Living Together Cohabitation from a Biblical perspective
The topic, living together, as in “informal marriage” or “common law” recurs with a certain regularity on the agenda of the consistory meetings since the sixties of the previous century. The topic reappears regularly in all sorts of periodicals, especially church and Christian.
Begun at one time in leftist elitist circles, among students, living together without being officially married has become steadily more practised and accepted. It fits into the great cultural changes of the post war years. Traditions are thrown overboard in rapid tempo and the authority of the Bible withers. The role of the media is large in this. Thus, towards the end of the twentieth century, the taboo on living together while unmarried is pretty much broken. In Protestant circles this is not yet totally true, but time will teach us how long this resistance will remain. Meanwhile, more and more boys and girls from churches with a Reformed orthodoxy go on holidays together. Whether or not they then sleep apart, who dares to ask?
A survey which was filled out in 2014 by a generous 1600 students from the (Reformed) Hoornbeeck college, middle level applied education, indicated that only 42 % agreed with the statement that sexual relations before marriage were wrong. A large group of young people does not only live in diverse worlds, but also combines them with each other.
Recent research by the Netherlands Daily Paper confirms the surmise that in (traditionally) conservative church federations a development is taking place where the biblical norms around marriage and sexuality begin to be seen more and more as time bound.
Whoever googles the keyword “living together” on the internet, finds a treasure trove of information. Anyone can find what they want. Websites such as “everything about living together” clear away the last questions and objections. Art-Jan and Mieke found funny cards there to let people know that they were going to live together. They formalized their new status with a cohabitation contract, but they could also choose not to do that. Mieke moved in with Art-Jan who already lived by himself. Also that became a trend, leaving the parental home to go to live by yourself.
Living together, unmarried, is on the increase in churches with Reformed orthodoxy.
What are the motives of people, also older people, widows and widowers—to decide to live together?
Is adhering to Biblical norms intolerant, loveless?
What is our stand towards unmarried living together and confirmation of marriage in the church, confession and the use of the sacraments? Is that a Biblically grounded point of view? The old Dordt church order devoted 8 articles to marriage.
Marriage is a holy covenant.
There is an inseparable coherence between marriage, sexual intercourse and the formation of a family.
We find God’s basic pattern in Genesis 2:24.
Piece of Wrapping Paper
Whoever questions Art-Jan and Mieke about their motivation can expect widely divergent answers. What did they see of fidelity and love in their parents’ house? They can also point to the government, asking the question what marriage actually means to the government. Hollowed out and eroded on all sides, it does not appear to be much more than a piece of wrapping paper. In how far does the government itself still regard marriage as serious?
I have not even discussed the small talk with which the average official who conducts marriages addresses the couple. Fortunately there are more than good exceptions. Alongside traditional marriage, the government acknowledges a wide range of varieties of relationships, since 2001, also the “marriage” of two people of the same sex. Meanwhile divorce is made easier. Also this fits very well into a climate where the right to choose for yourself is predominant.
Within the Christian Reformed Churches, 20 % of the ministers no longer see, in the Bible, a clear command against living together, unmarried.…The less people bow to the authority of God’s Word, the greater the acceptance of unmarried living together. Also the opposite; the more man is inclined to give great weight to current culture and to compromise and meet modern man’s thinking, the more man minimalizes the authority of the Bible. That is clear as crystal. Rev. P.J.D. Buijs, Christian Reformed minister in Officebearers Contact” 16.2.1013.
The once so strongly regulated authority, without let-up, moves toward the wishes of the citizen who values rules and regulations less and less. Norms and values, rights and duties emit an offensive smell in the “modern” Netherlands for some time already. The less we have of that, the better it is. Art-Jan and Mieke could ask what an officially documented marriage would add to their relationship. Do not speak of shacking up — that nasty word used by opa and oma — because they consciously chose each other. And indeed, there are young people who live together and maintain integrity in their intentions.
Young people see many marriages fail, and want to see first whether they fit with each other. There are also people who postpone marriage for economic reasons. They cannot afford a large wedding or a honeymoon or they want to wait with marriage until they have steady employment. For a small group marriage is a station they have passed by…Nowadays, there are also Christians who, out of carefulness, want to live with each other first. Compare it to the purchase of an automobile where you first go for a test drive.Nicole Hiekel, researcher for the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute RD 7.5.2014.
