I’m currently in a six month eldership process at my local church. This series is taken from questions asked during the process.


You are counseling a couple, who claim to be Christian, that are sleeping together and believe they are “married in their hearts”. They would like to become members of your church. Describe how would you handle this couple, including how you would address the issue of being “married in their hearts?”

I’d start by listening to them about their relationship with Jesus. If they want to become members and they do not know Jesus then who cares right now if they’re living together? There’s bigger fish to fry…this needs to be a salvation conversation.

If it is clear to me that they are both believers in Jesus then I would tenderly, yet firmly bring up the issue of living together. I’d start by making clear this conversation is not connected to their salvation. I’d let the guy know that I consider him a brother in Christ just as much as I consider our pastor a brother in Christ. I’d let the girl know that I consider her a sister in Christ just as much as I consider the wives of the pastors.

I would then talk to them about how the goal for all of us as members of our church is to sharpen each other so our lives could more and more make much of Jesus. I’d let them know how my wife and I have been very desperate for Jesus…we’re both sinful people…but we want to live life in such a way that it is clear to our kids, neighbors, co-workers and family that we are about Jesus. I’d tell them that they have an amazing opportunity right now for their relationship to clearly be about Jesus.

When I feel like they are tracking with me and I sense the Spirit has hopefully prepared their hearts to hear His truth then I’d share Hebrews 13:4, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” I’d share how at the time this was written the people couldn’t get away with saying, “We’re married in our hearts.” We are not people who can separate our hearts from the rest of us. At the time this was written it was very popular for people to be platonists. This meant that people, following the philosophy of Plato, would separate their physical lives from their heart (spiritual life). So their “hearts” would honor God spiritually, but their bodies would go visit prostitutes. Jesus knew this was wrong…this is why Jesus gave us the command in Luke 10:27 that we need to love Him with our entire bodies…not just one compartment.

I would warn them that if they are willing right now to be “married in their hearts” there is a high statistical chance that they might be married to someone else in their hearts later. If they end up getting married, having kids, but 10 years from now there’s someone at work who seems like the true wife you were supposed to marry. Satan can mess with your head and convince you that you are physically married to your wife but in your heart married to your co-worker. I would warn them that the stakes are really high for their marriage to be a giant spotlight on Jesus. I’d warn them that I believe they are leaving the door open for Satan to have a foothold in their relationship.

I’d tell them we love them too much to allow them to become members right now. We strongly consider them brothers and sisters in Christ but we believe this is an area for Jesus to do some powerful stuff before they become members. I’d share a story about some friends who were living together and had a really rocky dating relationship…they then were radically saved and decided to move into separate places and live for a year in different homes before getting engaged and married. They publically made much of Jesus. They got married with a solid foundation on Jesus and then some terrible health problems entered their relationship. They’ve been married 7 years now and love Jesus and each other more than ever because they re-built their relationship solidly on Jesus.

I’d encourage them to spend a few days fasting together and praying asking God what He would like them to do in order for all their friends and family and future children to know that they are consumed by Jesus and they will do whatever He asks of them. I’d want to listen to them…possibly dialogue a little more but then set up a follow-up meeting the next week to see what God communicated with them as they fasted and sought Him. My prayer for them is they would come up with something far more beautiful and powerful for God’s glory than if I set up some rules or policies for them.

How would you counsel this couple?

    35 replies to "Elder Questions: Living Together"

    • Just a friendly question, that some have asked me, and I have said.. check with P&P. But who there are ordained in Christian ministry, and are any ordained in any classic Reformational Churches?

    • Btw, since it was brought-up, there can be no doubt that there are theological Platonist aspects in the NT, especially in Hebrews and too no doubt St. Paul. The great Gentile Apostle was of course a Hellenist Jew and Greco-Roman, being a Roman citizen, (Acts 21: 39 ; 22: 3). Not all of the Platonist ideas are negative, i.e. the idealistic and visionary, etc.

      Perhaps no one has been influenced by a kind of neo-Platonism than the great Augustine!

    • Carrie Hunter

      Do you mean who at the ministry is ordained in Christian ministry?

      Also, what do mean by ordained?

