“Living in Sin”

“Living in Sin” April 18, 2013

From a reader of the blog who comes to us for wisdom for a difficult situation in his church:

What to do? What’s your advice?

Here at the rural church I pastor I’m dealing with one of those issues I thought might make for good discussion on the blog. Through the combined outreach of another couple in the church and myself, a 40-something man in our community has come to faith in Christ. The circumstances are not relevant but they are quite dramatic. For the past year he has been attending worship and  participating in a casual form of one-on-one mentoring from me and another man in the church. He desires baptism and I am convinced “that nothing prevents him from being baptized” (Acts 8.36).

The issue is “complicated,” however, by the fact that he is living with his fiance. Their relationship is far from perfect. They have one child and have been “together” for many years. He desires marriage, ASAP, but she is holding out because of a very abusive first marriage. Her position is, she “just doesn’t want to have to sign the paper!” She is not a believer.

I am receiving some push-back from board and church members who say things like: How can we baptize someone who’s living in sin? Shouldn’t his life exhibit more repentance. etc.

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  • Blake

    I fail to see how this is “living in sin.” He wants to get married and they have long been functioning as a committed monogamous heterosexual couple. If she doesn’t want to split up then the rule to follow would appear to be 1 Cor. 7:12.

  • Paul W

    Doesn’t the church already have a ‘standard’ in place to be used? What criteria is used in your ecclesiastical body to determine who gets baptized? And who’s involved in the final decision making on this? There is, I think, a value to lean on established policy when you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation.

    Now, when I read the phrase “living in sin” above I wondered if the board may be too comfortable using weasel words. If so, that can be a real problem which will likely rear its ugly head again. Also, I wondered if they may be too willing to deal with things that are uncomfortable for them from out of an emotionally manipulative place. Again, if so, that is kind of a serious issue that needs to be addressed. Perhaps, its just the way things were written, but on the surface it just doesn’t sound like the objection is coming from a principled stance that had been established.

    For most of my church experience the basic criteria used for an baptism was whether the person had faith. So from that perspective if the person claims to have Christian faith and you believe him to be telling the truth then the church is obligated to baptize.

  • Sounds like he is repentant. I think Paul on marriage to unbelievers in 1Cor is applicable – we can’t ride rough shod over established relationships, and they are married de facto if not de jure. There’s a child involved, which makes it even more true, IMO.

    I’d baptise him without hesitation.

  • Stephen W

    “Shouldn’t his life exhibit more repentance.” And what would this look like? Abandoning the family that he loves? If so, some people have a very strange idea of what it means to follow Jesus…

  • Steve In Toronto

    Baptism is for sinner dunk the guy and pray hard for the girlfriend

  • Brad

    Has the board read the book of Acts? People believed and are baptized – there’s no waiting to see if their life *really* reflects their repentance. I know that in much of the early church, after the time of the Apostles, it became the practice of the church to catechize before baptism. In my opinion, however, baptism shouldn’t be delayed, but should come after profession of faith.

  • Glenn Sunshine

    I think the issue is more complicated than the comments suggest. Fornication–sex outside of marriage–is a major issue in the New Testament. In fact, Paul tells us fornicators will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9). The church has been really lax in general about that. We have, in fact, conformed ourselves to the world when it comes to a lot of heterosexual sexual sins. On the other hand, marriage in the first century meant something different than it does today, and common law weddings were quite common especially among the lower classes. The point is, I don’t think it’s as cut and dried as either side suggests. I would suggest that if a formal wedding is out, some kind of promise or vow on the part of the man and ideally the woman which does not have the force of law (not “signing the paper”) but stating before God and the church’s representatives that they intend to stay together permanently might do the trick. I haven’t thought this through, but at first glance that seems like a reasonable compromise.

  • T.S.Gay

    This is about the pastor and his board/church members. He can’t go against his conscience despite it jeopardizing his work at the church. Since you don’t get 40 something conversions often, I say you do a baptism that you don’t do often. “As I went down to the river to pray…studying about that good old way….and who shall wear the robe and crown….Lord, show me the way” Call it a baptism for the aged. Wisdom dictates you have to be older to understand why we’re doing this one differently.

  • britt

    I fail to see how that is living in sin also. They’re already a family. Marriage and how it is done is first and for most a cultural thing. So really your board is placing marriage( or how it is done ) above the family.
    Because “the paper has not been singed” is it better and godly to break up a family that is already together? Is not God working in him, will he ever be “without sin” is he deliberately rebelling against God? Nope? If God is working with in the means of the situation, then your board should follow in his example or get a new board.

  • Deets

    Stephen W, When you suggest that he would be “abandoning the family that he loves,” are you assuming that he is already married in some way?

