect between our sexual life and our faith. The church needs to work hard to reconnect what we believe with all areas of our life.

I am a divorced woman. I was raised in the CRC. I had my "higher standards" while raising my children as a single parent. After many years of being single, I met a wonderful Christian man. Partialy due to finances, and due to past issues with government interference, we decided to be married WITHOUT signing a legal marriage certificate.

Question..... Where does it say in Scripture that the state must be a part of a marriage? When did it go from a contract between man/woman and God, to a contract between man/woman/God and state? It was only within the past 300+ years! Yes, there are benefits to being legally married, but most of those can be covered by other means.

Of course my parents and my children are not happy with the choice, thinking that this is just a fling or that certain needs are temporarily being met. However, that is NOT the case. There is true, deep love in my relationship.... with my husband.

This is an issue that needs synodical pastoral advice, by way of synodical committee and report. We live in a morally different world and culturally a very different society than the America of the early sixties. "Living together" has become a cultural norm even though it is clearly not a biblical one. The church needs to address this growing situation in its membership roles.

I am a divorced woman. I was raised in the CRC. I had my "higher standards" while raising my children as a single parent. After many years of being single, I met a wonderful Christian man. Partialy due to finances, and due to past issues with government interference, we decided to be married WITHOUT signing a legal marriage certificate.

Question..... Where does it say in Scripture that the state must be a part of a marriage? When did it go from a contract between man/woman and God, to a contract between man/woman/God and state? It was only within the past 300+ years! Yes, there are benefits to being legally married, but most of those can be covered by other means.

Of course my parents and my children are not happy with the choice, thinking that this is just a fling or that certain needs are temporarily being met. However, that is NOT the case. There is true, deep love in my relationship.... with my husband.

As I read this article my break was breaking. Not so much of the sin (and it is a sin) but the sugar coating of it.

Who decided that the covanant law no longer had to be read and was not required to be part of the litugy during a worship service? It is not only the seniors who are living common law. One does not have to look to hard to see many of the youth are too and many others have also since this denomination since this decision.

Why is a student church in England that being the Anglican Church who has a woman, appointed as the head of the church being consulted versus God's infallible Word? Who is their leader? A member of the Royal family, that being Her Majesty Quuen Elizabeth II. Is not this as we are told in God's infallible Word is the wrong head? Did she or any of the Royal family die for the church? Should this be where we get sound advice from? The new NIV is proving to be gender free and places women as equals to man.

Is approval of homosexual marriage next?

Jesus told the woman at the well "Go and sin no more." I cannot believe what I am reading in this article - what has happened to the Reformed Bible believing church I once knew? How very sad, indeed!!!

Complete Marriage is three parts; it involves the full commitment of the spiritual, mental, and physical aspects of both people. In many cases the physical commitment, sex, has already been expressed. In other cases a mental commitment of declaring love between each other is also expressed. The spiritual commitment is between them and God. [Each part is not really separate from each other, but has a sort of focus and observable uniqueness.]

So the real question is, since they could already be ‘completely married’, why are they opting out of an amazing celebration with friends and family? Who wouldn’t be overjoyed at declaring it as a marriage!? Answer~ People who are ashamed. Or rather, People who forget that GOD is more amazing[!] and more forgiving[!] and more in love with them than they can handle[!] than they are ashamed. GOD is MORE amazing than you are ashamed! Come back and recognize the Father that says, “You were once dead, but are now alive!” And enjoy the celebration party that follows!

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Either you are committed (all three aspects) and it is marriage, or you are not committed and you are going to hurt yourself, the person you love, your friends, and many other relationships. [State issues apply to state issues and not to what real marriage means between people and God.]

This articles good points (e.g. #7) are obscured by its tendency to treat all Christians as Pharisees, bitlical theology as proof-texting, and cohabitation as relatively harmless. Note the "current research" being done that speaks against this unbalanced and (I think) misleading article: http://www.virginia.edu/marriageproject/pdfs/NMP2008CohabitationReport.pdf There are many other resources on this site that confirm that these are not "old arguments and scare tactics." Moreover, recent research on youth culture shows an increase in narcissistic traits, so this is one reason why the church's biblical witness about moral purity is no longer resonating. It's not becasue the church is filled with judgmental jerks who are insensitive. See, e.g., the resources at http://www.youthandreligion.org/ and Kenda Creasy Dean's book Almost Christian, who identifies the prevalent religious perspective among North American youth as "moralistic therapeutic Deism," which is a "watered-down faith that portrays God as a 'divine therapist' whose chief goal is to boost people's self-esteem."

