Ethics: Cohabitation In the Church

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What would you do Wednesday!

You are friends with two church members who are dating each other. They officially joined your congregation 12 months ago. They faithfully attend corporate church functions and have been singing in the choir for the last six months.

Upon having dinner at his place (you thought) it looks as though both of them live in this home. You inquire and are told that they moved in together 11 month ago, just one month after joining the church. They further admit that their living arrangements probably would not be popular among the congregation. But they plan to marry and think that since they are in their mid-30′s they are old enough to handle the situation. They also explain that it helps them save money.

You confront them and eventually bring in two other church members who are friends of all involved via Matthew 18. You try to persuade them to live separately prior to marriage. Six months go by and they will not budge. You explain that your next step will be to take the issue to your pastor.

In conversation with your pastor about various issue you are able to run this situation by him hypothetically. Your pastor notes that if he understands everything correctly he would get involved. He said if there were no repentance in approximately another six months this issue would have to be brought before the church. If all things stayed the same your pastor thinks these folks would end up being kicked out of the congregation for lack of repentance.

Your two cohabiting friends are upset that you considered going to your pastor. The whole issue has really put a strain on your relationship, but talk of bringing the pastor in has really set things off.

What do you do?

Tags: , ; Categories: morality,theology
The above article was posted on July 28, 2010 by Mark Lamprecht.
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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mark Bahr July 28, 2010 at 12:38 pm

As the pastor, I would have added one more item. If they plan on getting married, I’d offer to marry them, ASAP, to bring an end to the sin. Of course, they’d have to step out of the living arrangements.

As the friend, I’d tell them to go to either get married now and have a ceremony later or to pack up and move out. Long engagements are from the put of Hell.

In my opinion, such a couple have no real plans to get married and need to be disciplined.

I speak as a pastor who sees this often.

2 Victoria July 28, 2010 at 3:34 pm

MARK! A whole year left living in sin and bringing reproach on the Gospel? These two could have stopped sinning the moment they were confronted. I guess I am just old. I can remember the time when Christian dating couples were encouraged to not even be alone on a date. I just wonder where the godly shock has gone.

3 Mark Bahr July 28, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Victoria, I kind of shocked by your shock as I’m not endorsing their sin at all. I’m giving practical thoughts on how to deal with the situation at hand.

Yes, they could have stopped sinning, but they didn’t. There is a Biblical process by which church discipline is to be handled. Which is why I said the discipline process needs to move forward if they don’t respond to the pastoral call to repent. I didn’t include, as I forgot, that as the friend, I would bring it to the pastor, at that point. As a pastor, as I said, I would give the ultimatum, there are two ways to end this sin: marry or don’t live together. If they refuse both, they need to be ousted at the recommendations of the elders.

BTW, we decline our weekly communion in our church to such couples who attend the church on a regular basis. We tell them of the sin and how wrong it is. Refusal to repent demonstrates that they may be unbelievers and we seek to evangelize them. As they are not members, we cannot “take them off of the rolls.”

4 Mark Bahr July 28, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Ahh, I can see your shock. My initial response was rather poorly worded.

5 Mark Bahr July 28, 2010 at 4:02 pm

I would also add, the fact that such a thing went undetected in the church for so long is indicative of a faulty ecclesiology.

6 Victoria July 28, 2010 at 4:40 pm

I had to laugh at your reply Mark Bahr–I was actually addressing Mark L whose blog this is with my shock–and not you or your response at all. I suppose wars have started over that kind of miscommunication–lol

7 Mark Bahr July 28, 2010 at 4:47 pm

I’m laughing myself Victoria! Now that is cleared up….

8 SirBrass July 28, 2010 at 11:30 pm

I think that considering there is no repentance and that we are to abstain from even the appearance of evil and there seems to be no mitigating circumstances (I’ve heard of a few before, and usually part of what was mitigating was the brevity of the arrangement and the utter necessity of it due to non-negotiable external circumstances), in love it would need to be brought before the pastor. Yes this puts a strain on the relationship but considering that this is essentially sin at its heart (how many times has the “it’ll help save money and we’re getting married anyways” excuse been used for the couple to start sleeping together before marriage…. usually happens at the beginning of a VERY long engagement or even while dating) this needs to be done for obedience-sake and for the purity of the local body and for the spiritual health of this couple. Church discipline is intended for the offender’s good to bring helping influence upon them that they would repent. It is what the Lord has given us for the management of His Church.