    Alex, I’m not so sure that I would rush into baptizing him “without hesitation.” This may be the right thing to do, but it seems to violate the will of the church (at least a number of leaders and members). It seems to me this would be a good time to hesitate, and, as a body, spend some time reflecting and praying about the nature of marriage, “living in sin,” and this man’s (and the church’s) obligations to the woman, son and church. If baptism is an individual ordinance, maybe it is right to move forward privately. But it seems to me that baptism is a community ordinance. It would be a slap in the face to the community to move ahead without their consideration and an opportunity to win their approve.

  • scotmcknight

    Glenn, I’m very much with you on this one.

  • Perhaps the church board and members think that the man is unrepentant because he continues to have extra-marital sex …

    The question is, does a God-loving marriage (or in this case, a God-loving husband) really need to be recognised by the country’s legal system!?

  • Brad

    I see two different issues at play:

    1. What are the requirements for a person to be baptized

    2. How does the church lovingly respond to a new believer in a complex, potentially sinful, situation.

    In terms of the second, I like where Glenn’s suggestion is going. But in terms of the first, the only perquisite for baptism, in my opinion, is a profession of faith and a desire to be baptized. I’d be interested to hear why anyone would argue for additional prerequisites to baptism.

  • Norman

    Me thinks Scot has gone fishing again 🙂

    Haven’t we seen this story line before?

    Let the church get to know this man and his woman and child and then let’s see what a loving community can bring to the table.

    There is more to this story than just a man and baptism and the strictures of the church regarding faceless people.

  • phil_style

    If the government were not involved in the marriage business then would all currently married persons suddenly be “living in sin”?

    We need to stop using the legal criteria of our governments in this way.

  • Ally

    Have they been together long enough to be considered a “common law” marriage? Would the unbeliever be supportive enough of the believer’s wishes to undergo a religious-only, non-civil ceremony? (Is it even legal to do so? I think it should be as I am convinced the state should stay out of the marriage business, but I don’t know what the actual laws are.)

  • Really a couple of different questions here:

    1. What is the church’s theology of Baptism? Many Baptism liturgies include a renouncement of sin. Would this be an honest renouncement? Does the church see Baptism as a sacrament — and therefore efficacious and a grace unto itself? Or more of an ordinance, symbol, public declaration? Or both. The theology of baptism matters in this case.

    2. What is the church’s theology of marriage? I think a case could be made that they are married in a Biblical sense… sexual relations, leave & cleave, etc — but a case could be made that they have not made a covenant together. Or maybe they have 🙂 And does state/legal recognition of the marriage matter theologically?

    3. What is the pastoral thing to do? What will help this family (all of them!) encounter Christ more? What does the agape love principle demand that we do? What would Jesus do in this circumstance?

    For me, the answer to #1 is that baptism is a sacrament for believers and the only qualification is authentic belief in Jesus as Lord and commitment to following him. I may alter the liturgy a bit, but I would baptize him. (and, if there is power in sacraments beyond mere symbol — which I believe there is — receiving the sacraments is part of how the Holy Spirit empowers us towards sanctification and overcoming sin… so denying the sacraments is counter-productive).

    For #2, I think they are functionally married — and I would counsel them to recognize that, and formalize it in covenant… even if not legally. But given the past abuse, I think patience is needed.

    For #3, I think it is clear that the loving, Christ-like thing to do is to baptize, celebrate and continue to walk with this whole family.

    (to complicate things, imagine what the responses would be if the man was gay and living with his male fiance… would our answers change significantly?)

  • Ron Newberry

    Early American couples were living together and had multiple children before the clergy got out into the frontier to “marry” them. While this is not the frontier in that sense, this isn’t Christendom any more, either. They are already married, they don’t have paper endorsed by the state. Baptize the man, show the woman the love of Jesus.
    We are not their judges, God will take care of that.

  • JB

    I am and have faced this. I am also in agreement with where Glenn is heading. The decision needs to made on a case by case basis. I have a problem with baptizing someone in sinful relationship because part of baptism is a commitment to the lordship of Christ. How is it possible to make that commitment if you planning to continue in a sinful relationship after the baptism? In addition, how does church discipline fit into that? Do you separate baptism from church membership, some do but I don’t? If not, how do you baptized someone and then exercise church disciple the next day? Or do we no longer practice church discipline?

    I told a one man who is living with his girl friend that I would not baptize him. He said they are talking about getting married but are waiting until they are more financially secure. Right. Obedience is dependent on financial security?

    In another case, I have a couple living together who have been together for two years. She has children from her marriage and he has become a father to them. They would get married but her divorce will not be finalized for months. Her husband committed adultery and moved out to live with the women he had a child with and only recently agreed to the terms of the divorce. The couple has come to faith in Christ, are committed to each other and will get married as soon as the divorce is finalized. I have been contemplating a commitment ceremony that has no legal power but would have meaning in the eyes of the couple, church, and God but not sure.

    We are going to have a lot more of this so it is worth thinking through. There needs to be a principled flexibility.

