…it is the duty of Christians to marry only in the Lord. And therefore such as profess the true reformed religion should not marry with infidels, papists, or other idolaters: neither should such as are godly be unequally yoked, by marrying with such as are notoriously wicked in their life, or maintain damnable heresies.
Westminster Confession of Faith
Know therefore that marriage is an outward, bodily thing, like any other worldly undertaking. Just as I may eat, drink, sleep, walk, ride with, buy from, speak to, and deal with a heathen, Jew, Turk, or heretic, so I may also marry and continue in wedlock with him. Pay no attention to the precepts of those fools who forbid it.
Martin Luther, ‘The Estate of Marriage’ (1552)
I recently had a conversation with a friend regarding the above said topic, decided to recorded some of my thoughts here.
The Dilemma of Christian Marriages to Non-Christians
I have previously speculated upon the possibility of Christian marriages to non-Christians in a previous note, but I haven’t written upon some of the pastoral questions which such an arrangement could throw up, considerations which I would now record here.
The dilemma which a Christian would find oneself with a non-Christian can be formulated in a very simple manner, it is based upon two premises:
(1) Marriage is the state of a shared life between two persons
(2) The Christian Faith is a vital and essential element of the life of the Christian
Now, it is clear that in a marriage with a Christian to a non-Christian, the two premises are fundamentally contradictory. Let me phrase the dilemma this way
(a) Either one’s Christian faith is not an important aspect of one’s person and is not considered significant enough to be shared in life and practice with one’s non-Christian spouse. In this case, this is apostasy and a blasphemous rebellion against Christ’s command to love God with all of one’s heart, mind, strength, etc.
(b) Or one’s marriage is not significant enough aspect of one’s life to need to share everything, in fact, not such an important aspect of one’s life as to need to share something as vital as one’s Christian faith with one’s spouse. This would actually be closer to St Paul and Christ’s view, but it is a view which is not widely shared in today’s world.
Thus, it seems to me that the Evangelical instinct against Christian marriages to non-Christians are premised upon the (a) side of the dilemma, and like Solomon, such marriages will eventually lead to apostasy as the non-Christian spouse leads the Christian’s heart away from Christ. Whereas Luther and I have pointed out before, St Paul and Christ’s view would be closer to (b), the claim that marriage is merely an “an outward, bodily thing, like any other worldly undertaking”. Just as a Christian can enter into a business contract or deal with non-Christians, and just as we can trade with non-Christians and engage in “worldly affairs” with non-Christians, so likewise can we enter into a marriage contract with non-Christians since marriage is merely a bodily and worldly undertaking of no greater significance than that. (Evidenced further by St Paul counsel to simply allow marriages to non-Christians to break off peacefully without much further ado, since it is a mere worldly undertaking, in exactly the same way that we can simply break contracts and pay the appropriate penalty).
What is clear is that it cannot be both that marriage is a significant aspect of one’s life and the Christian faith also a significant fact of one’s life. They are mutually contradictory premises with regards to marriages to non-Christians. Either one rebels against God, or one “de-romanticise” marriage.
Naturally, this is a historically contingent question, depending upon our culture and prevailing social environment. However, given the extreme romanticism which has been infused into marriage, the Evangelicals might be right in seeing that what happens more often than not, is not (b), but (a), and there is some wisdom in their regulative prohibition of marriages to non-Christians.
Some Practical Questions
The most practical question which must be asked in this context then is simply whether or not it is possible for the Christian party within a marriage to a non-Christian to do their duty to God and fulfil their roles as Christian husbands/wives.
For the Christian husband, he is the head of the house (Ephesians 5:23), and as Christ is head of the husband, so by extension Christ is the head of the house. Would a non-Christian wife be amendable to live in a Christian home, even if she were to personally not practice the faith? She would either have to be very tolerant, or she would resent this, which in turn will either lead to the Christian husband abandoning his duty to God which is apostasy, or in perpetual conflict with his wife, which is obviously not a good thing.
For the Christian wife, she is to submit herself to her husband (Ephesians 5:22), but would there not arise cases in which her non-Christian husband might require of her deeds which would conflict with her conscience in Christ and her obedience to God’s will? Again, there would arise the potential of perpetual strife and conflict. Again, all one can hope for is that the husband is generally accommodating towards her wife’s faith and would not place her in an impossible position.
Finally there is the question of children. Obviously the parents will have the duty of raising their children and “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4) Would a non-Christian spouse be open to having his/her children baptized and raised as Christians?
Some Concluding Thoughts
The Roman Catholic Church is probably the lone denomination here to permit mixed marriages, but this permission, which requires express permission of the clerical authority, “presupposes that both parties know and do not exclude the essential ends and properties of marriage and the obligations assumed by the Catholic party concerning the baptism and education of the children in the Catholic Church.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
Thus, the Catholic Church permits mixed marriages only with the understanding that the non-Catholic party understands the obligations of the Catholic party, presumably with regards to one’s Christian obligations, especially the baptism and education of children in the Catholic Church. I’ve demonstrated before that there isn’t a clear Scriptural prohibition against Christians marrying non-Christians, but yet the fears of the Evangelical are rightly founded, that a Christian marrying a non-Christian might potentially lead to apostasy and would become an occasion of sin as the Christian party has to negotiate between accommodating one’s spouse and obeying God. But this potential need not become actual as long as the proper precautions, which the Catholic Church prescribes, are taken with regards to Christians marrying non-Christians.