March 29, 2020

Open Mic at the iMonk Cafe: That Not Exactly Married Couple….

no_flashHere’s today’s HYPOTHETICAL topic. A very common situation.

A couple asks to join your church. Well…..a non-married, living together 5 years, parenting 2 of her kids couple asks to join your church. They aren’t married because, basically, of not wanting to lose substantial child support. When that runs out next year, they tell you they will get married and they appear very serious about that.

They’ve visited your church for months. The kids are in the programs. They are in a small group. They are a great family. They just aren’t legally a married couple.

What do you do?

a) Receive them as married. (Leaning to a common law definition of marriage.)
b) Refuse to receive either as members until they repent of their sin and are married. (Rem: They have lived together as husband and wife exclusively for 5 years.)
c) Receive them as engaged.
d) Receive them as separate families.
e) Your better idea.

Special note: How do you believe Jesus would treat this couple? As married, since they are living as a married couple in every intention except government sanction or as unmarried?

Catholics: We know your answer, so you don’t need to explain it. But how would you deal with this couple in parish life?


  1. Steve Simmons says

    B : This is serious and I think we have lost touch with the sacramental nature of marriage, they are in fornication if they are sexually active. Just ask any one who has played house without marriage vows, ask them if the person they were with was their husband or wife, I have yet to here them referred to as such after they break up, they never say my ex-husband but rather they call it what it is, ex-lover. My mother in law couldn’t believe how different she felt after marrying her long time live in boy friend, Jesus made the distinction to the woman at the well because it is a power sacrament that binds people together in a mysterious way.

    • Steve in Toronto says

      First I want to make it clear that divorce is clearly a sin and that sex out side the bonds of matronly is also. Secondly I have been guilty and forgiven by god of these and many other sins. However I think you might be missing the point of what the sacrament of marriage actually is. This couple are clearly “one flesh” and although I think they should solemnize there relationship before there church I think it would be more like a recognition and calibration of an existing union then the marking of a new beginning. People’s experience of living together is very different and I think there is a distinction between short term “shacking up” and long-term committed relationships. The commitment to raising children together is perhaps the key distinction. There is clearly sin in this couples relationship but I think the main problem has to do with money not sex.

      Steve in Toronto

  2. I have a related question for imonk: I am a family law attorney, and from my understanding of what you described (if I had more details and an understanding of the state law it might be different) she is committing criminal fraud by taking alimony (which this has to be, child support would not be affected by a remarriage in most circumstances) meant for an unmarried woman while holding herself out as married to another man. If I knew about this and they were not my clients, according to the Rules of Professional Conduct, I would likely have a duty to turn them in to the State Attorney’s office. Say I were a member of the church and knew about this situation, and came to you, as the pastor, to ask what I should do, in my position as a public official (a member of the Bar), keeping in mind that both jail time and permanent termination of parental rights are possible consequences of this behavior (and yes, I have seen both happen, though rarely).

    • JUICY!

      When Christian Duty and Tort Law are at cross-purposes – Who Will Win??

    • This is a very good question. The couple that iMonk cited is in a different category than the couple living together. This is a couple that is deliberately breaking the law and financially defrauding the former husband. This is an ethically different situation than the couple who is living together, has children, but is otherwise behaving in an honest and aboveboard fashion.

      The first couple is committing an act of criminal financial misbehavior and perjury, as well as behaving immorally. The second couple I cited is behaving immorally but not criminally. Nevertheless, even the second example is still one that needs some debate.

      In the case of a couple living together and with children, but not engaging in criminal activity, they would not be allowed to be members of the Church or receive communion until the situation was fixed. However, they would be allowed to attend the public worship of the congregation and their children would be encouraged to participate in every part of the youth program, as there is no guilt on them.

    • I wonder if every church can do a background check, financial audit and thorough moral inventory of potential members to be sure there are no tax cheats, people looking at porn, people failing to pay SS taxes to Maria the housekeeper, or taxes on unreported income. Ahem.

      • If I catch the “ahem” in your “ahem” … there is a difference here that is significant from a pastoral perspective. This is no witch hunt. You know the family’s situation. They are defrauding the woman’s former husband. Period. It’s as close to the Ananias and Saphira situation as I can imagine a modern situation being.

        • How are they defrauding the woman’s former husband? If this is a case of actual child support (as opposed to spousal support), the money is being paid by a father to support his own children. The fact that one’s ex-wife has a new partner does not remove from one the responsibility to support his own children. As far as I can tell, there is no “fraud” here unless, of course, the child support is actually a form of spousal support, and even then, the fraud is a technicality, as the couple is not legally married.

          I confess, however, that I am still confused as to why the child support is contingent on the mother remaining unmarried.

          • Since were hypothetical, let’s say that the former husband has said “when you remarry, I will go back to court to reduce child support.”

          • (Sorry if this appears to be out of order, but I didn’t see a reply option for Michael’s clarification regarding the child support issue.)

            If the couple has refused to get married because the father of the children is threatening to go back to court to reduce payments, I guess my emphasis would be on working with this family to help them understand how they have made, and continue to make, choices. What’s done is done, and I am not inclined to condemn them for buckling under the threat of reduced child support. I do, however, want to explore with them why they were willing to adopt a lifestyle that they knew many Christians condemn when there were other options available.

      • I’ve known many of these situations where the father and the live in were on good terms and there was no contention over paying anything.

      • By this logic all communions should be fully open to even non-professors of the the faith, and prisons should be empty relics. That’s a very destructive cynicism.

        I think we should be careful to make distinction between depriving people of full communion (joining a church), and sentencing them.