  • Ben

    Many comments have alluded to the couple already being a family and de facto married. There is not enough information in the original post for us to conclude that. The fact is marriage is not simply living together and having children together. Marriage involves a life long commitment and vow to the partner. Now whether that commitment has to be sanctioned by the government or just the church and parties involved is another discussion. So with the information provided in the original post, it is logical to conclude that there is no life long commitment and thus the conclusion of living in sin based on the verses that prohibit sex outside of marriage.

  • phil_style

    @Ron, #18,

    Yes. Why should we give the state the say-so in whether or not we baptise?
    To demand legal marriage before baptising is to place that power in the hands of the state.

  • Fish

    When have we barred people living in a state of unrepentant greed from being baptized?

  • Rick

    Ron #18-

    “We are not their judges, God will take care of that.”

    1 Cor. 5:12-13a: “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges.”

  • Since when does the gospel incorporate state law by reference?

  • When I was a pastor I ran into this kind of situation a number of times. It occurred to me that we (the church, that is) seemed to feel that we needed the state to validate these relationships in order for us to be satisfied theologically. And yet, every time I officiated at a wedding, the state was the last to know. They didn’t get the signed license for at least several days. In the meantime, as a representative of the church of Jesus Christ, I was able to declare people husband and wife. So, while speaking with a young couple in my home who wanted me to do their wedding in a few months and who were already living together (she had just recently come to faith), I asked them: Do you share everything—bodies, home, money, etc.? They said yes. Are you really committed to each other? Yes again. I then said, “By the power invested in me by the church of Jesus Christ, I now pronounce you husband and wife.” I told them it was my job to declare to the world that I see a marriage in a relationship. I declared it to be so. The state would find out soon enough. The woman wept. I’m glad that the state offers the legal protection of marriage. But the church declares that union before God.

  • Whatever you do in this situation will create a precedent for the future. Don’t let your grace wash out holiness, and don’t let your holiness wash out grace.

  • steven mccurdy

    Its too bad He doesn’t have a more private sin like the rest of us. It is easier to appear to exhibit repentance with sin that aren’t quite as public.

    Besides, is marriage just a legal, state sanctioned contract or is it something under God. Does it require a ceremony? As far as I am concerned they are already married.

    Baptise him.

  • Kaleb

    Two Questions:

    Can a committed 19 year old couple that loves each other bring their relationship before God and commit themselves to one another before God be considered married too?

    Wasn’t consummation always the start of a marriage in the ancient world?

  • Annie

    I hate stating the obvious, but this isn’t the ancient world, all classes may marry, and those who live together and don’t marry usually have reasons for doing so. It’s fine if you think the proper thing would be to baptize a gentleman in this situation, but let’s not pretend that our society has very different realities when it comes to sex and marriage than first century Christians did.

  • Since when does the gospel incorporate our cultural norms by reference?

  • How the church handles this may weigh heavily in whether this woman is added to the Kingdom. And I think you also have to weigh it in terms of the effect on their child. If the church insists on pushing for something that ends up driving a wedge between this couple it will have a big impact on their child. I think Glenn’s resolution makes a lot of sense.

  • Kaleb

    Annie #31,

    This is a different world than the ANE, but that is the tradition in which the Bible was written. So if we are going to take seriously what the Bible says don’t you think it is relative to look at their traditions and standards by which they defined marriage?

  • adam

    I appreciate the complexity of the situation. I also rejoice in the conversion of this man to Christ. Alongside of his conversion is his desire to follow the Lord in baptism from within a difficult and complex context of his personal “cost of discipleship.”
    I think that a point that needs attention here is the definition of baptism according to its theological import. I would define baptism as “the immersion in water of a believer, into the name of the Father, and Son and Holy Spirit; to signify and seal his union with the crucified, buried, and risen Savior, and his partaking in the benefits of the covenant of grace.” If this be received as a working definition, then the benefits of the covenant of grace, to which he is being sealed, include, among others, “walking in newness of life” (Romans 6:1-3; Gal.3:27).
    The very act of being baptized is the sealing of this covenant. How then, no matter the complexity of one’s situation, can the one being baptized, be baptized into this covenant and then disregard its contents of obedience and blessing?

    I think this aspect, the theology of baptism, needs to be mined out better. It appears to me that many are taking baptism far too lightly here.

  • #35 Adam — yes, but how can one be sanctified, etc, without being sealed? Sanctification, like justification, is by faith and through the grace and work of Christ and the Holy Spirit. If we believe that baptism has power, than to deny this man baptism is totally counter-productive.

  • Jason

    In my tradition baptism is an ordinance not a sacrament. We see baptism as symbolic of an already spiritual reality. This man who is seeks baptism is seeking to testify what God has already done in his life to the community of faith. Has this man accepted Christ? Is he trying to live in obedience to Christ? Are there changes in his life because of what Christ is doing? If the answer is yes to those three then I dunk him.
    If we didn’t allow people who were “living in sin” to be baptized, would anyone be baptized?

  • Karen H

    Sacraments are offered to repentant individuals. Let those without sin stand in the way of this baptism. In the baptism liturgy we renounce sin, but none of us are therefore free of it.