A biblical theology of sex and marriage is not the same as "proof texts," and to dismiss biblical teaching on sex and marriage as proof-texting is not honest or fair to people who actually work with youth and young adults, as I and my wife Sandy have done for decades. The author's #6 stands in odd contrast to #7. I don't know pastors and youth pastors or youth leaders who just spout proof texts at youth and young adults; they usually have long-standing relationships with them.

Morover, people "feel" judged in our culture whenever they come across a non-subjectivist, non-realtivist view of morality that conflicts with their narcissistic impulses--this has also been shown by recent cultural studies. I'm sure the rich young ruler who walked away from Jesus thought Jesus was "judgmental." We do no one any favors by sugar coating cohabitation, as this article seems to do. The gospel and the way of following Jesus Christ will always cause offense; the key for us who seek to do ministry is not to add unnecessary offense that is not part of the offense of the gospel. Jesus didn't say to the woman, "it's not that bad, what you're doing. But try to cut down on the sinning."

In our congregation, the council has made it a policy that couples who cohabit, and who are not willing to talk about it with the pastors and seek some kind of remedy, will not be married in the church. The pastors bend over backwards with the couples to go over biblical ideals for marriage and to try to make it work within this framework. The only people this has turned away are those who had no interest in a Christian wedding, but only a churchy veneer. We're not interested in renting Jesus by the hour.

It's challenging enough to try to disciple young people in this increasing narcissistic, amoral, and anti-Christian culture without The Banner undermining our ministry with this kind of article. The good things that the article says are overshadowed by its soft-pedalling of biblical teaching on sexuality, the harmfulness of cohabitation, and the usual church-bashing that assumes pastors and church people are incompetent to witness to Christ's grace and forgiveness while still pointing out the cost of discipleship.

By Canadian law, cohabiting couples are treated as married after about one year, in the sense that obligations on property separation and child custody and visitation rights apply when they separate as if they had become divorced. While it is not exactly identical to conventional divorce, it is very similar. So since the state recognizes a cohabiting couple as virtually married, how does that implicate us as believers? Why would a church marry a couple who is already married? They have already decided to get married without a license, without a preacher, without witnesses, and without a service.

What Blacketer has said about refusing to marry such a couple may make good sense, since they are already as married. If they still want to get a license, let them do so. If they want to have a party, let them do so on their own. But the original sense of making a public committment BEFORE they get married(live together) seems to have fallen flat for them. And the church being involved in this becomes really confusing. How often does a church get involved in authorizing an anniversary or birthday, and what then is the difference? Why should the church apply its position of authority to such an event?

Dr. Blacketer: I think your response hits the nail on the head. Even in secular literature the culture shift toward narcissm and the condemnation of anyone espousing moral absolutes. It is also interesting to note that leading marriage researchers at the Univ. of Denver have studied cohabitation and its negative influence on marriages. They talk about the need to "decide vs. slide". Sliding into marriage by living together first discourages committment because the way out is left open. The marriage commitment means accepting a person, quirks and all and not testing the waters to see if you can handle the quirks.

We often use the marriage relationship to describe the relationship between Christ and the church. If we accept "sliding" into human marriage how does that affect our understanding of this most beautiful illustration of God's love for us?

As I read this article my heart was breaking. Not so much for the sin (and it is a sin) but the sugar coating of it.

Who decided that the covanant law no longer had to be read and was not required to be part of the litugy during a worship service? It is not only the seniors who are living common law. One does not have to look to hard to see many of the youth are too and many others have also since this denomination since this decision.

Why is a student church in England that being the Anglican Church who has a woman, appointed as the head of the church being consulted versus God's infallible Word? Who is their leader? A member of the Royal family, that being Her Majesty Quuen Elizabeth II. Is not this as we are told in God's infallible Word is the wrong head? Did she or any of the Royal family die for the church? Should this be where we get sound advice from? The new NIV is proving to be gender free and places women as equals to man.

