Ministers of the Word and elders have, over the years, stressed that young church members should not court boys and girls outside their church or a recognised sister church. Yet youthful optimism can overlook dangers and ignore warnings so that from time to time such courtships develop, often with distressing consequences. Such sad results should not surprise us because courtships, too, depend on God’s blessing and one cannot expect that blessing if one pursues a course of action that is not according to God’s Word. We do well to remind ourselves of what God says about courtships with unbelievers and with those who say they believe but are not one with us in the true faith and church.
Courtship with unbelievers
Already way back before the Great Flood “the sons of God”, that is the boys in the church, “saw the daughters of men”. They cast their eyes upon the girls of the world and noticed “that they were beautiful”. And instead of remembering that God had put “enmity between the seed of the woman” (the church) and “the seed of the serpent” (the unbelieving world) they courted the girls of the world and “took wives for themselves of all they chose” (Gen. 6:2). The result was not that those wives became godly wives in the church but rather that the husbands became ungodly. The church, the descendants of Seth, diminished and the godless increased. We read that “the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth” and “He was grieved in His heart”. Therefore He swept them away with the great flood – all except the believer Noah and his family. This was the catastrophic consequence of mixed courtship that led to mixed marriages and compromise with the unbelieving world.
No wonder the Israelites, when they entered the Promised Land, were continually warned, first by Moses and later by Joshua, not to intermarry with the Canaanites. So important was the command not to mix what was holy with that which was unholy that God gave laws as a continual reminder of this. They were not to wear clothing made of two types of material, nor to sow two types of seed into their field, nor to let their livestock breed with another type of animal (Lev. 19:19). They were not even allowed to plough with two different types of animals; not because God was concerned for the animals but, as Paul says, to teach them not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6).
But not long after they entered the Promised Land the children of God, instead of continuing to rid the land of the wicked Canaanites, “took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons; and they served their gods” (Judges 3:6). They forgot the LORD, and the consequences were catastrophic. Mixed marriages are the quick and silent killers of the church because the non-reformed spouse brings her beliefs, her world views, her convictions, her way of life; and she nurtures the children with these views. So it’s no wonder that in the days of the Judges the people of the Lord were led astray to self-willed and idolatrous religious practices which brought down upon them the wrath of an offended God. Later even King Solomon, despite all his wisdom, was led astray by foreign wives. And King Ahab’s marriage to a Tyrian princess became a terrible tragedy for Israel.
Courtship with believers not of the (true) church
Okay, I can hear young people say, but the boy or girl I’m courting is not an unbeliever. He (she) is a Christian and wants to serve the Lord but just worships elsewhere. And although it’s not a sister church, the boy (or girl) is sincere and loves the Lord. Such a response, however, is based on the false notion that it is possible to serve the Lord outside the true church. It suggests that Christ’s church is really an invisible church, made up of believers from various ‘denominations’; or that the church is ‘pluriform’, with some churches (e.g. reformed churches) being ‘more pure’ and other churches (e.g. Uniting Church, Baptists) being ‘less pure’ but nevertheless still Christ’s body, the church.
However, suchlike perceptions about the church do not accord with Scripture or our confession which speak of the church as having identifiable marks whereby one can determine whether it is the (true and legitimate) church of our Lord Jesus Christ or not. Moreover, we confess that every believer is duty bound to join that true church for the sake of their salvation. Embracing the idea of an invisible church and pluriformity of the church is, to quote Klaas Schilder, the sleeping pill (slaap middel) that drugs our awareness of the calling to join the true church.
Scripture shows that our marriages are to mirror the relationship between Christ and His church. There must be, between the marriage partners, that perfect unity of faith and purpose and subservience to the will of God. Otherwise we are unequally yoked.
Of course, that command not to be unequally yoked applies in all church endeavours. Consider Jehoshaphat, the Godfearing king of Judah. He was asked by Ahab, king of Israel, to help fight the Syrian enemies of Israel. It seemed such a logical thing to do. After all, weren’t the Syrians Israel’s age-old enemy? Yet their combined venture was defeated because Ahab was not faithful, and his prophets were false prophets. Later, Jehoshaphat was reprimanded by the Lord for uniting with Ahab (2 Chron 19:2). Ahab claimed to serve the LORD but, along with his people Israel, he was unfaithful, and Jehoshaphat was unequally yoked by engaging in battle against the Syrians with this unfaithful ‘sister-nation’ Israel.
Consider also the returned exiles in the days of Ezra. When they started rebuilding the temple the Samaritans came and offered assistance saying that they also served the LORD: “Let us build with you, for we seek your God as you do; and we have sacrificed to Him since the days of Esarhaddon … who brought us here” (Ezra 4:2). But the returned exiles refused point-blank. They didn’t deny that the Samaritan sought to serve the Lord, but these people were not faithful in that service. They did not serve the Lord in accordance with His Word but according to the practice of the Jews left behind who had followed the self-styled worship practices of Jeroboam (2 Kings 17:22). Consequently, the returned exiles rejected the Samaritans’ help and later Christ also rejects their worship (John 4:22).
The late Rev W G deVries points to this event in his book Marriage in Honour, saying, “Therefore it is not enough to say: ‘As long as I do not choose an obvious unbeliever, but someone who also believes in God, someone who says that he or she wants to serve the LORD, then everything is alright.’ Then everything is far from being alright! That is what these people, the Samaritans as they were known later, said too. But Ezra rejects them, and centuries later, Christ rejects their worship as well.”
DeVries continues: “Also today much in the service of the LORD is still self-willed. What counts, people say, is that you serve the LORD. After all, we all seek the same God, don’t we? Yes, but that one God has clearly made known how He wants to be served. Whoever does not take this seriously proves that he does not love God above all. Then a pretty face or an attractive figure, a kind personality or a noble character, becomes more important than faithfulness to God. Then an attractive partner becomes more important than the question how God wants to be served.”
There are instances where a person is so desirous of courting and marrying the other person that he or she leaves the church in order to worship where the boyfriend or girlfriend is worshipping. Thereby they put their own wishes above the will of God. In effect they engage thereby in self-willed worship. It’s the sin of Jeroboam: serving the LORD in your own way.
As DeVries says: “If one only knew how much misery has been caused in the lives of the people concerned and in the life of the Church by these mixed marriages in which one partner has changed churches for the sake of the other without conviction. Whole generations have become apathetic about the matter of the pure worship of God. Children from such marriages have often turned their backs on God’s Church.”
It’s imperative to ensure that one’s future spouse loves and is wholeheartedly dedicated to living a life of humble submission to the LORD. That submission includes obeying Christ’s command to join His true church. Only there, in the household of faith, wherein confession is made of the true faith, and faithful love and obedience to the Lord is evident, can one begin to consider courtship. For the love and obedience to God is to come first above all else. Christ said that those who love others more than Him are not worthy of Him (Mt 10:37) and only those who do His will are members of His family (Mk 3:35).