    • @Carrie Hunter: Yes, who at P&P is in the so-called Christian Ministry, in the capacity of being ordained? But also, are any “ordained” in the classic reformational sense, i.e. historical: Reformed, Lutheran, etc. Ordination being the classic and biblical “laying on of hands”, both the sign and fulfillment of the call of God upon the Man of God to the holy ministry, (1 Tim. 5: 22, etc.) Some as in my communion call Christian ministry ‘holy orders’, and becoming a presbyter, etc.

      I don’t see much perceived consciousness as to the “office” of pastor, presbyter, etc. from P&P? Is the major perception of ministry and teaching here just more of the para-church structure? Again, friendly questions!

      And note, I have known some DTS people who were simply engaged in PB or Plymouth Brethren type ministry. My Irish great-gram was among the so-called “Brethren”, or what she preferred to call the Irish Brethren. Just an history point. 🙂

    • Carrie Hunter

      Yes both Michael and Tim have been ordained into ministry by the laying on of hands. Michael by Chuck Swindoll and I’m not sure who ordained Tim. Subsequently they both served as pastors in churches with which they were involved.

      To my knowledge they weren’t ordained in the classically reformed sense as they are both Evangelical not Lutheran nor Presbyteran etc.

      We are a para-church organization and function as one. We aren’t a church, full stop so you aren’t going to see Michael or Tim take on the role of a pastor in the formal sense.

      As far as Tim is concerned he has been chosen as a candidate for eldership at his local assembly but that isn’t related to his role as executive director of our ministry.

    • Thanks to explain! I have had people ask me some of the these questions often, since I comment at P&P sometimes. I knew Michael had close ties with Chuck Swindoll, and that the latter had somewhat brought him into ministry. (Btw Swindoll was a US Marine!)

      I think some (like myself) are concerned that the Reformed and the so-called Calvinism, are a certain historical aspect and even a kind of “genre”. And often this is questionable for para-church structures? But indeed in the Reformed Churches there are several historical Reformed Creeds, so we can see and note such, with books like Thomas Torrance’s: The School of Faith, An Anthology of catechisms translated, edited, and with an essay by Thomas F. Torrance, (which is back in print again!) The essay is quite lengthy, and classic itself! I will myself always maintain that the true Reformational & Reformed simply must be Creedal!

    • John

      “I’d share how at the time this was written the people couldn’t get away with saying, “We’re married in our hearts.”

      Errm, in an age with no marriage registry, I would ask, how so?

      What exactly is marriage in an age with no marriage registry, if not marriage in your hearts? What is the distinction?

      Even Roman Catholics, who you perhaps wouldn’t expect to hold such a view, say that a priest isn’t strictly necessary for a marriage, the sacrament is instituted by the couple themselves.

    • Irene

      I’m sure you’re better than I would be on the approach, but one thing doesn’t make sense, and wouldn’t make sense to me if I was the girl: Do we really need to pray to find out what the will of God is here? Is it that up in the air? Can’t you already tell me? Even the fact that you tell me to go and pray about it for a week, to find the will of God, leads me to believe that there may not be just one right answer. I could come back and say that we really feel such and such.
      Seems like there’s some basic education that they need, not praying for some mysterious revelation about what they should do, when the will of god in such a case already is known.

      Of course, all in the pastoral manner you seem to have a knack for. (:

    • Carrie Hunter

      You’re welcome.

      As to the rest of your comments I’m not certain what this has to do with the clear points articulated in Tim’s article.

      So feel free to discuss those topics set forth.

    • Carrie Hunter

      John, from where are you getting your information?

    • Ric

      As one whose father also died unexpectedly at age 66, I pray God’s peace for you and your family.

    • John

      Information about what Carrie?

    • Carrie Hunter

      “Marriage registry”

      It seems to be your contention that there were no formal records of marriage at the time Paul wrote his letters.

      From where did you get such information?

    • John

      Well my research tells me there was no marriage registry. In fact the state didn’t get involved at all.  According to custom, you could be married just by joining hands in front of witnesses, or whatever the local custom was in the culturally diverse empire.

      In general, it’s pretty hard to “document” a negative, as if there would be an ancient source specifically stating there was no marriage registry, like there’d be no ancient source stating they had not invented the motor car.

      Anyway, for the sola scriptura folks, there were plenty of marriages in the old covenant that certainly can’t have involved any government, simply because there was none. Conversely no verse mentions a marriage registry.

