Thursday, April 9, 2009

The ZigZag Café

We will be convening here at the ZigZag café, Suisse, on Thursdays for conversation and dialogue.

I invite you to stop by every Thursday for the question of the day. Your thoughts and participation are most welcome. Pull up a stool, avec un café, un thé, ou un chocolat chaud, et un croissant, and join in here on Thursday at the ZZ café.

For today:

What would you say to a Christian woman and man, committed to each other and to God, who asked for your advice about having had sexual relations with each other prior to any official wedding ceremony, which had not yet been planned and might not formally take place ?

40 comments:

Lukas und Céline Kuhs said...

John 8,11: And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

Greg said...

Lukas and Celine,
Thanks. What do you think it would mean, in this case, to go and sin no more?

Lukas und Céline Kuhs said...

Hi Greg,
I know this was a too simple answer. ;)

The real answer is very hard though, that is why I did not want to answer directly.

Since God designed it as something great and the desires of the flesh will come back on it, it will be very hard for them. I dare I would not manage to "sin no more". Sinning no more means, that as they have recognised this behaviour as sin, they should not have sexual relations anymore. How that?

I would suggest separation - not complete but locally and concerning their time. They need time to become sure about what to do and how to proceed in a godly manner. This may lead to a complete separation.

Sexual intercourse does in my opinion NOT automatically entail a marriage. Sin can not be taken away by trying to get into a position, where this is no sin anymore!!!

Lukas

Greg said...

Lukas,
Appreciate you filling out the response. I'm still not sure, as you present it, on how the behavior is sin? Should separation be the goal?

Lukas und Céline Kuhs said...

Greg,
I understand a sexual relationas either
* a relation, where sexual intercourse is the only interest or root cause for the existence of the relation - which should be impossible since the two are devote Christians -
* or a relation where sexual activities in any form are present.



Don't you think any sexual relation outside marriage is sin?



NO, separation is definitely not the goal! I would put it the other way around. But separation could resolve from a thorough examination of their motives. As I believe, that God created/invented the unity of man and woman in marriage, I would never aim for separation.

Greg said...

Lukas,
Good. Seems like there are two things:
1) what is marriage? 2)you mentioned that you thought a sexual relation does not automatically entail marriage. It may not automatically, but would there be any circumstances where it could?

I'll return to your question about sexual relations outside marriage later.

Susan said...

I've heard a wedding described as a piece of paper and 15 minutes of someone's time. But I disagree.

I think a wedding needs to be witnessed in some way so that the couple's commitment is witnessed. So I don't agree with the expression, "we are married in God's sight." Is this what you are getting at, Greg?

Consequently I think the couple in question need to repent and then decide what the best way forward is, which would depend on a number of issues.

Greg said...

Susan,
Thanks. Well, one of the things I'm wondering about is the cultural expression of marriage.

If this couple did appeal to God as witness, why would this be insufficient?

Also, if the couple needs to repent, which may be the case, on what criteria would this be made?

Lukas und Céline Kuhs said...

1) 1. Mose 2,24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. This depicts well for me, what marriage is all about. There must be some moment in time, when a man and a woman decide not to separate anymore, but instead be one flesh. This shows the intimacy (which is given in the case/question and is the direct meaning as far as I know) as well as the inseparability, sustainability and duration. One flesh can not be separated again. Something which was cleaved can not be separate anymore (if the cleavage is good), but will instead only break if violence is used and normally not at the "adhesive joint". Also this can be seen by everyone interested. There is a movement from the parents to the woman. This can be seen.

I think, that marriage is the culture specific implementation of this godly institution. It is needed in order to make it observable. Otherwise, it could be just temporal or someone could say, he did not know about it... "Witnessed by God only" would be sufficient if only God existed. There must be a witness, because there are others who need to know.

2) If the culture requires it. Compare the Old Testament commands for especially this case.

Lukas

John said...

Greg -
Great question. I always enjoy this discussion.

I may have told you this at one point, but I've had mentors/friends counsel those under them that if they have had sex with their boyfriend/girlfriend, they are not fit to lead in ministry, and that they should separate from the person or get married immediately. Talk about an ultimatum! I have seen this cause so much pain/hurt as well.

My take on the situation is that, yes, it is wisest to avoid sex before marriage. And I do think marriage is necessary, because it is that legal bond (which unfortunately is easier and easier to get out of these days) to the personal commitment (without which the legal bond can really mean essentially nothing).

I would've counseled my friends to pursue getting married, but never would have counseled to separate and, as Lukas said, "not complete (separation) but locally and concerning their time. They need time to become sure about what to do and how to proceed in a godly manner. This may lead to a complete separation." If you've gone down the road of sexual relations before marriage, I would say it is worse to stop, for your bodies are already one flesh.

