Question:

Hello,

I am a 19 year old young man studying with a church. I have been studying for over a year and a half and now I am ready to get baptized. I have made it my effort to not only learn the word of God; but to also apply it to my life. I pray to God consistently and I read my Bible daily. We recently have done a study on counting the cost of being a disciple and I am willing to commit my life to Jesus. They told me that in order to be a disciple I must leave my girlfriend.

I met my girlfriend at a bible study at this church and she is currently studying as well. I don't mind leaving her if that is what it takes, but at this point it is hard to keep my feelings at bay to make a sound judgement. My girlfriend and I have fornicated in the past. After a few months of being in a committed relationship, we realized that God isn't first and we need to change our priorities. Now it has been months since we have had intercourse. We are both finished or almost finished with our study series. We go to church every Sunday and we read the Bible daily. All we want to do is glorify God with our relationship and we even changed directions musically because we are both singers. We used to sing secular music and now we changed our careers to singing Gospel music. She is a little behind me as far as her studies and probably her faith, but she mirrors my actions. I lead and she follows. It took her being in my life to show me that I need God because I realized that I can't possibly love her the right way if I don't love God first.

We both intend on getting married and trying to become active leaders in our church. The people that are around us that are in the church just want us to split. I admit that we are not perfect people, but I know for sure that God put her in my life for a reason. We don't even ride in the same car by ourselves to church to show that we are only there for God and not each other. The people that are in our church that are married the longest for 25 years and up got married as young Christians, and we thought they would understand but they don't. I feel like we have done everything to prove to God how much we love Him, but now I am starting to feel like we are only proving this to man. Does God scripturally have a problem with our relationship?


Answer:

It appears to me that you have fallen in with a group belonging to the International Churches of Christ (not to be confused with the churches of Christ). One of their key characteristics is making demands beyond what God requires and insisting on controlling all aspects of their members' lives.

But just to make it clear. You can't be a Christian and continue to sin. "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (I Corinthians 6:9-11). Many people focus on avoiding fornication, but permit themselves other sexual sins which are equally wrong. See: What are all the type of sexual sins? I'm mentioning all of this, not because I think you are involved in them, but because the world has odd ideas about sin.

While you have stopped your intercourse, what I don't know is if you are living together or not. While you may not be involved in fornication, for two unmarried people to be living together in the same house, it not only increases the temptation to sin but it also gives the impression to others that sin is taking place. A Christian has to be mindful of the impression he leaves with others. A Christian should be "providing honorable things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men" (II Corinthians 8:21). This is because we represent Christ to others. "Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation" (I Peter 2:11-12).

Assuming that you are not involved in sins or the appearance of sins with your girlfriend, there is no command in the Bible requiring you to give up your relationships for God. This is a man-made doctrine. "Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations -- "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle," which all concern things which perish with the using -- according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh" (Colossians 2:20-23). As I mention before, this is one of the classic characteristics of an International Churches of Christ group.

Even if you were involved with sin with your girlfriend, the proper answer would be that you needed to stop the sin and repent of it (Acts 2:38). Changing your relationship is not asked of anyone. Nor is becoming a Christian a long, drawn out process. When a person understands that he wants to be a Christian, he is offered the opportunity at that time. "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). This group appears to be hindering you from obeying the Lord.

I know a number of good, sound congregations in your area. May I suggest visiting one or two of them and talking to the preachers and elders there? Let me know and I'll give you some contact information.

Hello Jeffrey,

I greatly appreciate you getting back to me so promptly. To answer your question, no we do not live together. I live with my parents and so does she. I admit that we are tempted in our relationship. Even though the intercourse has stopped, we have given in to other "hints" of immorality in the past. I spoke to a brother today about this issue that I am having. The church wants to baptize members with the full understanding of what they are doing. Their system of accountability is incredible, but I just don't believe in waiting to be baptized. I recognize that I am not right with God and I desperately want to get right with God. The brother I spoke to today told me that I need to break up with her for now because of how our relationship is being put before God. In order to build a solid foundation for relationships with her and other people in my life Christ must be the central focus. I have the ability to cause her to sin and vice versa. I was told that we need time apart to focus on God and see where the relationship goes from there. If I were to get baptized they believe that she would want to pursue becoming a disciple for the wrong reasons. I understand the thinking behind this even though I don't completely agree with it. Is it wrong to consider her emotions? Should I take a break?

A permanent break from this group that is misusing the Scripture is what I recommend. Yes, they have a "system," but it is not from God.

There are passages which state that our commitment to God must be first. "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26). But does this passage mean a man must leave his wife, children, and family before he can become a Christian? The answer is "no," and other passages clarify it. "But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her" (I Corinthians 7:12). Even if a man has an unbelieving wife, he is not to give her up just to be a Christian. What Jesus is talking about is in the spiritual sense of priorities. If my father objected to my becoming a Christian, I must be willing to serve God anyway, even if it means going against my father's desire and even if he never talks to me again the rest of our lives. But notice that would be my father's choice, not mine. My choice is that God is more important than any earthly relationship.

Your girlfriend is not standing in your way of becoming a Christian. Therefore, there is nothing that needs to be given up. God doesn't require sacrificing relationships in order to become a Christian, He merely warns that some relationships might not endure your becoming a Christian and are you willing to put God first anyway. Nor should an individual's decision to be a Christian depend on what someone else might or might not do in the future. Why your girlfriend becomes a Christian is her struggle. You can only be there to encourage her.