        I haven’t read quite all the comments, but well over half and I have yet to see the relevant argument about the state of their relationship. There’s been a bunch of talk about who is authorized to marry, and under what circumstance, etc. I don’t need to wonder what the Early Church thought about marriage because the facts given state that the couple does not see themselves as married. They say they’re not married. They say they plan to get married later. They recognize they currently are not. Whatever other peoples opinions about marriage might be, in their own hearts (the mouth speaks from the abundance…) they are not married. That ought to be the starting point.

        I think I would offer them choice D, but would say there needs to be an “outward manifestation of an inward change” (move out). If they refused, then B it would be.

        • They say they’re not [legally] married. They say they plan to get [legally] married later. They recognize they currently are not [legally].

          Is state marriage christian marriage? That’s my question. . .

        • “They aren’t married because, basically, of not wanting to lose substantial child support. When that runs out next year, they tell you they will get married and they appear very serious about that.”

          I’m going off the facts stated. They may believe themselves married, but we don’t know that from what was given.

          State approved? I wouldn’t go that far, but I would say publicly approved. Yes, you must stand before your society and make the declaration. Both for the couple and for society.

      • Hmm, your example pointed out that they told the pastor. The pastor did not do a background check. In passing, most insurance companies do require a background check nowadays for anyone your church hires or who volunteers in one of several areas of the church.

        To Lainie, let me point out that many states do have divorce laws that reduce the child support when the custodial parent remarries. The legal assumption is that the new spouse is not simply marrying a divorced person, the new spouse is also taking responsibility for a family. Since the new spouse does become a parent (a step-parent), and participates in the raising of the child(ren), and has legal rights with regard to the children, this is not bad law.

        That type of law also makes it more financially possible for the non-custodial spouse to be able to afford to re-marry in their own turn, and perhaps support their own step-children.

        Thus a divorced spouse who deliberately remains unmarried in order to keep up child support is more likely to be doing it for revenge reasons than for financial reasons. And, the new non-legal stepparent may be trying to shirk some of his/her responsibility. And, this is indeed a Christian point that the pastor needs to deal with.

        • I have to say that I am somewhat disturbed by the presumptions of fraud, criminal behavior, and “revenge” that I am seeing in this thread. I agree that the case study could have offered a better explanation of the child support issue, which is why I kept asking so many questions. But I am puzzling over why so many people felt is necessary to “fill in the gaps” in a way that puts this couple in the worst light possible.

          Now I am just as guilty of this sort of thinking as anybody, believe me. But I have to wonder why anyone would want to join a church whose members and leaders will, if they lack information, automatically assume the worst case scenario until proven otherwise.

      • imonk,

        you are being disingenious. Why put the child support “issue” in your hypothetical if it has no relevance? As for your pious sniff at those who find porn viewing relevant, what if we are talking about child porn? Or worse porn? Or are words like “worse” too judgmental for you?
        Grace is good and one is not Pharisaical who finds his brother in a pit and seeks to help him climb out. Sometimes the first step out of a pit is when some nice person takes the risk of being called judgmental and shines a flashlight on you and shows you that , hey, your’e in a pit.

        • I thought the alimony was just as a generic reason for their actions, not intended as a significant portion of the story. If he had not included it in there, I am sure there would have been many questions as to why they weren’t getting married, and then there would be lots of speculation on all the different possible reasons they weren’t getting married right away, and then …..

          I think it was just a brief bit of fleshing out the story, rather than a core part of the issue. Of course, with the various legal issues presented, it certainly seems to actually be a more significant part. However, I don’t think that was the original intent.

          As for the pious sniffing about porn, I think you’re missing the point – porn was just an example of a sin which the church could do investigations to discover. If the inclusion of porn in the list sidetracks the main point for you, take it out. If you take out the word ‘porn’, I think some of your concerns lose their punch.

          But, that’s just me.
          Disclaimer- in spite of the similarity of names, I am not InternetMonk. I had my name first, and I’m not changing! 🙂

      • But you didn’t discover this couple’s situation through an audit or any other kind of investigation. They came to you, explained what they were doing, and now you have to deal with it.

    • Is the couple holding themselves out as married? It sounds like they have been honest with their pastor about their marital status. I am unwilling to condemn them as criminals until I have a better idea of what their situation is.

  3. I don’t think state sanction has much of anything to do with marriage. Marriage is a binding from God, a commitment between two people in front of their families.

    My husband and I had trouble scheduling an officiant for the date of our marriage. So we went to town hall for the piece of paper months before the wedding (so not to pile everything up in one short time), and on paper we were married then. We still considered ourselves engaged and acted engaged until our actual wedding (conducted by my grandmother in front of all of our family and friends) and it is our actual wedding that we mark our anniversary by. It was when we moved in together and started our life as a family. Unless they asked about our officiant plan, they didn’t even know we were technically married months earlier, it was just paperwork to us for medical insurance and such.

    That was a non-religious example (my husband was an atheist and I a somewhat lapsed christian at the time, though God has pulled me back towards him by his grace!). In a church context, I think church blessing of a marriage has far more to do with it than state. Obviously the church respects state marriages – unbelievers who were married before and convert don’t have to redo it. We respect families, and don’t suspiciously ask everyone the exact circumstances of their marriage.

    I have heard of disabled people being church/family married but not legally married because the government welfare programs will cut off drug coverage from them they can’t afford even as a married couple. They give up the legal benefits of marriage for crucial government help with medical insurance, but they are otherwise leading an honest married life in front of church and family and friends.

    The example you cited is more complicated, certainly on the family side. I realize its a generic example, but I think the devil is in the details of why they as a full 2-parent family need to continue bilking child support out of the biological dad against his will. (Obviously if he’s paying it voluntarily, they can just negotiate the amount that works for both families after the wedding.) I think the best path would be for them to get married and for the church to help them if poverty is an issue, so that they can be honest and aboveboard with the children’s paternal family.

