Biblical Perspectives on Mixed Courtship and Mixed Marriage (1)

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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.  A young woman of the church [i] 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” [ii] 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. [iii] 

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 God’s prohibition against mixed marriage that no one can possibly deny it 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 (1 Cor 7:39, 2 Cor 6:14ff.). 

But he is a believer!

A young woman of the Church who finds a boyfriend outside of the Church, and who is reminded by minister or elders that mixed courtship and marriage is forbidden by the Lord, might respond by saying, “He is a believer!   Even though he doesn’t belong to the Church, he believes in God!  Furthermore, the office bearers are informed that he wants to receive catechetical instruction and in due time make profession of faith.  They are told that they mustn’t 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. [iv]   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 Lord’s sake, or for his girlfriend’s sake.  He himself might be confused regarding his true motivation.

Still further, it should be noted that even Mormons and Jehovah’s 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 everyone 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 the “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 God’s Word.  By going through the Scriptures or confessions any errors in doctrine which he might hold can be pointed out to him, and any deficiencies he has 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. 

(to be continued by Part 2)

Footnotes

[i]  I will refer to the “insider” as “she”, and the “outsider” as “he” throughout.

[ii] 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.

[iii]  cf. Matthew 5:21ff..  The seventh commandment speaks about adultery.  But our Lord says that even looking at a woman 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.

[iv]  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.”