The phenomenon of a man and woman living together under the same roof as though they were husband and wife, yet without a solemnized wedding and without regarding themselves as married, is a pervasive trend in North American society. Some researchers predict that in a few years almost all young adults will live together before marriage and that this will soon be considered the normal way of courting the equivalent to engagement. This phenomenon is not unique, however, to the Western world, since many societies have water down marriage that is, a couple simply decide to live as married, raise a family and avoid the expense.
Frequently the church in these countries faces a difficult challenge—whether to recognize this couple as married or to treat them as living in sin and therefore in need of church discipline. Some well-meaning church leaders, anxious to get these people married, rush them to the altar, only to find that the relationship, while reasonably stable when the two were living together, sometimes becomes fragile after marriage. Sometimes the marriage ends in divorce. This raises a profound theological question: When are two people married? Are they married when they have sexual intercourse? When they cohabit and share life fully? when they make their marriage official in a public ceremony? It also raises a spiritual question, for many declared Christians have adopted this pattern either secretly (by spending weekends in each other’s apartments) or openly all the while retaining their membership in a church (Banks, Stevens, & Hui, 2003). Additionally, Stanley, Rhodes & Markman (2006), “Premarital cohabitation has consistently been found to be associated with increased risk for divorce and marital distress in the United States” (online, p. 455).
Today, the terms truth and tolerance have taken on a whole new meaning. Notable theorist Mcdowell and Bob Hostetler explains,
The new tolerance provides a good synopsis of Postmodernism and...