Is approval of homosexual marriage next?

What’s good about this? This article starts with a few stories to persuade us with emotional dilemmas and ends with urging us to challenge people to delve into Scripture. There are a number of good thoughts in this article, but they seem to be peppered in to take the edge off the main message that we need to live with the situation the culture gave us. There is a gap between the cultural practice and what the Bible (not always church) teaches. There almost always is, in any generation, and any area of life.
So how should we respond? Consider some of these alternatives:
1. Remember the gospel of Christ: We do need to love God and love our neighbor. We need to bear each other’s burdens (Gal 6:2). We all bear our own sins, and are called to build up the body of Christ (Eph 4:16) and restore each other gently (Gal 6:1). Restoring involves repentance.
2. Teach them God’s purpose in marriage: We should point them, not only to covenant, but that marriage is an institution of God (not of the state) and illustrates our salvation through Christ.
3. Teach them the Biblical qualifications from an early age: Teach them the Biblical qualifications for each partner in their role and not to be unequally yoked (2 Cor 6:14). This will give them a picture of the sacrifice and washing with the Word that is essential in marriage. If God’s law isn’t taught from an early age before an issue arises, it looks judgmental rather than helpful.
4. Drop the old arguments: There are always false teachers and false doctrines and negative influences from our culture. They are the same, but take on a new flavor in each generation. Learn them and counter them with your children.
5. Keep the scare tactics: OK, maybe not quite like that. When we make a conscious decision like this based on finances rather than morality, we show that we fear man more than God (Prov 9:10).
6. Strive for God’s standard: It’s a poor argument to say we need to love those that maim their neighbor because it’s a step closer than murder.
7. Our goal is to save their soul: We certainly hope and pray that those cohabiting will come to repentance. That could look like eliminating the sexual immorality, or it could be recognizing God’s beautiful plan and institution of marriage. Or, in the worst case, it can mean expelling those in sin to save their soul (1 Cor 5:5).
When the church doesn’t hold up God’s Word as the standard, we see deeper compromise, even rebellion, from the culture. And we see it entering the church as well. A complaint I’ve heard from young men is that they can’t find a godly young woman; they all act or dress so slutty.

From C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity, Book Three: "Christian Behaviour", chapter 6: "Christian Marriage"

"If people do not believe in permanent marriage, it is perhaps better that they should live together unmarried than that they should make vows they do not mean to keep. It is true that by living together without marriage they will be guilty (in Christian eyes) of fornication. But one fault is not mended by adding another: unchastity is not improved by adding perjury. The idea that 'being in love' is the only reason for remaining married really leaves no room for marriage as a contract or promise at all. If love is the whole thing, then the promise can add nothing; and if it adds nothing, then it should not be made." (107)

I hear Virginia's heart for not driving young adults away from the Church and the Gospel by being very judgmental about a choice that a great many young adult are making. However, I think the tone is mistaken. While we need to love all people and be gracious and invitational to those who are making self-destructive choices, we should not run up the white flag here.
I have to particularly object to point 5. A quick Google search confirmed that many mainstream media outlets (not just Christian websites) show that the divorce rate for couples who co-habit first is considerably higher than those who don't. If you add the 50% of cohabiting couples who break up without ever marrying, you have a truly tragic level of relational collapse. Our love for young adults must lead us to being honest with them about these statistics. Cohabiting will very likely lead them to heartbreak. It is not loving to keep silent about that.

The problem with the article is the false premise - that telling the truth (sex apart from marriage is sin) is driving people away. No. It's not.

The Lord came to his own, but they did not receive him. Was it his teaching that drove them away, or was it their own affinity for the darkness that caused them to flee the light?

Was Paul persecuted merely because he was obnoxious? Or was it because the darkness strove to overcome the light and could not?

Sure, I understand. That's not an excuse for being obnoxious and deliberately irritating. We must speak the truth in love. But if folks simply refuse to hear either the truth or the love, that's not a reason for soft-pedaling either. Whether cohabitation is "harmless" or not is, frankly, irrelevant. It's wrong - and there's nothing wrong with saying so.

