In SMC there is a view of, and an approach to, marriage which causes problems and raises important questions.

One of the persistent problems people have had in SMC is the experience that some of the leaders consistently involve themselves to the point of interference in the marriage hopes, plans and relationships of those in their congregations.

There are some who feel they are neglected and ignored by the leadership in relation to everything in their lives, including their marriage. Others testify that their lives were subject to excessive and inappropriate control in private and personal matters. The RickRoss discussion is full of people whose time in SMC has led to them feeling they have problems as a result in their personal lives and in their marriages.

The concern is that if the teaching and approach taken is not biblical and correct then the effect on marriages of the involvement of the Struthers leadership will be damaging rather than positive. That would lead in the long term to weak marriages and damaged families. Since the requirements of church leadership appointments from 1 Timothy 3 are a sound marriage, children doing well, and a well run home any damage to families would also be potentially devastating to the next generation of leadership in SMC.


The Same Old Mistakes which “Seducing Spirits” cause Leaders to Make  

Unfortunately there has been a tendency in both the Brethren and early Pentecostal holiness traditions to adjust the teaching the bible gives on marriage to fit with their legalistic view of "holiness", worldliness and some cultural traditions of the 19th century which are actually just repetition of classic mistakes the church has made from the start of the new testament era.

These mistakes are:

By approaching holiness in the way the Pharisees did, you can construct a faith that is based on religious performance and in particular focused on performance in church. That inevitably squeezes the time and resources needed to establish and continue in a healthy marriage relationship. The first call on your time is continually demanded by the whims of your church leaders – not the needs of your spouse and children. This is nonsense and shows a deep misunderstanding of the plan of God for man.

By confusing marital pleasures – of which there are many – with various forbidden pleasures spoken of in scripture you mislead people. The answer sometimes arrived at by church leaders fearful that joy may break out is to try and control the parts of life outside of their remit. Thus the control of marriage is assumed to be a way of controlling people from becoming "worldly" and then focused on daily rather than spiritual needs. Once that mistake is made to encourage abstinence from marriage becomes an alleged way of deepening spiritual life.

Fortunately the bible anticipated this sin which church leadership can fall into and clearly condemns those "forbidding to marry" as people “giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils.”

1 Timothy 4v1-3

Now the Spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God has created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.

There is no biblical distinction made between those who do this in general and those who think thy have a right to apply it in some cases. Bluntly the bible teaches this. No-one is forbidden to marry. Everyone of us is free to marry or not. The responsibility for that decision and the consequences of that decision remain with the individual. Willingness to take advice is a good thing. To use your position as a giver of advice to try and control people’s lives is not.

Proverbs 11v14

For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers.  

If one counsellor thinks they have been told by God that you should not marry then run from them and return to the biblical position. Nowhere in the bible is there any suggestion that closeness to God is reserved for, or even greater for, those who have remained unmarried. That is a heretical teaching.  


A Teaching which makes No Provision

In particular consider this. It is frighteningly easy for a church leader to advise a young person that God may have a better plan for them if they remain unmarried. But soon time and age removes these venerable leaders and the person who took that advice is now, in every sense, on their own.  

Will those who have advised you to remain unmarried be there for you in your time of sickness?

Will they be the ones to help with your day to day physical and emotional needs?

Will these advisers be your chief source of company and comfort?

If not who will provide this for you?

In SMC there is a misunderstanding that some at the centre of leadership in the church have chosen this “single life” path and live somewhat aloof from normal life in a cocoon where all such needs are spiritually provided. Some who have been in leadership have been single and many of these people have been in the midst of a Struthers leadership community which provided family, physical and emotional help and some have simply not left their family homes and lived with their parents into middle age.

If these facilities are not available to you to make this “single life” work then we suggest you return to a scriptural position and make that decision on the basis of your own situation and needs.

And also consider this:

As we read Christian history when some – and they are a very few – are called to live unmarried so that in some way they could serve God then there is a clear and unmissable result of that sacrifice. They did it for a reason. The same kind of reason a married man might leave his family for a short time to serve God in the mission field or in some other place. This would not often be long term but could be for a time; but definitely always for a specific purpose which a reasonable person of normal understanding could see and understand.

To remain single so that you can attend a church as a congregation member – even 5 times a week – for a lifetime until old age prevents you from attending any more is not a life for which it is appropriate or sensible to give up the prospect of marriage. Even Struthers shows this to be true. There are some – perhaps a few dozen – who obeyed this continually and relentlessly repeated teaching in the 1970s and 1980s to consider the single life and consider that marriage might not be for them. Yet SMC do not seem to particularly value, or recognise, or seek to use in the work of God, many of those who followed this core teaching in any visible way whatsoever. It would appear that some who are married have roles and some who are not. The positive spiritual gains so repeatedly promised from not marrying are not being recognised in the leadership appointments as they have been made.

So what is it this teaching for? We can see the long term disadvantages - but we cannot see the promised benefits to the marriage abstainers or to the church.

We are sorry if this seems harsh to anyone. We would be pleased to hear of what wonderful benefits this oft repeated teaching has resulted in. As it stands we are not aware of any. Certainly there is no evidence that those who did marry are achieving any more or less in the work of God than those who did not. This is not our obsession. As SMC members will know, considering not marrying is and has been a continual and persistent thread of SMC teaching. They have put it out there and pushed it relentlessly. So we now ask - what has been the outcome?

