“Bill will attend his church and I’ll go to mine.”
“We’ll work it out as we go along.”
“We truly love each other, and love conquers all.”
These are some of the carefully chosen phrases used to launch a mixed marriage. But actual living proves the statements to be false. The irrefutable fact is that divorce occurs three times as often in mixed [faith] marriages as in marriages between members of the same faith.
The thrill of loving and of being loved temporarily minimizes all obstacles to a mixed marriage. The enchanting ecstasy of marriage plans, the flowing beauty of the wedding gown, the flowers, the bridesmaids, and the soft strains of Lohengrin may carry one along on the unsound and unstable assumption that all will be well. But the problems which a mixed marriage faces cannot be easily solved.
A young man came to my office to tell me of his broken marriage. “Why didn’t someone tell me these things?” he said. “I never dreamed we’d have so many differences.” This is the sad lament of thousands involved in mixed marriages.
Marriage in the light of the Bible is a reflected picture of the union between Christ and His Church, the Bride. Just as an unbeliever in his unconverted state cannot be united with the Church, so the union of believer with unbeliever is unthinkable. The time to deal with the mixed marriage question is before the marriage takes place, for after the wedding the mixed marriage problems are permanent ones.
Because of mixed marriage tragedies I feel obligated to state the problems involved. My approach will be that of an honest physician, for only honesty will lead to a satisfying solution.
This discussion is intended for various types of inquirers:
1.) those who personally face the decision of a mixed marriage;
2.) those parents who are involved in a proposed mixed marriage of a son or daughter
3.) the Christian in general, so that his conviction might be sharpened on this important subject.
What does the Bible teach about mixed marriages?
In the first book of the Bible we read, “The sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose” (Genesis 6:2). This verse tells us that the sons of God, attracted by physical beauty, intermarried with the daughters of men without regard to their spiritual qualifications. They chose only by what they saw. Any marriage based solely upon physical attraction is woefully inadequate. Spiritual agreement is the divine basis for true unity. The mixed marriage of the sons of God with the daughters of men resulted in complete spiritual indifference and ultimately in physical destruction. The Lord was angry and declared, “My spirit shall not always strive with man” (Genesis 6:3).
Man’s progressive carelessness increased until God had no alternative but to destroy the Earth with a flood. “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
One of the results of a mixed marriage is carelessness about the things of God. One or both partners drop their church connections and grow increasingly indifferent, silently at first but at last openly.
Mark Twain, the humorist, was a skeptic. He married a true Christian lady, Olivia L. Langdon. At first her life had some effect upon Twain, but as the years went by he expressed definite antagonism to her orthodox views.
One day as his wife was reading the Bible he strongly protested, “I don’t believe in the Bible. I can’t sit here and listen to it.”
Not only was there no unity of faith between them, but his unbelief produced a paralyzing effect upon his wife until her faith was destroyed. Years later, while they were passing through days of sorrow, Twain tried to comfort his wife. “Olivia, if it comforts you to lean on the Christian faith, do so.”
She sighed, “I can’t; I haven’t any.”
In the book of Leviticus the Lord commanded Israel not to mix the things which are separate in God’s creation. “Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woolen come upon thee” (Leviticus 19:19).
What the Lord has joined we must not separate. What He has separated we must not join. The same truth is expressed in Deuteronomy 22:9-11: “Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with divers seeds: lest the fruit of thy seed which thou hast sown, and the fruit of thy vineyard, be defiled. Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together. Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woolen and linen together.” The children of Israel were forbidden to yoke the ox and the ass together. Why? The ox and the ass were very different in size, temper, and strength. The ox was considered clean. The ass was unclean. To yoke them together was not only unfitting but unfair. Both suffered discomfort and pain from this unequal yoking. They couldn’t work together.
For a believer to be yoked in marriage with an unbeliever is infinitely more cruel. The Christian is different in God’s sight, for he has been forgiven. The unbeliever is still unforgiven. Not only is a mixed marriage a poor working combination but it is a source of anguish and injury to both partners. The fact is that God does not sanction mixtures.
