Parents and teens, there’s a question that arises, usually at the early teen stage that we sometimes dread: “Dad, or Mom, is it okay to develop a steady relationship with or date someone who is not in agreement with our core set of values or beliefs?”
This question comes up at our United Youth Camps each year. It’s a genuine question, and it deserves a biblically based answer.
As human beings we desire relationships with others. God created us as social beings. Genesis 2:18 states: “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.’” Then God instituted marriage (Genesis 1:24). Here we see in principle that God desires for men and women to develop relationships leading to marriage.
“Dating is not only designed to ultimately ‘find someone’ to marry, but to develop our social and interpersonal skills in relating with others.”
We know that not all dating leads to marriage, nor should it, but oftentimes it does, and that is a good thing. Dating is not only designed to ultimately “find someone” to marry, but to develop our social and interpersonal skills in relating with others.
Let’s first come to understand that marriage is more than simply girl meeting boy and boy meeting girl and how they “feel” about one another. Marriage is a lifelong commitment until death, and a key element of mature understanding is to realize the importance of compatibility in many areas of life. There are already tangible challenges in any relationship that are already in play from the outset—two unique individuals, two unique genders, two unique personality types, and two unique sets of family ways—all of which will take the course of a lifetime to meld into a bonded marital unit.
Scripture asks us to consider, “Can two walk together unless they are agreed?” With that said, let’s now realize that the various differences stated in the previous paragraph are extremely common and are, in one sense, a given going into marriage. Plus the reality of life is that opposites often attract under that veneer of what your eye is drawn to. We should ask God to direct us to a mate who will fill us out and make us complete as a person as we grow in love and understanding. But there will be more than a few hurdles along the way with one another to test and develop that love and give it sticking power. That’s why it’s so important to share not only like religious beliefs, but a developing faith and surrender towards God’s will in which both the man and the woman can “submit to one another [both husband and wife] in the fear [respect] of God” (Ephesians 5:21).
As you can readily see there are enough differences and challenges that will come that most people don’t think about as they stare at one another in starry-eyed wonderment across a table. That starry-eyed wonderment in itself is a beautiful thing, but the truest beauty in life is spiritually growing together as a couple as you keep your eyes on God to bind you together and lift you up over the built-in hurdles of this divinely ordained institution of marriage. Marriage was designed to help us grow up and give ourselves to another human being whom we love so much, but is also so very different.
Does God have anything to say in His Word about this question of “dating outside the faith”? Maybe we can phrase the question better this way: “Should I date someone who is not part of the church I attend?”
Proverbs 4:23 tells us to be extremely careful about our affections: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (New International Version).
We humans are often prone to giving our heart away too easily. That being so, it is wise not to date someone whose beliefs or faith may lead us away from God and His way of life. God says to “guard” our heart or our emotions. We must be very careful to not let our emotions rule over our head.
Ancient Israel was warned not to intermarry with the nations around them lest their heart be turned from Him in Deuteronomy 7:3-4: “Nor shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son. For they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods; so the anger of the Lord will be aroused against you and destroy you suddenly.”
God records these specific instructions in His Word for our benefit and protection because He is our Heavenly Father. He shows us that following beliefs and ideals that differ from His Word will cause a lot of heartaches. God’s instructions are always for our good, not harm.
One of my favorite scriptures is Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” There are a lot of nuggets of wisdom in this passage that also apply to dating and marriage. We are instructed to not trust ourselves or our own understanding in life, including our personal relationships. Rather, ask God for His will, according to His instructions, to be done in our lives.
Yes, we are smaller as a church so there may not be a lot of teens or young adults where we attend Sabbath services. It can be easy to lose hope in the fact that God promises great things for us all and we may begin to struggle with building relationships. Our faith struggles at times. We may begin to build a romantic relationship with someone who does not believe as we do.
We’ve seen a few examples where someone started to date a person with a different set of beliefs, and eventually that person began to live by the same principles we uphold from God’s Word, and became a member of “the church.” But that’s been more the exception than the norm. There is no guarantee if that person will ever become a member of the Church. Only God the Father can call anyone to salvation (John 6:44-65).
Let’s look at what God’s Word says. We can always depend on God doing His part.
The following are excerpts from the United Church of God’s administrative policy statement “Marrying Outside the Faith.” The full statement can be found at www.ucg.org/members/study-papers.
“We find instructions in the Old Testament in which God warned Israel not to marry people of other nations and cultures because they would likely lead them into idolatrous beliefs and practices. Exodus 34:11-16; Deuteronomy 7:1-6.
