I’ve been reading an article by Scott Croft titled “Biblical Dating: Navigating the Early Stages of a Relationship.” What Scott said in that article and many others of that kind was honorable, right and pure, and a kick in the nose for me.
My girlfriend and I have been dating for less than a year now. Earlier, my approach to dating was different, and now I’m experiencing some difficulty because at the word “go,” I told her that I wanted to marry her, not that I wanted to find out if marriage is the right choice for both of us. I didn’t know her much, but was well aware of her reputation from those who knew her well. We don’t meet often because of the huge distance between us, but we do nonetheless spend hours on the phone and on social networks.
I took the role of being provider by sending her money and led her spiritually. And you could say we have established a deep emotional intimacy.
Please understand that we valued purity in physical intimacy, and we were open about our relationship to the church, and I wanted to bring the glory of God at the center of what we do.
Now I’m getting to know her better, and I am learning things about her that give me second thoughts about whether marriage is the best choice for us. I am not one to give up easily, but I am confused right now and cannot compromise, because when I teach her something from the Bible she disagrees with things that I believe are important to God’s plan of marriage and family — things like her role as a woman and the priority of the home and raising children. She’s more interested in what she wants to do with her life. I’m also learning that she is more consumed about charismatic teaching than I had known in the first place.
My idea was to continue the relationship with her and keep teaching her, because I thought she was doing this because these things have not been taught to her before, and I’m also aware you cannot change a person, only the truth can. But her responses to biblical truth worry me.
These are good questions and good things to be thinking through. Let me try to address some of the issues you raised in your question and make a few suggestions about a possible way forward.
I’m not clear from your question whether you simply told your girlfriend that you wanted to marry her or you formally proposed and she accepted (though your use of the term “girlfriend” rather than “fiancée” suggests the former). Either way, it’s important to know that even formal engagement is not marriage. It is not a binding, life-long commitment and covenant before God. That fact leads to at least two implications that seem relevant to your situation. First, even formal engagements can be called off (hopefully for good, biblical reasons). Second, because engagement is not a permanent covenant, couples who are engaged should not feel free to “act married” until they are in fact husband and wife. As I’ve written in this space several times, brothers and sisters in Christ should not “wrong” or “defraud” one another by implying that a level of commitment (i.e., marriage) exists when it does not (1 Thessalonians 4:6).
I’m certainly glad to hear that you and your girlfriend have prioritized physical purity. That said, your question suggests that you may be acting as husband and wife prematurely in some other ways. Barring some type of special circumstances (which your question did not mention), I would not advise a man to serve as his fiancée/girlfriend’s means of financial provision. The dating and/or engagement contexts are also not the right place for a man to act as a woman’s main spiritual leader or emotional confidante. These are roles reserved for a husband. Based on what you wrote in your question, and again, barring any special circumstances that I don’t know about, it sounds like you should pull back from the roles you have assumed as provider and primary spiritual leader and confidante, and re-establish a level of relationship and intimacy that is appropriate for two people who are not married. Doing so will probably require some confession and requests for forgiveness on your part (though your intentions appear to have been noble), and will obviously require some careful, loving communication as you propose and explain the new arrangement going forward. This advice also assumes that you decide to stay in the relationship.
Now on to that question: Should you stay in the relationship given the theological issues that have come to light? You’ll need to seek counsel on this from church leaders or believers you trust who know you and your personal situation to get more specific counsel, but I can again offer some larger principles that will hopefully be useful.
Generally speaking, it is important for two people considering marriage to have agreement on major theological issues. The clearest necessity is an agreed (and correct) understanding of the Gospel itself, but that’s not all there is to it. On which “non-gospel” issues does there need to be agreement? There’s not one comprehensive answer to that question, but I generally counsel people that the most important areas of agreement involve two categories. The first includes issues fundamental enough to the faith that your stance on them probably determines which church(es) you can join in good conscience. So, just as a couple of examples, are you both reformed in your theology (or not)? Do you agree on the issue of baptism? Taking this level of issues as a whole, there should be either a high level of agreement between the couple or a high level of flexibility on the part of the woman, given that in marriage the husband is called to be the spiritual leader of his wife, and she is called to follow his lead (see Ephesians 5:22-33). If a couple would not be comfortable attending the same church before marriage, that is a recipe for later conflict and should serve as a red flag.
The second category of issues on which a couple largely needs to agree is those issues that fundamentally inform their ideas of godly marriage itself. Do you agree on a basic theology of marriage? The roles within marriage of the husband and the wife? Do you agree on basic goals and characteristics of biblical manhood and womanhood? Are you egalitarian or complementarian? These issues are important because they will affect your life as a married couple and the dynamic of your relationship every day, and therefore your happiness and the extent to which you marriage glorifies God.
Your question seems to suggest pretty significant disagreement between the two of you in this second category of issues, and possibly the first. If those disagreements are strong or persist even after you talk through the issues more fully from Scripture, I would caution you – despite the intimacy and momentum that already exists in the relationship – to think and pray and seek counsel about whether marriage between you and this particular woman is the wisest course.
I will pray that the Lord gives you wisdom as you think through all this.
Copyright 2013 Scott Croft. All rights reserved.