      Why, are you suggesting that we need extensive knowledge of ancient Roman administrative procedure in order to know what marriage is?

    • […] Elder Questions: Living Together […]

    • Carrie Hunter

      John there’s this series on PBS called “Empires”. The first century Roman Empire was a feature at one point. The manner in which people were married was discussed.

      While joining hands in front of witnesses was one method of “getting married” or a “wedding” of sorts, the state was still involved.

      See here – http://www.pbs.org/empires/romans/empire/weddings.html

      (Also here – http://www.pbs.org/empires/romans/empire/women.html – as it speaks to the role of women in society – women could own property or inherit property if they were not married – the state had to be privy to their marital status in these matters.)

      “Why, are you suggesting that we need extensive knowledge of ancient Roman administrative procedure in order to know what marriage is?”

      Because you are making a claim about first century Roman administrative procedure; in this case recognition of marriage by the state.

      You asked – “Errm, in an age with no marriage registry, I would ask, how so?”

      You asked this question to pose a defeater to Tim’s premise. I was wondering where you got your information because when I read that question something didn’t ring true. Which is due to my over-indulgence of PBS programming.

    • John

      Carrie, I didn’t say the state never had an interest in ones marital status. I said the state had no interest in legislating or recording what causes the start of a marriage.

      Furthermore, the link you sent me to was about Roman citizens. Only a small proportion of people in the empire were Roman citizens. (Witness the surprise of the Centurion in Acts 22 to discover Paul had Roman citizenship). I think we can safely say that Paul isn’t writing purely to Roman citizens.

      In any case, nothing in your link suggests the state took any interest in the wedding per se, just like I said. Yes, there were certain regulations for Romans on WHO you could marry. But actually regulating the WHEN of marriage or recording it, no the state didn’t do anything. In fact your link points out that marriage had no legal force, but was just a personal agreement between bride and groom.

      In the situation described in the blog article – two people declare to the world they are married, no doubt the Roman state would have recognised them as married.

    • Carrie Hunter

      Look this started because I asked where you got your information about their not being any formal registry regarding people’s marital status. Your vague answer of “in my research” didn’t help matters. All I was asking for was a source cited to support your claim.

      I have never once brought up whether or not Rome decided what constituted a marriage. Or any of the other points you are bringing up.

      This is all:

      I took exception to your bold proclamation that alluded to the Roman government not recognizing marriages or being concerned with the recording of them.

      That simply isn’t the case.

      I’m just not a fan of the overstatement, or of bare assertions. And I am certainly not a fan defending arguments I have never made to begin with.

      Let me ask you this John, are you simply unwilling to concede the point that there were formal (state) acknowledgements and records of marriage?

      That’s all I’m interested in knowing.

    • Bill

      The main Q in all this is the definition of marriage from a biblical point of view.

    • Tim (not Kimberley)


      I imagine that Tim’s answer would be somewhat differently nuanced if he were dealing with a couple who had married each other (for instance) while stranded together on a desert island, or a couple who came from a country where the state wasn’t involved in registering marriages.

      And it’s fair to probe the question, “What are the inherent requirements for forming a marriage? Need there be a civil authority recognizing it? Need a Christian follow the marriage customs of the society they live in? What about when the state prohibits them from marrying (e.g. interracial marriage)?” It’s quite worthwhile to examine our assumptions there.

      Two thoughts:
      1.) I think it’s straightforward that two requirements are (1) you refer to each other (generally) as “my wife” and “my husband”, and (2) you know that it would require a divorce (in the biblical sense, whatever that is) in order for you to break up.

      2.) I know of people who have said they were already married (even though they didn’t have “a piece of paper” yet). Prior to their subsequent wedding, due to some problems that came up, one of them reconsidered “going through with it”. Not “one of them considered divorcing the other”–that actually wasn’t how they thought of it.

      In other words, saying “we’re married our hearts” is a slippery idea.

    • John

      Well Carrie, you asked about marriage registration. I said in answer to that, about the marriage ceremony and how the state didn’t get involved. i.e. in the procedure of getting married.

      I stand by that statement, and nothing in the links you provided says anything to the contrary.

      So you seem to be having a rant about… well about who knows what.