  4. Come on in! We just married a couple that lived together for 3 years, two of them spent in our church. One day they wanted to make it right. How does keeping people out side spread the gospel? Faith comes by hearing, come in and hear. It is up to God to judge.
    That said, this couple did not participate in leadership of any kind, or any ministries. they just needed to hear, and be loved, and the Holy spirit ministered to them. what changed lives!
    We have a few works in progress like that.

    • Good poin willow,

      but in most baptist churches there are not levels of membeship, if one is a member they have “full rights and fellowship of the church” which means they can hold any office they are scripturally qualifed for

  5. How do you believe Jesus would treat this couple?

    Since there is a previous marriage here, we already know what Jesus’ take on the matter would be, in his own words:

    Mark 10:1-12, 17-19

    I’m shocked that in nearly a hundred comments on this thread no one has even mentioned this passage yet. The original poster did not even consider it relevant to mention the existence of a previous marriage, and no one else even considered it relevant to ask. It’s like it doesn’t even exist in any of your minds. Where is the Gospel-centered approach when it comes to marriage laws? It’s the big elephant in the Protestant room.

    The couple should be told as gently but as firmly as possible that they need to honour their existing marriage vows, and go and sin no more. This may require great sacrifice:

    Mark 8:34

    But if it didn’t, marriage wouldn’t mean anything.

    • They are legally divorced. If your church tells legally divorced people to go back to their original spouses, that’s great. Most Christian communions say that God allowed divorce in the OT and continues to allow it for adultery and abandonment, per New Testament passages. Even John MacArthur agrees with this.

      Telling couples to reconcile after divorce or remarriage is not going to be a topic on this thread. Another day.

      • Another religion. Not Christianity.

      • Incidentally, I did not necessarily suggest that the divorced couple should reconcile, although that would be ideal. I merely stated that the original marriage vows should be honoured. Reconciliation is not necessary for that, and indeed, may be impossible or inadvisable in the case of serious abuse. And there are plenty of people doing it, right now, often in very difficult circumstances.

        (Also, as far as I can tell I am the only person to have actually quoted scripture so far. The very words of Christ. How easily they are ignored when the teaching is hard! And how quickly we turn to other authorities when we can’t accept that teaching: “legally divorced”; “most Christian communions say”; “John MacArthur agrees”.)

  6. I’m a pastor and tough situations like this come up, often. Generally, and I mean generally since each situation is taken on its own, I tell a couple to get married as soon as possible, run down to the courthouse, get the license, and we will get you married.

    It has been getting hard, everyone under 30 seems to be cohabiting now. If I tell them to separate until the wedding day, or refrain from sex until them – if I tell them that their situation is not exactly God pleasing – they are offended and they run down the street looking for another church and minister to marry them – and they will find one that will. Some do not even know this is looked at as wrong by the Christian community – despite being Christian themselves.

    But enough of that, I have no answer for imonk’s post because I get sick of racking my brains on all the real life situations. But I do have a question in all sincerity:

    With all the comments that tend to say accept the couple as married, or be patient. Or wrangle over the definition of marriage (civil, church, etc..). In these cases what do I teach the young in the congregation about sex (premarital that is, if we can define marriage) and cohabitation. Can I tell the youth it is wrong to be living with someone, having sex with them outside ‘marriage’, what do I tell them about divorce, if I continue to accept couples in various situations like this without calling it in some way sinful and looking for repentance?

    • Great question! You certainly can, but you’ll be a hypocrite…worse thing in the world to the worldly-minded. That will be the new reason to go down the road to the more modern (worldly) and accepting (apathetic) church. At best, those kids will feel awfully alone with their lustful pressures (New and Improved with 50% less Guilt!) if even the church leaders accept fornication, cohabitation, etc. Eventually, they’ll decide I’ve already got the lust and the guilt; might as lose the pressure. That’s what I did.

    • Amen Ryan, Amen

    • L. Winthrop says

      Perhaps you could emphasize the positive nature of commitment, legal and financial protection, and the mystical / sacramental aspect of marriage.

    • Ryan,
      If I might pick up your question, which is a very legitimate one.
      I think there is a difference between accepting something in grace with a view to nudging it in the right direction and condoning it. That may simply be a matter of semantics, but it is in continuing to preach the ‘ideal’ of the gospel that those who are in such relationships and behaviour are convicted of its authority.
      So carry on preaching the ‘wrongs’ of such behaviour but never let it be a barrier to the love of God shown to those involved. Withholding fellowship (and again, I’m aware that this is an issue of membership not fellowship, but withholding one would, I suspect, result in the other) is not showing God’s love; it is not demonstrating God’s grace; and it is not living out the gospel.
      And it also needs to be made clear to those who would potentially misread your actions that there must always exist this tension between accepting people into the community of God and continuing to be a prophetic voice speaking into people’s life. And that, I believe is simply part of the process of a maturing faith.

      • Well-stated, JohnO.

      • JohnO
        You make the error of treating grace and truth like two equal but opposing forces. They are not in tension, they are the twin hallmarks of Christ and it is weird how Christians seems to feel the need to apologize for either one or the other.

        What can be more “loving” than holding up the beauty of marriage against soul-numbing fornication? You call this “preaching the ‘wrongs of such behavior” and you will tolerate it as long as it doesn’t interfere with “living out the gospel.” Such frank confrontaion is,rather, an integral and necessary element of true Christian love.

        Withholding fellowhip under certain situations is not living out the gospel? I guess you decided to ignore certain parts of the New Testament.

    • You can still accept them while telling them it’s wrong.

    • THANK YOU, Ryan. I continue to shake my head in disbelief as an entire generation of Christians sees nothing wrong with living together and having sex before marriage. How did we let this situation become the norm within our churches?

      dumbox said: “Seems unfair. There are probably other members committing far worse private sins which aren’t so obvious to the public.”