It's fun to see that the CRC of my misspent youth still remains so far behind the times, and as judgemental as ever.

When I was in the CRC, there was incessant handwringing about forbidding dancing, movies, and playing cards. Now there is debate about whether senior citizens should "live together in sin" or "live apart in destitution." The judgemental handwringing continues to be a distraction for the true community-changing WORK that needs to be done on this planet....

So WWJD? I suspect He would not worry very much about "shacking up", applying compassion to understand that last generation's preferences do not necessarily apply to this generation's problems. Nope, I suspect Jesus would probably be too busy curing lepers (or nowadays, people with AIDS) and feeding the poor and chasing the money changers out of the temples....

BTW for a fascinating read about misconceptions of the 1950s conforming to "Biblical standards of marriage" etc:

http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/historyonline/familyhistory.cfm

This was great. This should be sent out to all members. What an uplifting way to approach this subject.

I appreciate the article raising this issue and I appreciate the thoughtful comments. Way to go church for dialoguing in a respectful manner (for most of you anyway) about an issue that touches every church.

Andrew Busch

Before claiming that the "old arguments" against cohabitation and not "based on reliable data," please check the writing of Barbara Dafoe Whitehead who testified before a U.S. Senate committee on these and similar issues. Read this extensively documented article: "SHOULD WE LIVE TOGETHER? What Young Adults Need to Know about Cohabitation before Marriage: A Comprehensive Review of Recent Research" by David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead.

The article is a thoughtful one and presents a fresh perspective on the matter of common-law marriage or cohabitation. I also read the comments with interest. One, however, stood out for me. Its blatant sexism took my breath away: "A complaint I’ve heard from young men is that they can’t find a godly young woman; they all act or dress so slutty." The implication is, of course, that "wayward" women are mostly to blame for the perceived decline in morals.

If the CRC is now going to teach young adults that shaking up is acceptable behavior, I would encourage them to find a different church where they will be taught to obey everything that Jesus has commanded, including the seventh commandment.

I'M not sure how i feel about living before marriage I had 4 of my grandkids that did just that. I did not think it was right but I did not tell them how I felt and I do feel bad about it these same 4 grandkids do not go to church so I feel worst about that. I pray for them every day and I think often about the verse in the Bible do not be unequally yoked with unbelivers
which all 4 have done although they were raised as a Christian and went to Christian school I pray I will see this changed before I die. I live in a retirement and see couples living together and not married because of finances and I don't know how to feel about that. Thanks for the insite in your article.

Mom, we don't really care what the Bible (that antiquated tome! Snicker snicker) says. We're going to have our cake and eat it too. We're going to have sex without the covenant-making that the Lord our God demands. Never mind that Jesus says fornication makes us unclean (Mark 7:21), or that even to lust after someone in our hearts condemns us as adulterers (Matt. 5:28). We're under grace, not law! (Romans 6:14).

And oh Mooooom, we know that Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery "go and sin no more" but you're forgetting that you shouldn't throw stones! PLUS, we'll just forget that this pericope in John's gospel probably (most definitely) wasn't in the original manuscripts. It doesn't matter, because we'll use it against you so we can relish in our sin! Nya nya nya.

Besides, we know that Paul ever so clearly defined fornication as two unmarried opposite gender humans as having sex in 1 Cor 7:2 "But because of the temptation to sexual immorality (porneia) each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband." But we don't care, Mom, because we are pragmatists! The ends (our financial security) justifies the means (our desire for pleasure). And whatever works in good. So God must love it, then!

Further, don't tell us those "old addages" about "the sexually immoral not inheriting the kingdom of heaven" (1 Cor. 6:9). That's just legalism, and besides we were saved at our covenantal baptism. There is no need for repentance in us. Don't you know that Mom? Sheesh.

If a woman shacks up she's a whore, pure and simple. If a man shacks up he's boorish lout who needs his ass kicked from here into next week. And, yeah, I'm being judgmental. God didn't pen the 10 suggestions. They are COMMANDMENTS. Its really just that straightforward. Beautiful in its simplicity; no need to obfuscate with a bunch of liberal doublespeak.

