“Should I date a non-Christian?”
Our church is predominantly single, which makes sense given that singles are the primary demographic in our context. Given the lack of godly, Jesus-loving, potential spouses, a common issue among Christian singles is, “Should I just date a non-Christian?” This has become an increasingly common issue within Downtown Cornerstone, so I thought I’d take a brief opportunity to address this practical issue and open it up for discussion. Just so you know, I’m not writing this about a single incident or individual but a general trend.
The Bible doesn’t talk about “dating” because “dating” as we know it is a fairly recent phenomena. In ancient times into the 19th century, marriages were ordinarily arranged – typically for social and financial motives. (Note: There are perks to living in 2012!)
That transitioned into courting, sometimes referred to as “calling”, that was typically done in the context of family and community, overseen by the parents.
Then, somewhere in the early 1900’s dating came onto the seen, which removed the entire process from the context of the family and made it about the individual with a new emphasis on entertainment and “just having fun” – away from the idea of marriage as the primary goal.
Today, we live in a hook-up culture where marriage is only seen as one of many potential results of dating; definitely not the primary goal and often the last. Clearly, a significant shift has taken place.
So, the first thing that must be highlighted is that all Christian dating or courting or “dorting” should have marriage as the primary goal. This doesn’t mean you can’t sit down, have a cup of coffee and a conversation. But, it does mean that both folks involved know the ultimate goal. This is counter-cultural, but it is biblical. Just think of all the emotional, psychological, and physical destruction that would be avoided if this were the rule and not the exception.
Additionally, the Bible does assume that followers of Jesus will marry other followers of Jesus. For example, in 2 Cor 6 Paul says do not be “unequally yoked with unbelievers…” Similarly, in 1 Cor 7:39, Paul says, “A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.” There are also continual warnings throughout the Old Testament to the Jewish people to not marry non-Jews (cf Numbers 12). The concern at hand is not interracial marriage, which the Bible does not prohibit, but rather inter-faith marriage. Lastly, Ephesians 5 tells us that the purpose of marriage is to point to the relationship of Jesus and the church, which is impossible to fully realize in a “mixed” marriage.
So, why would the Bible place these types of prohibitions on marriage? Is the Bible just being narrow? Are these just fundamentalistic interpretations? No. In fact, they are very practical. If you’re a follower of Jesus and your partner is not there are two inevitable results. I’ve seen both of these play out over and over again. On the one hand, if you keep Jesus central to your life, your non-believing partner will need to remain on the periphery of your life – which will inevitably lead to conflict, distance and aggravation. On the other hand, if your non-believing partner is central, then Jesus will need to move to the periphery of your life (this is far more common) – that of course, is spiritually soul-shrinking.
Often people will say, “Oh, he/she doesn’t mind that I follow Jesus…” But, what that really means is that that person doesn’t really understand the most important thing about you and about your life. If she/he doesn’t understand your faith, ultimately she/he doesn’t understand you. Often then, people will just put Jesus on the periphery to keep the peace, while elevating the more superficial aspects of the relationship (e.g. “But she loves canoeing!”)
So, don’t misunderstand. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a decent marriage or that you’re no longer a Christian should you be in a relationship with an unbeliever. But it does mean you can’t talk about God together, what you’re learning in the Scriptures, conviction of sin, application of the gospel of grace, pray together, have a ministry to your neighbors, raise up your kids in the faith, share the same eternal hope, etc – in other words, share the most important things in life together. God will, by necessity, get pushed out of your life. If you end up in a marriage like that, you’re stuck without a supernatural intervention by Jesus.
In saying all that, it is important to keep in mind that you’re not just looking for someone to “pray a prayer” or “sign the dotted line” so that you can start/continue a relationship with them. I have an unbelieving friend who “became” Mormon to marry a girl and another who “became” Catholic to marry another. It is known to happen. You’re not just looking for a checkmark, you’re looking for character and a life that has been gripped by the King. You don’t want to just marry a church boy/girl – you want to marry a godly man/woman.
Don’t misunderstand me here. You’re not looking for a saint, but you are looking for someone with a hungry heart for Jesus. If that’s present, Jesus will take care of the rest. Clearly we’re all at various stages of maturity, faith, etc but what’s common in every stage is a hungry, humble heart for Jesus. Don’t look for perfection, you may have to embrace the gift of singleness for lifetime in that case, but do look for someone who you can foresee becoming your best friend, centered around the person and work of Jesus.
And, I have to add this, instead of griping about the lack of such people, focus on becoming one, and we’ll have an ample supply in short order. Amen? Amen. Yes, it requires patience. Yes, it requires prayer. Yes, it probably involves more awkward conversations with your parents, “So, when are you going to find that special someone…” So, yes its hard, but the alternative is much much much harder.