So, all in all in light of the circumstances I would pray the Lord would give me grace (if I were the one who knew of the sin) and then I would see no other recourse that to trust [the Lord] and obey [His commands in Scripture] and bring it before the pastor.

~SirBrass

9 Mark July 28, 2010 at 11:35 pm

Mark,

Busy day for me today or I would have replied sooner.

Thanks for your response. Good stuff! I wonder how the average church member would react. I know things like this go on and I can’t imagine atleast a few others in the congregation not knowing.

10 Mark July 28, 2010 at 11:37 pm

Victoria, I know I know! We are a few generations apart and we agree. I met a man once who attended a very large, well-known local church. He actually thought that the cohabitation and pre-martial sex was reserved for the young less mature. Wow!

11 Mark July 28, 2010 at 11:39 pm

SirBrass,

I’m with you. Not all that long ago I had to decline attending a certain activity because I believe the party in question was in sin. It was a very difficult face to face meeting.

12 Biff Gordon July 29, 2010 at 1:02 am

Mark,
This couples behavior should definitely be brought under church discipline, beginning with the personal rebuke, immediately. No way should this be allowed to continue for weeks or months. 1 Cor 5:9-13 discusses how sexually immoral people need to be separated from the church. 1 Cor 6:9-11 shows that this is not the behavior of one who has been washed in the blood of Christ. Hebrews 13:4 deals with the holiness of marriage. If they take such sin lightly, if their behavior has not changed since their profession of faith, it is quite likely they are false converts, and in need of a more thorough understanding of the Gospel! As Spurgeon said in Morning and Evening for Feb 8th:
“Professor! is sin subdued in you? If your life is unholy your heart is unchanged, and if your heart is unchanged you are an unsaved person. If the Saviour has not sanctified you, renewed you, given you a hatred of sin and a love of holiness, he has done nothing in you of a saving character. The grace which does not make a man better than others is a worthless counterfeit. Christ saves his people, not in their sins, but from them. ‘Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.’”

13 Jeff September 30, 2010 at 5:49 pm

I think this was when gas was 15 cents a gallon. Times have changed, you have teachers, doctors, and many others who live a good life, giving back to the community but may live with their significant other, be faithful to that one person but in your eyes they should be cast out.

14 Jeff September 30, 2010 at 5:53 pm

I’m thinking if you cast everyone out of church for everything I have read on these pages, who is left to attend? Don’t get me wrong, I want to believe that there are good people leading good lives, I know there are. However, I can’t understand the thought process that is at work here.

15 Evie December 21, 2010 at 11:26 am

Jeff, the Bible teaches that a sexual relationship outside of marriage is a very serious sin. So, a couple living together would be involved in that. It is not the “living together” that is the core issue, but the sexual sin. You are right that every truly converted church member still sins in one way or another. The difference is that the couple in this story will not repent of their sin and are disregarding what God says about it. They did not “slip and fall” into a sin then repent and turn from it, but they are willfully continuing in a PATTERN of sin, which 1 John addresses: “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1:6) and “the one who practices sin is of the devil” “No one who is born of God practices sin,” (3:8, 9) In such a case they are either showing that they are not real Christians …or, if they still claim to be (and are a member of a church), then the bible prescribes a certain process to encourage repentance. If they still refuse and want to stay in their sin, then the Jesus says those individuals involved in the sin are to eventually be put out of the church after every attempt to restore them. Not every sinful act is ‘disciplined’ in the formal sense. But I can’t provide a list for you. It has to do with the person’s attitude about it (are they repentant and TRYING to get away from it, or do they think it is a-okay) Also some perpetual sins are not as obvious right away to address, like lying or cheating. Church discipline is very hard to understand without a biblical understanding of sin and what the Bible says about how to deal with it. If a Christ-professing church member is continuing in a willful sin that is found out, then the process in Matthew 18 should be followed. It is loving in the sense that THE POINT is to get the parties to see that their sin is destructive to them (and offensive to God) and the other church members are trying to get them out of it. Also, it is addressed privately at first so it’s not like everyone is going around ‘outing’ each other’s sins. See Matthew chapter 18 verses 15-17. This situation is really tough – we have had this happen at our church, probably more than once.