Can somebody please put my comment back up? I can't believe that the narrow minded "liberal" bigots of the CRC would find my poignant, thoughtful commentary so offensive as to have it pulled. Really, people, can't we dialog?

My comments were also flagged. That is not fair! Narrow mindedness!

I'll just quote Scripture then.
JESUS: Matthew 5:28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

YHWH: Deuteronomy 22:20-21 But if the thing is true (accusation of fornication), that evidence of virginity was not found in the young woman, 21 then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done an outrageous thing in Israel by whoring in her father's house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

JESUS: Mark 7:21-23 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Paul: 1 Cor. 6:9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous[a] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,

Paul: 1 Cor 7:2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality (Greek= porneia, fornication), each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.

Paul: Galatians 5:19-21 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy,[d] drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

I do wonder if we could apply the message of this article to pastors, youth workers, etc? How would that pan out?

good article but i dissaggree with #3: I believe it is more important to support an exclusive loving relationship that honors each partner as the temple of God. no. 4: cohabitation is not a Kind of commitment, it is kind of like buying a Party dress, wearing it to the party with the tag still attached and then returning it at your convenience. No. 5: cohabitation itself, with out the commitment of marriage makes the relationship casual for both partners and others who may not respect the exclusivity. #6 I agree, jesus says" neither do I condem thee.now go and sin no more". he did not say "I do not condem thee now go on same as before." I have three daughters and have told each one that I will always love them no matter what, and that God loves them too no matter what. But when we do things that are contrary to His Word, we are cutting ourselves off from all the blessings that He has planned for us when he follow His Word. I love no# 7

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Alyce, thanks for the comments and dialog. Your response and accusation of 'blatant sexism' brought a smile to my face. I found both humor and pride at the same time. My intent, of course, was not that wayward women are mostly to blame, but was instead a reflection of who I am; all of my children are young men so I hear from them and their friends mostly. I would think that if I had opportunity to hear from a godly young woman, she would have similar complaints about the lack of godly, manly young men as well. I just don't have as fertile soil to draw from. If you re-read my posted comment, you should see that I put the blame squarely on the church for compromising with the culture and not doing it's job.

Hi Jon, thanks for the clarification. It is still a profoundly sexist comment.....even though it didn't come out of your mouth or pen (fingers?)and it is discouraging to read that some thing this way.

I ill another 2 cents here. I think there is often an overweening emphasis on sex when the topic of cohabitation is discussed among conservative Christians. On person commented with a string of bible verses that all spoke about sex or sexual immorality. I sincerely think it is time to put the sexual immorality issue aside and talk about marriage and cohabitation in terms of how each upholds or denigrates aspects of an authentic relationship, one that is respectful, uplifting of the other, steadfast...etc. I find the obsession with sex a bit of an anachronism, dating back to a time when the church and state were complicit in regulating (controlling) sexuality, mostly that of women.

I also question whether God ordained marriage as most conceive of it here. Indeed, the Christian church did not really get into the business of regulating marriage until about the 12th century, having left it primarily up to civil authorities until then, consistent with a view that it was primarily a civil contract. I think what we are called to do if and when we enter into relationship with someone we see as a life partner is to live out that relationship in a loving and respectful way. I think it is possible for two individuals to do this in the absence of the unique civil contract we call marriage. Then again, I also think that making a legally-binding, solemn and public commitment to be there for one's partner through thick and thin is the best possible expression of a such a relationship. Of course, we are all aware that relationships in both circumstances can and do often breakdown, so contracting a marriage is no guarantee.

I think it is good to have the conversation and I thank the writer and publisher for stimulating it.

Lettinga: “Hold off on your judgment. What would your judgment accomplish?”
The Apostle Paul: “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother, if he is guilty of sexual immorality....” “Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” “Purge the evil person from among you” (1 Cor. 5: 11a, 12, 13b).

To answer the question: Our judgment would accomplish obedience to the Bible, as well as showing urgent concern for the purity of the church and the souls of sinners.

