Courtship and marriage is no place for evangelism
Sometimes the “insider” decides to continue the courtship because she believes that she will (with the Lord’s 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 couple’s 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 doesn’t 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.[i] 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 it’s 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 God’s 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, God’s 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 one’s 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 Christian’s 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 is to bring forth children to the Lord. I emphasise the word “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.[ii]
Happy are those who walk in faithfulness to the Lord’s command concerning courtship and marriage. They shall be blessed, and it shall go well with them and their children.
[i] 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 permitted, 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.
[ii] 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.