Thursday, 18 March 2010

OK folks a slightly more controversial blog this week. Need your help in this.

Weddings project in Bolton went well. Two things occured to me that I think are worth exploring.

A number of clergy over the past few weeks have made the obvious observation that most couples from outside the church come for marriage, having already been in a committed relationship for some time- a number have children. It gives a fresh slant to marriage preparation. (by the way what a lousy title and how presumptious!). One guy at Bolton was still in 'cold turkey' about this, and felt the need the to use the language of the 'dangers' of co-habiting etc  I suspect he is not alone on this. On the project we simply present the research - or in other words the blindingly obvious - that many couples see marriage as the more like the finishing rather than the starting line. The crown of the relationship. For some if there was the option for baptising their children at the same time then that would make it even better. I would value thoughts about all this.

The other thing that struck me happened outside Manchester station making a phone call. Two female couples walked by me - obviously couples and chatting with others. All seemed very normal.

Both these highlight for me where society and culture is. For me the issue is not about judgement, corrective programmes - but how on earth for God's sake do we live and share the Goood News of Jesus with and among all people. How do we do church now rather than in 1960? Discuss!


  1. In the real world, outside church circles, I have many friends who live in committed cohabiting partnerships and have children. I recently had a conversation with one who said she would like to go to Church but felt she would be judged because of the choice she had made not to marry and that whatever she came to believe she would not marry. I balance this with married friends who see little commitment from their partners to a supportive relationship and often wonder which relationships cause God more sadness. I can't think of any of my cohabiting friends who see their relationships as any less permanent than a marriage. So where does that leave us? I don't know but I do think you are right we need to address the way people form relationships now not how they were seen in the past.

  2. I think my view is one of how best can we draw people to a living faith in Jesus if they are not in one. If we judge folk who do not make relationship choices that we might we could cause them to stay outside of the saving grace of Jesus. I personally would like to see people accepted for who they are and where they are, and brought closer to Jesus. Let Jesus change both us and them together with the power of the Holy Spirit, rather than trying to get people to change in their strength in order to 'earn' a relationship with Jesus.

    One half of a gay couple in our church was confirmed a couple of years ago at our church. His testimony basically was it was due to his partner and also to the love and acceptance he had found in our church that led him to confirmation of his faith. If we as a church had rejected them I suspect his faith would not have grown as it has.


  3. I, like Tina have many co-habiting friends, and they don't see why a piece of paper is important. They feel that a joint mortgage and children are enough of a commitment.
    On the flip side of this, all of my team members at work who are married lived with their partners but have now married them. They saw it as testing the water before making the final commitment of marriage. In thier eyes I am "odd" when I say that living together isn't an option for me.
    I do think offering baptisms for Children is a way of encouraging more of the "modern families" in to the church for their wedding. Especially as a way of reaching out to co-habiting couple who may come in contact through Alpha, toddlers groups, etc. The church can lose out to many stately homes etc offering beautiful settings for a civil ceremony without the guilt the couple may feel.
    What are the next steps? Like you I'm not sure, but it sounds a positive step forwards.

  4. The good news is about grace, and also about repentance from sin. In Acts 2 the order is repentance, baptism for forgiveness, and then receiving the Spirit. (I'm sure God is not bound by such an order, but all these elements must surely be in place). We all need to know that we have to change when we come to Jesus. If we allow people to continue in sinful behaviour then we do them a dissservice. And surely we all need 'corrective programmes' in order to become more like Jesus!

    The question may remain what sinful behaviour actually and it seems to me the Church of England is very confused at the moment, especially regarding relationships. It has always seemed strange to me that divorce and remarriage is frowned upon but a 'service of blessing' is offered as a second best. How confusing is that! I see the pastoral motive involved, but it is a mixed message.

    I guess love is where it starts, showing love and also 'speaking the truth in love', just like Jesus did. That will alienate some people from the church, just like some couldn't handle the truth that Jesus spoke.

  5. i find this all interesting but... aren't we looking at things from the wrong view? What is marriage? Marriage is the earthly representation of God's love for the church shown through the love of Jesus.
    So marriage is the loving unconditional relationship between two people who do all they can to look after one another and keep their relationship on track. Christians doing this are a light to the world as they show God's love through their love for one another.

    In the same way that one cannot know love until one knows God (1 John 4:7) one cannot know marriage until one knows God.

    Of course there are non-Christian equivalents... I realise I'm being extremely controversial and I would not say that my non christian married friend do not love one another of course, but it is different... Some of my non christian friends have a very christian perspective to marriage, we are all created in God's image, christian and non christian, so this is not surprising.

    Let me put it this way... If I were not a christian, would I get married? I'm not sure. If yes it would probably be for one of these reasons:
    1. Tradition
    2. Security
    3. To have a fun party
    4. Tax reductions (I don't know if it happens in England but in France you get tax reductions when you're married and when you have 3+ children!)

    Of course there would be love involved, but it would not make a huge difference to the love whether I were married or not.

    The reason that marriage is a beginning for Christians is because it is the beginning of a covenant... It is like conversion, baptism. It is a day of saying "Yes I choose to stay with you forever and to do all I can to be faithful to you in all my ways until I die."

    There is also part of me that says cohabiting couples are already married. They have already made sizable practicle and emotional commitments in moving in together, moreso in having children, and have (presumably!) made a physical commitment to one another too. This is marriage without God.

    Marriage with God is the same but done for his glory. Eberything is done to reveal more of God. A public commitment is made and then stuck to, and then lies ahead the inevitable difficulties of a life attempting to please God - the devil gets in and makes a mess and we just have to work hard praying, preventing, forgiving, accepting, restoring, healing, loving.

    So the question of "marrying" non christians, people who live together, homosexuals... the question is "Are you getting married to give glory to God?" if not, it is not a marriage for God, so I don't see how you can ask them to make vows before God if they don't mean them.

  6. Afterwards the tougher question: To stick to what you believe and reject doing something that contradicts your belief, risking hurt and rejection feelings to the person, or to welcome them on order to show them love of God.......

    Both of these require commitment to God and some sort of compromise. So I don't know if you can give a yes or no answer, but consider prayerfully and ask God for the way forward.

    The line between sticking to values and judging people is a tough one to work out and a lot of misunderstandings lie on that path but the aim is to love the sinner but hate the sin... but also to make disciples, so those who are coming to church but not christians need help along the way and not to feel judged. Those who are coming along, committed, calling themselves christians but not seeming to live the life need to be challenged, and so on and so forth.......

    I have rambled a lot and I'm not really sure what the point was but those are my thoughts...

    Oh and one final thing that we were talking about in house group the other day... the famous "expel the immoral brother"

    When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.

    Sometimes being honest and harsh instead of loving and accepting is the way forward...

    But don't ask me when!!!! SCARY!!!

    (PS Sorry if i have offended anyone... I am a loving accepting person, but I have strong convictions. I don't stick to them as with everyone else, but I try......)

  7. sorry just one final point, walked away from computer and just realised I might have sounded totally evil...

    I think we should love and accept everyone how they are, and encourage steps towards God and a Godly life.

    However, I do not think we should accept all behaviour from Christians as ok. I think we should seek to be Godly and aim to encourage others. There are some things that are subjective but some things that are more obvious. It is through close trusting relationships that we can teach each other to be radical converts, and there should definitely not be people pointing out people's faults left right and centre...