But I would also say to be wise and to get married. Sure, it may make things harder in the short term, especially if you do not have much money (like in college per se) but down the road I think the parties will be better off.

Greg said...

Lukas,
In what you've written at the beginning of your last comment, I see nothing that would be a problem for this couple were they continue the relationship as they are.

In the second paragraph, I guess I want to ask, what is the reality of being married? Perhpas, it would be wise to include others in witnessing this reality, but were they not included wouldn't the reality be there all the same?

The OT seems to have a variety of ways of being married - sometimes celebration, but other times not.

Greg said...

John,
Thanks for your take. Interesting points. I agree there is often so much insensitivity towards these couples.

Talking of the legal bond - would we want to say that once people are legally divorced they are divorced? Not likely, because in reality the relationship is already broken. How much does the legal bond really mean?

John said...

Greg -
Thanks. Btw, I set up a Destinee Media Facebook page last evening. Let me know if you want specific stuff added to it.

Back to the discussion. Divorce is a legal term, right? It's a legal separation. You can't have a legal separation without having first had a legal union. Therefore, I would say the people who are in a marriage relationship but are not committed are not divorced, but they are at least estranged. I don't think divorce takes place until it's a legal state.

The legal bond may not "mean" much, but I think it's an extra commitment, and it makes it harder for one to get out of a marriage. IF you're not married and are living together, you can break up and move out easily. There is no legal repercussion. However, if you're married, there are legal repercussions. Plus there is a social stigma (though not as much anymore) if you're divorced.

I think the legal bond is necessary because it does make the relationship harder to get out of.

Rhett & Valerie said...

I wonder if maybe a formal wedding ceremony is not necessary, but perhaps helpful, depending on this couple's situation and context. If they come from a cultural context in which wedding ceremonies are a rite of passage that helps to solidify their new self-understanding of being one and allows them to have a forum in which to make their vows publicly, before people who can help them to keep them, then I would suggest that maybe a wedding ceremony--however informal--would be a good idea to pursue. Furthermore, while the couple's mission in life is never to meet the all the requirements of other people, it could possibly help to prevent discord among their families and friends, and any potential children who might come out of their union.

I think of Paul circumcising Timothy before he took him on his mission (acts 16:3). Though this wasn't necessary spiritually to do, and didn't seem to change Timothy's understanding of himself, Paul seemed to do it for other people; perhaps to encourage Timothy's credibility? I just think its interesting that Paul doesn't throw all cultural rituals out, and encourages the church in Corinth to look toward "the weaker brother" before engaging in behavior that is possibly permissible, yet not necessarily beneficial.

Concerning direct advice to that couple. If they are as committed to each other and the Lord as they say they are, then they will never separate until death. It seems like very few couples have this understanding of commitment, though! At best, so many of us are naturally "serial monogamists."

Furthermore, if one of them feels like they ought to have a wedding ceremony, it seems best that the other bend to that desire.

Legally, in my opinion, it's just "easier" in the States to be married if you're going to share bank accounts, taxes, a home, a name, etc, though Rhett and I know at least one Christian couple that was never legally married (though they did have a wedding ceremony).

As for stopping or continuing their sexual intercourse, Paul says not to deprive each other. But if their consciences are tortured, I wonder if continuing might be just as bad! Either way, it would be best to encourage them to nurture their relationship as much as possible, I think.

Lukas und Céline Kuhs said...

1) The first paragraph was to explain the principles rooted in scripture. These must apply. So if there is no problem with the two, why should there be any problem? Why do they search advise, if everything is okay? The next paragraph showed my view on how the first paragraph should be translated to action. Why are there culture specific traditions? Only because it is fun to do and convenient to have them? Surely not. Do they only come from a wrong understanding of biblical principles? Did the church force the traditions? Are they invented by men?
Reality for me and reality for others depend on the perception. It does not change reality, but makes it impossible to live correctly. Compare Abraham and his sister Sara in foreign countries. Is the reality changed? Probably not. But does it maybe show my commitment to the marriage? I am not the "Abrahams behaviour was sin" kind of person. But this was a special situation, not everyday life. How about being committed to marriage shows in how I implement the traditions? (Please don't kill me for that! *g*)

2) I mentioned the Old Testament because there were (at least at some point in time) rules for the Israelites in order to guard the future of the woman if sexual intercourse outside marriage happened. Otherwise she would have been in problems for the rest of her life.

John,
thanks for being picky with my thoughts and especially words. It's sometimes hard for me to use the best words... I appreciate your critique!

Greg said...

John,
Yes, I guess I was trying to get at the reality that the legal is an expression of. I think that a divorce happens long before it's legal. Do you think the legal only affirms the reality that precedes it, be it in marriage or divorce?

Greg said...

