11 November 2009

Living together and maybe to old to change, is there any grace?

So a man and a woman have been living together for many years now. Both have been married before, widowed and divorced. At the time, there was no desire to get married again and so on goes the story about moving in and co-habiting. There is still no desire or willingness on behalf of one of the partners to marry and the other, although they would be fine with marriage, is very apprehensive to bring it up while at the same time does not want to end this lengthy relationship that is "loving" and "faithful".

So, one day, one of the partners comes to church, encouraged by the pastor to come, welcomed with open arms, no ones really knows of the situation, and of course a fine sermon is preached. At the conclusion of the service the person leaves and does not return. The pastor calls upon them and inquirers as to why they have not come back and how might he be help you. He is told amidst manifold tears and a contrite heart, "how can I come and hear of Jesus forgiveness when I know that I am going to go right back home to my sinful relationship?"

This is not an uncommon scenario as there are many elderly who co-habit, and although a reasoned excuse, they would lose medical and other benefits if they married. Others are like the couple mentioned above. They have lived together for many years, even from middle age and economics was not the factor although it might be a contributor now.

The easy answer is, "just get married", or "live on your own until you marry" yet these are long term, albeit sinful, but committed relationships. Of course they should be encouraged and welcomed into the Church, catechized if possible but they would not be welcomed to the Sacrament until the living arrangement had changed, right.

We all have sins that we commit over and over no matter how many times we have confessed them to God. We might even go to private confession to confess them and still we commit them again. We might be "trapped" in some circumstance that just brings us right back to that sin again and we cannot leave that situation now or maybe ever.

What counsel would you give someone who was in this "living together" situation who desired to come to hear God's Word but was so crushed by the law that they were paralyzed to receive the Gospel? What would you say to them knowing that for the forseeable future if not forever they would not be able to change their living situation? I struggle finding the right words, not because I doubt that their sin is forgiven, not because I doubt in Christ's compassion and mercy or God's grace, not because I doubt the sincere contrition of their heart, I just don't seem to be able to phrase this properly to be of good encouragement and comfort to them.

I would appreciate some wisdom here from some of you who have actually dealt with this not just encountered it. Thank you.

20 comments:

Theophil Jones said...

Is there a reason these weddings would have anything to do with the civil tax code? Couldn't a pastor give willing couples a religious wedding without involving the State at all?

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

I've been anxiously waiting for the other venerable Blackbirds to reply to this, wondering what their collective advice would be. Seeing none since it was posted three days ago, I'll put in my two cents as a layman in hopes of getting the discussion going.

Jonesy,

Marriage is a civil institution. I don't believe there can be any such thing as a wedding outside of the laws and customs of the state. One cannot be married without taking upon oneself the civil consequences of marriage, including the tax code. "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."

Pastor Foy,

Am I interpreting your words correctly as indicating that you are taking the position that the "partner" who came to church is repentant, yet unwilling to give up this sin? Is that even possible?

You report the words of this person as: "how can I come and hear of Jesus forgiveness when I know that I am going to go right back home to my sinful relationship?" Indeed. "By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?"

I've always understood that there is a world of difference between repeatedly "stumbling" into the same sin and intentionally "living" in it. It doesn't sound to me from your short narrative that this person wishes to be rid of this sin. Isn't seeking to comfort a person prior to repentance getting the cart before the horse?

As I understand the situation, these words from Paul would answer your question: "hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord."

Yes, the law is harsh, but shouldn't we trust God's law to bring sinners to repentance? The comfort of the Gospel is for those who desire to be rid of their sin. Offering words of "comfort" to an unrepentant sinner seems to me to be the opposite of what God's Word commands.

You write: "Too old to change"... "these are long term committed relationships"... "we all have sins that we commit over and over..."

Such words have been applied equally to homosexuality in attempts to weaken the resolve of Christians to condemn such sinful lives.

I must be missing something (and please correct me if I have) because your post, as I currently understand it, troubles me greatly. It seems clear to me that this sin needs to be bound until the sinner desires to give it up.

What am I missing here???

Pastor Foy said...

I have most definately missed the mark on what I was trying to ask and have caused confusion, for which I apologize.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Huggable Buddy,

I don't think you threw any confusion - it is. . . strange. . . what do you say? The Law is designed to crush the sinner - and this sinner is crushed... but is not this sinner crushed enough already?