In the book of Matthew, we read of the man who sowed good seed in the field. After he had sown the seed, the enemy came and sowed tares, creating confusion. The enemy always seeks to bring in what God does not want.
God warned the Laodiceans, “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16). Lukewarmness is a mixture that is nauseating to God. Things must agree. They must be out and out. God can’t stand mixtures.
“Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For they will turn away thy son from following me” (Deuteronomy 7:3-4). The Lord here forbade His people to marry non-believers. Why? “They will turn away thy son from following me.” Marrying an unbeliever is often the same as marrying his or her unbelief. Unholy marriages spoil both lives. Soft words and mellow phrases are often used to make it sound better, but the unalterable truth is that two people who do not think the same on vital issues cannot be united in marriage without both becoming completely distressed.
Here is another of God’s severe warnings to Israel: “Else if you do in any wise go back, and cleave unto the remnant of these nations, even these that remain among you, and shall make marriages with them, and go in unto them, and they to you: Know for a certainty that the Lord your God will no more drive out any of these nations from before you; but they shall be snares and traps unto you, and scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until ye perish from off this good land which the Lord your God hath given you” (Joshua 23:12-13). If the Lord’s people intermarry, God’s anger will be kindled against them. The “Canaanites” will be a trap and snare for their feet, a scourge in their sides and in their eyes. Not only misery and distress but total ruin will be theirs.
Samson went down to Timnath one day and fell in love with someone who appealed to him “of the daughters of the Philistines” (Judges 14:2). When he told his parents, they said, “Is there never a woman among the daughters of thy brethren, or among all my people, that thou goest to take a wife of the uncircumcised Philistines?” (Judges 14:3). In effect Manoah, Samson’s father said, “It can’t work. She’s a Philistine; you’re an Israelite. It will be a mismarriage.”
After the Philistines betrayed Samson, things grew worse until he was in the lap of the wicked enchantress Delilah who craftily helped him in his downward trek to the breaking of his Nazarite vows. He had laughed at the Philistines on three occasions. Now he thought he could laugh at the laws of God. His untouched hair was a symbol of an untouched life. Soon his hair was cut and his power was cut too.
He said, “I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself. And he wist not that the Lord was departed from him” (Judges 16:20). His strength was gone, and the Lord also departed from him. Many have followed Samson. Young men and women, once strong for God, are now shorn of their power by a mixed marriage. They have left the Lord and not known it even as Samson did not know the Lord had left him.
“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: 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: as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people (2 Corinthians 6:14-16).
These words were written to the Corinthian Christians who were surrounded by unbelief. The city of Corinth was a melting pot where the masses joined in strange mixtures. Paul, with a godly concern, begged these believers not to be yoked with nonbelievers.
According to A.T. Robertson, this verse literally says, “Stop becoming yoked together with the unconverted.” Marriage is a yoke of the most intimate nature. Paul cries, “Stop! Consider what you are doing.”
If that young man or young woman will not receive Christ before the marriage, he or she probably will not do so after the honeymoon is over. Some marry on the promise that the intended will become a Christian later on. Can you expect the Lord to save your mate when you yourself have disobeyed Him?
A lady who asked to speak to me concerning this problem wept as she related her story. “Before our marriage John attended church with me and showed signs of interest. He promised to make a spiritual decision after our wedding, but he never has. For the past eight years he has not once attended church. He shows no interest but rather bitterness toward anything spiritual in the home. My children are not being trained. Our home is not like heaven but hell. My heart is broken. If only I had obeyed the Scripture!”
“What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14b). How can we walk with one who in God’s sight is unrighteous—one who lawlessly flouts God’s standard?”
“What communion hath light with darkness?” (6:14c). Light expresses truth and purity. God’s people are the lights of the world; we are called children of the day. We possess a knowledge of the truth. On the other hand, darkness symbolizes error and unbelief. Unbelievers are preparing themselves for outer darkness. The difference between light and darkness is the difference between the saved and the lost. This gap is greater than one can imagine; it will ultimately mean the difference between heaven and hell.
