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Biblical perspectives on Mixed Courtship and Mixed Marriage

Text of an address by Rev A VanDelden delivered to the "Adults Association" of the Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott.

(Rev VanDelden is Minister of the Word of God for the Free Reformed Church of Rockingham, Western Australia.)

 

What is mixed marriage?

The term mixed marriage could easily be used to describe a marriage between two people of difference races, eg. between a Caucasian and a Negro. Perhaps in a country such as South Africa that is what is meant. But for Christians the term mixed marriage has come to refer to a marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian, between a believer and an unbeliever. The intent of this brochure is to listen to what Scripture says concerning this matter.

What Scripture says about mixed marriage.

There is no ambiguity in Scripture on the matter of mixed marriages: it is strictly forbidden! Study the following references in their context and that will become quite evident.

Genesis 24:3 "and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell ....

Genesis 26:34-35 When Esau was forty years old, he took as wives Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite. And they were a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah.

Genesis 27:46 And Rebekah said to Isaac, "I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife of the daughters of Heth, like these who are the daughters of the land, what good will my life be to me?"

Joshua 23:12-13 Or else, if indeed you [Israel] do go back, and cling to the remnant of these nations; these that remain among you; and make marriages with them, and go in to them and they to you, know for certain that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations from before you. But they shall be snares and traps to you, and scourges on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land which the LORD your God has given you.

1 Kings 11:1-4 But King Solomon loved many foreign women, as well as the daughter of Pharaoh: women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites; from the nations of whom the LORD had said to the children of Israel, "You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you. Surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods." Solomon clung to these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the LORD his God, as was the heart of his father David.

Ezra 10:10 Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, "You have transgressed and have taken pagan wives, adding to the guilt of Israel.

Nehemiah 13:27 "Should we then hear of your doing all this great evil, transgressing against our God by marrying pagan women?"

1 Corinthians 7:39 A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.

2 Corinthians 6:14 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people." Therefore "Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the LORD Almighty."

What about mixed courtship?

Someone might say that all these Scriptural references deal with marriage. She1 might reason that it is permissible to court someone who is not a Christian so long as she does not make any commitment to marry until the "outsider"2 has come to faith. Let it be clear, however, that when the LORD forbids a specific sin, He also forbids that which leads to that sin, and regards also that as sin.3

The words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 6 can be equally applied to courtship as to marriage. In fact Paul does not specifically speak about courtship or marriage. He speaks in a very general way, and includes all relationships between a believer and an unbeliever. Certainly courtship and marriage is included. What does a young Christian lady have in common with a young man from the world? Nothing, says Paul. Therefore they must not be yoked unequally in any relationship.

Is the Scriptural rule still applicable today?

So obvious is Godís prohibition against mixed marriage that no one can possibly deny this and still maintain the integrity of the Bible. There are some who may try to circumvent this prohibition by stating that this prohibition is time bound to the Church of the old dispensation, and is no longer applicable in the New Testament Church. But Paul clearly taught that the Old Testament rule for Israel must still be applied in the New Testament Church (cf. 2 Cor 6:14ff.).

But he is a believer!

When members of the Church find a boyfriend (or girlfriend) outside of the Church, and when they are reminded by minister or elder that mixed courtship and marriage is forbidden by the Lord, they often respond by saying, "He/she is a believer! Even though the "outsider" does not belong to the Church, he believes in God! Furthermore, he wants to receive catechetical instruction and in due time make profession of faith. They are told that they mustnít regard him as a non-Christian, as an unbeliever!

The fact is, however, that the elders or minister do not judge him. He may be a believer, but then again, he might not be. We should realise that in our country many people profess to be Christians. That is a term which is used to differentiate us from Moslems, Buddhists, and Hindus, etc. But many who claim to be Christians are not true Christians. They do not bear the marks of the Christian as outlined in Article 29 of our Belgic Confession.4 The Samaritans confessed to serve the Lord (cf. Ezra 4:2), but their hearts were not true to God (2 Kgs 17:29-33). There are many who say, Lord! Lord! whom Christ will never acknowledge (cf. Mat 7:22). Though they profess with their lips that they believe in God, their hearts are far from God (cf. Mat 15:8).

Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that the "outsider" comes into contact with the Church because of courtship. This naturally makes one wonder whether he comes to Church for the Lordís sake, or for his girlfriendís sake. He himself might be confused regarding his true motivation.

Still further, it should be noted that even Mormons and Jehovahís witnesses profess faith in Jesus Christ, and a love for God. Yes, even demons believe and shudder (cf. Jms 2:19). It is therefore necessary to determine as far as possible whether the "outsider" is a true believer, and what he believes.

Who determines whether he is a believer?

Contrary to what many may think, determining whether an "outsider" is a true believer or not is not a matter that rests simply with the individuals involved. This is incorrect. For those who are directly involved in the relationship will not be able to make an unbiased judgement. The "outsider" might consider himself to be a Christian, and profess as much without really understanding what it means to be a Christian, and what it entails. Furthermore, the member of the church will want to believe, and perhaps even convince herself that her boyfriend is what he claims. Because they are directly involved, they are hardly in a position to make an objective judgment.

Who determines, then, whether the "outsider" is a believer? In Ezra 10 and Nehemiah 13 we see that it is the leaders of the returned exiles who exercised authority over the people in the matter of mixed marriages. They made a judgement concerning the "outsiders" with whom the people of Israel had entered into marriage.

In the NT Christ has given the oversight of the congregation to the office bearers (cf. Heb 13:17; 1 Pet 5:2). They are to watch over the flock to ensure that the congregation walks in accordance with the commandments of the Lord. There is no sphere of life which lies outside of their authority. Thus it is the task of the office bearers to see to it that the children of God marry only in the Lord (cf. Art. 67 Church Order of the FRC Australia) This requires the office-bearers to determine to the best of their ability whether such an "outsider" is truly a believer or not.

How is it determined whether,
he is a true believer?

With all the heresy that exists in "Christianity" it is necessary to determine, not only that someone believes, but also what he believes. For not every believer is a true believer. That is, not every one who confesses Christ actually confesses the Christ who is revealed in Scripture. There are many who worship and confess a Christ of their own making.

To determine what a person believes, it is necessary to carefully go through the Scriptures with "outsider." In this matter we may use our confessions (the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dort) which summarise the doctrine of Godís Word. By going through the Scriptures or our confessions any errors in doctrine can be pointed out to him, and any deficiencies in knowledge can be supplemented.

It is much more difficult to determine whether he truly believes what he confesses. It is impossible for the consistory to look into the heart to see whether he truly believes what he confesses. Is it enough, then, to accept his statement of love for the Lord or his confession of faith?

Such a confession should by no means be disregarded. Our Lord said, For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, (Mat 12:34). But at the same time, we must be aware of the fact that such a confession can also be deceitful. Christ said, 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honour Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men (Mat 15:8).

Christ teaches us that there is another way in which we may judge. He said that a tree can be known by the fruit it bears (cf. Mat 12:33). A good tree will not bear bad fruit, neither will a bad tree bear good fruit (cf. Mat 7:17-19).

The Church, therefore, makes it judgement not simply on the basis of an oral profession of faith, but also on the basis of a godly walk of life. The consistory makes its decision only after it has examined the life of the "outsider", to see whether there are good fruits. In doing so, the consistory does not demand any more from the "outsider" than from an "insider". For even the members of the Church are judged by their fruit prior to making public profession of faith and thereby gaining admittance to the table of the Lord.

When the consistory has become satisfied that the "outsider" is faithful in both doctrine and conduct, he will be permitted to publicly profess his faith before God and the congregation. At this point of time the consistory judges to the best of its ability that the "outsider" is indeed a believer.

Courtship and marriage
is no place for evangelism.

<>Sometimes the "insider" decides to continue courtship because she believes that she will (with the Lordís help, of course!) be able to bring the "outsider" to faith and ultimately to the Church. No one will deny the fact that this has happened in the past. One can even turn to the Scriptures and find an example in Ruth, the Moabitess. But the fact that the Lord has blessed a courtship despite the coupleís sin does not condone courting an "outsider" in any way. We must not tempt the LORD. Furthermore, if we wish to cite history, then we should take into account the numerous relationships that have ended in apostasy, in which the "outsider," who professed to love the Lord, did not truly love Him and drew the "insider" away from the Lord.