    • Carrie Hunter


    • William

      Here is my twopenny worth, which wasn’t asked for but you’re getting it anyway.
      I think it is clear we have all read scripture. Probably from start to finish. I have many times.
      One thing we ought all to agree on is that one of the things that stands out from simply reading the Bible is this – promises are binding.
      God is keen on promise keeping. It seems to me that whether He makes the promise, other people make the promise to Him or even just to each other, then He is keen that the promise is kept and homoured.
      The same goes with marriage. Whatever the context, the promise is there. The understanding that the man is the woman’s and the woman is the man’s, is basically marriage. So whatever people say about being ‘married in their hearts’ is worthless if they have not made a promise since it is not the heart of one making a promise but of the one receiving it. One can make a promise without the intention of keeping it, but they still made a promise. If they have made that promise either in front of others or alone, then the promise stands irrespective of the situation they made the promise in. If both parties make a promise and later regret that, that is irrelevant – they made a promise and promises are for keeping. If one makes a promise and the other does not, then no dice. The whole point of making these promises in public is simply so a person cannot take advantage of another and say ‘we are not married’. The point of engagement before marriage is simply that each party have time to think about it and if they have second thoughts, they have an agreed time limit to make a way out.
      As far as I am concerned (and I think scripture backs me up on this), God hears what you say wherever you are, to whoever you say it and expects you to hold to your word. It follows that if you promise yourself to someone of a future marriage and then consummate that promise, then you are one with that person as far as God is concerned.

    • William

      …So if a couple who are engaged to be married have premarital relations, they are as of that moment married. End of discussion.
      I simply see no other way about this.
      Not the state, not the families, not the parties involved, not even angels, no-one other than God can have any say whatsoever in whether or not a marriage is valid because it consists of a promise between a man and a woman, not anyone else.

    • Ben Thorp

      William – I think that your view of marriage is difficult to defend Biblically.

      Firstly, if premarital relations are the point of marriage, then fornication as a sin could not exist, only adultery.

      Secondly, the New Testament is very clear on compelling us to obey the ruling state, unless the law requires something that is against God’s law, therefore I do not think it unreasonable to expect (as part of, but not purely defined by) any marriage to meet the requirements of state for being a marriage.

      Thirdly, even if we go back to the creation account, it is clear that marriage is not just about the couple, but there is involvement of God and parents. And this has been the pattern for marriage ceremonies throughout Judaism and Christianity.

    • Francis


      I concur that there was a time when marriage was not a state-controlled social contract/institution. But the world has changed since then, and today a marriage certificate is required not only for the government to recognize the validity of a marriage, but also for those around us to respect its sanctity.

      We who live in this society cannot live apart from such social conventions as if they don’t exist. If marriage is a social contract (in addition to being a personal and a religious one), then what society thinks of it certainly has some role in determining its legitimacy. And since all personal actions have social ramifications, consider what Paul said: “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.”

      @ William:

      As far as premarital relations are concerned, the OT says “And if a man entice a virgin that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely pay a dowry for her to be his wife.” It appears that premarital relations were not considered the beginning of a marriage, even though they were considered as valid as betrothal, which would necessarily lead to marriage. And as the law implies, the fact that it should (theoretically) lead to marriage in no way takes away its sinfulness/inappropriateness in dishonoring the sanctity of marriage.

    • John

      “today a marriage certificate is required not only for the government to recognize the validity of a marriage, but also for those around us to respect its sanctity.”

      To be devil’s advocate, at least in my country, I can’t think of a single situation in which the government doesn’t treat two people living together in exactly the same way as people married. Whether it be in taxation, family law, social security, and so on and so forth.

      Even in ancient Rome there was more of a two tiered approach to marriage. The upper class and elites would have a much more formal approach to the marriage process. Those on the lower rungs of society it would be much more informal. Similar to the distinction today between formal marriage and common law marriage (aka, living together).

      As for “those around us respecting its sanctity”, I’m not sure what that means, or if you’ve taken a survey of who respects what. You talk about “what society thinks”. Of course society doesn’t think anything. Individuals do. Social conventions are not what they were 100 years ago. I’m pretty sure there are laws here forbidding you to treat people different. So on those laws, formally, they are the same.