Rhett and Valerie,
Thanks. True, a formal ceremony might be helpful, but if this couple is committed to staying together, it may not be essential.

Hmmm. Circumcision too is an expression of a deeper reality and Paul on that occasion seems to be concerned about a Jewish reaction. He bypasses the new norm for certain purposes.

As you say, if this couple is committed then they will stay together till death. What difference would a ceremony make, even though most couples don't have this understanding of committment?

I agree about trying to encourage them. Why stop what they have started?

Micha said...

Hi Greg
Hi guys

Tough discussion - almost heretical.

"The OT seems to have a variety of ways of being married - sometimes celebration, but other times not."

Probably it takes too much time to explain the differences between the varieties.
If not, could you please be more specific.
If so, could you recommend a book?

Greg said...

Lukas,
I just meant that it didn't seem that there was anything in that parargraph that would have obligated them to stop the relations or to have a ceremony.

I would assume some of the traditions we find in the Bible, such as polygamy for example, were the traditions of men.

Isn't the reality to be equated with living correctly?

Oh, and Abraham, that dasterdly character passing off his poor wife as his sister to save his
skin.

I'm not sure in marriage I'm committed to an institution, but to a person. Because of that reality it may give expression to the institution.

Micha said...

How can believe in a God who is silent about such important questions? All the poeple in this blog really want to figure things out and base their life on the bits of knowledge they get. But in the end the "truth" you get depends on whether you have been an ex-hippie who is bold enough to question things radically or a located traditionalist. We are bound by the people around. We are looking desperately for answers and find them and after some years we realize: the answer was wrong. It wasnt the Holy Spirit, it was me, or my pastor, or or or.
Oh my goodness, I always change the discussion, I always manipulate it to bring in my cynism.

Micha said...

Can you believe - forgot the "you"

Greg said...

Micha,
Thanks. Two expressions are celebration of some kind or having sexual relations. Plenty of examples in the OT, in particular in Genesis 20ff.

Oh, by the way, there was no such thing as hippies so there can't be any ex-hippies. Sometimes cultural and media constructs don't give the real story.

harry coe maynard said...

Greg,

You Pasters really have deallings.

What is their true desire? To feel smug or forgiven?

John said...

Greg -
I agree that in spirit, a divorce happened a long time before it became legal, but I would say the divorce (since it is a legal term) happens when the legal process becomes finalized.

Micha, brother, glad to see you engaging in conversation here. Though I don't know if you are playing devil's advocate or not (I never could tell well), but is this important enough of a question to say we cannot believe in God if he does not directly address this question? Seems to me that He addresses the big ones and leaves the others (somewhat) open to interpretation, within reason.

Oh and Lukas, you're welcome. I appreciate your insights on here as well!

Greg said...

Harry coe,
Thanks. Good questions. True desire is to be committed to God and each other, therefore not to be smug. And if they continue in the relationship as it is, neither would they need forgiveness.

Greg said...

John,
What if the legal process never materializes, but these people live entirely separate lives? Wouldn't they be divorced - legal paper or not? I guess the answer depends on in whose eyes.

Greg said...

My perspective is the following.

I believe that this couple has not sinned, unless they stop what they started. I would encourage them to stay in the realtionship and to keep having sex.

While it would be unwise to suggest that anyone start such a relationship as this, in this case, sex has already taken place. I would wager that this is frequently the situation for many couples and all they get is condemnation, rather than love and support to carry on as they are.

I also think it would be wise to formalize the relationship in some way, but I don't think this is absolutely mandatory.

Lukas und Céline Kuhs said...

Greg,
thanks for telling your perspective. I think it is very helpful to have the discussion "finalized". Also your insights are important to me, since your experience in counselling exceeds mine by far.

all they get is condemnation, rather than love and support to carry on as they are.

I don't really agree with you on the latter part (yet *g*), but the first part is very important. Changed my view a bit.

God bless,
Lukas

harry coe maynard said...

Greg,

I cannot believe what I just read.
To continue in a sexual relationship out of wedlock without a formal declaration before God is without question not Biblical and a sin, and needs forgivness.

Greg said...

Harry coe,
I trust you read through the discussion here. If not, please do so.

This couple is committed to God and each other. On these grounds, my advice to them would be to continue the relationship they have. It is only a sin should they not do so. That is, the reality of the relationship is already there before God and while it would be wise to formalize it, it is not from a biblical view, an absolute obligation.

harry coe maynard said...

Greg,

I read it all, there are possible children involved, future legal resposiblities, very serious stuff.

Dangerous ground.

HCM

Greg said...

Harry coe,
True, very serious, but the main thing at the present is that the couple be encouraged to not stop what they started. The problem, as I see it, is not so much in starting as it is in now stopping.