16 Jonathan Mathews February 8, 2011 at 4:07 pm

I think it’s time to stop judging people and adhere to the teachings of Jesus( Do not judge) and each of us take care of our own lives, and give up the idea that the Bible is the word of God. It isn’t and was written by people just like you and I, who have fragments of the Tuth. Love your neighbor, Don’t judge Him!

17 Daniel Spratlin February 11, 2011 at 2:09 am

I’m confused. First you say that we should just “adhere to the teachings of Jesus” but then say that the Bible isn’t the word of God. So which is it? You can’t have it both ways.

Of course, this doesn’t even begin to address your gross misinterpretation and acontextual “do not judge” cliche. Or that 1 Cor. 5:12 specifically tells us that we are to judge those within the church.

18 Randy Everist February 11, 2011 at 1:18 pm

And lest we forget, Jonathan, you have an implicit judgment yourself! You say, “I think it’s time we stop judging people,” which means it is appropriate to cease from judging. But appropriate for what? For practicality’s sake? Morality’s? Just to fit societal convention? If you mean practically or societally, we may choose to reject this (since pragmatism or popularity do not dictate truth). If it is for the sake of morality, then you have made a moral judgment–exactly what you said not to do! I hope that at least helps!

19 Sharon Twisdale September 17, 2011 at 12:11 pm

I live with a 75 year old man and I am 66 years old. Our relationship is non-sexual. We have lived together for 5 years. Our relationship is friendship, caregiving and finanical. There is no sex. Are we living in sin? We wanted to join a southern baptist church in our area and was told we could not because it was not a good testimony living together. We both love the Lord and both have accepted Christ as our Savior and Lord and have been baptistized. We feel the Southern Baptist are turning their backs on us by not letting us join the church. We were compared to two 17 year olds living together which is a long ways from the truth.

20 Victoria September 18, 2011 at 6:07 pm

Hi Sharon,
I am 62 years old and I have been a Christian for a long time. I read your comment yesterday and have been contemplating why it bothered me. First of all I want you to know that I have been married to Bill for 45 years-actually we married way too young-but by God’s grace we have stayed in love all these years.

I would just like to share a couple of thoughts with you about your situation.

Even though you and your friend are not sexually involved it is not godly to be living together. The reason for this is that the scripture tells us we must “abstain from every appearance of evil’(1 Thess. 5:22). We are never to give God’s enemies a reason to point a finger at us as living in sin. No matter how innocent you may be of sexual sin-you will NEVER convince the unbelieving world that you are not sinfully involved with your friend. As Christians -many times it is painful to do the right thing-but we must never forget that bringing reproach on the name of Christ because it makes life easier for us is wrong.

May I also say-that a boy and girl of 17 living together while not being sexually involved is also wrong. A Christian man and woman living together without being married is wrong because of the glory of God. We mar the reputation of our Holy God when we as believers give the world a reason to mock God and the Gospel. It is not so much that you are doing something sinful-it is a matter of how it looks to the world.The unbeliever has no knowledge of the fact of your celibacy or lack thereof.

My question for you and your Christian friend is-why not get married? Your Church leaders have every right to hold you accountable to adorn the Gospel of Christ with that which is not only pure-but also looks pure to the watching world. They have a duty to help Christians walk worthy of the Lord Jesus Christ-in word and deed.

In your post you said that you both love the Lord-I ask you if you love Him enough to do the right thing in this situation.

21 Mark September 20, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Victoria and other readers, you will be happy to know that Sharon has emailed me on Sept. 19 and stated the following (posted with permission):

I am getting married tomorrow. We have talked this over and decided it is the right thing to do in God’s eyes and non-believers. Thanks for your comment.

I believe that thanks was for Victoria’s comment. Awesome!

22 Victoria September 21, 2011 at 7:01 am

Sharon : I pray God’s greatest blessing on you. I believe you are taking a step of obedience-and faith. It is very rewarding to see people take the necessary life changing steps to bring them to a place of honoring God. I know that we are so glad you were brave enough to come here with your situation and share it openly. It gives us great joy to know we could help you find the Biblical answer!

God bless you in your marriage-may you have sweet companionship in Christ together..

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