So you two are thinking about moving in together. And why not? That does seem to be the pattern followed by many people today. According to the 2000 U.S. census, about 11 million Americans live with an unmarried partner. About 50% of all American adults have “cohabitated” at some point.
However, just because this is the current trend doesn’t mean it is necessarily a good one. Often cited are the studies which show that couples who live together prior to marriage are twice as likely to divorce in the first 10 years as couples who don’t first cohabit. One of my lawyer friends has a long list of legal problems that tend to emerge in cohabiting situations.
More importantly for Christians, though, is the fact that as followers of Christ we don’t allow the norms of the culture as a whole to set the standard for what we believe and how we live. Instead we rely on the standards and guidelines established in the Bible. (This means that we’re always going to be at least somewhat out of sync with the current trends and patterns in our society.) And scripture clearly teaches that sexual intimacy belongs exclusively within the context of a marriage commitment.
• Genesis 2:24 (ESV) – “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
The “hold fast” refers to a permanent marital relationship. That relationship is a prerequisite to “becoming one flesh.” Cohabitation, on the other hand, has no permanence to it. It is by definition, until public and legal committment, a temporary relationship that at best has the potential for permanence.
• Right smack in the middle of the 10 Commandments is the rule "Do not commit adultery.” Exodus 20:14 (NLT)
• Mark 10:6-9 (TNIV) – “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Sexual activity is not to be understood as a basic human right but as something tied by God to his good gift of marriage.* That is, it is God’s intention that people be united to their spouses. This begins with the ceremonial act of leaving parents to form a new, exclusive, lifetime relationship. It is after the leaving ceremony that the two “become one flesh.” This union is not simply an act of the couple expressing their intentions (or feelings!) for each other but it also involves the parents who function as witnesses. And ultimately it is God himself who joins the couple. In other words, marriage is a group action – not just something between two people.
• 1 Corinthians 6:18-19 (NLT) – “Run away from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Or don't you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself...”
• Ephesians 5:3 (TNIV) – “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.”
And by “holy people” he’s not talking about super saints. He’s talking about ordinary Christians, saying that our lives are different because we’ve been set apart for a special purpose – honoring God. That’s what holiness is.
• Read Ephesians 5:21-33 and you’ll see that marriage involves the support and nurture of the whole church. A relationship isn’t simply a private matter between two people.
• Hebrews 13:4 (TNIV) – “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”
Of course, it is still your choice. We’re certainly not going to “kick you out” of the church if you choose cohabitation. We will ask you to step down from all positions of leadership in the congregation – for the sake of the church. And we will lovingly and gently encourage you to resolve the situation ASAP – either through marriage or by finding a different living situation.
We recognize that the way things are “done these days” isn’t always the way that God wants things done. So, as a church we want to affirm the biblical value of marriage. But we are also concerned about you and your relationship with God. You see, living together isn’t just an issue of convenience, personal freedom, or expression. Cohabitation apart from a marriage commitment negatively affects your walk with Christ. And it is our goal and responsibility to “present everyone fully mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28) – including you!
Might God give you his wisdom as you make your decision.
Pastor, Cornerstone Covenant Church
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*True Union in the Body by Dr Andrew Goddard and Dr Peter Walker, http://www.anglicaninstitute.org/trueunion/trueunion.htm, 3.6. (The server on that site is inconsistent. You can also find a .pdf version at http://www.acinw.org/articles/true-union.pdf)