Question:

My husband and I are faithful members of the Lord's church. We are active in a congregation in which a situation has occurred which has caused division in the congregation.

The situation is this: a man and a woman who have been baptized and are members of the Lord's church are not married, but they are living together. Although they have been seen holding hands and have been heard calling each other "honey," they claim that they are only living together for financial reasons. The man and woman have been living together for several years and do admit to being intimate at one time; however, state that they have not been intimate in the past few years.

The man and woman were approached about their living arrangements and the matter eventually went before the men of the congregation (there are no elders). In response, the minister (who is a member of another congregation and only attends on Sunday mornings to preach) informed the congregation that we could not judge the couple because we did not know if they were actually being intimate. Some members of the congregation agreed with the minister that we should not judge the couple while other members of the congregation believed that we should withdraw fellowship with the couple. The reason for withdrawal is that the couple are living together and giving the appearance of living as man and wife when they are not married, which could potentially bring reproach on the Lord's church.

Because the minister was unwilling to take a stand for what most in the congregation believed to be scripturally correct, a majority of the men of the congregation asked the minister to leave, which he did willingly.

As a minister in the Lord's church, how would you deal with this situation? Do you believe this is a situation in which the congregation should withdraw from the couple because they have refused to change their living arrangements, and they are potentially bringing reproach upon the church?


Answer:

Since I wasn't there, don't know anyone involved and only know your view of the situation, I realize that some critical fact might not have be relayed. However, it appears to me that the men did an excellent job in handling the situation.

Let's look at the man and woman's situation: Christians are to act in an honorable fashion, "providing honorable things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men" (II Corinthians 8:21). A man and woman living together gives the impression that they are involved in fornication, whether it is going on or not. While it is true that it is harder to live on your own, it is not impossible. Financially, it is not difficult to get married. The question is why did they not get married if they want to live together? "But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion" (I Corinthians 7:8-9). Living together but without sex means they are trying to exist in between the only two acceptable states: being single and being married.

It really doesn't matter whether the church knew they were having sex or not. They were giving the appearance of doing so to the community. I strongly suspect there was no real reason this had to be done, other than they found it convenient. See: Is living together, but not sleeping together, a sin?

The preacher was in the wrong because he didn't properly apply the scriptures. The congregation was right in no longer wanting the services of a man who is willing to compromise with sin. But I would also like to note that the situation wasn't following biblical teachings in the first place. You don't find in the New Testament someone teaching in one congregation while being a member in a different one. See about half-way down in: Must a Preacher Move?

By the way, in none of this is a decision made on what the majority in a congregation decides. The discussion must always be about what the Lord instructs. See You Are in the Minority. If someone disagrees, they need to show well thought out reasons from the Scriptures why unmarried couples should live together. This is an issue that churches will continue to face as the world has come to accept fornication and doesn't want people to mention that some actions are sin.