“What concord hath Christ with Belial?” (6:15a). Our Lord is sinless, pure, and holy. Belial means “worthless” and “wicked.” How therefore, can there be harmony between Christ and Belial?
“What part hath he that believeth with an infidel?” (6:15b). Voltaire, Ingersol, and Thomas Paine were infidels. They spent their money and their efforts to wipe out Christianity. How can a believer have much in common with an unbeliever?
“And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” (6:16a). A Christian is God’s temple. The Scripture says, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). To unite in marriage with a non-Christian is to desecrate and profane God’s temple. Paul cried, “Touch not the unclean thing” (2 Corinthians 6:17). There are exceptions when a rebellious partner is won through the life and prayers of the other, but these exceptions only go to prove the grace of God (1 Peter 3:1-2). A sacred union is to be only with a believer in Christ.
What effect will a mixed marriage have upon you?
A mixed marriage lacks common ground of purpose. The prophet Amos asked, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). What is the answer? A mixed marriage means loss of fellowship with your heavenly Father. When you knowingly go contrary to the Lord, you must lose the closeness of your walk with Him. This verse says, “How can a holy God walk with you when you are doing wrong?”
The Lord can have no agreement with disobedient children. He says, “We do not agree, and so we cannot fellowship together. If you disobey Me, I must discipline you.”
The Apostle James asked this question, “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). If carnal friendship with the world brings the disfavor of God, what must the intimate bond of a mixed marriage bring? One who knowingly unites in a mixed marriage is not only guilty of grievous disobedience but of stress to Jesus Christ. James says such are enemies of God.
Because your mate does not rise to a life of faith, you bow to a life of unbelief. Solomon’s unbelieving wives turned his heart from God. “For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites” (1 Kings 11:4-5). Solomon’s backsliding came as a result of his mixed marriages.
On the Lord’s Day one will want to worship in God’s house while the other wants to sleep. As a Christian, you will want to give to God’s work while your mate maintains that you cannot afford to do so. Sunday will be a holy day to you but a holiday to your life partner. While you want to attend church, your mate will want to go to the beach. In times of crisis you will not be able to pray together. The unbeliever may even despise your convictions and ridicule you for your faith. Often church fellowship revolves around married couples, and you will be alone.
Psychologists agree that the more two people have in common the better are their chances for a happy marriage. Differences in religious background inevitably lead to difficulties. Usually one’s faith is established in childhood. It may be quite dormant through adolescence. However, when the responsibilities and problems of married life arise, there is a return to childhood faith. At the moment when an agreement of faith is needed to hold a couple together, there is disagreement.
What will be the effects of a mixed marriage upon your parents and friends?
“And Rebekah said to Isaac, I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob take a wife of the daughters of Heth, such as these which are the daughters of the land, what good shall my life do me?” (Genesis 27:46). Life for Rebekah would not be worthwhile if her son Jacob followed Esau in a mixed marriage. Esau delighted in disobeying his parents. According to Genesis 28:8, “Esau seeing that the daughters of Canaan pleased not Isaac his father,” deliberately chose a wife from among them. He treated his parents’ wishes with contempt and paid bitterly for his sin.
Samson likewise flouted the counsel of his parents and as a result was engulfed in sorrow. The curse of God falls upon those who have no care for parental love and advice. “Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother. And all the people shall say, Amen” (Deuteronomy 27:16).
It is true that there are some parents who interfere where they have no right. The basis for parents’ advice to children should be the Word of God. For example, if a Christian daughter plans to marry an unbelieving man, according to the Bible the parents must not sanction such a union. Ask yourself, “Will my parents be able to happily cooperate in this marriage?”
