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How are we, as parents, to relate ourselves to our unmarried son who is living with a girl? He and the girl are both baptized members of our church, but because of this immoral relationship, the church will probably disfellowship them. Should we have them in our home? Should we visit them and act as if everything is fine? Should we express our disapproval of this LTA (living together arrangement)? What a heart-rending inquiry coming from crushed parents, who were at a loss to know what course to pursue! Other ministers' counsel had been sought. One answered them with the question, "What's the loving thing to do?" Another admonished, "Treat them as though they were married; let them stay in your home, even overnight, and feel free to go to their home and stay overnight with them. In this way, perhaps, you will be able to win them back to the Lord, or encourage them to get married."
As the parents sat before me, the words of Paul, in the fifth chapter of First Corinthians, came to my mind. Be fore reading the passage, I gave them a bit of a background to this first letter Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, the "Paris of Antiquity." The apostle had labored untiringly for these believers for more than a year and a half. Constantly pointing them to a crucified and risen Saviour as their only means of salvation, he carefully instructed those who applied for church membership. In a special sense, Corinthian Christians had emerged from a background of the most alluring idolatry and sensuality. To live a victorious Christian life in the midst of such a volcano of licentiousness and immorality as Corinth, required total surrender to Christ on a moment-by-moment basis. Paul knew that temptations assaulted them at every hand and that even the slightest degree of carelessness and indifference would cause them to stumble. He also knew that sinful practices were infiltrating the church.
Verses 9 to 11 refer to a previous letter Paul had written the Corinthian Christians advising them of the proper course to take in relating to professed Christians who continued in immoral situations: "I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat" (N.I.V.).*
Undoubtedly, some of the members of the Corinthian church took issue with this counsel and tried to take the sting out of it by explaining and theorizing. But the message seems clear. Social intimacy and Christian fellowship with those who are baptized Christians yet living in open sin is forbidden. Paul was not talking about contact with the non- Christian world. Merchants, pilots, telephone operators, insurance salesmen, auto dealers—who knows their characters and practices? But when it comes to church members and professed Christians, then Paul's counsel is clear.
As I presented these concepts to the parents, I stressed two major reasons the apostle's advice should be heeded. First of all is the effect such an attitude will have on the world. If Christians make no distinction between moral and immoral conduct in the lives of those who were at least once professed brothers and sisters in Christ, they have simply accepted the verdict of the world and have abandoned the privilege of Christian witness to it.
The second reason, is the influence such an attitude will have on the of fender. Naturally, as parents we never stop loving our children, no matter what sins they have embraced, just as the Father never stops loving us in spite of our sins. But that love is not expressed by ignoring their sin and acting as if everything is all right. I suggested to the parents that they should be sure their son knows they love him and that he is welcome to visit their home (minus his girl friend if he intends to spend the night). They should make every effort to keep the lines of communication open.
We must take the attitude of the heavenly Father, who, while unyielding in His love for the sinner, is also uncompromising in His rejection of sin. In Jesus' story of the prodigal son, the boy's father loved him and, seeing his son from afar, ran to embrace him when he returned, but the father did not go and share the pig pen with him. Only such an attitude will have the potential for bringing the sinner to see the utterly corrupt nature of his life. As ministers, we dare not say to the wicked by voice or action that all is well with him.