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How Much Theology Should Couples Agree on Before They Get Married?

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  • How Much Theology Should Couples Agree on Before They Get Married?

    Derek Rishmawy

    I'll admit, this isn't a typical question most Christian singles, or even couples, are asking. Most are still stuck on, "Wait, I'm supposed to date Christians?" That said, once you've established the importance of marrying someone who will be your partner in the faith and has the mutual goal of encouraging you in your relationship with Christ, you may start to wonder, "Well, does it really matter what kind of Christian they are? How will our theology affect the way we point each other to Christ? I mean, does it affect things if I'm a Protestant and he's a Catholic? Or what if we have different views on the end times? What about speaking in tongues? Can I date someone who 'quenches the Spirit' and thinks I worship with 'strange fire'?"

    As I've thought about the issue while talking with friends, considering my own marriage, and searching through the Scriptures, I've concluded there isn't any quick, easy answer. Instead, I want to simply put forward three questions, and a couple of caveats, to help singles and couples navigate the dating and marriage decision.

    Do You Agree on the Core?

    This question can simply be another way of asking, "Is this person a Christian?" That said, you should definitely have some bottom-line requirements like, say, agreeing to the content of Apostle's Creed, Nicaea, Chalcedon, and so forth. Of course, the person doesn't have to be a theology expert such that he or she knows the names of these councils. But you should agree that God is triune and Christ is the God-man, that he lived, died, and rose again in history for the salvation of mankind. Also, you should make sure you both hold a fundamental commitment to the Scriptures as the final authority in these issues; that way, there's common ground for discussion and dialogue on other issues.

    Beyond that, I don't think couples have to agree on every point of theology to have a solid marriage. A Calvinist and a Wesleyan (preferably of the Fred Sanders sort) could do well enough together, unless they're both super crusty about things. People with conflicting eschatologies could probably love and care for each other without an unnatural amount of friction (that is, until one of you reads the paper and decides its time to go down to the bomb shelter).

    Can You Go to Church Together?

    A further question to ask after the core questions is, "Can we go to church together?" Note, I don't simply mean, "Can you put up with his church?" or "Can you suck it up at hers and then podcast later?" There are going to be seasons where one of you likes your church more than the other, but the point is that worshiping and growing together in your marriage needs to happen in the church context. Going to different churches for a while during the dating process is fine, but eventually you're going to need to knit your life together in the broader church community. If you're theologically so far apart that one of you is thriving and the other is dying, that's not going to make for a healthy spiritual life and will likely lead to strife in the marriage.

    Can You Raise Children Together?

    The third question is one my pastor asks of couples seeking premarital counseling. Practically speaking, theology is going to play a role in the way you parent and disciple your children. For instance, right off the bat, if one of you is a credobaptist and the other is a paedobaptist, that's going to be a tough conversation when you have your first kid. My wife and I are going to have that conversation in time, because I've shifted in that area since we started dating and got married (moving from credo to paedo), but it's important for this act to not be taken unilaterally.

    Theology Changes

    The other thing you need to remember is that theology changes. You need to be ready. I just mentioned I've been shifting from credo- to paedobaptist over the past couple of years. That's just one of the many changes my wife and I have been navigating. The person you're dating now might have different beliefs by the time you get married. They could have shifts in theology after you're married, too. So will you. And in a lot of cases, given you're not an inspired apostle, that's a good thing. Actually, I'm convinced one of the reasons God gives you your spouse is to sharpen you, challenge you, and correct your understanding of God in light of the Word. I know I've learned from my wife and she's learned from me over the years as we've sought to submit to God's Word together.

    Word to Reformed Guys

    On that note, I have a special word to Reformed men—or rather, guys. A while back I wrote a joke blog on how to meet Reformed men. In the comments one fellow said he didn't mind dating a non-Reformed girl since he'd take it as a point of pride to "conquer" her theologically. Let me just say this loud and clear: This is arrogant, foolish, and must not be your attitude. Your future bride is not a notch to add on your theological belt but your sister in Christ with a mind of her own, given by her heavenly Father to be used properly, just like yours. In fact, hers might be sharper than yours. You may be a Reformed complementarian, but the command in Ephesians 5:21 says to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ, and that command isn't revoked by the next few verses, however much you think they nuance it. Yes, you are called to "wash her with the word," as Christ does the church, but I'm pretty sure that doesn't mean with a firehose of theological argument designed to cow her into mental acquiescence. Basically, treat her like a person.

    If you keep these points in mind, prayerfully listen to input from trusted, believing brothers and sisters, and keep God as God in your heart (i.e., avoid the temptation to compromise because you're desperate), you should be fine.
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