      Very true, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t exhort each other to holiness by tackling the sins that we do see. Aren’t we obliged to seek a higher standard?

      • “I continue to shake my head in disbelief as an entire generation of Christians sees nothing wrong with living together and having sex before marriage. How did we let this situation become the norm within our churches?”

        The church I went to preached the evils of sex outside marriage, and stressed that one could only have sex if they were married. Yet they also preached that one must give up anything that gets in the way of your relationship with God, like relationships with the opposite sex. Anyone who dated would get disapproving comments like “You need to spend more time with God and less time with this person…”

        So my church preached that fornication was bad, yet they were terrible when it came to encouraging people to find someoen and marry. they did exactly the oppostive, they discouraged dating and made anyone who did feel guilty about it.

        The church tells us can’t have sex before marriage, but it doesn’t help us to address that issue constructively, like it doesnt’ teach practical things like how to find a christian mate, it jsut tells us some platitude like ‘let go and let God’ or something. I’ve gone to christian singles meetings where all it is is a bible study. Everyone is obviously there to meet someone, but no one wants to admit this since it will make them seem less spiritual.

        So if Christians end up living together, I think it is just there way of trying to deal with the impossible position they are forced into.

  7. Back in the days of olde, at least here in the Ozarks, rarely was there a preacher around to do the marrying. But you had marriages just the same. Others have made that same point about those who didn’t have access to the church/state infrastructure.

    As with anything else, it is what is in our hearts and what comes out our mouths day after day, year after year, that is important, not something we recited or signed at one time.

    Love, not the vow, makes the marriage, beginning to end; let them be members, however you need to classify it to make it work.

    • It takes more than love to make a marriage. It takes honor and respect and even, inspiring awe. And what does living together in front of their impressionable children say about the sanctity of marriage? I thought marriage, for the Christian, was supposed to picture the love of Christ for His Bride, the Church. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (Eph. 5:25) And how did Christ love His Bride? Christ went the distance for His Bride. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Marriage is supposed to be the earthly picture of God’s heart for us. God wants to “marry” us! How much more inspiring than God just wanting to live with us!

  8. Seems unfair. There are probably other members commiting far worse private sins which aren’t so obvious to the public. I think Jesus’ handling of the woman caught in adultery was masterful; but he knew the hearts of the accusers.

    There needs to be the opportunity to go and sin no more, to make steps toward resolving this. The pastor can’t feel responsible for the choices they made or the consequences; but the pastor can be patient and understanding. Instant fixes are rarely permanent. Make a plan with reasonable. flexible goals. Make sure they have opportunities for marital couseling and training. Find a mature couple willing to be mentors and friends to the couple. Make sure they are growing and being discipled. In other words, treat them as a one would any other broken, sinful. growing member of the congregation.

  9. Jeffrey Turpin says

    I think too many here are too “married” to a view in which marriage is a function of the state. It is not a function of the state, and never has been. This fits well with both libertarian philosophy and biblical theology, for the two are not mutually exclusive. People are married, biblically, when they make a covenant with one another to become one (and no, this is not a referenced to Reformed Covenant theology). Neither the ceremony, the marriage license, or anything else are what constitutes marriage; drop the neo-pagan American nationalism/consumerism at the door. In fact, you could biblically argue that the act of sex seals the covenant between a man and a woman. But, I guess that’s another discussion.

    Anyways, many seem to miss the point. So what if they have a sin or two in their lives (especially ones easy to point out)? Do you not have one or two (or many) sins in your own lives?! Remember, when you point fingers, there are three pointing back at you, and people point to distract others from the reality of their own failed lives. Remember, don’t worry about the speck in your neighbor’s eye when there is a log in your own. Remember, the Bible teaches “one anothering” of the brothers and sisters in Christ. Why do we expect perfect people and only accept perfect people when we so full of depravity ourselves? That is neither biblical Christianity nor authentic community.

    Regardless of what the law of America says, these two are husband and wife, biblically. They love one another, and the kids are being raised up well, even though their past is a battered situation. Have some compassion and sympathy. I know Jesus would.

    • Steve Newell says

      Just a question: Would Jesus tell both people that they are committing adultery and that they need to repent of their sin? Jesus was willing to call sin “sin” but we are not willing to do the same.

    • L. Winthrop says

      What counts as a “covenant to become one”? If two fifteen-year-olds promise to love each other forever…? (Defining “sex” raises additional issues, if you’re going to go that route.)

      However marriage is defined, it should at least be clear to people whether they are married. I’m afraid the above understanding would bring only confusion.

    • Is marriage simply an agreement between two consenting adults? I’m not begging the question. It just seems to smack of “Just me and Jesus” American pietism, where meaning and value are within the context of personal preference. If the church has no role in sealing, blessing, and supporting a marriage union, then the church shouldn’t even bother asking whether or not a couple is married. It leaves me still wondering what is the purpose of church in the context of American wild-west, rugged individualistic culture. Is everything “none of your business”? The definition of church seems to continue to drift toward an entitlement-doling service organization: just give me what I’ve got coming to me, and butt out of my life. Sounds so much like C.S. Lewis’ depiction of hell, with everyone moving away from each other as far as they possibly can.

  10. Not popular but tell them with compassion that the church, being made up of regenerate membership, can not accept into membership someone who is knowingly living in open sin. Now, if we don’t agree that this sort of co-habitation is sin, then this discussion really has no common point to start debate.

    But, just as the church could not or should not tolerate someone who is already a member living in such a way that is unscriptural, again if some of you think the church has no right to hold it;s members to any sort of behavioral standard this discussion is off the tracks right away, the church can not welcome some one into membership who is living in such a manner.

