Shacking Up: A Christian response
by Michael Tummillo
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Throughout Christendom, the instances of couples “Shacking up” or “Living in Sin” are on the rise and are handled in one of several ways:
A 19-year old pregnant girl told me they were not eligible for help from church-affiliated benevolence groups because they were not yet married. The couple later told me they had concluded there weren't very many friendly people in this town.
MAKING THEM ENDURE A SCRIPTURE-WHIPPING
A young professional couple had a thriving cell group in their home. They had horses, an RV, property, a large house, and her young son from a previous marriage who very much resembled the current man of the house. Problem? They weren't married. When the church leaders “discovered” this truth (the couple felt obligated to announce it in an eMail to their cell group attendees), Pastor and Elders made an unannounced 10PM visit and demanded they separate at once.
MAKING THEM JUMP THROUGH RELIGIOUS HOOPS
A group of church leaders were told about a young couple living in a hotel. She was pregnant and the church learned about her from one of their Members who worked at the Crisis Pregnancy Center. They kindly visited the young lady during the day while the baby's father was at work. They gave her a bible and were very nice, “Until the end,” she told me. “They started getting mean-spirited, insisting we get married, attend their church... they even said this was all the help they were going to give me until we got married...I didn't feel very loved; I felt like we were a trophy.”
JESUS AT CANA
We've all heard the story of Jesus at the Wedding at Cana where He turned the water into wine. Weddings were a Jewish tradition and Jesus was good Jew. Many American Christians know this story, too often missing the point and focusing instead on whether or not we should drink wine! Ask yourself, when Jewish Jesus was attending that wedding, at that same moment in time, what was an African couple doing that made them an “officially” married couple? What were THEIR customs?
Don't answer that. Instead, ask yourself how the Eskimo couple, at that same instance, went about becoming “officially” hitched.
With no Marriage Licenses, minister, Rabbi, church, unity candles, bridesmaids, caterers, DJ's... how could ANY human being on earth ever be considered “officially” married without all the stuff we think of when we hear the word “wedding”?
Handfasting has been a traditional European ceremony for ages, still practiced today by non-Christians and some Christians – inadvertently - as part of their ceremony. In the 16th Century, the Roman Catholic Council of Trent condemned anything less than a church wedding before a priest. In time, Germany followed suit. Nevertheless, many non-Catholics and non-Germans persisted in the age-old practice of handfasting whereby a man and a woman held hands before God - and quite often, witnesses - and professed their heart-felt vows to one another and “tied a knot” around their wrists . A man, a woman, the sunshine, birds and butterflies, and a heart filled with love was all it took before embarking upon a life together.
But when feudal wars broke out and this village marched against that, a woman whose husband died might find her step children fighting her for his property, leaving her as a street widow, denying their dad was ever involved with her. So, laws were needed. In time, every society bowed to the pressure of a legal wedding complete with license and a reception.
There's nothing new under the sun as many Christians today see no problem with basing their covenant upon their spoken vows and attitudes of heart, often vocalized before God alone. I know a couple who, while she was in her 60's and he is now in his 80's, held hands in an empty Methodist church and pledged their lives to one another before God.
Handfasting? Yes, nothing less.
Official? Most places refer to less than this as a “common law” marriage.
1 Samuel 16:7 reminds us, “Man looks at the outside while God looks at the heart.” This old couple was greatly blessed the day they spoke with me – a minister – as I told them God, and everyone who knows them – sees them as husband and wife. I have actually known several couples like this, people who, if they tie the knot, will actually lose welfare benefits or cut their Social Security Checks in half. The Church is often quick to condemn these people and so slow to help them get free from the need for Government aid.
WHERE DO I STAND? When a group of Church Leaders barges in on a couple, married by Common Law, and demands they split up because, as I was told by the husband, “this is all about sex,” I want to sit down with those men and ask, “Have you ever lusted after a woman? It's called adultery. Ever doubted? Had fear? Hated anybody (that's as bad as Murder, according to Jesus)? Statistics reveal half of all Christians will anonymously admit to pre-marital sex. Does that include you? I'll hold your coats as you hurl those stones at this couple but I don't think one of you is without sin. I'm not!”
Instead, I encouraged that couple in their faith and, after 6 weeks of counseling, officiated their wedding. Well, they left that church, many following after them, eventually leaving the State. That church no longer exists.
A pretty lady in her 40's testifies of how her life as a drug addict cost her a marriage and possession of her kids to her ex-husband. She now speaks at N.A. meetings with her kids attending to hear their “cool mom” sharing about her experience with God and helping others. She used to pray in her car outside her office each morning until, one day, another woman asked if she could pray with her. In time, many were praying and I would visit monthly to minister to their group.
One afternoon, with about a dozen people in attendance, she said to me, “Pastor Mike, I have something to share with you!” When I asked if she wanted to tell me alone, she exclaimed “No, you're the only one here who doesn't know!” When she shared that she and her boyfriend were going to “move-in” together, I couldn't hide my joyful expression. Knowing the road she'd traveled, I was actually thrilled to see her so elated – happy to the point she would even tell a minister she was willfully about to start “living in sin.”