Lettinga: “Galatians 6:2 calls for gentleness and patience as our response and goes on to talk about restoration, not condemnation, for Christians.”
Paul: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any *transgression*, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself lest you too be tempted.” “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For what one sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption...” (Gal. 6:1, 7-8a, emphasis added to note that we are speaking of an action that is condemned as sin).

Are we allowed to say that we are talking about “sin”? Then restoration will mean that the person stops sowing to his own flesh and stops his cohabiting, which is declaring publicly that he is rejecting God’s rule over his life.

These are illustrations that the author is not teaching us the real thrust of the Bible on this issue. Her statement that the rule of love is “more important than drawing a line in the sand” is a fair summary of what is wrong with the article. She supposes that the two, love and drawing a line, are separate. But the Bible says to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), and the nature of truth is that truth itself draws a line in the sand; it makes a judgment.

So, to answer the question how to respond to believers who cohabitate: First, we note that this is just like Christians in Corinth acting in the manner of the Corinthians around them. Then, instead of giving half-truths about how un-condemning the Bible is, we need to (1) make clear to people what God’s law says--including his good pattern for marriage and commands about marriage--and consequently make clear what is sin, (2) urge people to trust God to forgive, while warning them not to continue in sin (repent!), as in the account of the woman caught in adultery, and (3) discipline people who, despite warnings, openly and unrepentantly persist in what is clearly sin. Cohabitation (understanding that this means sex outside of marriage) is in that category.

But certainly, let’s not make it seem that the problem lies with the attitudes of older generations of Christians who call sin, “sin,” or that “cohabitation is a kind of commitment toward faithfulness, sexual exclusivity, and responsible shared life,” when it is exactly the opposite. And with that, be sure to tell the cohabiting woman not to expect a ring anytime soon from a man who already has a relationship he’s content with.

Alyce, I appreciate the response and your good nature. 

I doubt most conceive of God-ordained marriage in a Biblcial way. We have two factors playing into our inaccurate perceptions. First, our culture and how we conceive it today (your point), and second, looking at it only through historical lens.

When we look at it through a historical lens, we're not going back far enough. For example, when Jesus answers the Pharisees about divorce in Matthew 19 and Mark 10 he refers back to the very beginning in Genesis. Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24 to be precise. Marriage is an institute of God (not civil) from the very beginning; it was a mistake to ever turn that over to civil authorities. My wife and I are married before God regardless of what the civil authorities say, or have on file.

Marriage in scripture is portrayed as a covenantal relationship, and likewise regulated in that way. This is implied in Matthew 19 & Mark 10 in Jesus response and the Pharisees question. See the question, "Is it *lawful*..." and the response that "give ... a *certificate* of divorce...". These statements imply regulation, Jesus was not quoting Roman law, he was quoting OT scripture. This regulation of marriage and divorce has been around at least since Deuteronomy (24). God often speaks of his relationship with his people also in terms of marriage, adultery, and even divorce (Jer 3:8).

When we speak of cohabitation there is a connotation of not following this covenant, thus living in sin. Most people who cohabit have not followed the path of abstinence before, nor a covenantal relationship; for most it is "let's try this for a while". If you want to argue that some do follow this, but simply lack the formality of a civil marriage license, then you'll need to argue that with some studies and statistics to show that our perceptions are wrong about those who choose to cohabit (not just that it's possible). For those who follow the rest of the law, why would they not take the simple step of declaring their covenant before God and his family (church, not civil)?

@ Jon, I think we will politely remain in some disagreement. I am suggesting that this is not as black and white as some would have it. This is why I very appreciate the article by Virginia Miller Lettinga and a number of folks' willingness here to engage in discussion (at least those who refrain from immediate censorious condemnation.) The church trumpets marriage and condemns cohabitation, yet what the church has upheld, at least in the very recent past, is a patriarchal view of marriage (and there are still remnants of this with the nonsense one hears from time to time about headship.) This is why I think an open and honest examination of marriage and other arrangements is a good thing. I think it will help us focus on the relationship, the essence, and not its form. Past forms of marriage, and forms which still exist today, may well be "sinful" if affirms the subjugation of one spouse or gender.

(I think that I have spent about 6 cents of opinion now)

Patriarchy is what the Bible teaches, many mis-apply it.

