Monday, August 10, 2009

Evangelical Christianity, Premarital Sex, and Early Marriage


Through my experiences as a pastor, I have become increasingly concerned about the situation our younger generation of Christians are facing when it comes to marriage, premarital sex, schooling, careers, etc. They are growing up in a culture where the struggle of relationships, and specifically premarital sex is itself a daily battle. But first, let’s get a few operating assumptions and facts out of the way.

1) The Bible says that any sexual activity outside the bonds of marriage is not honoring to God – ok, let’s call it what it is – its sin. Why? Because that part of life was meant to find expression in a lifelong commitment to a spouse. It is a natural and healthy part of a growing, monogamous, marriage relationship. Sex is not evil, it is God-ordained and healthy, but like a fire in the fireplace it must be kept in its context or else it can be destructive. Thus we believe in abstinence before marriage.

2) Secondly, we live in a way too sexually explicit culture. Need I say more? It is a battle every day for young people. From every angle, they are pressured and taught lies about sex, and the casual nature of it that is portrayed in the media outlets of television, movies, and the internet has led many down the wrong path. It is sooo tough for so many young people today.

3) Third, couples are waiting much longer to get married than ever before. A recent survey said that the average median age for first marriages in the United States is now age 26 for women and age 28 for men.

Now having said all this – I have a few thoughts to consider. Doesn’t all of the above facts make for the “perfect storm” when it comes to the battle that our younger generation of Christians go through when it comes to sexual temptation and premarital sex?

The pressures are so intense. The hormones are so intense. The battle with what one can do and what one can’t do in a dating relationship and be “technically” honoring to God is so intense. But to be honest, I think there is a greater issue at stake here in all of this. And I think it has to do with our views on marriage in general -- and this is the main intent of this blog.

So the question for consideration is this. Why is it that we insist that they need to be “done with school, financially secure, and on a career path” before they consider the idea of marriage? Can that be defended biblically?

Side note -- this is not to say that people who are in their late 20’s or early 30’s who are single are in any way wrong for being in that spot – it may not be God’s will for them to marry just yet, or at all. But they will be the first to tell you that it’s not easy and that they need God’s grace every day to be patient and focused on God.

In the Bible young people were married much earlier than they are now. The “Virgin Mary” was most likely in her early to mid teens when betrothed to Joseph. (It had much to do with the Jewish view of procreation, blessing, and the ability to have children). I’m not suggesting that this should be the Christian norm today, for certainly we live in a different culture and different time. We don’t need to arrange marriages at age 14. But is there some merit to avoiding all the battles we sometimes face by getting married a little earlier than we currently do?

I think so. I was 25 and my wife was 19 when we got married. My parents were 21 and 19. Now someone may say – “19?!!! Wow, that’s a little young – don’t you think they should grow up a little more and finish school first?”

My answer is this – not necesarily. I think it's possible that we've simply put a strong cultural prerequisite on them. It is true that in some cases it may be wise to wait, but we cannot make that a blanket expectation that is true for every young couple who thinks that God is leading them to marriage. Long engagements are hard, for it is natural for couples to come together emotionally, spiritually, socially, and physically all at the same time. And when we tell them that they have to wait on this one part while the wedding is two or three years away – boy that’s tough!

Though there are challenges and some cons to the argument for early marriage, I believe that there are some definite pros that we are overlooking.

1) Sometimes being dirt poor is a good thing. And young couples who get married early are not usually rolling in the dough. They are forced to make sacrifices. They are forced to cling tight to one another, make important decisions together, battle their tendencies to be materialistic, etc. And all of that is a good thing. You may have to live off of borrowed furniture for a while, eat off paper plates, drive an old Honda. This just might be the situation God wants for them in order to develop in that young couple a deeper conviction about God, money, and trusting in Him for what they need rather than what they want all the time?

2) I think when we get older we get more stuck in our ways, and perhaps even more selfish. Getting married early can help with that problem, for it forces us to grow up together. We learn to compromise, making sacrifices for each other. There is no doubt that maturing socially, spiritually, and relationally together brings a bond to the relationship that sets it up for surviving the long haul. Many older couples who married early can attest to this benefit. Growing together spiritually at an early age has tremendous benefits. Biblical convictions can be cultivated together and most young students in their early 20's can catch on fire for God as they are in the midst of considering their life calling.

There is something to be said about a young couple getting married in school, working and paying for their education, growing together, being dirt poor for the first couple years, growing together, learning to live within their means, growing together…oh, did I mention growing together? Yes, that's what they do.

Don’t misinterpret this. No one should rush into marriage. Some who do, regret it later. One must be fully convinced of discerning God’s will before doing so. And like I said before, those who are single in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s can surely be blessed by God. Not all need to or should marry. Each one must consider their own giftedness and unique calling or place in life. And Paul did in fact commend singleness, saying that it can be a gift. So I’m not saying the early marriage or marriage in general is the ideal for everybody.