On the way home, a young man who was there called my cell phone, stunned that I didn't “say something.” Well, not only was it not the time or place, but I did not feel any unction from the Holy Spirit to say a thing. Believe me, there was a time in my life when I would've! A few months later, just after Christmas, she thrust her beautiful engagement ring in my face and, just last week, they were married.
Poof! Just like that, no more criticisms, no more condemnation. They have legally joined the Christian culture of legally-married American folks whose ranks wind up in divorce court over 50% of the time.
Do you see the futility, the downright silliness of requiring of others what we perceive to be the norm rather than to simply love them where they're at?
When I asked this lady how she would have received a scripture-whipping the day she broke her happy news to me, she got really serious and said, “Oh, Pastor Mike, that would've crushed me. I'm so glad you didn't.” Apparently – and the Father knew it – life for her had been hard enough. Their covenant had already been made without what most Christians would require of them in order to make them “official” in our eyes.
DON'T HEAR ME SAY WHAT I'M NOT SAYING!
Don't get me wrong; I LOVE officiating weddings and I'm even affiliated with an organization called “twogether in Texas” - a State-funded group whose goal is to offer counseling to couples in an effort to strengthen Texas families. I understand there are many couples who will jump from bed to bed, relationship to relationship, even making babies in the process. They don't know what they're doing but, rather than judge them, I contend we, The Church, should be praying for the grace needed in order to love them and help them, meeting them where they're at.
If “living in sin” is really a sin, there will be consequences for that between them and God. But it's not our job to judge or condemn, though that may be the easiest thing for us to do. Remember, when we point that finger of guilt, there are three more fingers pointed directly at us!
I can hear it already: “If we let this continue, all the younger kids will be doing it! We must set an example!”
How about setting an example of loving others despite their mistakes? Kids can learn from THAT example, too. True, half of all live-in relationships end with a break-up, but so do over half of those who do it “right.”
Love is a verb, by the way; it's an action word. We can say we love people all day long but are we making them FEEL loved? There's the crux of the matter. We, The Church, MUST introduce them to Christ in us, the Hope of Glory and Lover of their souls.
There are many “one another” verses in the New Testament. We should read them until we own them.
Founder, The Church @ Work (TCAW)
John 13:14 "If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.
John 13:34 "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
John 13:35 " By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
John 15:12 "This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.
John 15:17 "This I command you, that you love one another.
Acts 7:26 " On the following day he appeared to them as they were fighting together, and he tried to reconcile them in peace, saying, 'Men, you are brethren, why do you injure one another?'
Romans 12:10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;
Romans 12:16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.
Romans 13:8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.
Romans 14:13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this-- not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way.
Romans 14:19 So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.
Romans 15:5 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus,
Romans 15:7 Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.
Romans 15:14 And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.
Romans 16:16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.
1 Corinthians 6:7 Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?
1 Corinthians 7:5 Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
1 Corinthians 11:33 So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.
1 Corinthians 12:25 so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.
1 Corinthians 16:20 All the brethren greet you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
2 Corinthians 13:12 Greet one another with a holy kiss.
Galatians 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
Galatians 5:26 Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.
Galatians 6:1 [ Bear One Another's Burdens ] Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.
Galatians 6:2 Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
Ephesians 4:2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love,
Ephesians 4:25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another.
Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
Ephesians 5:19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord;
Ephesians 5:21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.
Philippians 2:3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;
Colossians 3:9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices,
Colossians 3:13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.
Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
1 Thessalonians 3:12 and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you;
1 Thessalonians 4:9 Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another;
1 Thessalonians 4:18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:13 and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.
1 Thessalonians 5:15 See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.
2 Thessalonians 1:3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater;
Hebrews 3:13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Hebrews 10:24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,
Hebrews 10:25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
James 4:11 Do not speak against one another, brethren He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it.
James 5:9 Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.
James 5:16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
1 Peter 1:22 Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart,
1 Peter 4:8 Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.
1 Peter 4:9 Be hospitable to one another without complaint.
1 Peter 4:10 As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
1 Peter 5:5 You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.
1 Peter 5:14 Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace be to you all who are in Christ.
1 John 1:7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
1 John 3:11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another;
1 John 3:23 This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.
1 John 4:7 [ God Is Love ] Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
1 John 4:11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
1 John 4:12 No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.
2 John 1:5 Now I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another.
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Great article!I always wondered when Jesus told the women at the well about" her five husbands and that the one she was with not being her own". There is a deeper truth there that I don't believe we really understand. I don't think she had 5 weddings, which would be 5 cakes, and multiple bridesmaids etc. Keep researching brother and pull these truths to the surface.
I can appreciate the point of view made in this article, however it seems to me that there are deeper issues regarding marriage and "shacking up." If marriage is considered to be a lifetime commitment between a man and a woman, then what constitutes such a commitment? And what sort of safeguards are in place to protect each party in case one of them suddenly decides that he or she is tired of being commited to the other? Every couple needs some sort of support if they plan to stay together. Something to think about anyway.