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What happens when a Christian marries someone who is not a Christian believer?
Does the faith of a spouse matter?
Do you believe people with different religious convictions can be happily married?
Your choice of a marriage partner starts when you choose whom to date.
What does dating have to do with whom you choose to marry? Most people don't date people whose company they don't enjoy. If you enjoy someone's company, it's very likely infatuation or even love might enter the relationship. Once that happens, after an emotional tie forms, you might think religion doesn't matter. When our emotions stifle the messages our brains try to send, we leave ourselves vulnerable to making bad decisions that can destroy our lives and those of our children.
Long before we start to date, we should consider the kind of marriage we want to have. If you have a vibrant faith or adhere strongly to a religion, it is probably an important part of who you are. You will probably want to raise your children in your faith, worship with your spouse, and maybe have devotions as a family. Your faith may determine how you want to spend your money and your time. It may determine how you expect to spend the holidays you normally celebrate. But if you are dating someone who does not share your faith, and you fall in love, your road will not be a smooth one. If you are a Christian, you would be wise to limit your dating to Christians. It will lessen your chances of marrying a man who does not share your values and beliefs. It will lessen your chances of having God's best in your marriage. Your parents may have told you that. Your church may have told you that. But when we are young, we don't always listen. After all, we reason, it's just a date. I'm not going to marry him (or her.)
Were you raised a Christian, but are unsure of what you believe now?
I always went to church and / or Sunday school when I was a child. I was even president of the church youth group in high school , but I began to question my early beliefs during my senior year. It was fairly easy to start dating someone who wasn't sure what he believed, either. Together we searched and talked about our spiritual journey. After three years of dating, we went our separate ways, still friends to this day.
As it turned out, we have grown in very different directions both spiritually and politically, and each of us married a more suitable partner who shares our beliefs. When we were dating, though, we believed we would marry some day. My parents were wiser than I, and knew that sending me away to school would test the relationship, and as they expected, it didn't pass the test. Today, the young agnostic is an older man of the cloth. We are both committed Christians, but we are still very different in the ways we express our faith and the causes we fight for. Had we married, our marriage probably would have been at best a disappointment.
If you aren't sure what you believe, and if you are still in college or under 25, I would advise waiting to get emotionally involved until you have thought through your own values and your religious beliefs. People often radically change their beliefs during the college and young adult years. Some people turn their backs on the faith they were raised in and embrace a different one or abandon all religious beliefs. Some people, like me, think they have left their faith and then return to it more convinced than ever. Trust me. It's much better to wait until you are settled before picking a partner based on what you believe when you are 17 or 19.
Surely dating someone from my church is safe.
That brings me to another point. You may be dating someone from your church and feel secure that you share a common faith. It's just possible, though, that you don't. Do you ever talk about it? Do you pray together or discuss God's word and his work in your lives? If not, how do you know what the other really believes in his or her heart?
After I was away at college, I started dating a man I had met just before I went away to school. We had often talked, and he had, in fact, invited me to attend his church, which he told me was the best church ever. So one night, while I was home for the weekend, I went . He wasn't there, but I loved his church and actually came back to my lost faith that night. I began to attend that church whenever I was home, and after church we often talked. I made the assumption that he was a person of faith just because he belonged to that church. As it turns out, his church may have been just a part of his culture that had not really penetrated his heart and spirit. I did not think that, however, until I became engaged to my present husband. Then the other man showed a side of himself I had never seen. I keep hoping it was an act. I also hope he has fully accepted the faith he was raised in -- especially if he married a girl from his church who believed he was a believer.
I have brought up these examples to show that the unseen matters of the heart may not always be what they seem. If there is chemistry present, we can easily ignore any signs that our date might not really share our faith. Even if our intentions are good, we can be fooled into believing what we want to believe. Our hearts are deceitful. Wolves do sometimes dress as sheep and hang out with the flock. Or sometimes we know they are not part of the flock, but we drag them into the fold anyway, hoping they will learn to feel at home there and become believers.