This is one where you probably need to end up taking an apologetics style approach - if they know what they need to do, there are some hang-ups blocking them. When they say that they can't stop, or that they are going to keep doing things as they ought, ask, "Why?" And then, when you hear the excuses, work around them - show how the those false excuses are indeed false.

The problem in a situation like this may not be a desire to sin, but a fear of the consequences of fixing the problem, or worry that things can't be changed. Show them what needs to be done.

Bring up marriage -- and if the other is so revolted by it -- better to find out now than later on in life when they might bail when the times are tougher.

And it isn't easy or pretty - but that's how it is. Life in a sinful world sucks -- but strive to make things right.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

"Jesus said to [the man], 'If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.' When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. And Jesus said to his disciples, 'Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.'"

This man went away sorrowful too, and he wasn't told only to give up his "long term, committed, faithful" partner in fornication. He was to give up everything. How can I give this up to follow Jesus? That's just too much to ask! And so, they go away in sorrow.

Pastor Brown suggests a different approach:

"This is one where you probably need to end up taking an apologetics style approach - if they know what they need to do, there are some hang-ups blocking them. When they say that they can't stop, or that they are going to keep doing things as they ought, ask, 'Why?' And then, when you hear the excuses, work around them - show how the those false excuses are indeed false.

"The problem in a situation like this may not be a desire to sin, but a fear of the consequences of fixing the problem, or worry that things can't be changed. Show them what needs to be done."


Hang ups? Fixing the problem? Where do such concepts and terminology come from?

Still discouraged...

Pastor Peters said...

A couple of questions... is this couple not already "married" yet without benefit of license of the state or sanction of the Church -- a common law marriage -- if indeed that still exists?

Are there children involved? What are the impediments to fuller marriage (if this qualifies as a common law marriage)? Is it the spouse who did/does not attend?

It would seem these might have great bearing upon the conclusion of this discussion...

mlorfeld said...

This is a very tough bit of casuistry, and one I've heard about already on numerous occasions. The loss of retirement/medical, can in some cases, be not only financially devastating, but possibly threaten one or both of the couple's health due to loss of insurance.

Despite what some have said, marriage is not solely a civil institution. No, God did institute it, and it is carried out by the state... but it is still a divine institution (AC XXVII.20). Furthermore, our confessors had no problem confessing against civilly illicit marriages of those who had taken monastic or priestly vows. Mind you, Luther, and every priest, monk, and nun that married broke the law of the Empire in doing so. While our confessions do not speak directly to this current manner, if the State unduly burdens a couple in such a way as to prevent marriage, be bold, have them confess their sin, receive absolution, and bless their union as now proper according to God's institution.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Pr. Lorfeld,

I said marriage is a civil institution, not that it is SOLELY a civil institution.

Also, as I read the narrative above I did not get the impression that marriage would cause these particular fornicators to be financially devastated or have the health of one or the other brought into serious jeopardy through a loss of health insurance.

Regardless, I do not agree with your analogy to the Reformation-era marriage of priests. There was a horrible confusion of the two kingdoms going on in the Roman Empire that is not present in today's conditions. I'm not sure Reformation-era marriages of priests were even in violation of German law, though they were certainly against Roman canon law. The Germans rightly claimed that the Pope had no right to prevent the lawful marriage of priests.

I do not think it would be either wise or right for the church to start giving its blessing to cohabitation outside of the marriage laws of the state simply because the laws of the state are perceived to present extreme hardships in marriage.

Besides, this does not even appear to be the case with the fornicators described in the first two paragraphs of Rev. Foy's post.

mlorfeld said...

I do believe you are right that I misread this, which shows that I really need to be going to bed at a proper time. The matter remains though that you have one that is crushed by the law already, but is in most respects, unrepentant.

My only counsel on this would be to try to meet with the couple as much as possible. Encourage them to cease bearing false witness in their relationship and publicly commit through matrimony what they have already privately committed to each other.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Erich,

With the example of Scripture, you have a rich man who is seeking salvation in the law - "what must *I do* to inherit the kingdom of God." That is the lead-in, the context of this. And when one desires to be self-righteous, when one thinks that they are capable of handling the law perfectly, then by all means, hammer away.

This is not the case here. This is not a person who thinks that he is or can do all things perfectly, but a person struggling with sin, and more over, a sin involving another person. Different situations in terms of law and gospel dynamic.

And if my language bothers you - help the man to figure out what in his own flesh he must mortify and show the other person's "wisdom" in avoiding marriage to be folly.

Carl Vehse said...