    I think the church “owns” marriage, and it’s time for separation of church and state on this issue. Let the church declare marriages as it sees fit. Let the state offer benefits as it wishes, and call it whatever it wants.

  • Jon

    What was the order again?

    Go to all nations and make disciples by (step 1) baptizing them…and (step 2) teaching them to obey whatsoever I have commanded.

    Baptize the man. Trust that the Word connected to the water will do what it says:

    “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:5-7

    This man already knows the weight of the law and his sin and his need for Jesus the Savior. Give him the Gospel in liquid form. Let God repent this man in the waters of Holy Baptism.

  • Glenn

    I belonged to a community where exceptions were made for those who lived together in order to allow entry into the membership of the community. The problem came up when a small number of long term members later followed suit and entered into similar relationships. The question became, how does a community uphold standards at that point?

  • Annie


    I absolutely agree that it’s relevant to look at the cultural categories that were in play when the canon was being formed. (Incidentally, I think it’s so relevant that it’s what I focused my education on!) However, it is not valid to equate cohabitation now and then, since the social and legal realities are so different. We have to do more work than that and figure out how to apply those ancient passages to today’s situations.

  • Blake

    It bothers me that at least a few people above seem to think a covenant or commitment matters in this situation. 1 Cor. 7 makes clear that when it comes to a marriage between a believer and unbeliever their relationship exists solely by the whim of the unbeliever. The Church is not to impose its standards and desires on the unbeliever. They have every right to keep accountable and discipline the believer for his actions in the relationship as brothers and sisters in Christ. No ceremony, covenant or vows can be forced on the unbeliever and the believer should not be judged for what he is willing to do but unable because of his partner’s disposition. There can be no Christian marriage between unbelievers or a believer and an unbeliever. The state can not recognize marriage, only civil unions despite whatever term they want to use for it. The state, as a social contract itself, can only recognize other social contracts and condone or condemn according to their perceived value for the greater good. The Church ought to work with what it has and entrust everything to God. If the church wished it could reasonably demand of the believer him to speak vows for himself towards her and the child, but I don’t see more than that that can be expected on the matter of commitment.

  • If Congress passed a law outlawing marriage and dissolving all marriages immediately (coupled with a Constitutional amendment to make such a law constitutional), would everyone in America suddenly be fornicating?

  • Annie

    Kullervo, false premise.

  • Sarah

    The greater issue is the broken trust of the man’s fiancee. My impression is that the man should be baptized as a believer since that is what he is (despite continuing to sin, which we all do). The danger is his relatively unstable relationship with his fiancee (sex or no sex). If we read between the lines she has been through a very difficult previous marriage and the fact that she continues to push back on another marriage tells a person that his baptism (or not) is the least of our concerns. How does the church reach out to restore God’s ideal of marriage for this woman and her “future” husband. I don’t think squabbling about baptism is going to help heal anyone.
    If we get right down to it – what would happen if he were baptized even if our theology didn’t line up with how he was living his l(he appears to be repentant and now finds himself having to figure out how to balance what he knows to complicated human relationships)

  • Annie

    It is possible to extend grace without calling darkness light. We all bring messiness into our budding relationships with Christ. Baptize a person and acknowledge those broken places in their life for what they are, praying and working for God to bring wholeness.

  • Jeff Kursonis

    Reading most of these comments would be a wonderful way to understand why 18-35+ year olds are running, fleeing out of the church. Many of you are so certain, so sure of what you know – even many of those more wiling to baptize now…I’m glad you’re readers of this blog, but Whew! to a younger generation of Christians trying to figure out a way forward you sound like a bunch of blowhards…

  • Annie

    Jeff K., I understand what you’re saying, but I guess I don’t know what the alternative is: act as if we don’t have the Word of God? Even when we disagree on how to best apply the Lord’s wisdom, it can be just as foolhardy to pretend that he hasn’t given any guidance.

  • Annie, what is my premise and what is false about it?

  • Annie

    Your premise seems to be that those who are concerned about the unmarried, cohabiting status of a fellow believer are only concerned about legal status. If I’m incorrect, let me know.

  • Phil Miller

    I have heard of similar situations. I have heard of some people converting and refusing to have physical relations with their significant other until they got married. I don’t think that’s something a church can really force onto people very easily, though. I personally don’t know if I’d have trouble baptizing the man. After all, we all sin after baptism. I would counsel him what I believe Scripture requires surrounding marriage and believers, though. After that, it would have to be a matter of his conscience.

    Regarding 1 Corinthians 7, I don’t see that it directly applies here. Paul is writing to people who were married beforehand but then one of the people in the marriage became a Christian. It seems a different situation when two people aren’t married and one becomes a Christian. The fact this couple has a child is really the difficult thing here.

  • Annie, it is clear that some people who say this couple are fornicating are assuming that fornicating means “having sex without being legally married.” And I think it’s important to think that through, because there are problems with an easy definition like that.