Their church council will most probably think differently about this. For ease of explanation, I will go with the assumption that Art-Jan and Mieke are involved with the church. The minister and elders see it as their task to take up this conversation. “Let it come”, says the young couple. “We are ready for it”, and they lay their arguments on the table. “Why should you have to go to the town hall to officially become a couple?” Did they not read somewhere that Napoleon gave the government a task at every marriage? Why then should a relationship of love and faithfulness without the town hall not be able to be an equitable alternative? Art-Jan and Mieke are really expressing themselves now. They see their relationship as a concern between themselves and the Lord.
It is easy to understand that we cannot serve them here with standard answers, with arguments that, for these people, are not valid. It is important here to figure out why they prefer living together over marriage. It may be a case here of far reaching ignorance, but also of rebellion, of feelings and emotions that prevail over that which the church has confessed for centuries on the basis of listening obediently to Scripture.
They are children of this time, in which, on an ethical level, much is sliding. TV, radio, newspapers and periodicals, but also the internet promote norms and values contrary to Biblical ethics, not to speak of a cross-section of films. Added to this is that in a growing number of churches, it is clear to see that relationships are viewed differently than they were years ago. Same sex couples can receive a blessing over their union. Already long before the split in 2004, our own church ruled for partner pension for ministers who lived together, unmarried. In 1979, the Hervormde synod declared that Biblical rules and precepts of marriage were time bound (“Living together without marriage”). Not so long before that, they had spoken entirely differently. Meanwhile, the church accepted and promoted what they had earlier denounced. In the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands, the synod of 1982 no longer saw marriage as “instituted by God”, but as “a possibility granted by God”.
In 2013, the Central Bureau of Statistics counted 893.000 unmarried couples. That is an increase of 72 % since 1995. It does not pass us by.
The current growing generation of teenagers is strongly influenced through watching movies. Upon investigation of diverse church youth organizations, it appears that practically all youth use this medium. In my opinion, the film is one of the strong tempters of our time…In no time actors share a bed…Added to this, many of our young people view pornography…The flood of images around sexuality that is not in accord with the Biblical message of love and faithfulness, demands an honest answer.Steven Middelkoop -youth work advisor for Renewed Hervormde Youth Organization RD 7.6.2014.
“And your parents then?…Do you know what you are saying? If they hear that I am going to live together with him, unmarried, they’ll have a stroke” (p.170).
Under Ada’s dark, sharply drawn eyebrows, her mother looked at him. “Are you planning to get married?”
“Why may I not ask that?”
“Because it irritates me. As if marrying is the highest thing. Around the time that we plan to get married, you will hear of it; meanwhile it is not our plan, no.” (p. 172)
Henry Mulish “The discovery of heaven”. 1992
What is Good for You
We find ourselves, with our young people, in a time period of decreasing fruits in God’s service. What it is about is examples of a simple living according to the Word of God. It is about listening daily to what the Lord says in order to live it and pass it on to our youth. With an eye to the far-reaching relativization of marriage, that means following the lines set out by God. He is the author of marriage (Gen. 2:14; Matt. 19). It is about a covenant (Mal. 2:14). That means that going to live together as husband and wife always has an official waypoint (Deut. 22:13-30; Ruth 4:13; 1 Cor. 7:9). It is not a free standing agreement between us. The ritual festivities ensure that the two from this point on are one. Because of the social, public, and legal element, the Reformation emphatically gave the government a task in the contract of marriage. It remains necessary to explain to youth that sexual relations are binding (Ex. 22:16, 17) and to explain why God does not want sexual intercourse before marriage. Endeavor to bring those who are living together to a better point of view, that they may go the way of marriage. But what if someone does not see that his way is a wrong one? What if there is no repentance? That is painful and worrisome. According to my insight, in that case, the consistory must clearly show that a boundary has been crossed. Call it discipline, if you want, but not in the sense of punishment, but for healing. The consistory has genuine concern for the well-being of the congregation and her members and desires, at the same time, for doing justice to God’s holy laws. Therefore these issues will specifically be addressed in preaching, catechism, equipping the people and prayer. We uphold marriage as a Godly institution and for that the Bible is our norm.