One of the Worst Marriage Mistakes a Christian Can Make
If you are a devout Christian and you have decided to date a non-Christian, it's very likely you believe you can get the prospective partner to go to your church with you, and then become a believer. In very rare cases, this happens. We have dear friends from a past church where this was the case. She was a devout believer. They went to a church based on common culture, and he became a believer. He became a believer long before they married, however, and there was plenty of time to tell if it was real.
We have another case where it turned out differently. We were active in a campus Christian organization at UCLA, and the year before I arrived on the scene, a couple from the group had married. He had been president of the group. She had come as an unbeliever searching for the truth -- or so everyone thought. She became a believer and seemed to be very zealous. The group's president felt secure enough that her faith was real that he married her. Shortly after, the marriage ended. She "lost" her faith. No one is sure what really happened. It ended though, with hurt people.
Many times I have seen people who become believers through a the witness of a campus Christian group, and then they were urged to join discipleship groups and were propelled into positions of leadership. There's nothing wrong with that. But sometimes these people are pushed into positions they are not spiritually ready for, and instead of getting their sense of worth from the love of Jesus for them, they get it from the position of leadership they have attained. Their roots don't go deep, and when tests come, they are gone. I have seen this happen more often than I wanted to. Be very careful about dating new Christians until they have shown they have the fruits of the spirit in their lives.
In another case while I was at UCLA, I ran into a friend from high school, the daughter of missionaries. Since her senior year of high school she had been dating a neighbor of mine who had lived across the street when I was in elementary school. He was Italian and raised Catholic. She was very Protestant. But that was not their biggest problem. I knew something about him she didn't, because when we were neighbors, I had learned he was a bully. He had a very cruel streak. When I ran into my friend at UCLA in our senior year, she said her boyfriend had converted and they were engaged. He was now studying to be a minister at a small charismatic church. They invited us after they were married, to hear his first sermon. After that, we lost track of them, since we lived far apart. Years later I heard they were divorced and she had left the faith. Seemingly, he had been abusive. I don't know if he left the ministry or not. He had changed his dogma, but I never saw a change in his heart from the cruel person who had terrified me when I was a child. Our hormones can blind us to a person's real character -- a character we will have to live with if we marry that person.
When a person really becomes a Christian, the heart should change and he or she should become a new creature with a new attitude. When we are emotionally involved, we are seeing a person in the best possible light. We are seeing what we want to see. It takes time to reveal what a person is really becoming. We can even deceive ourselves. The person you love may simply be eager to be what you want him to be, and may not be faking it. He may not know himself if he is believing from the heart or agreeing with some doctrine and joining a church to please you. The truth will come out after time passes. That's why I advise premarital counseling in all cases. (See my Hub Advice to Brides-to-Be on Marriage)
Let God Make You One.
"Do not be mismated with unbelievers."
If you've been raised in a fundamentalist or evangelical church, you've heard this message of Paul's from Corinthians II many times. It's not there to spoil your fun. The warning is there to keep you from being miserable later. Being mismated means having different values and different goals in life. It means you will be married and trying to go in opposite directions. "A house divided against itself cannot stand."
I have lost count of the Christian women I know who have married unbelievers hoping that they will become Christians. In most cases it never happens. I do know of one happy story where the husband finally became a believer after his wife and daughter (who was then married) had prayed for 30 years for him. But that was after 30 years of a marriage that was not all God had intended it to be.
Paul's advice is clear: Believers and unbelievers should not get married. If they do, they will find it very difficult to live in peace because they will disagree about many important issues. Many of these issues will remain hidden until the children are born. I have seen many a grown woman weep because she did not heed Paul's admonition. The older a woman got, the more she missed having a partner in the spirit, as well as the flesh.
How did it happen? It happened because she dated a non-believer and thought it didn't matter. It matters if your faith matters. Make the commitment that your close friends of the opposite sex, whether you date them or not, will share your faith. Then make sure that both of you are committed to a marriage that lasts until death parts you. Making these two commitments will save you a lot of grief and go far toward building a happy and fulfilling marriage