    I’m certainly not suggesting that everyone here who is giving serious thought to the situation is only concerned about the couple’s legal status–it’s obvious from a lot of the comments that many people are thinking more deeply about it than that.

    The Bible says fornication is a sin, so then, what is fornication? If your answer can be demonstrated to be absurd, then you probably have the wrong answer.

  • Ray

    Does anyone else see the heavy irony in this story? (a la baptism, commitment, and marriage)?

    My hypothetical advice to the man, if I were pastor: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” – i.e., don’t worry about the signed piece of paper right now. Instead, how do you think Jesus/God views relationships (& this requires a thoughtful theological study of marriage with the man in terms he can understand using the entire Biblical witness).
    Now, how do you view your relationship right now? If not a committed covenant, why not? If you want to enter into a covenant comittment with Jesus and make him Lord over everything in your life, including relationships, how do you think this affects how you yourself should handle your relationship with your girlfriend? (These questions/advice don’t apply to her right now, but she & the child may end up benefitting from them, so says Paul in 1 Cor.).

    I think he should be aware of what he is getting into with committing his life in baptism to Jesus – Jesus’ lordship is going to reorient his life and ask things of him, but in the best of ways (not legally, but transformatively). Thus I don’t see any biblical precedent that says he has to exhibit a changed life before committing in baptism, but I do think there is ethical precedent for him knowing the journey & calling that is ahead, lest we cheapen what our baptismal covenant with God is all about.

    Now the fun part: my advice to the board & other members: “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” THAT is going to be the hard piece here, in my experience as a pastor. But this could be a wonderful teaching experience for the whole community.

  • Blake

    Phil (#49), what marriage is there outside the Church? I see no difference between the state of this couple and any situation Paul would have encountered.

  • Phil Miller

    Annie, it is clear that some people who say this couple are fornicating are assuming that fornicating means “having sex without being legally married.” And I think it’s important to think that through, because there are problems with an easy definition like that.

    I’m not so concerned with whether the marriage is legal or not, but I do think that being married means something more than just saying you’re married to someone, or in this case, planning to get married to someone.

    One could make the argument that because this couple has had a child together that there is a sense in which they are married. But I still think going through the actual sacrament of marriage is important. It comes down to the level of commitment one has toward the relationship. I’ve seen some people who are hesitant to get married simply because want to have an option to leave if the decide to.

  • Phil Miller

    Phil (#49), what marriage is there outside the Church? I see no difference between the state of this couple and any situation Paul would have encountered.

    I don’t understand what you’re getting at. The couple mentioned in the article married either legally or through a sacramental ceremony. They’re engaged. Paul’s advice in 1 Cor 7 was directed at couples who were already married.

  • Phil Miller

    In #54, I meant to say,

    The couple mentioned in the article isn’t married either legally or through a sacramental ceremony.

  • Phil,

    (1) Where in the Bible does it say that marriage is a sacramental ceremony, and sex outside of a sacramental marriage is fornication and therefore sin.

    (2) If a non-religious couple gets married at city hall in a non-sacramental relationship, are they fornicating?

  • Phil Miller

    (1) Where in the Bible does it say that marriage is a sacramental ceremony, and sex outside of a sacramental marriage is fornication and therefore sin.

    It’s kind of a chicken and egg thing. Scripture doesn’t exist in a vacuum outside of the faith communities which it speaks to. And historically, marriage in those communities is a matter of taking part in a ceremony (or a sacrament). So the basis for the question is kind of odd. If someone who wants to join a church doesn’t respect the ceremonies and sacraments that are important to that church, why do they want to join in the first place?

    (2) If a non-religious couple gets married at city hall in a non-sacramental relationship, are they fornicating?

    That’s really a red herring. I don’t think that’s really here not there.

  • That’s really a red herring. I don’t think that’s really here not there.

    No, it’s not a red herring at all. If the objection to the couple in the OP is that they are living in sin because they are having sex outside of a sacramental marriage, then everyone who married outside of the Church are fornicators too, and “fornication” means something monumentally different from what we sort of always assume it means. At the very least, this couple is no more living in sin than any other non-Christian couple, legally married or not.

    If you say a couple’s purely legal marital status can also make them not be fornicating, then that means you are saying that whether something is sin or not is subject to the arbitrary whim of man’s laws, and that’s obviously absurd (see my comment at 41).

  • Blake

    Phil (#57) said: “If someone who wants to join a church doesn’t respect the ceremonies and sacraments that are important to that church, why do they want to join in the first place?”

    The male seems to want to join and respect the ceremonies and sacraments. The woman is an unbeliever and has no interest in the church or its sacraments and ceremonies. So the church can’t compel the woman to do anything including taking part in a ceremony with her fiance. So what recourse is left for the church towards the male but to baptize and disciple him? As I stated in my comment #40 the instructions from Paul in 1 Cor. 7 make clear that the relationship between the believer and unbeliever exists solely by the whim of the unbeliever. How can there be true Christian commitment between them if such is the case? Only the believer can be expected to have commitment and it would fall to the church to disciple him to be so committed both for his relationship to Christ and for the sake of his fiancee and child.