    I’ve had this exact same situation a couple of years ago, the couple came to me, they were both recent converts, very poor living together, they said they wanted to join, I explained to you exactly what i have written above, they said they understood completely and asked if I could help with the marriage.

    i said yes, and the church actually helped this very poor, young couple have a nice wedding in the church with a reception. After they were married they joined and were welcomed into membership.

    The church did its part in guiding and discipling, we were compassionate, understanding, yet true to srcripture.

  11. I think the missing word is ‘concubine’. The OT certainly understands the concept and it seems to fit neatly between ‘marriage’ and ‘sin’. This estate no doubt comes short of perfection, but the Sermon on the Mount shows us all how high the bar of perfection is fixed. It is possible to see a hint in I Thess 4:5 that even a first marriage that is contracted out of lust may come short of the glory of God.

  12. Read CS Lewis on marriage in Mere Christianity. Very pertinent.

  13. Take a young war widow from Iraq or Afghanistan. If she remarries before age 55, she stands to lose a substantial amount of financial support — for some $3,000 a month. Why? Because our payments to war widows are based upon a outdated legislation crafted during an era when men took care of women. She will lose this not because her husband isn’t as dead as the day the CACO showed up, but simply because it’s expected that her new husband will provide for her. What should the Christian war widow do? Marry before the eyes of the state and lose the benefits that her husband’s life and death earned her? Or live in sin? Or perhaps head to the Bahamas, marry there and not report it to the state here?

    • she should put love above money, and yes her knew husband should be taking care of her

      • Easier said than done. Her first husband is still dead. So, why should she give up benefits that were accorded to her? Life insurance policies do not require pay back of money if the spouse remarries.

    • This is becoming a situation with seniors who do not want to lose full benefits when they combine their retirement incomes.

      I am a traditionalist. They should marry. Think of the message this sends the kids and the other kids at church. Not good. I am trying to figure how to explain this to my 8 year old when she finds out they are not married. And kids always find out.

      • My wife and I were in need of extra services for our son a couple of years ago. We talked with a counselor, who told us she’d get much more services if we divorced or separated. We didn’t.

        Maybbe, as Christians, we should be advocating for changes in social services that ENcourage marriage instead of DIScouragind it.

      • if they have a religious ceremony but not a civil one, to me they are married. I just still don’t get why we as Christians are concerned with civil marriage so much… This is my same reason I’m not as up in arms as some over the topic of Gay Marriage…. what our government decides to define marriage as, has absolutely nothing to do with me, because I am more concerned about religious marriage and not civil marriage… (After all, we aren’t up in arms trying to stop divorce law to only allow Christian reasons for divorce are we?)

  14. I find it interesting that everyone here passes judgment on this theoretical couple. I thought judging was God’s job.

    • used to be, but we have taken over that portion of His duties, we were afraid He would be to forgiving.

    • What do you think “judging” entails exactly?

    • Everyone?

    • Ever read 1 Corin 5? We are not to judge the outside world but we are to judge those in the Body in willful consistent sin who call themselves a brother. (according to some, this does not include me because I am a sister. Just kidding)

      I do have a question about this couple. Are they fornicating or committing adultery? Or do we define their relationship by their time together and living together? Would we have to change our definition of marriage in order to accomodate them?

  15. I have to fall back on what I know, Jesus said love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself, on all this hangs the law and the prophets. In this case, The couple has already committed to each other so the marriage in my opinion is legitimate. I would however encourage them to avoid taking advantage of the ex-husband as soon as possible, regardless of whether he is in agreement with the arrangement, the couple should by all accounts attempt to allow the ex-husband to move on with his life also, if he continues to contribute willingly and outside of the family support system this will benefit his relationship with the children. I could say much more about this… but I am out of time. This is a good subject, They are welcome in my church.

  16. I lived with my wife before we were married (and I lived with another girl before that). Our marriage has lasted for 18 years while many of our friends have gotten divorced, sometimes twice.

    When I got married, the whole thing about it being a sacred relationship ordained by God, etc. etc. didn’t enter my mind for one second. It was a commitment to my wife and religion had nothing to do with it, other than we got married by a preacher (in the chapel of a casino in Las Vegas; it was the first time I’d ever seen a female rev.) and we recited the standard vows.

    It would seem to me that if marriage was an arrangement that comes from God, there would be a difference in the divorce rates between those who are religious and those who are not. But there isn’t. Therefore, if we put our engineer hats on and make conclusions from the data, what do we conclude?

    • great point! technically marriage to my knowledge is a social construct that has been adopted by the church.. (possibly to boost contributions?) but in heaven we are neither married or given in marriage… so what does that mean ultimately? and are we actually placing the emphasis on the right thing? I know its going to tick off a lot of Christians when they realize they fought to define marriage for years, and God is like…” Meh… that wasn’t really the point!” I mean he pretty much already shows how much it matters in heaven… It doesn’t. Now the principals of honesty, integrity, loyalty, love, forgiveness, and all the things that comprise a marriage, I can see those mattering to him. The reason God hates divorce is because of the damage it causes, and the hurt that it brings to everyone involved, the same with adultery and fornication. Its not that sex is wrong, its what we make it when we serve ourselves and abuse others. Sex is about “consummation” a joining and commitment that happens spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Treating that “consummation” as unimportant is the beginning of the slippery slope of becoming numb spiritually, emotionally, and physically to the influence of “LOVE” which is the very nature of God, if we become numb to the influence of Love then how can we “Love the Lord God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself”? I think we all know the answer to that question, but just in case you are missing my point. We cannot feel loved if we cannot give love and if we cannot feel or give love then we are completely ineffective in the kingdom.

  17. B. Sorry, not even that hard a call. That’s not to deny grace; it’s simply not to cheapen it. Understand, there is a difference between welcoming people into the worship service, small groups, etc., and placing the imprimatur of membership on them. Sure, there are folks who have “secret sins” who are members in good standing–but when those “secret sins” become public, then church discipline is in order. To refuse membership to a couple that’s shacking up (since this is theoretical, I’ll use the crude term) is nothing more or less than church discipline; it’s simply applied before the fact rather than after.

