Interview: Pre-marriage Counselling

Pastor Martin K. Paul was ordained on the 5th of December 2021 and serves the St. Paul’s Johannesburg Congregation since then. He lives in Johannesburg with his wife Nicola, and their three children. Pastor Paul has written the required examination paper on the topic of Pre-marriage Counselling: A contemporary and practical guide based on an empirical engagement with the youth of the FELSISA in matters relating to marriage.

Question (Q): Can you briefly explain what the paper is about?

Answer (A): The paper is about preparing a couple for marriage from a biblical point of view. The paper additionally reflects on research gathered from the youth of the FELSISA. Its purpose is to find the perceived strengths and weaknesses of marriage within the FELSISA.

Q: Against what background can marriage with its individual responsibilities be better understood?

A: To have a right understanding of marriage you need faith. It is quite as simple as that. Like faith, marriage is a gift from God. You never deserved to be loved, but through God’s grace and because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, you may find yourself in a loving relationship, which was gifted to you.

In marriage we are gifted quite specific responsibilities. The word “responsibilities” has the word “response” in it. It is a response to God’s Word, a response to God’s calling. Even though we respond in faith, man and woman do it differently. I do not respond to God’s Word by giving birth to children, this gift has rather been given to my wife. No matter how strong my faith is, I cannot give birth to a child. Yet some responsibilities we do share, for instance: “You shall not commit adultery.” Both husband and wife thus have their unique responsibilities, yet also their shared responsibilities. In my understanding therefore, divorce is always a result of lack of faith from at least one of the spouses.

Q: Can you explain why a worldly view of marriage is problematic?

A: In today’s world many people think that marriage is about finding personal and individualistic fulfilment. A Christian marriage however is self-less. A spouse always looks to benefit the other with “good works”. Yet, “good” here needs to be understood in a Christian sense. “Good” does not always mean “happy”. Good can also mean hard! It can be hard loving a spouse who was/is addicted to pornography or who is constantly drunk or who doesn’t want to attend church. Yet, out of Christian love you remain faithful to that spouse even when it is hard. The world however does not have patience for hardship and this view of marriage is infiltrating our church today.

Q: How should couples deal with sin in marriage?

A: As soon as you want to deal with sin in marriage on your own, apart from Jesus Christ, you are heading in the wrong direction. Make your own selfish circle bigger and centre it on Christ. Better yet, Christ comes and breaks your selfish circle and makes it bigger! Christ alone forgives sin, which a psychologist can never do, and He alone gives you faith to be forgiving to your spouse. That’s how sin is dealt with in marriage.

We can do this in a number of ways: You can go to your pastor personally, where he can speak God’s Word of forgiveness over you. You can run to Holy Scripture and read the powerful Word of God there. You can run to church, to the Lord’s Table and receive the certainty of His forgiveness under bread and wine.

Q: Could you clarify what it really means to “submit to your husband”?

A: “Submissive” in a Christian sense does not mean that one is being oppressed; that one is inferior or incompetent. It rather means putting the desire of another first and seeking the benefit of another. By doing that the wife mirrors her conduct “as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:21), seeing her husband as Christ’s representative. It doesn’t mean that she needs to stay at home. It means that her family is more important than her job description.

Q: Can you explain what “headship” means for the husband?

A: Headship for a husband firstly means that he humbles himself and realises that his headship is gifted and that he is not the owner of another, rather he has been gifted to take care of another.  He therefore treasures his wife above everything else. Yet at the same time he communicates the faith he has been gifted with her and his family. Without the husband’s input, statistically speaking, the wife will have all odds against her in keeping her children in church on her own. If the husband’s relationship with the Lord is impaired so too will his relationship to his wife be impaired. The more the husband reflects a Christ-like headship, the more easily the woman’s submissiveness may follow.

Q: Why is a Christian marriage always a public matter and a force against chaos?

A: The more God’s Word is at the centre of marriage the more united these people become. Christian families help raise their children into a unified faith and this helps in protecting the entire community, not just within the church, but also in society as well. If you are just into personal gain, you end up in a broken society where nobody cares about each other and war breaks out, disintegrating society. Christians however value each other and their neighbour to the point of death for another and that is a force against chaos.

Q: The statistics on the viewing of pornography are very concerning. What should be done in order to address this topic appropriately?

A: When I grew up, I thought it normal that every male teenager is watching pornography, but what I needed to hear was God’s Word! Fathers especially need to hear God’s Word, so that they too can communicate God’s Word to their children, especially to their sons. Pornography is all about instant gratification. It resembles a life without commitment, without responsibility and without faith! Sadly, those who are addicted to pornography look for the same thing from their spouses and thereby objectify them and bring chaos into marriage. It ends up destroying marriages since it does not serve the other. Again, the solution is not trying to abstain on your own, but to hear God’s powerful Word. Both Law and Gospel! When this is heard, abstaining becomes all the easier. Sadly, many wives finally become a Word of God to addicted husbands, because no one else previously was a Word of God to them. This makes marriage hard to begin with. Fortunately, there is also forgiveness in these marriages when God’s Word remains at the centre.

Q: It also seems as if the youth of the FELSISA are not well informed about contraceptives, fertility treatments and especially their consequences. Can you give a few pointers on what to look out for?

A: Just a few things to be cautious about: From a legal point of view, it is legal to prevent conceived eggs, hence a human being, to implant in the womb without the medication being called “abortifacient”. If the leaflet of the contraceptive mentions that it does not contain “abortifacients”, this does not necessarily mean it does not kill already conceived eggs (thus a human being) on its way to the womb.

The same is true for fertility treatments. From alegal point of view, discarding already fertilised eggs, hence a human being, is not considered as aborting the life of a child. As Christians however we have to show accountability, either by implanting all fertilised eggs, which could endanger the mother, or fertilising only one egg at a time, which is quite expensive.

We thank Pastor Paul for the informative answers and wish him and his family God’s blessing for their service in the church and synod.

(The interview was conducted by Angelika Johannes, Panbult)

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