      What if you have a conscientious objection to the marriage laws in your country? Off hand I can’t think of a good example, other than that in ancient Sparta, I believe that if you were married, and didn’t have children, they’d expect your wife to live with another man, so to have kids for the state. Extreme example that doesn’t apply today. Nevertheless, I ask the question of whether the secular state is what determines the existence of marriage in God’s eyes?

      I very rarely see Christians advocate that if you had premarital relations, you should get married, without consideration of other factors.

      In OT times, presumably you would need some provision for them to live as husband and wife in the same house, whether it be at one of the parents’ houses or somewhere else…

    • John

      In OT times, presumably you would need some provision for them to live as husband and wife in the same house, whether it be at one of the parents’ houses or somewhere else……. not just furtive sex behind the barn.

      That would have been the distinction in ancient times between marriage and fornication. Whether you were living as husband and wife, or just having sex.

      “the New Testament is very clear on compelling us to obey the ruling state”

      Of course, the state doesn’t require anyone to register a marriage with them. It’s purely a personal choice. At least in western countries. There is no law disobeyed to not register a marriage.

      Involvement of God and parents… Well that would point us towards following whatever ceremonies laid down by the church for getting married. But since Protestant churches abandoned any notion of having universal church rules, that’s become a bit meaningless. You can have a church of 3 people and make it up as you go along. Not so when there was considered one church.

    • Francis

      @ John,

      I’m afraid that you might have missed my point. Marriage as an institution is as much personal as it is social, which means that social ramifications must necessarily enter the individual’s consideration whenever he or she desires to enter into such an union with someone else. What kind of society he or she lives in may dictate different ways in which this individual adapts the marriage contract but few would abandon the social implications altogether.

      If I was only concerned about what I and my partner think about the contract that we are entering into, I would absolutely agree with you. I’d even argue that marriage is whatever I define is a marriage. But we don’t live in a vacuum and our faiths don’t exist apart from the body of Christ, hence the quote from Romans 14.

    • John

      Ok tell me. What exactly is the social impact of a marriage where our names are stored in some government data centre in a list labelled “marriage” versus a marriage where our names are stored in some government data centre in a list labelled “defacto marriage”.

    • […] Tim Kimberley on Should a Christian couple live together before getting married. […]

    • JB Chappell

      There’s a lot that could (and already has!) be said here. First, I think the statement (in the OP) “we love you too much to allow them to become members right now” is ridiculous and disingenuous. We all know the real issue is that the concern here is that it would be perceived as endorsing the pre-marital sex they’re having. And, of course, by “pre-marital” we mean “before the government gives you a piece of paper saying your married”.

      What I would think needs to occur here is a conversation about what they mean by “married in their hearts” and why they aren’t (seemingly) motivated to get the relationship “legitimized” by the government. Maybe they feel pressured to have a large ceremony (lots of family perhaps), but can’t afford a ceremony right now. Maybe they don’t feel right about getting legally married when their same-sex friends cannot (that spawns a whole different discussion, I realize). Or, perhaps, there are some red flags that indicate they aren’t nearly as committed as they should be. But you won’t know that unless you pursue that avenue of conversation, as opposed to just assuming you know what they mean, or that Hebrews 13:4 applies to the situation.

      Bottom line is, the reason this avenue wasn’t pursued was because, apparently, it doesn’t matter. You need a government document, or you’re living in sin. Because Hebrews 13:4. What an overly-simplistic shame, but I kinda get it, from a pastoral perspective.
      Like I said before, ultimately what this is about is appearances. People will talk. “Pastor so-and-so approves of pre-marital sex.” Oh, the scandal! It is ever so much more safe to just make them conform. And if they really want to be members, maybe they will. And if not, it’s probably not the church for them anyway.

    • Glenn Shrom

      From what I can tell, the question in the elder training was not distinguishing between “married in their hearts” and “married according to a government certificate”, but rather “married privately based on a feeling” verses “married publicly based on a covenant”.

    • William

      @ Mr. Benn
      was that for me? lol
      If so, are you sure you read my post carefully enough?

    • JB Chappell

      @Glenn (re: #33)

      You seem to know more about the basis of the marriages in question. How do you know that the private marriage in question here was “based on a feeling”? And what covenant, specifically, would the public marriage be based on?

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