But what I am saying is that we should be very careful about the cultural prerequisites that we put on young Christian couples when a relationship gets serious and seems to be heading towards marriage, being especially mindful of the sexual temptation our young people face today. Sometimes early marriage is a better option, even if it means life is tough for a while. They may not be as tempted and they may grow up faster because of it.

No, we should not get married just so we can have sex. That’s crazy. But when we get married much later in life, get ready for an emotional and physical battle until that day comes. To be sure, with God’s grace it can be done, but perhaps much of the struggle can be left behind if we are willing to consider the alternative and leave our biases behind.

Another topic for consideration -- Where are the men? We have lots of godly young women who are looking for godly young men? But where are they? I think in some sense the church has utterly failed in this. To be sure, men themselves have failed in this. I have intense compassion for the women in our church who are bright, spiritually strong, single, who wish to get married but who look around and find nothing. But that’s another topic for another blog.

If one some point you think differently than I do on these things, then please see Philippians 3:15b. I’m not being contentious, but I see the battle every day in the lives of our younger Christians. Let’s pray for them, shall we?

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While writing this blog, I discovered a recent article about this, and it argues my point much more thoroughly and better than I do. Might I encourage you to read Mark Regnerus’ recent article in Christianity Today magazine (August 2009) entitled, “The Case for Young Marriage.” It, in my opinion, is a powerful read. You can read the article here:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/august/16.22.html

In reading it, I feel affirmed in what I was thinking. And for further critique and comment on Regnerus’ article and early marriage, see also Al Mohler’s commentary at…

http://www.albertmohler.com/blog_read.php?id=4161

4 comments:

Trevbot said...

It is indeed concerning how many important decisions faced by American Christians are informed chiefly by material concerns and then later maybe by prayer, faith, and seeking God's will. More concerning is the church's role in this. Good observations.

Luke Harding said...

Thank you Pastor Eric for those words. I have had similar thoughts on that issue. Every time you write and apply scripture it speaks directly to my heart.

Anonymous said...

Hi Pastor Eric,

I was talking to Marti the other day and she said that you blogged about the topic that she and I were talking about. We will probably be planning a wedding shortly after our oldest graduates in 2 years. My husband and I have repeatedly told her that we would rather she marry young in order to still honor the Lord with her relationship. Thanks for posting this. I will share it with her and her boyfriend. Blessings, Heidi

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this article. I have had this opinion for a quite a while (many Christians look at me like I'm crazy when I express this opinion). I so agree, and I thank God to know that I'm not the only one who feels this way. Our young Christian teens are constantly exposed to sexual immorality. They are told by the "world" that it is acceptable and okay for them to dabble with it(we know better). They are obviously going through physical/hormonal changes that makes it so difficult for them to abstain (the ability to procreate naturally comes during the teenage years). Although procreation is natural and intended by God, his will is for it to be inside of a marriage. Obviously, teens are not in sexual relations to procreate, generally speaking. Instead they are dabbling with sexual immorality because the world has told them it is okay, so they experiment out of curiosity. Thanks to "family planning" they can prevent procreation with pills, condoms (and STDs), or even abortion. Rather than telling them to abstain until marriage. Our culture is telling those same teens, they should not think of marriage until they are educated and financially stable. I also agree marriage should not be rushed into for the sake of sex. Thank God it is possible to abstain through both the power of God, and people's desire to be obedient to Him. However, without God, too many a couples will struggle with fornication and without possibly without conviction. Although our culture has put these expectations upon the today's youth, we, as Christians, do not have to "buy" into current cultural expectations. Instead, we should do what pleases God. If we see a younger Godly couple heading towards marriage, I don't think we should discourage it (it for one could absolutely be God's will for them). My parents and my husband's parents met in high school (high school sweethearts). They got married before the age of 20. Both couples have married for close to 50 years. Wow!! They absolutely lived a simple life (non-materialistic) starting out. But they "grew together", "learned together", and "sacrificed together": It made them depend on each other more; love each other more; and it made them have a great foundation, especially with Christ in the center of their marriage. From the beginning of time, even until the early-mid 1900's, people got married mid to late teens and this was very acceptable. Our society now, suggest we obtain an education and gain financial stability before we get married. This means people generally have to consider marriage by around age 30, give or take. This ironically also means some couple's start families in their 30's and 40's (this can come with it's own set of difficulties). Again, it was a blessing to read this article. It seemed so logical from a Christian perspective to feel this way, but unfortunately, I think many Christians think that their children should wait (blanket statement/requirement for all their children) vs. what God's will may be for each child. If His will is for a young couple to marry before age 20, then it would be Godly to support that.