The topic of whether a pastor should perform a marriage of an elderly couple without telling the state so that each can continue to receive their separate full Social Security and medical benefits was discussed recently on Luther Quest in the thread, "Pastor doing unregistered marriage?". The second page of the thread continues here.

The question involves not only the Sixth Commandment, but the First, Second, Third (if the couple marries on Sunday), Fourth, Seventh, Eighth, and possibly Ninth.

Nathan Fischer said...

I have never posted here before, nor am I a pastor, but...

I don't think this is something that can be discussed clinically over this type of medium. These are complex people involved, and there's no set "formula" that one can use when talking to a person. They are not 'problems' to be 'solved' but people to be loved.

At the very heart of sin is unbelief, that breaking of the 1st Commandment - taking for one's self a god who is not the God of love, grace, and mercy - the God of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. "The law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith." (Gal. 3:24) If the law is doing its work, then it will always drive one toward Christ.

The person mentioned seems to feel trapped - trapped by and in sin.

Some of the replies so far seem hung up on "solving the problem" - get married, be more repentant, stop living together... Right now, though, what is most important is their faith in Christ. Christ Who, while we were yet sinners, still loved us and died for us.

"How can I come and hear of Jesus forgiveness when I know that I am going to go right back home to my sinful relationship?"

Because He died for such as you.

"But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says: Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light." (Eph. 5:13-14)

When the Light of Christ exposes our sin, it will hurt. But it is in this same act that He drives away the darkness and fills us with His Light. Before things get better, they will likely seem worse. It will hurt. The Light drives out the darkness - but it is the darkness, as sinners, which we love.

Marriage for these two will not somehow magically create faith in Christ. In fact, if they see marriage as that thing they must do in order to be able to receive God's love, then their marriage could in fact destroy their faith. If living in separate homes causes them to trust in their works, that could be just as harmful as living together.

It is our belief that we must do something to earn God's love, our lack of faith, which is truly harmful to us. God doesn't care that we keep His law because it is some almighty rule book we just shouldn't break. He cares because in transgressing His law, we trust in something or someone other than Him. So when they do hear God's law, they ought to know that He means it for their good. Living together outside of marriage does not hurt the Lord - it hurts them. It is damaging to their faith in Christ. And that is the key - their faith in Christ.

If they are afraid of losing medical benefits, afraid of living alone, afraid of anything at all - then show them that God is good. Show them that He is love.

And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child, and wife,
Though these all be gone,
Our victory has been won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth.

One of them, at least, is fearful that God's love is not for them, a sinner. The bludgeoning of the law is not going to 'solve' this 'problem'. They need faith in Christ. Nor will such faith come by demands of marriage or separation. If they marry or separate, it must be for the right reasons, not out of an idea that doing this will somehow earn them favor with God or set things right in a way that only the mercy and forgiveness of our Savior can set right.

These are but a few thoughts. I'm not trying to list solutions or anything. I only know that at the heart of this is unbelief (as is true with all of our sin), and that what they do will likely not give to them such faith in Christ as they need. But in the end, it is the pastor who knows them as people and not simply words on a page or a puzzle to be pieced together or a problem to be solved. It will take much time, much listening, much forgiving, much loving, and much pain.

Rev. Gifford A. Grobien said...

Nathan, I think, has hit at the heart of the matter. Pastoral care and counseling always has to do with forgiving the sinner and bringing him to true repentance, not solving a problem in the sense of secular counseling or ethics. The intent and goal of the pastor in this case must be to preach the law and the gospel so poignantly that the faithful actions will follow.

The only thing I am unclear about is if the person is really crushed by the law, as some are assuming. Without knowing more of what the person has said, a comment like "how can I hear of Jesus' forgiveness when I know I am living in sin?" can be a statement of despair OR of dismissal. That is to say, neither the forgiveness nor the sin are important enough for the person to respond rightly to either.

It is easy to err on the side of not wanting to offend for fear of driving people out of the church. But it is worse to miss getting at the forgiveness of sins by being tentative. The Holy Spirit moves the heart. You could speak the law and the gospel perfectly and the person might still never come back. Your responsibility is only to do the former: preach the law and the gospel. Bind and loose sins. How you do this is your decision, according to the office you have been given and the conditions in which you and this couple find yourselves. But whatever you do, speak the law--not unto reform, but repentance--and speak the gospel--unreservedly, unabashedly, in the face of sin, because it is for sinners that Christ died.