Subjugation is different than submission, submission should be voluntary. It's hard to do (I know from experience), it's part of our curse; especially when the head is not worthy of headship.

Christ is the head of our church, the only one fully worthy of headship. He is the example that men must strive to follow, even though we often fail.

6 cents is plenty, thanks for the conversation.

I am disappointed that our official church magazine continues to take a soft stand on issues of sexual relationships. With this issue of cohabitation and an earlier issue about homosexual relationships (IMHO: WMSW? Mar 1, 2009) , both articles encouraged accepting the partner and the inappropriate relationship, instead of forming a hard stance of what is right and wrong. A sin is a sin and no one should make up excuses to accept it or tolerate it. Point one in 'Mom, We're Living Together' for example, states to consider the 'person's story'. Avoiding family complications with a relationship in a retirement home, to keep a relationship with an unbeliever going (relationship with an unbeliever is also strictly forbidden in the Bible), saving money because you are poor college students are acceptable reasons, according to this article, to sin - sexual relations before marriage. We are instead to avoid placing ourselves into situations where we are tempted to sin. This point is even misused as point 6. In point 6, John 8:11 was quoted as justification for not condemning the cohabitation. The article, unfortunately, left out the second part of the verse where Jesus commands the adulterous woman to "Go now and leave your life of sin." (John 8:11b) You avoid the bar if your an alcoholic, you avoid the adult video store if you have difficulty with pornography, and you avoid the casino if you are a gambler. Why would you live with someone if you know it will cause you to sin? Lastly, for parents who allow the cohabitation partner (or homosexual partner) into their home to avoid condemnation issues or under the guise of patience and understanding, would you also allow your child's drug supplier in if your child is a drug addict? If you are thinking this is a different situation, it's not. A sin is a sin, even it is disguised in a polite young man or woman.
Yours in Christ, Eric Kiers, Luverne, MN

Eric, Jesus loved us while we were still sinners. Jesus ate with sinners, prostitutes and money thieves.

I believe Lettinga’s point of “What can I do to support you and love you without giving you the impression that I think this is right?” is the overarching idea of this article. It is clear God wants us to leave our lives of sin, and if we love someone, we want that for them as well. However, there is a process between people sinning, and people giving their self fully to God, and our part of that process is loving them.

I have a scenario for you....

I come to your church with a man that I have not "married" in the civil meaning of the word. I am "married" in every other sense. I am with one man, and plan on being so for the rest of my life. I may have even taken his name, if not legally, then definitly socially. I may have children with this man, and they have his name.

Do you know if I have a civil marriage certificate? Do you even ask? With all the evidence presented, you assume that we are married. In my mind and in my heart, and I believe that even in the eyes of God, I am married.

How do we really know? Especially today? Also, I can have a civil marriage certificate and be a homosexual! In the eyes of many states, I can be married to anyone! Why does that little piece of paper legitimize my life-long relationsip?

One more thing. We do not live a sinless life. We talk about since of fornication, adultury, homosexuality, drinking alcohol, etc. but we NEVER talk about the sin of gluttony. Why is that?

@Lynn

You are correct - I would not inquire. And in civil law, what you are describing is a "Common Law Marriage". Should I become aware, I would inquire as to why they choose not to and offer to handle the paperwork if they liked. In most states it's fairly simple. Nevertheless, you are also correct that it is not a piece of paper or a record at a county courthouse that determines the legitimacy of a marriage.

But that's not the scenario being described in the article above. It is not a marriage that simply does not bother with obtaining civil recognition, but an intentional avoidance of marriage - of the commitment to one another before God.

As for the other, the sin of gluttony has been addressed - I recall seeing articles in the BANNER that do so and I've heard sermons, even delivered some. Nevertheless, raising the question in this context is reminiscent of a common pattern in which people confronted over a particular sin to ask, "what about him and his sin?" as a way of relieving the pressure. Yes, gluttony is a sin. That fact has little to no bearing on this article or the discussion surrounding it.