And most importantly - what arrangements have been put in place by the leadership of SMC to provide for the physical and emotional needs of the ageing single people in the congregation – some of whom at least probably did believe God - through your sermons - called them to this state?

Or to put this another way – if you are someone who has followed the teaching to be single – if the church leaders who encouraged you to do this are not going to look after you – who will?


The Wrong Covenant   

The problem is a lack of understanding – which comes from SMC preachers repeating things they do not understand and have either not studied; or worse do not believe but repeat anyway.

The confusion SMC create when they conflate duty to God with duty to Struthers has been commented on before. Here it creates a problem which can damage marriages.

If you go into marriage with this confusion you think:

1st covenant (commitment) is to God as I know Him through Struthers

2nd covenant is to marriage and family.

Then, if there is a conflict of loyalty or time or resources  God as I know him through Struthers comes first. Marriage comes second. The nightmare logic of this is then if a husband gets a new job which the family needs but requires them to move away – then there is a conflict for the wife since to go with her husband she needs to move away from where there is a Struthers congregation. They have been taught to believe that to leave Struthers is to walk away forever from a particular way of finding God which they might never find again.

The biblical position is this:

1st covenant (commitment) God

2nd covenant Marriage and family

3rd covenant whatever church you happen to be in at the time.


This allows 2 right things to happen:

Firstly - as someone follows their first covenant of faithfulness to God then God will never – according to His word - bring you into a situation that He is causing a conflict with the second covenant. The two are one flesh. The thought of, for example, God calling the 2 marriage partners to worship Him (long term) in separate churches (or even more bizarrely separate branches of the same church) is indeed bizarre and unthinkable. Why would God treat those he has made one flesh as two? If a Christian leader seeks to have a married couple who they pastor attend different churches on a regular basis that person is acting in a way that will damage and not strengthen their marriage. The leader is putting their own short term wishes – or at worst their need to control people - ahead of the needs of that marriage and that family.

Secondly it rightly places the church you happen to be in at that point in your life and married life as far less important to your spiritual growth than your marriage – which it is. Proof of this is that it is a requirement of those seeking leadership in the church that they have shown that Godly and wise leadership first in the context of a Christian family. The bible never suggests that church leadership is best given to those who have no wife or family on the basis that that gives them some greater access to spirituality. That is heretical nonsense. So if a family has to move to another place for work reasons, or are in a church which fails them or even disappears – there is no fundamental impact on their commitment to God or their commitment to each other.

It is easy to understand that a person may have many jobs in their lifetime. In normal circumstances. they will also likely have many pastors. This is good and as it should be. We learn different things from different people and we have different needs in our lives at different ages and stages. Changing pastors and changing what we get from church leaders is good and healthy. Most people will have to agree that even in the freak cases where someone pastors in the same place for 30 or 40 years an end comes and new pastors come in. God has made it thus. So to expect a range of different church leaders in your life is good and reasonable.

However God has ordained that we marry once and until that partnership is ended by a death. So as God has designed it - marriage first everything else second. God's way is that if there is a problem with a church for one partner in a marriage - then they both have a problem. For one partner to stay in the church that caused the other partner problems to the point that they had to leave and go to another church would be to break the covenant you have made before God to your marriage partner. Putting a particular church, or a leader who has become an idol in your life, before a marriage partner is wrong. No church leader should create a conflict for a person which threatens the stability and ongoing health of their marriage. To do so is self indulgent and abhorrent.

If one person in a marriage has an unresolved issue with the leadership of SMC the leadership should seek to resolve it. If they cannot they should encourage the couple and family to go to another church where this conflict will not arise and the couple can focus on their life together in God. Regardless of the feelings of the leadership, a marriage is a choice that responsible adults have made so should be respected as such. The couple should be blessed on their way and spoken kindly and respectfully of ever after. Not least because they have placed God and their permanent marriage rightly ahead of their temporary church.

If you as a Christian have placed your commitment to your church, or the leadership of your church, in your heart ahead of your commitment before God to your marriage partner you need to repent and correct that urgently.

You may need to miss some meetings and spend that time with your partner understanding what has gone wrong. And if necessary get confidential marriage counselling from a qualified Christian organisation.


The Vow that Speaks Volumes  

When people marry in Struthers Memorial Church what is the vow they make before God?

Is it to forsake all others and commit to stay with their partner until they are separated by death?

Or is it

To forsake all others except the Struthers church leaders who will always get the first and best of my time and attention and commit to stay with their partner together until death - or until one of us wants to stop attending SMC?

Which of these vows is made in a Struthers wedding ceremony? We would invite the married people in Struthers to look again at the vow they made publicly and to live according to that vow. Alternatively don't make vows you don’t intend to keep. And don’t follow any Christian leader who has ever – even once in their lives -  encouraged a married person to leave their partner. Except in cases of criminality where the police have been involved we believe this is never appropriate. We believe it would be an abuse of position in dealing with people trying to solve problems in their marriage to encourage them to make remaining in attendance at Struthers the non-negotiable part; and leaving a married couple then no alternative advice but to resolve their problems on this basis or separate.


We believe that puts a church (not God – a church) before a marriage and if any Struthers leader has ever done this they should be utterly ashamed and now seek to put things right.