13 January 2011

Or else...?

Over the last year or so I have had a few couples approach me to be married within the church. We set up a time to have a meeting, so we might be able to work out some of the details. This initial meeting also gives me the chance to ask questions of the couple and have them ask me anything. At all these meetings I discover that each couple is living together in a cohabitation relationship. When this is brought up I ask if they see that this act is wrong and against God’s Word and Will. All of them have said yes. Since they answer that they see what they are doing is in fact sinful, I walk them through what is laid out in the Lutheran Study Bible “God Blessed Marriage”.
1) Separate with no plans for marriage.
2) Separate until marriage.
3) If at any time during the process they wish to marry, the pastor will do so via a private ceremony (A concession by the congregation and pastor).
4) Get married by a justice of the peace immediately and have a consecration of the marriage in church at a later time.
I have yet to have one of these couples take me up on any of these options or come up with a viable one on their own. At the end of our meeting they leave and thank me for my time and then simply find another church/pastor who will marry them. I have to confess that it is disheartening that none of the couples return, they do not ask for more instruction/information, nor do they try to argue with me or ask why what they are doing is wrong and when I try to follow up I get the polite brush off or simply no response. As I said it is a little disheartening when God’s Word is spoken, and it is ignored first of all by the couple, but then it is reinforced by whatever church or pastor ends up performing the marriage rite. I will openly admit that I do not know where the couples who have come to me end up going to get married, or who performs the marriage rite and the pastor may have been able to do what I was not, convince, and show the need for repentance and only after catechesis of God’s Word were these couples able to marry. Again I do not know and do not want to paint the picture that I am the only Pastor in this area holding to the truths of Scripture concerning God’s Blessings and Desire for marriage.
What practices do the congregations in which you serve or worship have concerning cohabiting couples who seek to marry? Do you have any who have heard the word of God, repented and then lived chaste lives until their wedding night? What are we to do when other congregations will openly marry those who do not repent of their sins?


Pr. H. R. said...

At the first meeting I give them a whole packet of stuff that includes a few pamphlets that covers this topic. I tell them to read those and take the Zoe Score pre-marital survey before our next meeting. This asks them about sex and I find that folks will tell a computer more of the truth than face to face.

At the next meeting we talk about what God's Word says, the witness they are giving, and how God can only bless them if they seek to live their lives in accord with his Word. I tell them that I want their marriage to be blessed and that therefore I want them to repent, separate, and then proceed with marriage.

At this point, some folks plead financial inability to live outside the same home. We talk that through - but in the end I will proceed with the marriage counseling and the wedding if I receive their Word that the guy will sleep on the couch from that day until the wedding.

I've had some move out altogether, and some take the Couch Only Pledge. Most move up their wedding dates.


Chris Jones said...

Well, I am not a pastor so I can't answer any of your questions about pastoral practice, except one:

Do you have any who have heard the word of God, repented and then lived chaste lives until their wedding night?

I know of one such case: my own. But the priest who married us said that we were the first couple he had married in a very long time who were not cohabiting at the time of their marriage. We have been married 33 years, so you can see that this is not a new problem.

I'd like to suggest that there is a more fundamental question underlying the various questions that you raise. Why have people come to expect that they can be married in a Church to which they do not belong, by a pastor who does not have the cure of their souls? A Christian congregation is not (or should not be) a business providing marriage services to any and all "customers" who walk in off the street, but the household of God within which we are to work out our salvation. Marriage is a divine vocation that is given to us for our salvation, and it's fitting that a couple should be married within the congregation where they are already living the life in Christ.

Or, to put it more briefly: if you want to be married in Church, join the Church. If that means you can't have sex outside marriage any more, well, it is what it is.

Pastor Foy said...

I do something similar to what you do Kyle. I ask them straight out, "are you having sex?" They are always honest as far as I can tell and then I ask if they believe that to be right and also if that is a faithful witness to the Gospel. The answers always come back NO, even if they then add some excuses.

The choices I give them are 1) move apart until the wedding and don't have sex or 2) get married now and then we will have a renewal of vows or blessing of the marriage at a later date.

Some have agreed to not have sex and have moved apart. I just married a couple a few week ago who decided to get married now and thus we are now doing the "pre" marriage counseling.

What I get most of the time is angry parents who cannot believe that I won't marry their cohabiting children. The parents turn a blind eye to this. It may be that they don't want to have arguments with their kids and at least they are finally getting married or it is because they parents did it and don't want to appear as hypocrites.