If you have been blessed with a Christian mother and father, a mixed marriage will be a source of sorrow to them. If your intended mate can seemingly tear down all that their loving, earnest efforts have accomplished in your spiritual growth through the years, you cannot expect them to think too much of him. This will result in strain and will be a constant source of grief. After marriage you can expect only conflict of ideas between your parents and your unbelieving mate. These clashes will stimulate domestic discord.
What will be the effect of a mixed marriage upon your children?
When your child is sick, whom will you call? The pastor? The priest? The rabbi? Will your child attend church with his father or his mother? Which will it be? He cannot attend with both. Surveys reveal that children are the biggest losers in mixed marriages. Any church affiliation is usually superficial. A mixed marriage robs you of the opportunity to raise your children in the way you think right. If there is no unity of conviction in the home, there will be continuous conflict. What one regards as wrong the other may take for right. One will love the things of God while the other does not consider spiritual values worthy of allegiance. This is devastating to the life of the child.
Some have said, “We’ll let the children choose for themselves.” But is a child competent to make such an important choice?
Others have signed agreements with the secret pledge to themselves not to keep the agreement. This, of course, is to launch your marriage with a hideous lie.
“We’ll raise the children alternately in the faith of one then the other.” This results in a divided, confused family and you may be sure that the children will not be tactful of the other’s religious feelings.
“We’ve decided to raise them both ways till they are of age to decide.” This sort of thing produces frustrated children.
Then also there must be agreement of the parents as to discipline and rules. Children sense uncertainty and disagreement.
Children need encouragement for spiritual growth. It is not enough to permit them to attend church. They need an everyday Christian example in their parents.
Sometime ago a young man came to receive the Lord as Saviour. The pastor asked, “What part of my message led you to make a decision?”
The young man replied, “Nothing you said, sir, but the way my parents live!”
If you are a believer, it is a catastrophic sin to permit your children to be reared in spiritual error.
You ask, “What are the chances of success in a mixed marriage?” The answer is in terms of broken homes and broken hearts. Someone replies, “I know of some happily married people of different religious backgrounds.” Probably everyone can think of some couple to serve as an isolated illustration. Nevertheless their marriage is not an ideal one. Then, how do you know the marriage is a happy one? Supposing you wanted to take a boat from London to New York and you inquired, “Is the trip reasonably safe?” The agent replied, “Why yes. Every now and then a boat makes it.” I am sure you would cancel all thoughts of any such trip.
How to avoid a mixed marriage
“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” (Romans 16:17). Paul said, “Mark them and avoid them.” To keep from spoiling your life and causing pain to your loved ones; to save your intended mate from misery; to protect your unborn children, marry only in the Lord. Marriage has sufficient problems without being a union where the Lord’s blessing cannot be asked.
The wife of Matthew Henry, renowned Bible commentator, was the only daughter of a wealthy merchant. When Henry sought permission to marry her, the father refused. He said that, while Matthew was polite, scholarly, and all that, he was a stranger to the family. “Why I don’t even know where he comes from,” insisted the father.
“True,” replied the daughter, “but I know where he is going and would like to go with him.” When two people love the Lord and are heavenbound, God’s blessing most assuredly will go with them.
Make sure your friend is a true believer in Jesus Christ. Do not wait until the courtship develops, for you may be too weak to halt it. At the very beginning, settle this subject. Even then you will want to pray much about your courtship and marriage. This is a big step; don’t take it without the Lord’s leadership. After your date you might ask, “Is it easier to serve the Lord because of our friendship? Do spiritual matters come first? Do we hold the same Christian views?” As your courtship grows ask, “Do we like the same type of people? Are our desires quite similar? Do we agree regarding children?” Better be safe than sorry. To guarantee God’s blessing both parties in a marriage must be genuine Christians. Oneness in the Lord minimizes misunderstandings and strengthens in the hour of trouble.
For a safe satisfying marriage, take Christ into your wedding plans. Resolve to do His will, to establish a family altar, to faithfully attend God’s house, to fervently serve in winning others to Christ.
Purpose with Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).