So I'm sitting down in our grandma/grandpa apartment and listening to the laughter upstairs as mom and dad are engaging Tanner, my grandson, in the rhythms of Christmas; this one, putting up the Christmas Tree. (Yes, we are the preverbial millinneal turned upside down as we live in our children's basement). And I'm incredibly grateful to my son and daughter in law, my pastor and wife, at the life they are building in marriage; a living sign of God with us. I know, I know, we don't yet hold marriage as a sacrament. We should, but that's another writing. Anyway, as I'm listening, I'm also reflecting on a Naz pastor's site I visited today and the question put forth by an earnest, young and caring pastor. "What is your policy/stance on marrying couples who are actively living together?" I thought, 'I marry them, if they are willing, ofcourse—no brainer.' He went on: "I'm not arguing for making it normative, but I've had the issue come up a number of times recently. I've had some local pastors say they require that the couple live in separate homes for at least 3-6 months prior to marriage (this can be an issue, especially with children involved). I've had others say they flat out won't do it." It dawned on me once again, on this issue, I may be 'clueless in seattle'. Clearly I'm a few hundered miles from the Bible belt. As I read through the responses to his question, I became even more concerned with pastors wrestling with how to relate to and engage the now—what 25%—of couples co-habitating without the benefits (and there are many) of marriage.
Here was my response:
Here was my response:
Theology in context should direct our pastoral response to couples living together without the covenant of marriage. The key issue is where we begin our Biblical narrative; chapters 1 and two of creation or chapter 3 of the fall.
The "very good" of the first account of creation (Genesis 1 - 2:4a), reflecting the liturgical poetry of the Jewish community declares creation perfect. It is the narrative account of creation's (Genesis 2: 4b-25) older oral tradition in which God is close and knowable and with empathy, understanding Adams loneliness, institutes an intimate and relational covenant, a faithful union, in order to address what is "not good". This second account involves an interactive Divine/human cooperative creation.
It isn't until the third chapter that chaos in the form of human choice reenters the creation story.
If we begin our theology in chapter 3 (the fall) then our struggle will be in identifying with sinners and finding a liturgical answer back into creations perfection. That seems to be at the heart of a lot of the posts here; how close do I get and what are the repented, confessional steps that need to be taken in order to marry?
I would suggest that if instead we begin with the second account of creation, the narrative story, and move toward the "very good" we have a sure footing for a Biblical response, still recognizing that we all wrestle with chapter 3 in the fall.
So I do the following and in the context of Seattle where only 3% even attend church.
I'm delighted when couples who are living together become a part of our confessional body and enter in to the liturgical and social fellowship and mission of the church.
For those couples I recognize that in many cases, they have moved away from the chaos of sexual intimacy with multiple partners and are responding to a creational need to address the same "loneliness" that Adam felt. Others are living within the extended familial brokeness they grew up with.
In marriage counseling I spend a large amount of time on the nature of Christian marriage as a covenant with God, the church and the larger culture. In that communal context I begin to unpack the nature of social sin and how God desires to renew them as a couple in covenant; renewed within themselves, between one another and in their relations in the Church and larger community as a picture of what God intended from the beginning. In the ceremony, for the sake of the culture and good teaching, I write and review with a couple—following a bit of their affirming narrative—that they recognize and acknowledge that they have not approached this as God would desire in all respects and do so now.
The reason I see this (for many couples, now in the life of the church) as more of a social rather than personal sin is because in almost every case I have encountered, they're living together is a story of moving towards chapter 1 of Genesis.
Terry, what about personal sin you ask? While I clearly preach and teach marriage in an almost sacramental way, as God's will and desire for everyone; it is the erotic, expressive, lust driven and often power driven missuse of sexual desire that is the greater personal sin. Our struggles with pornography are probably closer to the chaos of sexual desire out of control that the Bible addresses more than the living relation of a committed monogamous couple who neither see or have yet to enter into a covenant with God.
For couples who come to me outside of any faith tradition I spend a great deal of time on the same issues and God's offer of a salvational relation through Jesus; and if they desire a covenant with God in marriage I am more than happy, even delighted, to marry them.