I am 22 years old and engaged to be married to my high school sweetheart. He and I have been dating for almost six years, are very much in love, and have the full support of our families. I have only one worry: His lack of commitment to "organized religion." My relationship with Christ is very important to me, and I am concerned that our differences in faith will become a serious problem. I was raised in the church and it is very important to me that we attend as a family. Because his Dad and Grandfather very rarely went to church, I think he feels that it is "unmanly" in some way.
I know this might sound foolishly optimistic to you, but I honestly believe I can gently lead him to his own faith. He is a very open-minded person, and he greatly respects my beliefs and opinions. For example, I believe using animals for food is unhealthy and causes needless pain, and after many long conversations he agreed with my point of view and joined me in eating vegetarian.
So, I have two questions: one, do you think it's possible for me to lead him to Christ by example; and two, do you have any recommendations on how to do so?
I love this man with all my heart and after much prayer do believe we are meant to be married.
Before I answer your question, let me explain two other matters as clearly as I can. The first is that Christians are commanded by God to marry only other Christians. The second is that there is no such thing as churchless Christianity, because the Church is the body of Christ. The Bible is very clear and direct about these teachings.
First about the Church as the body of Christ — this is from 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 19-27 (NIV).
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body— whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free— and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many ... If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
You see, then, that if your boyfriend rejects the Church, then in effect he rejects Christ Himself, because the Church is the body of Christ; there is no such thing as a solitary Christian. Second, about not marrying non-Christians — this is from 2 Corinthians 6:14-16 (NIV):
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people."
These words may shock you. Are we so righteous? Is everyone else so much more wicked than we are? Doesn't Paul say elsewhere that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God? Yes, of course he does (Romans 3:23). Then when Paul says this, has he changed his mind? Not at all. He doesn't mean that you're righteous and the nonbeliever is wicked; he means that you've grabbed onto the righteousness of Christ and the nonbeliever hasn't. Christ offers himself as a sin offering for the nonbeliever too, but the nonbeliever refuses to accept Him. Therefore, in the one thing that matters most of all, the believer and the unbeliever are tragically divided. No marriage can paper over that division! It will always be like a canyon between them. The more the believing spouse grows in the love of Christ, the wider and deeper the canyon will grow.
Now about your question. You ask whether you might be able to lead your boyfriend to Christ through your example. The answer is: Maybe, maybe not. Wait and see. If, through your example, he does come to Christ, then he would become someone you can marry. But if, despite your example, he does not come to Christ, then to marry him would be disobedient to Christ.
Two serious warnings: First, you say that you love this man with all your heart and that "after much prayer do believe we are meant to be married." This belief if premature. The answer to your prayer, "God, are we meant to be married?", will be revealed not in how you sincerely feel about it now, but in whether your boyfriend turns to Christ. Assuming that he is suitable for marriage in all other ways, then, if at last he does turn to Christ, you will know that God's answer is "Yes." But if he doesn't, then you will know that God's answer is "No."
Second, don't start thinking that you can marry him now and convert him later! How could you count on that, if the marriage itself was based on your disobedience to God? How could you count on God's blessing upon it? How could you convert him to Christ by your example, if your example was disobedience to Christ?
These are hard words, I know. But God intends them for your salvation, and for your boyfriend's salvation too. Remember that God loves your boyfriend even more than you do — far, far more than you can even dream — and that His commands are meant in love. To marry the young man before he becomes a Christian may keep him from ever becoming one. It is all right to cry about this if you need to, but be sure to do your crying on the shoulder of the Lord.
A final thought. Your boyfriend's feeling that Christian faith is somehow unmanly is quite common. I have two suggestions. One is that in order to learn that we find our true manhood in Christ alone, he needs strong male Christian role models. Ask Christ to provide these to him — and keep your eyes open, because we often get what we pray for. The other is that some churches and student fellowships really have been feminized. Haven't you ever heard those praise chorus that sound like secular I-wanna-kiss-ya songs, but with the name "Jesus" substituted for the name of the girl? Being a typical man, I cringe with shame whenever I hear them — and their substitution of romantic sentiment for faith isn't just unmanly, it's unChristian. Your boyfriend needs not only strong models of Christian manhood, but a church which respects the Fatherhood of God and the Manhood of Christ — in its teaching, its worship, and its leadership.
Grace and peace,
Copyright 2001 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.