The only people standing in your way, unfortunately, are the people who have been teaching you and they are doing so by imposing rules that God never gave. In this they are no different than the Pharisees and what Jesus said applies to them as well, "These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:8-9).

The International Churches of Christ do not promote the truth. They teach some truth, but there is a lot of error in their doctrine. You are running into one of those errors -- the idea that the church controls and dictates how people live all aspects of their lives. A church is involved in teaching people the gospel and helping people leave sin. It is not involved in telling people who they may date. Oddly, some people find this firm control over every aspect of their lives appealing. It takes away making decisions and being responsible for them. But it isn't God's way. I would like you to read "International Church of Christ" to see more about their teaching and where it deviates from the gospel.

 

I greatly appreciate your honesty. I believe that the Orlando Church is a little different because of the love that we have for each other. My discipler is from Boston originally, so maybe they do things a little different in Boston, or maybe since he is a little older that might play a role in it as well. He told me it's not that he doesn't want us to be together, but we caused each other to sin and we can cause each other to sin again. Our convictions aren't strong enough as individuals and there is a strong emotional attachment that can keep me from putting God first because I will always have deep concern for what she is feeling.

"I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord." (I Corinthians 7:32-35).

As you can see that interests may be divided. I am just living and trying my best to get closer to God. I can't put myself under a microscope, I can only trust the man next to me to take a closer look and tell me what I am doing. My girlfriend and I decided to take a break from each other. I still see her sometimes and communication isn't completely lost but we are not actively working on our relationship. I would like to marry her soon once I get my finances together. Overall I am very happy with my life and the changes I have made and the faith that I have built up. I am really confused about this baptism thing. Maybe God wants to see what I have in my heart. I can feel some pride building up inside of me because I feel that a lot of things are ridiculous at this point. Maybe this is my test.

How do I know if I am truly repented? Where do I have to be spiritually to consider marriage? How do you know if you don't have God first in your life?

The Orlando Church is no different than any of the other International Church of Christ locations. By the way, before it was known as the International Church of Christ, it was called the Boston Movement because the church in Boston controlled all other churches. That this group was connected to the International Church of Christ can be seen in this letter: Spring 2003 Orlando Apology Letter. While they apologized for following the directives of the ICOC, it does not state that they separated from it. The fact that they are still using some of their same methods tells me that the break-away did not happen. It still remains under the control of the Central Florida Church as seen in 2004 Articles of Amendment to Articles of Incorporation of the Central Florida Church, Inc. Hence, it is still in a hierarchy of churches instead of following the New Testament pattern of independent churches. The Central Florida Church is still a part of the International Church of Christ denomination.

Regardless of the denominational aspects of the group you are studying with, It remains that you have men deciding who is qualified to baptized and it is not based on sin in your life but a claim that sin might happen again. The sermon outline: The International Church of Christ – From Man or God? was written about a decade ago by a friend of mine. I would like you to notice that the techniques used remain basically the same.

I Corinthians 7 was given to Christians who were about to face severe persecution. "I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress -- that it is good for a man to remain as he is" (I Corinthians 7:26). To ignore the context in which the command is given is ripe ground for misapplying those commands. Is being married and having a family a distraction in times of persecution, the answer according to Paul is clearly "yes." But was Paul telling people to disconnect from their relationships? The answer there is "no." "Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife" (I Corinthians 7:27). Now take especially close look at the next verse: "But even if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Nevertheless such will have trouble in the flesh, but I would spare you" (I Corinthians 7:28).

You've been told that you cannot become a Christian until you sacrifice your relationship with a woman you hope to marry one day. There is no such requirement anywhere in the scriptures. If you were dating a woman who wasn't interested in following God and was constantly trying to get the pants off of you, then I would say she was a bad influence on you and you need to find a better companion. "Do not be deceived: "Evil company corrupts good habits"" (I Corinthians 15:33). But you did not describe your girlfriend as being evil -- you described the opposite actually.

What these people are imposing on you is from men disguised as coming from God. What they are doing is downright shameful.  Having opposed the International Church of Christ in the past, I know what they are attempting to do. They only baptize those who demonstrate the willingness to give the leadership of this church control over their lives. But what the Bible teaches is that God is our authority, not people on earth.

When you open your Bible, you find that people did not delay becoming Christians. Paul was told to be baptized immediately (Acts 22:16). The Philippian jailer was baptized the same hour in which he learned the gospel (Acts 16:33). When the Ethiopian eunuch studied with Philip and the question of being baptized came up, note the only question: "Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?" Then Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God"" (Acts 8:36-37). You weren't given such a simple direct answer. The message of the Bible is that salvation is too precious to put off. "For He says: "In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you." Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (II Corinthians 6:2).

Let me put it this way, right now God is not first in your life because you have put your mentor between you and God. Though God says to become His child, you are dragging your feet because some man tells you to wait. You'll know God is first in your life when God, and not some man or some church, orders your life. You know you repented because you have reject the sin of your past and you no longer practice it (II Corinthians 7:10-11).

My advice remains the same. You and your girlfriend need to find a real church, one that actually follows the Bible. You and your girlfriend both know what is necessary to be a Christian, "now why are you waiting?" (Acts 22:16).