Addressing Cohabitation in the Church


How should a pastor guide couples who are living together but who also wish to please God through matrimony?

Q. As a pastor, the issue of cohabitation before marriage is one I have come up against in counseling and officiating weddings within the church. I watched your clip from Marriage 101 on cohabitation and found it very helpful. Is there any coaching or direction you can offer me for situations in which couples live together but are desiring to get married, and are beginning to think through God’s will for their relationship?

A. First of all, here is what we know: God intends for marriage between a man and a woman to bring glory to Him. Marriage is His idea. Marriage is the foundation of our society and the first institution established—and we seem to have dumbed it down. As an advocate for marriage, I believe this breaks the heart of God.

That being said, we honor your desire to handle this issue in a way that glorifies God, as we know it can be a difficult one as a pastor and mentor in the church. Here are some additional thoughts…

God is a God of order. In Genesis 2:24 we are instructed to leave, cleave, become one and THEN experience intimacy. It appears to me that so much of the confusion centers on stepping outside this order in life. When a cohabitating couple already has a child, the reality of the complication is even more profound. I have advised couples that when there is “an appearance of evil” or when they are experiencing conviction and contrition--if they are then desiring to please God by marrying, they need to ask how do we live until the time of the marriage? I have suggested that couples start with the conviction and contrition and seek forgiveness from God and from one another to assert that there is a true conviction of the Holy Spirit as they have addressed the issue with the pastor and/or counselor. Then I ask them to consider not sleeping with one another and engaging in sex, seeking and being granted forgiveness so that their children and others see that they are pursuing God’s heart and desire for their relationship. At times couples have chosen to move into another bedroom in the house and even explain to their kids that they have brought this issue before Jesus and that God is helping them live obediently.

I hope this helps. I know as an advocate for marriage, what God intended for us has been distorted and it doesn’t look like it is getting any clearer in the flesh, culture or enemy’s hands. It breaks my heart. So when I address this with a couple that are just doing what makes sense to them, helping them search and discover God’s Word, it is a joy to see them agree with God and make hard decisions. 

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