    I say this as a person who considers himself a libertarian, who believes (as some on this post) that the state ought not be the biggest definer of marriage. That said, so long as Christians can/do consider the state to have such a function–as I do until the time when “gay marriage” becomes the law of the land and so radically redefines marriage as to be unacceptable–then those who do not submit to that culturally-accepted definer of marriage–particularly for the reason of a loss of child support–ought not be accepted into membership.

    • Is membership management even a function of the church? there is either fellowship or there is not. And there is particular discussion about fellowship that handles “Sin” however Christianity has gone to great extent (much like the pharisees in Jesus day) to “define” a lot of things. The truth is that God has defined everything that is necessary and has left grace to handle the details. So where do you say that sin is in this situation? The fact that they have not married as you think it should be defined? or you would rather wait until the state disqualifies itself as a standard and then set your standard for marriage? The fact is that the union of a man and woman sexually is recognized by almost every society as a consummation of marriage. It is also demonstrated quite often in the bible somewhat loosely as “a man taking a woman into his house” so to speak. So defining marriage further than that is only straining at a gnat, we could go ahead and swallow the camel by believing that “church membership” is somehow something that we can give or take away.

      I fully believe that those who act in direct opposition to the teachings of Christ should be disciplined, but honestly if this was a known issue it should have already been an ongoing conversation with the couple before this point. The problem with this whole premise is that these days the church would rather rule by exception. Why get involved in peoples life when you can just wait for problems to pop up and deal with them then? The discipline that Paul discussed that you refer to was not the church discipline that we see today. The reason was that people were deeply involved in each others lives… they gave from their hearts so that the could live with “all things in common” they met in each others homes and ate together on a regular basis…It was very apparent when someone was acting inappropriately and Paul’s instructions were to immediately go to them and speak to them in love; not as the moral police. If the erring individual were to resist then two brothers, then several, then the elders would become involved. This is not an inquisition or punishment but a heartfelt reaction to a fellow believer that has lost their way. If the erring individual were to still resist guidance and exhortation then the church was to inform them that they could not maintain fellowship for to do so would be to condone their behavior. This loss of fellowship in those days was a very real and very painful thing… and often was enough to provoke the erring brother to repent. The church these days is so self focused and we as Americans are so self seeking that we wouldn’t even think to sacrifice what we have for the good of another without a thorough background check and then nobody will be selling any land for sure… at best you get whatever is left over after our own quality of life is maintained. So if this couple has been in your church for several months their kids are hanging out with your kids and you still haven’t had conversations about their lives and you hope to “discipline” them you have failed at your job already. The sad part is that when you enact your “discipline” you haven’t even invested enough time in their lives for them to feel a loss when you attempt to explain why they can’t join your morality club. So they leave hurt, and find another “seeker friendly” church that accepts all comers; post modernism wins another battle over Christianity due to a dysfunctional and impotent church. Jesus’ focus was on people… he hung out with prostitutes that openly practiced their sin. He chose to eat with them because he valued their souls…He did not condone their sin,he made no excuse for them, yet he put no conditions on them. He earned their love and in turn their trust, and he changed their lives. So while the Pharisees were counting their membership rosters and deciding who was in and who was out. Jesus was attending weddings, visiting friends, literally hanging out in the slums, talking to prostitutes, cheats and low-lifes and some how managed to have the most profound impact of any man in the history of the world…all without a membership list.

  18. All this debate about when people are actually married, although interesting in the abstract, is irrelevant to iMonk’s hypothetical. His hypothetical people know they’re not married. It’s not that they think they’re married, act accordingly, and just haven’t filed the right paperwork — they know they’re not married. And they’re intentionally remaining unmarried because to marry would cost them money. I think you could pose a hypothetical that does raise a lot of the points people are making — but this one doesn’t.

  19. Jason,

    Your reply makes so many assumptions that it’s not possible to even begin to respond. Of course you’re right in a lot of what you say, but don’t assume that some of the things you lament aren’t happening/can’t happen in churches today, vis a vis close fellowship and discipline in that context a la Paul. Yes, the definition of marriage we’re talking about is somewhat cultural, and as I’ve said, I think that Christians ought to monitor current events in order to see how much longer we can continue to agree with current cultural understandings. But Anon is right in his analysis: this is a couple that knowingly is not doing what they believe they ought to do marriage-wise, and money is their sole motive.

    • I completely agree on all points! but don’t we often get hung up on these same things? your last sentence in the comment above is exactly how I would begin talking to them about their motives. I would simply say…”you are knowingly not doing what you believe you ought to do marriage-wise, and money is your sole motivating factor. The bible specifically states that if you know to do well and you do not then ‘to you’ it is sin. I strongly encourage you to seek in your hearts to do the right thing that you have already determined in your heart, and trust God to handle the money”

      however, still in my opinion not a matter of membership or not… simply because the concept of membership to me has nothing to do with their spiritual status with God. Or my ability to speak into their lives.

      Thanks for the great dialog here! I know my response made a lot of assumptions, but I am hoping they only sufficed to make the point. sweeping generalizations can only take us so far in hypothetical situations! 🙂

  20. First, we cannot assume that living together is adultery. The assumption that this couple (POSSLQ) is having sex is just that – an assumption. Nothing more.

    Second, we still have this hogwild propensity to rank sin. It’s disgusting. These people claim to know Christ, fine. But their hearts haven’t turned on this issue. That’s between them and the Holy Spirit. Not me unless God directs me to say something to them about it.

    Third, we don’t know the whole story about the child support. However, by NOT marrying, they are not trusting God in His role in the court system to carry out justice. If the judge reduces child support, there’s a reason.