In 1 Corinthians 7:15-16, Paul dealt with the situation in the early Christian Church where the gospel was brought to an unbelieving couple. One of the couple came to faith; the other did not. Should they remain together? That was the question which Paul had to answer. In that context, Paul reminded the believer that she should not suppose that she would be able to convert her spouse. For faith is not ours to give. Neither is faith something that arises from man himself. Faith is a gift of God which He sovereignly gives to His chosen ones, and to them only. From this we learn that no one ought to presume that he is able to bring another to faith.

Furthermore, it could happen that the relationship between the couple progresses, but the relationship of the "outsider" with the Lord does not progress at all. If this occurs, and it has, it is extremely difficult if not impossible to break off the relationship. The emotional bond is too strong, even though there is no spiritual bond. Many have said, "If he doesnít join the Church, then I will break it off," but later have found it too difficult to honour that good intention.

Neither courtship nor marriage is the place for evangelism. If the "outsider" wishes to receive instruction, let him do so outside of courtship. Let him first prove that he is indeed a believer, and then let the couple begin to court. Let him prove that he truly loves the Lord, and not just his girlfriend.

The bad fruit of unwillingness to separate.

Where there is unwillingness to remain separate until the "outsider" is judged to be a true believer, there is then evidence that both the "insider" and the "outsider" truly lack the desire to walk in the ways which the Lord has set down in His Word. They are bent on doing things their own way, rather than in the way that the Lord has ordained in His Word. They take their well-being into their own hands and they disregard the authority which the office bearers have received from God to protect them from ensnaring themselves.

In the case of the "insider", the office-bearers are duty bound to exercise Christian discipline out of love and concern for her spiritual well-being and that of the congregation.5 It would create less hard feelings if the consistory simply let everyone do what was right in their own eyes. But the office-bearers would have to answer to a very serious charge of failing to tend the flock as they were commanded. They must use the means which God has given them to prevent His people from sinning against the clear command of Scripture.

The "outsider" who professes to love the Lord should also be willing to stop courting until he has made profession of faith before the congregation. His love for the Lord should become evident by his willingness to honour this command. Conversely, his unwillingness to honour this command shows a lack of love for the Lord. Just as a good tree is known by its good fruits, so also a bad tree is known by its bad fruit. Thus an "outsider" who disregards this prohibition of mixed courtship brings his "faith" into question, and gives reason for the consistory to doubt his profession of faith and love for the Lord.

But its so hard!

Anyone who follows the Lord will testify that loving the Lord requires continual self-denial and daily self-sacrifice. This is not easy for anyone. The Christian life is one of constant struggle to do Godís will rather than our own.

No one will deny that separation of those who have courted for some time is very difficult. Let that couple realise, however, that they should never have entered into a relationship. They should also realise that the longer they remain in this relationship, the harder it will be to separate.

Those who have begun to walk on a sinful way and allowed a bond of love to develop must stop their courtship until the faith of the "outsider" is established. This will be very difficult. Nevertheless, the Lord commands obedience even when it means severing bonds of love. Christ said, He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me (Mat 10:37). In like manner, he who loves boyfriend or girlfriend more than Christ is not worthy of Christ.

Although it is extremely difficult to separate when a bond of love has developed, Godís children may turn to God in prayer and seek the needed strength. God is gracious and will supply them with the strength needed to overcome every sin and temptation. If someone says, "I cannot!" he is actually saying, "I will not!"

Where do we look for a marriage partner?

So far we have concerned ourselves with what God requires of those who meet an "outsider" to whom they are attracted, and with whom they wish to enter into a relationship.

But having spent so much time on this, we should realise and emphasise that the place in which to seek for a marriage partner is not outside the Church, but inside. For it is in the Church that believers will be found.

However, if it happens that a young lady from the Church should meet a nice young man in her work environment, she should never entertain any ideas about courtship, much less marriage. Neither should she embark upon an evangelism program in the context of courtship or marriage. If she wishes to lead him to the Lord (and she should) let her introduce him to the members of the congregation and to the minister or elders, while refraining from courtship. If he should desire instruction in the faith, let him make this request to the consistory.