Unfortunately there are those who will allow it and marry them when they are ready. I had one pastor tell a man who left his wife and was living with another woman that that was ok and that he should follow his heart. Fortunately it was not a Lutheran pastor.

Stay the course. We are not here to be liked but to be faithful.

Pr. H. R. said...

Mr. Jones,

Our parish has a policy that her pastor will not officiate at weddings where at least one member of the couple is a member of the parish. And yes, this saves us a lot of headaches.


Pastor Foy said...

We too have a policy that the pastor will not marry those who are not members of the congregation or at least one of them is.

However, we also have a policy that if a couple comes who are not members and they desire to be married, the pastor will marry them 1)provided they are not living together and 2)provided they faithfully attend a private seven week instruction on marriage using the book "He her honor and She his glory". Attendance at church is encouraged and they are also catechized at this time. They are however not required to join the church.

In nine years only two couples have taken us up on that opportunity and countless have come and asked to be married here.

melxiopp said...

I was married in the RC church about 10 years ago by an old, old Polish-American priest (he retired soon after our wedding). We had to meet with the priest for counseling and an interrogation of sorts about our belief regarding marriage, sex before marriage, divorce, raising children in the church, etc. I don't believe we were asked about whether we were having sex, living together, etc.

I wonder if it is helpful to ponder what other gross, public sins a couple are engaged in and whether that would disallow them from being married in the church - not to mention general participation in the sacraments. Are there not other gross sins that are just as public? Should the obese be kept from Communion for gluttony? Not honoring one's parents, coveting, hating, etc. While not minimizing fornication, is it also possible that we treat it as a particularly odious sin for purely cultural reasons?

Nathan Rinne said...


I think you have a point, and that's why I wrote this series of posts (http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/we-are-all-antinomians-now-except-the-babies-part-v-of-v/ ) , which may well be one of the best church-shrinkage strategies out there.

Oh yeah - and I'm not a pastor, so that makes things a bit easier for me, huh?


Martin Diers said...

Well, let's see. I've only had it happen twice. In the first case, the man moved out and lived with his father for a few months until the wedding. The other was a special case: the man was a former member, and came back when he found he was dying of liver cancer. He was cohabitating at the time. I repeated the law which he already knew, and he broke down and repented. I married them in a private ceremony, and buried him a short time later. Unfortunately, after the funeral, I never saw the woman again.

Nathan Rinne said...


I understand your approach, but I question it. Re: the "Couch Only Pledge" I think even if a couple can actually do this (I don't deny its possible), most everyone else will assume they are just living like a married couple when they aren't (which means some sexual activity).

I would not want to have to be the father of some young teenagers who has to explain to them why its OK that so-and-so is living with so-and-so when they find out.

Not to mention the witness this gives to the world...

Eager to hear your take.


Seminarian at Large said...

I'm currently serving my vicarage so I'm constantly playing the "what if" game with pastors I know and respect.

Here's a question for the Elders: Is the issue changed any by the existence of children in the relationship? We talk about our first vocation being that of husband/father. If a man moves out of the house, is he abandoning his children?

How would you men handle a situation like this? The "marry now, celebrate later" way?

Rev. Wright II said...

@Seminarian at Large,
Some of the couples, who have come to me requesting to be married in the church over this, last year have had children. When meeting with these couples I explain that due to the fact they have children, it is not right to split the parents up, and I tell them, they should seek to marry immediately by me or the justice of the peace. Again I have not had any of the couples take me up on this offer. I too would like to hear what other Pastors and Congregation do in a situation where the relationship has produced children.

melxiopp said...

It might be worth noting the historic basis of Christian marriage. Initially, there was no specific marriage rite in the Church - probably due to expectations of Jesus' imminent return. The way one was married in the Church was by approaching the chalice and being received; not being received was a condemnation of fornication. Communion was seen as the sacrament par excellence, the one that completes all others.

Christian marriages ceremonies were developed after the Church became not only legal, but the only legal entity that could solemnize marriages. East and West answered this issue slightly differently, though both began to see marriage as sacramental after reflecting on Paul's imagery and language.

Perhaps the lack of a sacramental basis for marriage and the absence of a legal requirement (for both the Church and the nation's citizens) calls for a rethinking of how necessary a 'late' addition such as marriage is to the faith. That is, perhaps a return to the ante-Nicene practice is perfectly allowable.