I'm a Christian man seeking to be married. Is it wrong for me to desire a marriage compatibility of the heart? What I mean is I'd like to enter the marriage covenant with someone who shares primary values and convictions that reside in the heart of a Christian saved by God's grace. I'm not looking for a spouse who is simply a Christian, the opposite sex, and breathing.
I have experienced two serious relationships that I had hoped were on track for marriage; however, I noticed an uncomfortable misalignment with where my heart was and the heart of the young woman whom I was dating. I'm afraid of getting involved with another Christian woman, cultivating a relationship for marriage, and getting married but without a shared conviction of issues in our hearts. We would ultimately end up living together in strife and restless disagreement about how we spend our time, how we engage in community with other believers, and how we understand our Christian walk. Is this compatibility of the heart something worth waiting for?
Thanks for writing. This is a good question. "Compatibility of the heart" and "shared conviction of issues in our hearts" are slightly amorphous phrases, but I think I know what you mean. The way I would answer your question is that before marrying a particular woman, it would be wise for you to think through whether you have agreement on certain basics of a biblical worldview and to see if you can cultivate it if you don't.
You can try to develop such agreement by talking through the issue (sometimes on theological issues, it's simply a question of whether one or both of you have even thought through it), reading a book on it together, or seeking counsel from elders or more mature believers who have thought the issue through. If you do that work up front, it will make it more likely that your marriage will be characterized by peace and an atmosphere of working and serving together, rather than, as you say, "strife and restless disagreement."
What do I mean? I generally counsel couples considering marriage to have strong agreement about (at least) the following basics: each other's essential faith and character, major theological issues, and their view of what marriage is biblically.
Let's take the most basic idea first. As a man, you should first be sure that the woman you might pursue is actually a believer in Christ and that she is seeking to grow in and live out the attributes that Scripture extols as those of a godly woman and wife. You can read, among other passages, Proverbs 31, Titus 2 and 1 Peter 3 to get your head around what some of those attributes are. As you imply in your question, you want to marry a woman who has not only made a profession of faith, but who seems to be actively growing in her faith and living for Christ by His Word.
More practically, is she an active member of a Bible-believing church? If it's your church, how is she serving? What ministries does she participate in? What's her reputation with church leaders or other members you trust? The answers to these questions can give you a good idea of a woman's faith and character. Of course, your potential wife should be thinking through all these same questions about you.
Second, I think it's wise to have (or cultivate) agreement on what I would call major theological issues of the sort that will affect your ability to worship and serve together in the same church and that will particularly affect your lives as husband and wife.
Are both of you reformed in your theology (or not)? What are your views on baptism? You see the type of issues I'm thinking of. Even if you agree on the basics of the Gospel, there are some issues that so profoundly affect the way you understand the Gospel and the church and almost everything else about the Christian life, that it can lead to strife and discord in a relationship that fundamentally calls the two of you to model the Gospel and bring glory to God with your lives.
I have counseled several couples, for instance, who got married with different beliefs about whether it is appropriate biblically to "baptize" infants. Not only has that disagreement led to conflict about how to treat and raise their own children, but because nearly all churches take a clear stand on that issue one way or the other, many of these couples have spent their entire marriages in conflict about where to go to church. On the other hand, I have seen couples work through issues like baptism and their conceptions of biblical marriage before they got engaged or during premarital counseling who went on to more peaceful and productive unions. You see the point.
One such theological issue is so important to your question that I'm giving it a category all by itself: agreement on a biblical understanding of what marriage is. As I've written before, faithful evangelical Christians (who have thought about the issue) typically hold one of two basic views: "complementarianism" and "egalitarianism."
Essentially, complementarianism is the theological position that God created men and women equal in worth, value, dignity and the extent to which they reflect God's image (Genesis 1:26-27), and then, within that equality, assigned and equipped them for different roles in the church and family, such that they "complement" one another to God's glory.
The opposing position to complementarianism is called egalitarianism. Egalitarianism accepts that men and women are created by God with equal value and worth, but rejects any notion that God assigned and equipped men and women for differing roles within the family and church, such that every role in both contexts (for instance, "head" or "leader" in the family context and "elder" or "pastor" in the church context) is equally open to either men or women.
You can see how these competing views arrive at some pretty different visions of what priorities in marriage look like practically. Complementarians believe that in the biblical model for marriage, the husband's work and ministry outside the home is primary, and the wife's work and ministry is primarily to be oriented toward her husband as his helper or "helpmate" (see, for example, Genesis 2:15-23; Proverbs 31:11-12; Ephesians 5:22-33). This is not to say that a wife cannot have her own independent pursuits and ministry (see Proverbs 31; Titus 2:3-5), but that she should understand her primary ministry to be that of "helper" to her husband and all that entails regarding the home and family — including in the care of children.
In an egalitarian marriage, on the other hand, there is no theological basis for prioritizing the husband's career over the wife's or for assuming that the husband will be the primary breadwinner over the long term or that the wife would be the primary caregiver of any children that come along.
Obviously, your position (and your wife's) on this theological issue will affect your marriage almost every day. Whichever view you hold to, I would strongly encourage you to think this issue through with your potential wife and make sure you both hold the same basic view.
So those are some issues around which "compatibility of the heart" is pretty much essential. Other issues of "compatibility," though certainly worth considering, are less important. I know couples with different interests, political views and tastes who have wonderful, intimate, godly marriages.
You don't need to agree on everything, and holding out for total agreement on all of life's secondary issues (as opposed to the more fundamental things above) will likely have the effect of keeping you single for longer than you need to be. As you think about a given issue, evaluate whether and how it will affect the living out of your faith, the fundamentals of your marriage relationship, and peace in your potential home.
Keep in mind as well that as you progress in marriage and life, your views on a lot of secondary issues will change. Growing together — and occasionally, apart — in your views on little secondary issues is part of the spice of marriage.
I understand why, after two difficult relationships, these issues produce some anxiety for you. Remember that God always works for His glory and for the good of His people (Romans 8:28), and godly marriages do glorify Him and are good for His people. I will pray that the Lord will give you wisdom as you think through what to "wait for" and what to push through.
Copyright 2015 Scott Croft. All rights reserved.