If the young man attends Church faithfully and studies the Scriptures and confessions with zeal, apart from maintaining any relationship with the young lady of the Church, there will be little doubt as to his motives or his faith. After making profession of faith, he becomes a member of the Church, and as such, an eligible and legitimate suitor within in the Church. Such a development would be most pleasing to the Lord.

What do we look for in a marriage partner?

He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favour from the LORD (Prov 18:22). But what is it that makes a wife (or a husband) good? A good wife or a good husband is one who is able to help you in honouring the purpose of marriage.

The primary purpose of marriage is often conceived of as companionship, friendship. There is no denying that this is a part of marriage, and happy is the one who finds a spouse who is also oneís best friend! But God describes the purpose of marriage differently in Scripture. God created marriage to provide man with a helper, not just a companion. And it is this thought which should have primacy in our minds when seeking a marriage partner.

In what is our spouse to be our helper? In all things pertaining to the service of God, both physical and spiritual. It stands to reason that if a young lady marries an unbeliever, she will not receive a helper in the service of God.

The Christianís chief purpose in life is to glorify God. But in a mixed marriage, a Christian will not have someone to help her in fulfilling this task, but only a hindrance. Her husband would not share her aim in life, neither would he share her ethics and morals. In the realm of the spiritual, they would not be one but two, whereas God created man and wife to be one in all respects.

The second purpose of marriage to bring forth children to the Lord. I emphasise the fact that we bring them forth for the Lord. We are not called only to bring forth children. We are to bring forth children and raise them in the fear of the Lord, so that our children might also learn to fear and love the Lord.

Raising children in the fear of the Lord is a difficult task. It is difficult because of the weakness of parents and because of the depravity of children. It is difficult enough to raise children in the fear of the Lord when both husband and wife are sincere Christians. It is that much more difficult when one parent is a believer, and the other an unbeliever. Children are quick to pick up all inconsistencies in parents. In a mixed marriage, there will be conflicting examples set by a believing mother and an unbelieving father. Even if the unbeliever agrees to neutrality in the matter of the raising the children in the faith, his neutrality is really opposition to God. "Whoever is not for me is against Me" (Mat 12:30). Thus also to honour this second purpose of marriage, God has commanded that we seek marriage partners in the Lord.6

Happy are those who walk in faithfulness to the Lordís command concerning courtship and marriage. They shall be blessed, and it shall go well with them and their children.

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Footnotes

  1. I will refer to the "insider" as "she", and the "outsider" as "he" throughout. (Return)
  2. We use the term "outsider" reluctantly, and only for want of a better term. We have chosen this term because it does not pass judgement upon the person, whether he is a believer or an unbeliever, a Christian or not a Christian. (Return)
  3. cf. Matthew 5:21ff.. The seventh commandment speaks about adultery. But our Lord says that even looking at a women lustfully is sin. The LORD says the same with murder. He forbids not only murder, but also counts that as sin which leads to murder, namely, hatred. It is no different with respect to mixed marriage. In forbidding mixed marriage, God also forbids that which leads to mixed marriage, namely, mixed courtship. (Return)
  4. There we read: "Christians believe in Jesus Christ the only Saviour, flee from sin and pursue righteousness, love the true God and their neighbour without turning to the right or left, and crucify their flesh and its works. Although great weakness remains in them, they fight against it by the Spirit all the days of their life. They appeal constantly to the blood, suffering, death and obedience of Jesus Christ in whom they have forgiveness of their sins through faith in Him." (Return)
  5. Mixed marriages can greatly weaken a congregation. It is not the strong in faith who will enter into mixed marriage, but those who are weak in faith. This weak "insider" marries an unbeliever, which inevitably leads to a weak marriage and a weak family. Consider also the fact that "a little leaven leavens the whole lump" (1 Cor 5:6). If mixed marriage is permit-ted, others will follow suit. That means that there will be an increase in weak marriages. Since the strength and faithfulness of a congregation depends on the strength and faithfulness of the individual families of which it consists, it follows that if mixed courtship is accepted, it will, over a period of time, have detrimental effects upon the congregation as a whole. (Return)
  6. An astute reader will also realise that this implies that careful consideration is needed even when seeking a marriage partner in the Church. Although it should be, it is not always true that every young man or woman in the Church will make a good helpmeet. (Return)