Life is dangerous. The future is not yet, and one would have to wait and see how it all might unfold for this brother and sister in Christ.

Lukas und Céline Kuhs said...

Does this apply to everybody or only to brothers and sisters in God? Why (not)?

Is sex outside marriage (/premarital sex) no sin as long as they stick with each other forever? When is it sin, because it is called so in the bible a lot (unless I miss something very important...)?

Greg said...

Lukas,
If I've understood your question, yes, I would say that it applies to everyone who is committed to their relationship. If they are not yet there, I would encourage them to move in that direction.

Sex outside of marriage depends on how marriage is defined. The case I've made is that it is not always defined the same way in the biblical accounts, or in cultural settings.

Here's a thought. Would sex be pre-marital if the couple does not stop having it together for the rest of their lives? I doubt it. Therefore, a sexual relation, of the sort we're talking about, is potentially sinful, but would only become so in actuality if the relation is broken.

Susan said...

Your perspective, Greg, would create a major problem in my setting. If there was a couple living this way (that is, having sex but not formally married) and the attitude of the christian community was only love and support it would send a message to our 16, 17, 18, 19 years old it was ok to have sex as long as you intended to stick with the relationship forever. But when a teenager starts going out with someone, they think they are madly in love and the relationship is going to last forever.

Apart from any other issues, we have the responsiblity to model good relationships to the next generation and your view doesn't seem to allow for this.

Greg said...

Susan,
I would say, having worked with people over the years, that there is already a problem. Too many people, including Christians, who start having sex, stop. So, I'm not sure my view creates a problem. By the way, I don't think there is a perfect view because of the messiness of our lives.

Certainly, all the taboos and threats about pre-marital sex have done little to dissuade older people or young people, from doing it anyway. Of course, what people do doesn't make it right, but it's already done. This couple has already had sex and because that's the case, they should continue to have it.

That Christians should model a love for God and each other is crucial. They should have and model good relations. I agree. But we're not doing very well here. How many in the Christian community are divorced, albeit having attempted to do everything formally? Divorce rates inside the Christian context are as high, or higher, than outside it. Over half the people I talk to are coming from divorced families.

My views aim to stress commitment and continuity and the message is don't engage in sex unless you're on board with both. I would never suggest that two teen agers or any one else casually have sex, but what we're talking about is people who have already had it. If that's the case, which it is more often than not, I think it is better to be supportive in every way possible (model of good relations), rather than shaking a finger to no avail. If Christians were doing more of the former it might have an impact on young people and even on those who have formally married and are pondering divorce, which unfortunately is all too often these days.

Susan said...

The more you talk about your situation the more I realize I’m coming from a very different place. The divorce rate in my Christian community would be significantly lower than the rate outside it. Likewise the number of people engaged in sex without marriage would be even more significantly lower inside the Christian communities I have been involved in, than in the general public. This may account for our differing views.

karin said...

I believe that pre-and extra-marital sex is sin. I also believe that if a couple is committed to each other and to God, and they decide to have sex or they fall into the temptation and have sex, then that physical union before God, has united them in a covenant relationship that must not be broken.

If I were that woman however, no matter how committed the young man was to God and to me, I would not have sex until I was married in accordance with the laws of the culture in which I live. Too many couples have lost respect for one another and decided to go their separate ways.

Life's experiences have shown me that couples who do not hold themselves to a high level of honor and self-control before marriage, often have greater 'lack of trust' issues in their marriage. They've overstepped their proper boundaries once, will it happen again and with another??

No one says that saving oneself for marriage is in any way easy! However, there is a real deep joy in knowing - 43 years of marriage later - that we were each other's first and only!

Greg said...

Susan,
Yes, it is quite possible that my community, being representative of many, is taking into consideration a wider angle focus. I have no question that in some Christian communities what you say is accurate. I believe, however, if we cannot have our views determined solely by our communities, and I would hope that we could be attuned to people and their needs outside of it. When we're dealing with people in these circumstances we have a pastoral responsibility to meet them where they are and go from there.

Greg said...

Karin,
Thanks for your insights. And welcome to Living Spirituality and the conversation.

In your first paragraph you write that pre-martial sex is sin. Then later in the paragraph you write that if a couple has sex then that physical union before God is not to be broken. On this basis, it seems to me therefore, that the sex this couple has had, as long as they keep having it, would not be a sin, but only potentially one. As I have stated earlier, in this case, it would not be the starting, but the stopping that would be sinful.

Another point I tried to make earlier was that men and women who keep to the formal cultural laws also often lose respect for each other and go their separate ways. Divorce in the wider Christian community is rampant. Keeping or not keeping to cultural laws is no guarantee of continuity and commitment, nor does it seem to me that cultural laws, while having some wisdom, are biblical absolutes.