“Solomon, king of Israel, sinned by marrying wives from other nations who over time led him into worshipping other gods in accordance with their idolatrous practices. Wise as he was, Solomon is cited as having been unable to withstand the enticing influence of wives whose religious practices and standards were different from his own. 1 Kings 11:1-5.
“Ezra had to address this problem after the exile, and Israelites were commanded to put away their foreign wives. Ezra 9:1-6.
“In Nehemiah we find a similar admonition. Mixed marriages often lead to one spouse compromising his beliefs and convictions in order to keep peace in the family. Nehemiah 13:23-27.
“1 Corinthians 7:39: ‘A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.’
“1 Corinthians 7:39 states that after a woman’s husband dies, she is free to remarry, but that her spouse should be “in the Lord” (a believer). While these instructions are clearly written to a widow, it follows that the same principle would apply to someone who is single and seeking to be married for the first time. Paul confirms God’s desire that those who are converted and possess God’s Holy Spirit should only seek to marry someone who is also converted and possesses God’s Holy Spirit.
“In 2 Corinthians 6:14 we see that a believer should not bind himself/herself to a relationship which would adversely affect his covenant relationship with God. This passage has a broader application than just marriage, but we should not ignore the implications for a marriage agreement. ‘Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?’ (2 Corinthians 6:14).
“There is no question but that the scriptures teach us to marry within the faith. We should clearly preach this and teach this to our children.
“To establish a policy in the United Church of God on this subject, we must have some level of agreement on what is meant by the terms ‘believer’ and ‘unbeliever.’ The term ‘believer’ is only found in one verse in the New King James—2 Corinthians 6:15. The term ‘unbeliever’ or ‘unbelievers’ can be found in a total of nine verses (Luke 12:46; 1 Corinthians 6:6; 1 Corinthians 7:15; 1 Corinthians 14:22,23,24; 2 Corinthians 6:14,15; 1 Timothy 5:8).
“When the Bible speaks of a believer it is speaking of someone who has been called and converted, who now possesses God’s Holy Spirit. A believer is a member of the Church, the body of Christ. He is a Christian, one who follows Christ. For the sake of clarity, we often refer to a member as one who has been baptized into the body of Christ. (Emphasis from author: Such individuals are not merely people who have been reared in the Church or attend services every week, but are dedicated and practice a ‘way of life’ that mirrors the love of God and the example of Jesus Christ.)
“While there may be differences in religious practice between two people who are both in the faith, the differences become greater when you go outside the faith. Before an individual makes the decision to marry outside the faith, thought needs to be given to how he will live with those differences. How will a family work out the keeping of God’s festivals versus the holidays? How will the finances be managed in relationship to tithing? What will the children be taught? Can a member continue to worship God in the manner to which he or she has been called, without opposition and argument?
“All these issues of compatibility are important and ought to be satisfactorily addressed, because they will become magnified after marriage. While marriages between members and nonmembers have worked out, this is not the usual outcome and one should not enter marriage with any illusions about the real and potential difficulties that must be faced.
“After careful examination of the scriptural instructions given by God, it is clear that the chosen and called of God are expected by Him to seek to marry only within the faith. While we do not deny that there are cases where interfaith marriages have succeeded, the weight of experience down through the years points out the wisdom of the biblical instructions, and the many pitfalls for ignoring them. Therefore, it is the stand and teaching of the United Church of God that members seek to marry only within their faith.
“We also need to remember that each individual is responsible and accountable for his own actions. Inasmuch as we do not find the early Church expelling members for marrying outside the faith, neither will we. Rather, if after counsel and caution from the ministry an individual still desires to marry outside the faith, the Church will take no punitive action, unless other extenuating circumstances are present.”
God wants what is best for each one of us—as a teen, a young adult, and as parents. Ultimately He desires a relationship with each one of us. He enjoys seeing relationships blossom that often lead to marriage where He is at the center of the marriage union, the most intimate of all relationships. Parents, you may want to print out a copy of the “Marrying Outside the Faith” paper for your teen, and then have some discussions together.
“The Dating Dilemma” isn’t really a dilemma at all. God allows us to choose, yes, and with the specific principles from His Word we are guided by Him through the process in making the best decision, according to His will for us.
Scott Hoefker and his wife, Gayle, live in Mobile, Alabama, where he serves as a counselor and pastor of the United Church of God. He’s a member of the UCG marriage team and also a member of the UYC camp team.