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Question: I have a question. Christians tend to say that two people that aren't married, (in one of their generally accepted human ceremonies basically) are living in sin.

I have been with the same woman for eight years. We have love and commitment in our relationship, which we consider a marriage. We have made an oath, and our friends and my parents respect and accept us as husband and wife. (My father is Baptist; my mother is Catholic.) By the way my wife and I are not Christians. Her parents however do not.

First off I should tell you that they are "nondenominational Christians" and they threw her out of the house when they found out we were dating 7 years ago. They didn't seem to like the fact that my grandfather wasn't a caucasian, and I was dating their daughter. Their hypocrisy over this and many issues made her reject Christianity long ago.

Now, since we pay our taxes as husband and wife, and we call ourselves husband and wife and so do our loved ones, why are we "living in sin"? I have searched through many versions of the Bible and Bible dictionaries. There is nothing in the there that defines two people that are monogamous, commited and in love as sinning.

If we were to follow the way weddings were conducted in biblical times, then almost none of the marriages today would be valid. Where does the Bible define how a wedding is to be conducted to be valid? I don't remember the passages that say anything about the modern day Christian ceremony being mandatory? I am growing tired of the hypocrisy of modern Christianity.

Please explain this.

Answer: I appreciate your candidness, respect your observations and commend your research of the matter. The fact that you would bother to ask the question and even be concerned about Christians' hypocrisy suggests that you really care about the matter.

About some Christians' hypocrisy: One can't judge the truth of the Bible by the way some Christians live their lives no more than one can judge the accuracy of a Ford Truck Owners Manual by the way some treat their Ford trucks.

A lot of what you said about the custom of marriage is true. Eve never wore a wedding dress (or any dress). The Bible never advocates a particular custom for marriage, although it does describe ancient and Jewish customs of marriage. What must be remembered is that the Bible doesn't explicitly deal with most things. It would be impossible to write a book that would cover every matter of living in every culture in detail. That would take numberless volumes. One certainly couldn't carry it to church or put it on the coffee table.

What the Bible does do is to give us principles for living our lives. Good ones, too. Principles that will give us the best possible life--here and in eternity. Thus, I'm going to answer with Bible principles. If you wish a list of Bible verses, I'll be glad to provide them.

Back to marriage and custom: Although the Bible doesn't advocate a certain custom of marriage, it is emphatic about the nature of marriage. Marriage, the Bible makes clear, is for one man, one woman, one lifetime. The Bible also deals with Marriage as a covenant. Much is said about covenants and vows.

The Bible teaches that marriage is not a social contract of man's invention, but a Divine institution initiated by God. God saw the need of marriage. God provided the first Bride. The Bible teaches that marriage consists of (Gen 2:24)

  1. leaving the parents and their homes: The commencement of a new home

  2. cleaving to one's mate: The covenanting to be exclusively each's mate & companion

  3. weaving (becoming one flesh): The consummating of the union.

The Bible teaches that marriage is to include one man, one woman for the duration of life. Now the above may be a bit sketchy for the sake of space, but its implications on marriage ceremony are important.

Marriage ceremonies (customs) are important. Whatever the particular customs, the marriage ceremony should...

  1. Make clear that both recognize that they are entering an institution designed and blessed of God and therefore subject to the laws of God, the Designer. The Christian ceremony shows clearly that marriage is not a man-made contract that can be dictated and dissolved by man-made legalese. Thus, "what God hath joined together, let no man put assunder."

  2. Thus in acknowledging that marriage isn't a social contract but a Divine institution, a ceremony should emphasize the fact that man doesn't make a man and woman husband and wife; God does. It is God that joins together a man and woman and thus makes a marriage.

  3. The ceremony should center on the making of vows to/before God. Marriage vows are not to self/spouse, witnesses, society or state. Vows are before God. Thus, when one makes marriage vows in a Christian ceremony, he is holding himself accountable to God, knowing that God holds him/her accountable.

Why should one then have a Christian marriage ceremony?

  1. It acknowledges all of the above; marriage is a Divine institution, marriage is "done" by God, marriage is vows making one accountable to God.

  2. It is recognized by society as such. A culture's custom doesn't matter. What matters is if that custom is recognized to include the above. Our culture, as post-Christian as it is, still realizes that a Christian marriage is supposed to be binding to God. (Whether it agrees or believes in God or not, it still knows what Christian marriage is supposed to be all about.)

  3. It holds the male responsible to his wife and children. Perhaps, not you, but males generally settle only after committing themselves in marriage (some, not honoring their vows, don't settle then).

  4. It offers security and peace to the wife. Women generally by nature are more concerned about the commitment of marriage. The Biblical understanding of women suggests this is from the women's need to feel security for herself and her children.

  5. It is best for the children. Secular reports totally unrelated to any religious concerns conclude over and over that it is best for the children when they live in homes with parents mutually committed to each other through marriage.

I'm sure there are other vital reasons that commend marriage. God's ways are always right. Now to respectfully respond to your assumption that your oaths are as valid as a Christian marriage ceremony:

My first honest reaction is this. If you really feel married, if you really are committed fully to each other (no reserves), why wouldn't you want to declare that with a Christian marriage ceremony? What could you find disagreeable with making your commitment known publicly? What would keep you from making that commitment a vow before God? Wouldn't that only result in affirming one another? Wouldn't it be a real plus to have a ceremony that is above question and recognizable to any and all - State, church, and society? You speak of close friends accepting your oaths, but what of others?

Much could be said here about the effect of strong families on the whole of society. Ever wonder why many avoid the wedding ceremony? By their own testimony, men say that marriage makes them feel tied down. To feel tied down shows that men realize that marriage is more binding than simply living together. Women, whatever they say to the one they live with, as a whole, feel much more secure living together, following a marriage ceremony to validify marriage.

Secondly, cannot you see how an accepted marriage ceremony would be so much better for your children now and later? I don't know much about legal matters and, for sure, would be unfamiliar with the laws of your state, but what of matters of your children's last names? What of other matters with your children? Studies have shown that it is much better for children when they are raised in homes of married couples.

Thirdly, what if a real trial of your companionship arose? What if you chose separate ways? I'll leave that alone and simply say that the best marriages are the marriages of three - man, wife, and God. To acknowledge our marriage is God's institute and design, to realize that it is He that puts us together, to make our vows of commitment to Him, to declare our intention of fidelity publicly so all may know, and then to let God be the controlling Help and Guide of our marriage--that makes for a wonderful marriage--marriage as God intended. Marriage God's way has always been delightful. Marriage man's way soon deteriorates into chaos and destruction.

Fourthly, though I'd have to dig the proof of it from my files, research has shown that married couples (those who have made vows) have a much more satisfying, fulfilling marriage.

Fifthly, practically a marriage ceremony produces an indisputable record.

You asked how someone can say that you are living in sin because you've made oaths, have been faithful to each other, and love each other. Whether you agree or not, you would admit that the Bible condemns fornication and adultery. That is what we mean by living in sin - fornication and adultery.

My question is this: How can one determine if a man and woman's union is fornication and adultery or acceptable? Sin or sanctioned? What is the indisputable criteria? To simply offer a self-administered oath would not be an absolute criteria. The only absolute measure of whether or not it is adultery/fornication or sanctioned sex is to answer the question, "Are the man and woman married?" And the only way to confirm whether or not they are married is to answer the question, "Did they get married?" Did they make vows to God? Were there witnesses? Where is the record.

I must say your question has been challenging. My prayer is that you donÉt let your disappointments with Christian hypocrites (if one can truly be Christian and a hypocrite) keep you from finding the truth and love of Christ for yourself.

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