  • Phil Miller

    I think it’s a red herring because this couple isn’t married in any sense – legally or sacramentally. The question you’re asking is immaterial to the issue because of that. I would say that in the US, we don’t really see marriage as something that’s actually defined both ways. I think most people still conflate the two.

    From a Christian perspective, sex outside of marriage is wrong, period. Whether that marriage has to be Christian or not is really kind of beside the point. If the couple isn’t Christian, does it really matter whether a label is attached or not? From their perspective what’s the difference. I don’t view sin as something God keep tracks of on a ledger. The issue to me is what happens when the people involved are Christians. What it most God-honoring way for them to live their lives?

  • Tell the Church leadership to get over it. This guys life is messy, it’s complicated, but he is moving in the right direction. If the litmus test is for him to have “it” all together, then all of humanity that has every existed and still exists is doomed to hell.

  • Brian S

    Tell the man to sleep on the couch until they are properly married. She might not like it, but it would the best that could be done in the situation.

  • I don’t have time to read all the many responses, but have enough to get a flavor. Glad that quite a few seem to get it re. the formality of “getting married” as a cultural/societal issue more than a moral one. I don’t know what it may take for the church and/or board members to take a more realistic, sensible view, but it appears there are some good guidelines in some of the remarks. Basically, growth for some of them may come via being challenged with some good logic and “come let us reason together” and a reminder that God “looking on the heart” basically means, in this case, being concerned with the FUNCTION of marriage – commitment, love, stability and such – not the outward FORM (formality).

  • Robin

    I think what is bothering me about this thread is that the “baptize him” crowd doesn’t seem to be giving any kind of framework for what type of marriage the church should require.

    I am not saying there has to be a state ceremony or even a sacramental one, but sex outside of “marriage” is clearly prohibited for believers. This group seems to be saying, “they’ve had sex and a child, so they are married,” with no concern about actual lifetime committment, vows made before God and men, or anything else.

    I think it is particularly problematic since marriage is a picture of Christ’s relationship to the church, and he didn’t just have a child out of wedlock and continue shacking up. I think it is a thorny issue, but marriage is more than just having a kid and living under the same roof. If the “baptize him” crowd could give some idea of what type of committment he should be prepared to make, and maybe it is a unilateral committment, maybe he commits to all the vows that a husband would (love, honor, cherish, care for in sickness and all that jazz) towards her, as long as she, as an unbeliever permits him to, and he makes this commitment before God and the elders.

    Even if she is unwilling to respond to his love and committment, it doesn’t mean that he cannot pledge such things. The church never responds perfectly to Christ, but that didn’t prevent Christ from securing the new covenant for us.

  • Steve Robinson

    You have to sit through about 2-3 minutes of “wedding video” to get to the ceremony and homily, but this is relevant to the role of the church and state in marriage and recognizing a union for a couple that has co-habitated for years. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhFvVxE10DU

  • Norman

    I’m sorry but this discussion today just makes me angry; angry at the manipulations that are being sought out to manufacture systematic religion. I just don’t see Christ and his affirmation and wisdom in some of these contrivances. There are all kinds of messes that we just can’t fix like we all want to. I’ve seen so many women over the years that have come to church while their unbelieving spouse resist, yet often over the year’s things change and the spouse joins the fellowship of the faithful because he was prayed for and encouraged and befriended by the community of believers. Because; it begin to feel like his community over time and not like he was outside looking in.

    How are you going to minister to a believer if you aren’t willing to take them warts and all including their prior poor decisions (and ongoing) and seek God’s power for their family for His healing power? If we aren’t willing to be His instruments of Healing then maybe one should perform a survey on those we choose as candidates for Christ before infesting our time with them. Now doesn’t that turn your stomach?

    I think Christ and Paul both would be astounded at our return to a legalistic understanding concerning Baptism when so much blood and suffering was undertaken to rid religion of the rites of legalism. If we are setting baptism before Love, faith and mercy then I think perhaps we have returned to the mud to wallow in it again. I don’t see the Gospel being usurped or trumped again by systematic religion and that includes legalistic Baptism rites. If we think it does then perhaps we need to go back to the table and reevaluate our understanding of what Christ freed us from. Everything has to be filtered through the main purpose and intent and teaching of Christ and not in cultural or period details that cloud the picture.

    And why would one want to pastor a church where the members might not have accepted that when they embrace someone in bringing them to faith, they bring the totality of that person including their family with them as our endeavor of being ambassadors of God’s Grace to them. There is just so much wrong with this story line that eats at me. Perhaps some teaching is in order for this congregation first before they venture forth into the mission field and end up having to conference over the specifics of individuals they are considering for God’s future servants.

    What an opportunity is what I see; to strengthen a family and bring healing to one who has lost trust because of prior abuse. Let her see Christ and His servant hood through this church His Body. And to think we might refuse this opportunity because of a religious construct we have. This is more about the Body of believers than it is about the man his “fiance” and their child.