Let the outward change be secondary, so to speak. Not that you don't want them to quit their cohabitation. You do. And you should strive for that. But what I am saying is that the good ending to their cohabitation will be a fruit of the gospel finally taking hold in their hearts.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

As I commented above, "'Hang ups?' 'Fixing the problem?' Where do such concepts and terminology come from?"

You have provided the pastoral answer I was hoping to read here, Pr. Grobien! Thank you for ending my discouragement.

Rev. Gifford A. Grobien said...

Dr. Heidenreich,

I might urge a more charitable response to Pr. Brown. If there is confusion or disagreement over concepts and terminology, OK. But it may be that he is aiming at a similar goal and encouraging the appropriate pastoral response to the offenders. His later comment does make it more clear in that he seeks to "mortify" their deeds and show them to be "folly."

mlorfeld said...

Agree, any talk of a "pastoral response" to an impersonal, hypothetical, (for everyone here except Pastor Foy) case is absolutely absurd. Whether one speaks words of Law or words of Gospel is a tough judgment call in person let alone with scant details. All we can do is draw on our own experiences (after all, there is nothing new under the sun... but there's quite a bit under the sun), listen to the information another pastor gives, and give our "best" advice.

From my own experience (short as it might be) I still stand by my statement that if the state puts an undue burden (much in line with Tr. LXXVIII) which would prevent a couple from marriage, as such burdens are accidental to the institution of marriage, I would marry them in the church and refrain from the civil side.

Is that unpastoral??? Well, honestly, I'll let those who have been given to make that call be the judge of that.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Thank you for the suggestion, Pr. Grobien.

Pr. Brown,

I offer my sincere apologies for the lack of charity and best construction I expressed through my earlier reply regarding your comments. Please forgive me.

The discouragement I was experiencing and which I was trying to express was entirely due to what I perceived to be concepts and terminology which appeared to be at odds with the pastoral care I would hope to receive or hear given to those I love if found in the same situation.

I certainly should have assumed that you were aiming at the same goal that Pr. Grobien suggested. That is: "Pastoral care and counseling always has to do with forgiving the sinner and bringing him to true repentance, not solving a problem in the sense of secular counseling or ethics."

The change in course which is part and parcel of true repentance can only follow absolution, and can never be conditional on an outward change in action occurring first. However, it should not be announced in the face of an expression that there is no intention to change course and abandon the sin. Absolution for a specific confessed sin should not be announced to someone who expresses no intention of giving up that sin.

This is where the discussion/counseling of the pastor must come into play, and the scarce details provided in the post above leave too many questions. I am very sorry that I saw things so black and white, because it leaves very little room for the discussion to occur during which these matters might become more clear.

Please forgive my lack of charity.

Pr. Lorfeld, I'm afraid I still strongly disagree with your suggestion that a pastor could or should marry anyone in the church and refrain from the civil side of the matter. I believe this would be a very slippery slope. Marriage is a divine institution, but it is also very much a civil institution.

One cannot without sin ignore or avoid (or assist others in ignoring or avoiding) the laws of the state regarding marriage unless following the laws would force the church or the couple to sin.

There is no sin in a married couple paying higher taxes or losing health insurance. The couple must trust that God will provide their daily bread, and render unto Caesar what is Caesar's according to their status as man and wife.

The couple would also have to bear false witness to keep their health insurance policies as single individuals if secretly married in the church with no official public acknowledgment of their marital union.

The Lord will provide all that they need to support this body and life!

Your brother in Christ,

Erich

Marilyn said...

My widowed aunt was introduced to a widower who was a friend of my mother's. The two of them were very lonely and the widower ended up living at my aunt's house. He wanted to marry my aunt, but my aunt told me that she had no interest in him except brotherly love. So they lived together as a brother and sister, each in separate bedrooms. One might consider that this may very well be the case for many elderly people who end up living together. What a blessing the relationship was for both my aunt and her widower friend, who lived together over 15 years. The companionship was a blessing from God for each of them.

Marilyn said...

My widowed aunt was introduced to a widower who was a friend of my mother's. The two of them were very lonely and the widower ended up living at my aunt's house. He wanted to marry my aunt, but my aunt told me that she had no interest in him except brotherly love. So they lived together as a brother and sister, each in separate bedrooms. One might consider that this may very well be the case for many elderly people who end up living together. What a blessing the relationship was for both my aunt and her widower friend, who lived together over 15 years. The companionship was a blessing from God for each of them.