Yesterday I found out that a few days ago my younger sister eloped (as in went to the courthouse, got married and returned to normal life) just one month before her actual wedding. Her reason is for purity, since her fiancé has had to be out of town a lot lately, and I guess there are too many temptations when he is back on the weekends.
I was left feeling extremely disappointed, hurt and angry and not really sure what my response should be. My sister and I are extremely close, especially since she accepted Christ a year ago. I don't want to hurt her, but I also want to speak truth to her. She told me they felt like there was nothing against such a thing biblically, but I'm just not sure.
The level of secrecy (only one other friend knows, and our parents are in the dark) seriously concerns me as well as the fact that none of our pastors know and that they haven't yet finished their pre-martial counseling.
I don't know what my response should be since in my gut it feels wrong, but from a biblical standpoint, is it? I understand eloping for a variety of reasons, but one month before the wedding we have been planning for three months just doesn't seems right. It feels like they are trying to cover up sexual sin even though they say no.
Please help me better understand this issue and how to walk through this with my sister, speaking both love and truth.
Thanks for writing and for raising this complex question. There's a lot wrapped up in your question, so let me try to take it piece by piece.
Let's start with the civil wedding itself. Marriage is what we call a "common grace ordinance" — that is, a gift from God that is (unlike salvation itself or the Lord's Supper) God's gift not just to the church but to all of human kind. Because that's true, purely civil wedding ceremonies are, biblically speaking, entirely permissible and appropriate. In other words, your sister is technically right on that one.
It's also true, as we read in 1 Corinthians 7, that "because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband" (verse 2) and that believers should marry "if they cannot exercise self-control" rather than "burn[ing] with passion" (verse 9). So the best case scenario here (such as it is) is that your sister and her husband were struggling against temptation (without falling into sexual sin) and decided, as your sister said, to get married more quickly for the sake of sexual purity. If that's what happened, then your sister and brother-in-law were also heeding Scripture's very real and repeated admonitions to "flee from sexual immorality" (1 Corinthians 6:18) and to "control [their] own bod[ies] in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God" (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
Having said all that — and admittedly not knowing anything else about your sister's relationship with her new husband or their relationships with their families — their decision concerns me for a number of reasons. First of all, just because a civil ceremony is technically permissible doesn't mean it's best or even advisable. As Christians (I'm assuming your new brother-in-law is a Christian), why wouldn't your sister and brother-in-law want a ceremony that acknowledges the centrality of Christ and the Gospel and that acknowledges the marriage is before God and not just men?
I also appreciate why your sister's decision hurt you and will be extremely disappointing to your parents and your sister's friends and other loved ones once they find out about the decision. Again, I don't know the larger relational/family context, and as you mentioned in your question, I can certainly envision scenarios in which elopement might be a good (or less bad) option, but it sounds like there have been some hurt feelings over this and that there will be more.
The secrecy concerns me most of all. I genuinely hope that they made the decision to proactively avoid sexual sin and not to cover it up, but a decision to cut out pastors, church, family, friends — essentially their entire accountability structure — regarding their relationship and wedding strongly suggests (not guarantees, but suggests) that there may be an issue there. Even if your sister and brother-in-law were in sexual sin, an expedited wedding might still have been a good idea (assuming their relationship is otherwise healthy), but on the surface their actions look more like an effort to avoid accountability rather than embrace it.
So how do you speak to your sister, and what issues do you address? Here are a few ideas:
- In your first conversation, try to look forward rather than back. Remember, your sister is still a new Christian, and however it came about, she is married now. Your concern going forward should be for her and her husband's spiritual good and to help their marriage and family be established in godliness. There will be a time and a place for you (and others) to express hurt or frustration, and it might help you to mention it in your first conversation about this, but if you are concerned for her spiritual good and that of the marriage, I would encourage you to love your sister by initially prioritizing that.
- Along those lines, I would try to encourage them back to their pastors and to loving accountability. You might lovingly try to talk to your sister about whether there is sexual sin that needs to be confessed. If there is, it will affect the marriage long-term, and it's something she (and her husband) should repent of and talk through with their pastor(s). And whether she or they confess sexual sin or not, I would encourage them to tell their pastor(s) about their decision and to complete their (pre) marital counseling for their own good.
- Finally, you might also address what to do about the planned ceremony and how to tell family and friends about their decision. Bottom line, they are already married in the eyes of both the Lord (even if they didn't really acknowledge Him in their ceremony) and the state. To go on with a traditional wedding as if that never happened and without telling pastors, parents, and others would be dishonest and deceptive. Maybe the planned festivities could be changed to a reception, or perhaps a worship service shifted to acknowledge and celebrate their (already accomplished) marriage. This is obviously something they can talk over with family and pastors once everyone is up to speed.
Remember, you can speak truth and still lead with love and concern for your sister, rather than the frustration driven by your own feelings (see James 4:1). I will pray for you and your family to have wisdom in this.
For His glory,
Copyright 2014 Scott Croft. All rights reserved.