    If these people are followers of Jesus Christ and wish to become church members for some reason or another, then let them. They are already members of the Church (and I’m not talking the RCC) anyway. The church to which they want to be members is a man-made institution. Being such, it’s their right to keep people out based on their own rules, but to say that Scripture says… is bullying with the Word of God. Nothing more. Nothing less.

    And to tell them they are committing adultery is wrong anyway. A) we don’t know they were having sex (of any kind) and B) their ex-spouses may have remarried. Then there is no reconciliation of marriage expected nor required.

    • Not having sex of any kind? Really? They also aren’t presenting themselves as being merely roommates.

      But suppose they were truly living chastely. It seems as though this could fall into the 1 Corinthians 10:23-33 situation where their situation could cause offense to others in the church. Of course, if the church isn’t offended by it, then it’s a moot point.

      I wonder about the message this sends to the children:

      “The money I get from your dad is more important than living a life of virtue in marriage.”

      “Marriage is optional – it’s no big deal.”

      “You’re not important enough for my boyfriend [fiance? – no] to take full responsibility for in a marriage.”


      • That’s their own message to send. And I’m tired of the rhetoric about “causing others to stumble” (especially with the whole alcohol thing) and “people believing you’re doing evil”.

        What people do behind their doors is between them and God.

      • Further, the new husband isn’t responsible for the children as much as we think he is – according to law. In the context of one’s faith, perhaps.

        I’ve been part of too many “sin management” Elders’ meetings that it makes me want to vomit.

        • “What people do behind their doors is between them and God.”

          How so? All sin affects the Body of Christ, and this sin has a direct effect on the children, (plus society at large). Would you say that a thief’s sin behind closed doors is just between him and God? A child abuser?

          “Further, the new husband isn’t responsible for the children as much as we think he is – according to law. In the context of one’s faith, perhaps.”

          But according to the example, this couple is acting like they’re a married couple and are co-parenting these two kids. And the kids get a mixed message: This man is okay for Mom to be living with, but not good enough to be a husband or a real father figure until child support runs out. What is up with that?

          And I don’t think 1 Corinthians 10 is simply rhetoric. It might be inconvenient or truly hard to live so as not to bring down our brothers and sisters, but it’s something we have to be aware of.

          • Fine. They then leave the faith and blame you. In this example, how have you loved them to repentence? What kind of restoration would we be bringing to these people?

            Yeah, the church is the only organization that shoots its own wounded – until they leave and seek life elsewhere.

          • (Responding to Derek below)

            How do I get blamed for them leaving the church? I’m not a Baptist, but I can respect a Baptist church having certain criteria for membership. Clearly this hypothetical couple does not care about living in a holy marital union – or even a state-sanctioned one. If this is part of the standard that the Baptist church has set, for professing Christians, is that wrong?

            It’s disingenuous to say that the church “shoots its own wounded.” We’re all wounded and (hopefully) seeking sanctification. But I can’t agree that approving of sin brings restoration to anyone.

            I completely agree that tact and gentleness should be used (and thank God, I’ve never experienced the “sin management” meetings you refer to). Ideally, shouldn’t we be exhorting each other – in love and humility – to greater faith and holiness?

  21. Oh, yeah. My answer. A). If common law marriage is legal in a state, and the church to which they want to pledge membership is in that state… and God has ordained the government… then they are legally married.

    Give them membership.

  22. I know this post is a couple days old, but I find my story related, so I would like to ask how you guys would respond to my situation.

    I’m an atheist, engaged to a wondeful christian woman. When we graduated college a little less then a year ago we moved to the same city. She started looking for a church, and as I always have, I occasionally would attend with her (about once a month). The pastor at this chuch asked my fiance why I didn’t come every weekend and she told him I am an atheist.

    How would you guys handle this?

    After finding out about this he invited me to talk with him abour our relationship. I figured he was going to ask how we don’t let our beliefs come between us, but he spent an entire hour guilt tripping me about how she wouldn’t see me in heaven (I showed him Mark 12:18-37), and giving me many arguments that I’ve heard before and refuted on the spot. After that he spent a month calling and visiting me uninvited trying to convert me.

    After all of this he finally had a womens group (the women’s ministry? I think?) hold a meeting with her and tell her that she couldn’t go through the wedding with me, because if I can’t follow god I can’t be faithful, and I must be serving satan. Needless to say she hasn’t been back

    I found this whole thing ridiculous, and offensive. She has since found a church that is very welcoming of both of us, and are happy to hold our wedding.

    • Wow, Andy. I’m betting you won’t get a lot of this type of response, but that sucks. And I don’t think that Jesus would have responded like that. To either of you.

      I never thought about the Scriptural argument you presented before. It’s amazing how much atheists actually know about Scripture. More than many followers of Jesus, actually.

      Judgement is up to God. Not the church nor individual Christians.

      I wish you peace.

  23. Oh, yeah. My answer. A). If common law marriage is legal in a state, and the church to which they want to pledge membership is in that state… and God has ordained the government… then they are legally married.
    Give them membership.

  24. No. No marriage, no membership. Moving in together and pretending to have a marital relationship for financial reasons is still sin. What message are you sending to unmarried couples – if it’s financially better, go ahead and live together? What message are you sending their children – we’re going to bless your parents’/stepparents’ sinful arrangement so as to not lose money? They should not move in together and “play house” unless they are married. You can add all the circumstantial criteria you want, but at its root, it’s premarital sex and sinful. The “common law” defense is a weak justification for sinful behavior. Plus, as a lawyer, I can tell you if they start calling themselves married via common law, that child support is in danger of being lost anyway. And, I don’t care if they swear on a stack of 20 bibles that they are not having sex, they are still holding themselves out as a married couple when they are not, which is deceitful in and of itself. One more lawyer thing, I would also suspect their story because it is unusual for child support to be waived at remarriage. It is not unusual for alimony/maintenance for the spouse to be waived at remarriage, but generally the biological support-paying parent is responsible for payment until the child reaches 18 or 21. I would ask to see the divorce decree.

