It has been said that the church’s policies, programs, and philosophies are only one step behind the world’s. When we look around, it appears as though nothing could be closer to the truth. As the culture in which we find ourselves keeps changing by leaps and bounds, the professing church is riding on the heels of this change—especially when it comes to an individual’s perception of faith, values, and authority. The unregenerate culture in which we live prides itself on a “search” for spirituality that is void of certainty, exclusivity, or fidelity to any one standard. And, of course, professing Christians today who comprise the modern church are increasingly emulating the world with regard to this empty, vain search for something they might call “religion” or “spirituality.” Doctrine matters very little, if at all, to many in Christendom today. Lines of demarcation between denominations—or even religions—have become insignificant and inconsequential. Tolerance and acceptance now trump truth and reality.
One of the most visible examples of this new mindset of the professing church is the increase in interfaith marriages, especially during the past twenty-five years. An article in the Washington Post noted, “According to the General Social Survey, 15 percent of U.S. households were mixed-faith in 1988. That number rose to 25 percent by 2006, and the increase shows no signs of slowing” (Washington Post, “Interfaith Marriages Are Rising Fast, But They’re Failing Fast Too,” 6-6-10). In fact, it is now reported by Naomi Schaefer Riley, author of ’Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage Is Transforming America, that interfaith marriages account for over forty percent of unions in the United States (Associated Baptist Press, 2-12-14). (Of note: Riley’s research deemed Protestant-Catholic marriages and Mainline Protestant-evangelical marriages to fall under the category of “interfaith” marriage).
Clearly, professing Christians—including evangelical Christians—are marginalizing their faith as well as what Scripture says about the gravity of marriage and the sin of being “unequally yoked.” The Washington Post article stated, “If you want to see what the future holds, note this: Less than a quarter of the 18- to 23-year-old respondents in the National Study of Youth and Religion think it’s important to marry someone of the same faith.” Obviously, today’s youth—even those in the church—are ingesting and embracing the culture and beliefs of the unregenerate world.
Do faith, values, religion, or spirituality still matter when considering a spouse? Should they matter? We believe the answer is “Yes” for three primary reasons:
Reason #1: Likelihood of Divorce Greater
The statistics of interfaith marriages ending in divorce are overwhelming and for obvious reasons. Those who marry a spouse with differing spiritual views face an uphill battle when it comes to finding agreement on some of the most important, fundamental questions and issues of life: Who is God? What does God expect from us? How can we have a relationship with God—or can we even have one at all? What will we teach our children about God?
In an op-ed article in the New York Times, Riley wrote, “While roughly a third of all evangelicals’ marriages end in divorce, that figure climbs to nearly half of marriages between evangelicals and nonevangelicals.” She added, “It is especially high—61 percent—for evangelicals married to someone with no religion” (New York Times, “Interfaith Marriages—A Mixed Blessing,” 4-5-13). Much of the tension in interfaith marriages comes from the parents and family of the married couple, the pressures of navigating the holidays each year, and the conflicting views of what to teach children about God, religion, and spirituality.
Reason #2: Biblical Truth Jettisoned
The marriage of a man and woman is more than a civil union; it is a spiritual one, too. Jesus made this clear when He declared that in marriage, a man and woman leave their parents and become “one flesh.” The Scripture also reveals that the marriage union is a picture of Jesus Christ and His church. For an evangelical Christian to physically and spiritually unite with a non-Christian (that is, one who has not trusted in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone for his or her salvation) is to disregard God’s truth and relegate it to a status of non-importance. And yet, truth does not cease to exist simply because someone chooses to ignore or minimize it. At some point, the issue of exclusivity will arise in the couple’s marriage: Is Jesus the only way to have spiritual life and a relationship with God the Father? Is faith alone in Jesus Christ the only way to salvation?
Michael Smith, pastor of Central Baptist Church of Fountain City in Knoxville, Tennessee, recently told the Associated Baptist Press (ABP), “Interfaith couples almost inevitably deal in some way with the matter of exclusivity.” He added, “Is Christ the only way to salvation? More precisely, is Christ as known in the church the only way in which God makes God known and draws persons to God?” (ABP, “Unequally Yoked? Christians Increasingly Navigate Interfaith Marriage,” 2-12-14). He told ABP that sometimes Christians who believe in the exclusivity of Jesus Christ for salvation begin to reconsider their view when they become involved with a non-Christian. “In my experience, the Christian spouse often chooses to be silent on the matter or to function as if his/her spouse is an exception to the rule,” he said. “Others choose to reshape their belief to make room for God’s salvation to be found within other faith traditions.” In other words, interfaith marriage by its very nature creates an impetus for the evangelical Christian to jettison the truth in an effort to appeal to a potential spouse or to create or preserve some form of peace and unity in the marriage relationship.
Reason #3: God Says “No”
In no uncertain terms, the Bible forbids interfaith marriage—the physical and spiritual union of a Christian and non-Christian. God declared through the pen of the apostle Paul, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14a). He then asks a series of rhetorical questions that highlight the inability for any Christian to be in any type of spiritual union or fellowship with a non-Christian: “For what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God…” (2 Cor. 6:14b-16).
In today’s culture, marriage may mean very little to men and women, but it is a life-long union in the eyes of God. He created the relationship of marriage, and He takes it seriously. And, because God takes marriage seriously, believers should do the same. Of course, one can understand the emotions and feelings involved in a personal attraction toward another. Such feelings can be extremely powerful, and the temptation is great to jettison the truth in order to forge a bond with an unbeliever to whom one is drawn. Nevertheless, it is never God’s will for any of His children to follow their feelings or emotions at the expense of the truth. It is essential to heed His Word concerning this matter for the Christian’s well-being and for God’s glory. —Matt Costella