I take my stand with Linda Ann, the lady who is married without a marriage license, in her post on 23 January. Linda Ann issued a challenge: "Where does it say in Scripture that the state must be part of a marriage?" Since then there has been a lot of scripture quoted in this discussion. But I don't think that anyone has met Linda Ann's challenge. I think there is a good reason for that.
And what about our ministers? I would love to hear a minister declare that he, or she, is willing to officiate at a wedding ceremony that has everything that would make it Christian--hymns, prayers, solemn vows taken in the presence of God, blessings, a short sermon, a pronouncement of the marriage--everything except the marriage license. Of course, that marriage would have no legal standing in the state of Nevada (or Virginia, or Iowa, or Rhode Island, or . . .) But maybe the couple don't want that legal standing. Why shouldn't they have the moral and spiritual standing of a marriage anyway?

Dear David:
I never said that we should not love them and I would not prevent my own child into my home. My argument that if you allow the partner into the home, you in sense are accepting the sin. Guilt by association. You do not have any binding relationship with the partner. You will also have a much easier time to discuss the issue with your child if the partner is not there. Going back to my other points - you would not have alcohol in your home if you have an alcoholic in your home, pornography if you are addicted, or play poker if you have difficulty with gambling. I have, nor will I ever have, ill feelings toward any person - love the sinner but not the sin. It is not an easy answer but it is, as a stated, the hard stance I feel God would want us to take.
Yours in Christ, Eric Kiers, Luverne, MN

Eric, Jesus was not guilty by association.

@George M. Thank you! The requirement for a civil license is NOT in scripture. You should only need witnesses. I don't agree 100% with the following, but this pastor does make some good points.

http://www.mercyseat.net/marriagelicense.html

I've hear the argument that if there is a civil license, and because it is so hard to break (divorce), then the couple is more likely to stay together and ride out the tough times. Well, that's not so true anymore. It is so easy to get a divorce today. Integrity is sticking with your spouse, license or not.

How sad when Christians rationalize what they want, namely sin, and use every argument they can think of to make it seem right. To say don't use Bible verses is ludicrous. That's what a CHRISTian is, a Bible believing person. Jesus said go and sin no more to the woman. He didn't say your over 30 so I understand go and commit more sexual sin. How could anyone expect you to live life doing what God comands in the Bible. He musn't have known what he was doing when He wrote it. (or don't we believe that anymore either!) While your at it, let's figure its ok to steal, some people have so much and I don't have enough and don't listen to your parents they don't know anything. What other commandments can we cut out because they don't fit what we think is convenient. What a wicked and perverse generation that has totally lost it's salt worthiness. Read the Bible and figure out what that means!!

Yes, it is sad when Christians rationalize what they want. Ask Jennifer Knapp or Ray Boltz. However, how is it that being with one person for the rest of your life, making a commitment between man/woman and God, and standing on the promise a sin? Because there's no civil license? Seriously, what does a civil license have to do with it. Is it illegal to not be married? Why do we say "legally wed"? Will I go to jail? I don't think so. The civil license gives certain privilages that one normally doesn't receive, which is why it's such a big deal for same-sex partners to be married.

Oh, and marriage should not be based on the physical aspect. That's just the icing on the cake. I know of someone who married just because they wanted sex without guilt. That person is now divorced. I know of another where a child was conceived. They married for the child, but were divorced in less than a year. I guess for me the real question is.... what is marriage?

This article isn’t about justifying sin, it is about loving people who justifying sin.

1. Finding out why they justify it so that you can respond lovingly. “Engage the people in loving conversations. And Then see # 2.”
2. Gently explain your concerns. “This is why I believe you are heading for hurt.”
3. Promote good, committed relationship. “Maybe ‘marriage’ is a loaded idea, but ‘committed love’ shouldn’t be.”
4. Remember we are all sinners and God is the one judge. “Discern how you can support them and love them without giving them the impression that you think this is right.”
5. “Perfect love drives out fear. Not ‘perfect fear drives people to love.’”
6. The Bible should be used for love, not condemning; after all we all ready stand condemned. [admittedly it is humorous that #6 has the only “proof text”]
7. Encourage everyone to seek God. “The answer to every sin is our Saviour.”

Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was… Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”… People mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”… But Zacchaeus stood up and said… “now I give.”… Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:1-10)

This article isn’t about justifying sin. This article shows us how to point people to Jesus.

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