A New Way of “Shacking Up”

I believe that if you are going to align your life within biblical standards, sex outside the context of the marriage covenant is sin.

My church community also adheres to such standards, and will not perform a wedding ceremony for any couple “living together.”

I was recently faced with a new dilemma in which the couple I was scheduled to marry was soon to be moving in with each other due to financial reasons. In the midst of this cohabitation arrangement, they had vowed to me that no sexual relations would occur until after the wedding day. (they would be living together for four months before the wedding day)

Through a face-to-face discussion and e-mail, I asked them to wrestle with some issues, not making any immediate decision on the wedding. Here is a portion of one e-mail I sent them:

I will give you guys a call either Tuesday or Wednesday to check up on what you are deciding with the living arrangements prior to [the wedding date].

I hope you had an opportunity to bounce this plan off of your ABF community, seeking further council and wisdom. The great thing about community is that it forces us to hold each other up to higher standards (Gal. 6), making our private affairs somewhat public, in a healthy way.

Regarding your current plans, I would wrestle with the following thoughts:

  • What is the best opportunity for you to honor God in remaining sexually pure prior to the wedding covenant? (No matter what failures have happened in the past, God can renew us-Col.3-, allowing us to have a fresh start now in honoring Him with our lives.)
  • What is the most prudent, loving, and wise course of action to take while upholding Ephesians 5:3, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality…”
  • How can you best live your lives in the contours of God’s design for marriage (Gen 2:24), “leaving your father & mother” following your marriage vows?
  • What is the best way to be an example to your friends, family, & neighbors that desires to live within God’s design for marriage and to be void of any hint of sexual impurity? How can you best reflect Matthew 5:16 with this choice?
  • If there appears to be a better option in honoring God through your example and placing yourselves in a less tempting of an environment, will not God provide such a way to make it financially possible?

Some questions to work through together, as I want to be a help through this discussion any way I can.

Call anytime if you need to, but I will probably give you a call either tomorrow or Wednesday to touch base.

Hope you guys are well and looking forward to meeting again.

-dave

Well, through a series of e-mails and phone conversations they determined that they would still go ahead with their living arrangements.

As they took great steps of seeking other counsel, praying, and attaining “a peace from God,” they felt like they would still be honoring God and the marriage covenant if they remained sexually pure no matter what their living arrangements were like.

So, what do you think? What should have my final decision or response have been? Are they right? And what about the paradox of marrying people that are having sex (& lying that they aren’t), but living separately?

I will let you know later what the final call was (as it wasn’t easy…they are a great couple!), and to see if this is a “black and white” issue or something that sits within the dreadful “grey.” (which we all hate.)

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~ by Dave Smith on February 21, 2008.

6 Responses to “A New Way of “Shacking Up””

  1. Dave,

    First off, what’s up? This is Ben Gulker…a blast from the intern past. K.P. sent me a link to your blog over Christmas, and I’ve been reading it now and again since. I’ve been meaning to comment for a bit…but, I haven’t.

    Anyway, a few thoughts on the topic, as I’m anticipating a wedding this summer.

    First off, I don’t think it inherently misguided for a church to take a “black and white” stand on an issue that may prove to be “grey.” In this case, I think erring on the side of caution may prove to be the wisest course of action as far as the church is concerned. It is possible for the church to leave the decision up to the couple without passing judgment on them while simultaneously affirming a position that seems “black and white.” In other words, you as a pastor might not be willing to perform the ceremony itself because of the church’s cautious position on the issue while still supporting them as a couple.

    Second, I do think choosing to live together before marriage is problematic for a number of reasons. First, it’s ultimately frustrating and unfulfilling. Why live together and not enjoy all that marriage is? Second, I think it will be all too easy for sex to happen as the natural result of the intimacy created by sharing a life together. In the proper context, this is healthy and should happen. But, if your desire is to abstain, yet you set the stage day in and day out, I think it becomes quite difficult for sexual expression to not happen. In other words, “We’re already acting like we’re married in every other area; why not this one?”

    Third, if finances are so important, why not just bump the wedding up four months and enjoy all the financial benefits, including the tax benefits?

    Fourth, and this is my biggest beef right now with pre-marital counceling, the church does not seem to have a deep enough theology of sexuality and covenant. Proof-texting from passages that teach us to abstain from sexual immorality simply doesn’t cut it, at least for me. “Don’t have sex before marriage because it says here…” sounds a lot like a father telling his child, “Don’t do X, Y, or Z because I’m you’re Dad, and I told you so.” As mature adults and believers, we need the positive construction as much as we need the negative abstain commands. What is sex, really, and what does it symbolize? I wonder what the resopnse would be if we asked many young Christian couples who are preparing for marriage.

    At the end of the day, I think it is possible to live together and remain “sexually pure.” But why would I want to (live together without a sexual relationship, that is)? Why would I want to share all of my life with someone except physical intimacy? Wouldn’t that ultimately be frustrating and unfulfilling?
    And as a pastor, I wouldn’t blame you for not marrying a couple who chooses to live that way, not because you are necessarily judging their actions, but because many couples couldn’t live together without falling into sexual sin.

  2. Love your style of leadership in that you’re willing to process this out-loud in such a forum.

    Amazing the things we each rationalize in our own lives. I’m sure I’ve been just as guilty as this couple in saying, “it’s justified!”

    Four months, by the way, is simply too long for anyone to be engaged anyway. I would have married them right there in the office. The state of Ohio does NOT require that they say, “I do.” You can just shout, “By the power granted me by the state of Ohio I pronounce you man & wife”—and, BAM! problem solved.

  3. I’m interested in hearing what their ABF community had to say.

    I know what I would have told them. What is the wedding ceremony really? Just a ceremony! Is our cultures version of the wedding ceremony in the Bible? No! What is marriage really? It’s just a promise between God and the couple. Everybody knows there’s a difference between the wedding and the marriage. God understands what they are doing and why they are doing it. Look at William Wallace and Murron!

    Just have them sign papers before they move in so they are “legally” married and then just do the wedding event 4 months later so they are “ceremoniously” married then.

    I wonder how they will feel when their teenage son wants to go on a co-ed overnight roadtrip where he’ll be sharing a room with his girlfriend?

  4. Some good thoughts all around, for sure!

    Thanks for interjecting guys. I will leave this sit another day for any others to chim in.

    And as for Ben, great to hear from you man! I knew it would have to be an issue like this to bring you out of the silence! You Princeton guys love a good quarrel! :>)

    Also, regarding your last point on sexuality within the church…yea couldn’t agree more. I had some previous thoughts on this at: https://davidksmith.wordpress.com/2008/02/04/fast-cars-fast-girls/

    I think you say it better though!

    More thoughts & the conclusion to come.

  5. Whoa! Anthony!! I’ve got to object. You’ve been smokin’! Perhaps you were speaking tongue-in-cheek?

    What is the ceremony? It’s everything! The piece of paper from the state is not what makes a holy covenant… it’s the taking of vows before God and men. It’s PUBLIC, and like baptism, that’s very important!

    I’m not sure I agree with your premise that “our culture’s version of a wedding isn’t in the Bible.” A Hebrew or Christian couple would not have co-habitated without public vows. Family and community would have regarded the act of co-habitation alone as ceremonial.

  6. Rich – totally tongue in cheek (mostly)…too much stream of conscious (and late – you know how I am ater 9:30) 🙂 Trying to make the point by what is “obviously” a fallacial line of thinking. My last sentence is my attempt to show that they will not likely allow their children to make the same rationalization they are doing for themselves. Sent you an email.

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