  • James Neely

    I have always believed that to be married one must submit to the accepted rules of the society in which they live, and living together without the benefit of such is fornication. Thus, there existed, as I understand it, the valid marriage ritual in the black community of “jumping over the broom handle” to effect a marriage. (That may be incorrect, but the accuracy of the statement is not important to my point.) With this as a guiding star, I would have to conclude that the subject of the example in this case could not demonstrate his commitment to a life guided by God’s revealed word until the matter was resolved. Certainly many of the above writers would disagree with that position and raise some valid points to support their claims.
    The question and many of the answers bring up an incident in my own life which does not answer the question but is an interesting tangent. My wife and I were married in a very conventional manner, except that it was a very small wedding involving the minister and 3 or 4 other people. When we got back from our honeymoon, about a week later, we had a letter from the county clerk where we had been married. The letter said approximately “The minister failed to sign the marriage license, therefore your marriage is not legal until we receive a signed copy. Please have him do so, and return it to us.”
    I will leave it to you theologists to determine if we were “living in sin and would have been lost had we been killed in an automobile accident until the matter was legalized”. I thought the matter was quite amusing; my wife failed to see the humor in it. However, we got it taken care of quite soon and didn’t worry about the matter.

  • Richard M

    Is he moving toward Christ, or away from Him? Surely that’s what matters.

    If he’s moving toward Him, what’s the problem in baptising him?

  • Paul W

    Robin @ 64

    I’m not sure if my comments above (#2) make me part of the “baptize him” crowd or not. But from my background the baptism of an is predicated upon faith in Christ. The determination of whether a person has faith in Christ (for the purposes of baptism) is made by a group of elders who interview the person and evaluate the credibility of that person’s profession of faith. If it appears credible then a baptism is scheduled.

    From the original post it is presented as a matter of fact that the person in question has come to faith in Christ. [One could argue that the situation speaks against credibility of the profession of faith but the post contends that it is genuine]. From my background– whatever complications the ‘living situation’ may create– those complications do not (in principle) mitigate against baptizing an individual who makes a credible profession of faith in Christ.

    So from my perspective, no matter what pastoral advice may be needed it should not be bundled to the question of baptism once a credibility of faith has been established.

  • Paul W

    “baptism of an “

  • Robin

    Paul W,

    Your last comment makes me want to take a step back…what is required for baptism?

    A) a credible profession of faith or
    B) a credible profession of faith and evidence of conversion (evidence you have turned from sinful behavioral patterns in some way and are attempting to walk with the Lord)

    So, if you say it is just (A) then I understand you to be saying that you would make no inquiry into the struggles with sin the individual might have and how he is dealing with them BEFORE baptizing him. I am not saying you wouldn’t discuss those things post-baptism, but if you had a crack addict that made a profession, you wouldn’t wait to see if he was having success kicking the habit before you baptized him, is that correct?

    If it is correct, then given your theology of baptism there is no further discussion and I understand that.

  • Phil Miller

    There are different views on baptism within the Church at large, and I think some of that is coming into play here. Personally, I don’t believe in bapistmal regeneration. I don’t know where others fall. As far as demanding specific fruit be evident from someone who wants to be baptized, I don’t see how that is a requirement. In Acts it seems that people were baptized nearly immediately after their initial profession of faith.

    The one thing I’d say is that I don’t personally view this issue as something where I’m calling anyone’s salvation into question. I view it more as a question of Christian ethics. So to me, the baptism issue isn’t really the big question. I don’t think I’d have trouble baptizing someone if I felt their profession of faith was sincere. The question of how they should live their life after that is something that will need worked. But that’s something we all have to do.

  • Marshall

    The marriage ceremony is “the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual presence”, so the lack of a paper signed by the county clerk should be no hinderance: 1Cor7 applies exactly. Full disclosure, this is rather my situation. My pastor said (in a sermon, not to me personally) that if the husband and wife can’t manage to belong to the same church, that’s going to be a difficulty in their marriage. And so it is: fortunately the man seems to have good mentoring in his church, he’s going to need it.

    Isn’t it weird that if there had been a civil ceremony, there would be no problem?? I think the basic mistake here (believer/non-believer issue aside) is that people are trying to draw a line in the swamp. Commitment is not a binary on-or-off sort of thing.

  • John I.

    In Canada, the couple would be de facto considered to be married in 9 out of 10 of their provinces. In the common law provinces living together becomes, by law, a marriage after a certain number of years (called “common-law marriage”, because this legal position resulted from the decisions of common law judges).

    The exception is Quebec, which is not part of the common law tradition (of the U.K. and its former colonies), because it is governed by its own Civil Code (a descendant of the Napoleonic Code – which was also in use in Louisiana). The Civil Code does not recognize marriage outside of state supervised marriages (i.e., need a civil marriage license). This distinction has just recently been enforced by the Supreme Court of Canada, which denied marriage breakdown benefits (e.g., alimony) to a couple in Quebec who had lived together without a state marriage license.