  25. What did Jesus tell the woman at the well? All’s well as long as you get the child support. I’m seeing endorsement of sin in the face of a congregation. This is pandering to a generation or two who insist on living as they please. It’s antinomial.

    Practical tips? The Word and the Sacrament. Guess what? It’s always been difficult to refrain from sexual sin. Bending in to it doesn’t make it easier.

    Defrauding the gov’t. — which is what they’re doing besides sinning Coram Deo — is stealing. So – as we see with open see — sin begets sin.

    Church discipline is a MARK of the church.

  26. What about catechisis — that’s what the ancient church did – spiritual formation may be what you call it. Baptists do have a big problem with this. I’ve just left a Baptist church because the absence of any formation. Baptists leave their members in limbo. Sorry — I needed to get back to a litugical church that catechizes the faithful every week.

  27. I can’t even believe the rationalizing of sin in most of these posts — this couple is UNREPENTANT. The church abides for those who confess and repent their sin — daily. This couple seems to have a nice, worldly plan and you church folks better not mess with it? Am I reading it as callously as it seems?

    They seem unfazed by their sin, NOT broken by it. Maybe it’s the succint wording. This is what the old timers called “cheap grace.”

    The church is for believers. It’s not a recruiting station for everyone who needs generic “community.”

    The rationalizing is so disturbing. Rightly dividing the Word means the LAW and the GOSPEL. These folks are NOT ripe for the Gospel because they don’t know their sin.

    Just because the word “sin” causes this worldly generation discomfort doesn’t mean Christians should stop using it.

    Is this really a serious discussion?

  28. It is shocking to me how many voices disavow state sponsored marriage, who seem not to bat an eye at state-issued divorce decrees. Take the state out of the equation entirely, who is this woman’s husband?

  29. textjunkie says

    Maybe I’m confused by what it means to “join” your church. This couple can attend regularly, pay your tithe, hang out at the summer BBQ, join a small group, sing in the choir, do the Sunday readings, etc.–they are baptized, right? I would think “joining” means that their names are on your rolls for church census, so what’s the difference? But if joining is the same as asking that their way of life be judged acceptable by the church, then yeah it’s an issue. If they were heading toward leadership positions, for example, I would hope the pastor would speak to them about their qualifications.

    I would think pastoral responsibility would require understanding what joining means to them, what it mean to your congregation, and how best to respond in God’s grace for that situation.

  30. I agree with the last 2 posts. They can attend, but joining is a different matter: The church in ACTS 2 was NOT open door. The new members were catechized and scrutinized. That is the problem with many evangelical churches. Pastors, elders, and deacons are GATEKEEPERS.

    Being married in a church should also entail scrutiny. Too bad if you don’t like it. It isn’t a matter of taste. The church if FOR CHRISTIANS – the FAITHFUL sheep to be fed. Not capitulating to goats in their endless demands for choices and expressions of opinions.

    Evangelicals — especially megachurches — wrongly treat the church and the worship as evangelism. Evangelizing the worldly DOES NOT denote letting everyone into the church. That is NOT a biblical view of the church.

    I don’t mean barring from worship — or in my case, liturgy — but closed communion is a good thing. CONFESSIONS MEAN SOMETHING!! Evangelicals are way off base concerning what constitutes a church.

    The consumer generations want choices. Guess what? The church is subject to JESUS” choices and his ministers.

    Also breaking the law goes AGAINST Jesus AND Paul’s teachings. Pay your taxes. Obey the gov’t. THAT MEANS A MARRIAGE LICENSE. Also to imply that Jesus and Paul are at odds indicates a lack of understanding about the inspiration of ALL OF SCRIPTURES. Are there a large number of emergents on this site?

    Goats don’t get to redesign the church as they see fit. Guess what I am a justified sinner. I sin every day. I confess every day. That’s what Jesus’ sheep do. We come to be fed Word and Sacrament. And when we have grave sin, we seek the guidance of the ministers of Christ’s church in brokenness. Not in ARROGANCE.

  31. See how Paul deals with a church in the midst of a sexual scandal in First Corinthians. He preaches the Gospel again and again and again to the faithful. That’s what helps Christians most in their sanctification too.

  32. Man oh man;

    So, would you say that these people’s souls are less important than a law which they obviously have little understanding of? How about driving them off before you can share with them! Would that suit you?
    Jesus and the woman at the well was mentioned, but did you get the fact that He was not looking down His nose at her? Please people sit down and read some more scripture and ask Him for some compassion. Not every saint will be all cleaned up and smelling nice before you encounter them.


  33. I don’t believe that they should be barred from attending any church regardless of their sin. Jesus did not ever and does not now require that we change in order to be loved and acceptedby Him or by His body.
    I would invite them to attend our church, but would also explain to them the church’s beliefs concerning marriage and living together outside of marriage — and why that would cause us not to be able to offer them membership.

  34. So, I was reading about late adulthood (65+, for those of you who wonder) in my psychology text for a course I’m taking at the largest evangelical university in America and learned that many people in late adulthood are married by the church while not being married “officially” by the state. They cite reasons of complicating inheritances and increased time with lawyers. They marry for love, yes, and compaionship, rather than uniting of families.

    I’m wondering, then, if people claim to be married under God and not by the state, then what we have to say about that? What if these people in iMonk’s example chose to be married in the church but not by the courts, until such a time as they choose? After all, there are people who are married by the state WELL before they marry in the church, just for the sake wanting it to be legal before getting to the church.

    Just a thought that, I might guess, perhaps nobody else considered?