Jenny, from East Lansing, Michigan asks, “How important is having the same religious beliefs? I feel like God has been working on his life; however, I have recently found out that he doesn’t attest to Christ as Savior in the same way that I know Him. What are your thoughts on this matter?”
In an American culture of pluralism where it is espoused that all roads are equally valid, the stark reality is that they are not – despite what the culture is crying out for it to be. More so than a person’s stated religion, what your potential spouse actually believes will have a large impact on your life together if you get married (just as what you believe will have a large impact on him). Let’s examine a few of those areas of life where spirituality and religion makes practical differences.
Giving. Many Christian and Jewish people ascribe to the concept of a tithe. A tithe, literally defined, is when a person/family gives a tenth (10%) of their increase back to God – often to a church or synagogue. Even if the tithe concept is not adhered, a general concept of giving is. When one spouse wants to give financially to his or her place of worship and asks his or her spouse of a different faith (or even one of the same faith, but who also has strong denominational/theological differences), it can create a strong amount of incongruence within the latter spouse (whether begrudging the gift or flatly disagreeing in doing so).
Many objections could be raised about such giving by the latter spouse and it is very unlikely that the giving will be done joyfully by the former spouse – because he or she and his or her spouse are not on the same page. Christians are told to give as an act of worship to their local congregation – to support the ministry. However, when marital discussion turns to the pocketbook, arguments can quickly arise when there are religious differences and determining what people and organizations to support (since resources are finite) can be tumultuous.
Holidays. As Christmas is nearing upon us, this is an area where there is likely to be less contention – but, some will likely still exist. One person may want to primarily focus on the tree, decorations, and gifts; whereas, the other person may want to primarily focus on the birth of Christ and sacrificial giving. Will Easter be observed – or just another Sunday? Will it have the same meaning for the couple to share? Some Christians are strongly opposed to Halloween; whereas, others are not. These differences, though they may not be huge issues, will play a practical, significant role.
Children. Speaking of Halloween, if one parent wants his or her children to have fun in that evening by going trick-or-treating and the other parent wants no part of the holiday, it will send conflicting messages to the children. How the children are raised in a family with parental religious differences can be very confusing. Some may argue that it is better that way so the child makes up his or her own mind (as if other people could *really* control this area of another person’s life anyway); however, some may believe that a strong spiritual heritage in a particular faith is a great blessing to their children. Even if one parent is a participating believer and the other one is ambivalent about the children going to church and being involved in activities, the silent message sent by the ambivalent parent is in contradiction from the observing parent and can create confusion and uncertainty in a young one finding his or her way.
Spiritual Leadership. It is also important to discuss spiritual leadership in this conversation. According to the family structure that God has created, the man is placed in the role as the spiritual leader of the house. Though many women have had the best of intentions of converting their current or future husbands, it rarely ever works that way (not that there aren’t isolated cases, but it’s best not to live life against the odds on a regular basis – and especially on something so important). Typically, the male will influence the family toward his thinking and lifestyle. If you cannot get to the same page theologically before marriage (which means that yes, you’ll need to discuss this in-depth prior to marriage), then it would be an ill-advised match for both people: for the man, to knowingly lead a woman in a direction with which she does not agree – and for the woman, to knowingly be led by a man in a direction with which she does not agree.
Theological Interpretation and Behavior. Additionally, it’s not enough to say, “We’re both of the same religion, so we’ll be fine.” In mainline Christianity alone (not even dealing with cults) there are a good number of differing opinions as to what the Bible means by particular passages. Let me give you a few areas of possible contention: Calvinism (predestination) vs. Arminianism (free will), evangelical vs. charismatic, large churches vs. small churches, amount of structure and repetition within and between weeks in the worship service, amount of church services attended in a week, the importance of evangelism in practice (not theory), how evangelism is done, open communion vs. closed communion, baptism by immersion vs. baptism by sprinkling vs. baptism by pouring … and the list goes on. It may be easy to rationalize religious differences as insignificant, but even in each of the example areas above, what a person believes will have a direct impact on how he or she thinks… and lives.
The Bible discusses being yoked to another person in 2 Corinthians 6:14. It states, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (ESV)
Many Christians have understood the above passage to mean that a believer (i.e., Christian) and an unbeliever (i.e., non-Christian) should not join in marriage. Many people also apply it to dating and courting processes since they are ultimately about finding a spouse – that a Christian should restrict himself or herself to only dating other Christians.
Thus “missionary dating” (dating because there is an emotional or physical bond created and hoping the other person will give his or her life to Jesus) is a very unhealthy idea. The main problem with missionary dating is this: per the verse above, a Christian cannot, in good conscience, marry an unbeliever – they do not share the same God. So, for the Christian to marry the person, the unbeliever needs to become a convert.
The question is this: How does one ascertain whether that conversion is a true conversion or a false conversion – whether God has truly regenerated that person unto life and holiness or whether the person is putting on a form of godliness and cleaning up his or her act with no real change on the inside? To the outside observer, they can appear the same for a short period of time. So, what to do?
If you’re in a missionary dating relationship, as difficult as this suggestion is, my suggestion is to part ways. You don’t want to be in a relationship with someone where you can’t be certain of his or her true motives for becoming a Christian (or for aligning with your religious beliefs). If you part ways and Christ radically transforms that person’s life (and it is a permanent change lasting more than six months faithfully), then there may be cause for discussion to reunite (assuming you haven’t found someone else – or that someone else hasn’t found you). But, to know if a tree is bearing good fruit in the long run, it will take some time and patience to see.
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What are your thoughts on “missionary dating?”