    The point being that a marriage can be recognized as a valid marriage even where there is no official state recognition, that is, no license or other bureaucratic document. This is the case for most of Canada’s citizens–those residing in the common law provinces. In cases like that set out in the lede above, a local body could recognize the marital validity of the relationship even without a piece of state paper.

    In the situation set out in the lede, both parties hold out their relationship as a marital one, and the man is quite willing to get state recognition for the relationship (i.e., a marriage license). If the man is willing to declare to the congregation that he is committed to his woman as husband to wife, and indeed to vow not to leave her, then he has done all that can be expected without the participation of his wife.

    In an era where the evangelical church tolerates serial polygamy, divorce without repentance, and has divorce rates similar to the unchurched, it would be extremely hypocritical to refuse baptism to this man.


    I’m also of the view that baptism should be immediate upon profession of faith, without a period of instruction or observation for so-called proof of repentance. Hence, the sin question is irrelevant for me (and don’t we all “live in sin”, anyway?). However, my position is not that of the church in question.

  • DRT

    Seems clear to me. Baptize the brother in Christ and then let the “church members” decide if he is good enough to join their club.

  • Paul W

    Robin @ 71

    What is required for baptism? That really is the big question here don’t you think? I would have expected that the church– any church– would already have settled that question prior to the performance of any baptisms. Perhaps I’m naive.

    I like the way you presented the options about the requirement(s) of baptism as:

    A) a credible profession of faith or
    B) a credible profession of faith and evidence of conversion (evidence you have turned from sinful behavioral patterns in some way and are attempting to walk with the Lord)

    I have spent most of my adult life in option (A) churches. However, the devil (as they say) is in the details. And so a few caveats are in order.

    The first caveat is that we are talking about a “credible” profession of faith rather than just a any ole’ profession of faith. It’s a little deeper than just uttering some words.

    The second caveat is the really import question: what constitutes credibility with regard to a profession of faith. Here, I may throw a monkey wrench into your expectations. I think that ‘patterns of life’ and various behaviors should play a role in that process. And so, inquiry into the person’s faith journey is really important.

    As an aside, having local elders (board members/etc) who have a mature grasp on life, a good understanding of the church’s theology, and a loving connection to the life of the baptismal candidate is really crucial IMHO. They are the ones who should steer the way through the interview process in order to grasp both the complexities of the individual’s life and evaluate the credibility of the profession of faith.

    The third caveat revolves around the nature of the faith being asserted. For an adult baptism what the elders (board/etc) are looking at is whether they trust the person’s profession. They are to try to determine whether they believe that the person has “authentic” faith in Christ. And so, the threshold for baptism is the credibility of the claim to authentic faith by the baptismal candidate. The issue is authenticity of faith. It is not about gauging whether some particular level of Christian maturity has been attained or how successful they have been in navigating the complexities of life.

    So, I laid my cards on the table. How about you? Do you have any thoughts on what is required for baptism or does your church have a process on determining who gets baptized?

  • Dana

    What’s he supposed to do, leave the woman he’s supporting because she’s been abused and is scared of marriage? Even if he was heroically able to continue cohabiting with her while ceasing to have sex with her, that would damage their relationship (we all acknowledge that’s true in the case of marriage) and would probably be a major source of strife. Either would be worse than just remaining as things are.

    If he got into this situation before he was a believer, and now that he is one he’s asking for marriage, I think he’s doing the best and most Christlike thing he can in his circumstances.

    For Christians, the “rules” are never rules just for their own sake, they’re always rules for the sake of loving other human beings. The reason we’re told not to fornicate is for the purposes of nurturing better relationships between human beings. In this case, the best way to get what that rule is actually intended for–encouraging faithfulness and commitment between people in sexual relationships rather than using sex for temporary pleasure–is for him to stay with this woman and be faithful and loving to her, and compassionate about her fears, and not stress about the piece of paper too much.

  • Citizen Alan

    I think it says a lot about the state of modern American Christianity that the phrase “living in sin” now almost exclusively means “sex, in a manner we disapprove of.” Would you or your church members ever think of someone as “living in sin” if he were, say, a slum lord who took advantage of poor renters struggling to keep a roof over their heads? Or the guy who runs the local pay-day loan place who charges usurious interests rates? Or would such people (a) already be members of the church and (b) likely candidates for being deacons?

  • UrsulaL

    What are the options here?

    No one can force her to agree to marry him, and no one should be able to. And if she won’t freely agree to marry him, he can’t marry her.

    So the question becomes whether a pastor or church makes leaving his child, and his child’s mother, a condition of baptism. A child who apparently has two parents who love it, living together and raising the child. A home and family.

    If this man is someone who would leave his child, in order to be baptized, it says something about him. And if this a church that would make breaking up a child’s home a condition of a parent’s baptism, it says something about the church. And neither is nice.