MARRY IN THE LORD, IS IT A BIBLICAL COMMAND OR HUMAN IDEOLOGY?COME LET US REASON TOGETHER
MARRY IN THE LORD, IS IT A BIBLICAL COMMAND OR HUMAN IDEOLOGY? The challenges posed by interfaith marriage have affected all religious formations including the Churches of Christ since the formation of church almost 2,000 years ago. First-century brethren grappled with this problem and their plight had led to some illumination on the subject by the inspired writers of the New Testament. The contemporary church, alarmed by the perceived dangers posed to the faith by interfaith marriage, has developed a series of measures to check the trend of Christians marrying non-Christians to the growing discomfiture of unmarried but eligible single brethren within the church. One of these measures is the cessation of fellowship with erring members. This Article attempts analysis of the scriptural position on interfaith marriage
MARRIAGE IN PRE-CHRISTIAN TIMES
There are three major dispensations in the Bible. These are the patriarchal age starting from Adam and ending with Joseph i.e. from Gen. 2:8 to Gen. 50: 26; the Mosaic age starting from Moses to the Cross i.e. from Ex. 3:2 to Matt. 27:50 and the Christian age starting from the day of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2 till the end of time. The institution of marriage was instituted in Gen. 2: 18-24. The origin of marriage is traceable to the need for man to keep the company of his own species. Prior to the making of Eve, Adam after inspecting all the animals that God brought before him to name, was saddened that he could not find a help meet for him. God himself confirmed that it was not good for the man to be alone, hence Eve was made for him. Gen. 2:18-22. It is interesting that even without Eve, it was inconceivable for Adam to have conjugal relations with anything other than one of his own kind.
The first recorded instance of interfaith marriage is found in Gen. 6:1-3 when the descendants of Seth who were God-fearing (called “sons of God”) took for wives the descendants of Cain (called “daughters of men”). The result was extreme violence and sins upon the earth that God had to end it all with the deluge. In Abrahamic times, Abraham was so disturbed at the prospect of Isaac marrying from the heathen inhabitants of Canaan that he had to extract from his chief servant an undertaking on oath not to allow Isaac marry from outside his kindred-Gen- 24:1-4.
In Mosaic times, it was legally prohibited for an Israelite to marry a Gentile-Deut. 7:3-4. The Gentile and his offspring were considered unclean by the Jews. In fact the Law of Moses prohibited all mixture of different species. For example cross breeding of different animals, mixed cropping and wearing a combination of different fabrics were all unlawful-Lev. 19:19. In summary in pre-Christian times, God did not approve of interfaith marriage.
INTERFAITH MARRIAGE IN THE CHRISTIAN ERA
Unlike the Mosaic Law, The New Testament does not expressly prohibit interfaith marriages. However, the principle against interfaith marriages is very much part of New Testament theology. Proponents of the view that members of the Churches of Christ must marry from within the church alone appeal to 1 Cor. 7: 39 which reads: “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband is dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.”
It should be noted that what most churches of Christ are against today could be appropriately described as “interchurch” marriage i.e. they teach that there should be no marriage between members of the churches of Christ and self-professed Christians who belong to Christian denominations. This position is informed by the view held by the majority of the members that it is difficult, nay impossible, to meet true Christians outside the church. Thus, those that oppose interchurch marriage believe that marrying outside the churches of Christ is not the same as marrying in the Lord.
The point must be made that chapter 7 of 1st Corinthians does not in fact place a blanket prohibition on interfaith marriage. From the context, Paul was replying to some questions sent to him by the church at Corinth on the subject of marriage. On the subject of interfaith marriage, Paul stated that a Christian who found himself married to a heathen or pagan should continue in the union if the non-believing spouse is content to live with him-1 Cor. 7:12-13. Indeed if the Christian spouse walks out on the non-believer, such Christian must remain unmarried-1 Cor. 7:11. This is because, in the eye of God, marriage is not dissolved or invalidated by reason of religious differences between the parties-Matt. 19:4-9. Matt. 19:4-9 clearly teaches that marriage whether, inter- or intrafaith, is ordained by God and no man is competent to put it asunder.
This proves to be very problematic to the churches that expel their members who marry outsiders. This is because the essence of church discipline is for the erring member to repent and undo the wrong he that led to his punishment-1 Cor. 5: 5 and 2 Cor. 2:6-7. If a brother marries an outsider and is expelled by the church, what fruits of repentance would such a brother produce to warrant his restoration to the fold? This question is important because the church that expelled him in the first place for marrying an outsider cannot logically restore him while he is still married to the outsider. If the church, on the other hand, insists that such a brother must put away the unbelieving wife before restoring fellowship with him, the church would be directly inciting disobedience of a direct command of our Lord in Matt. 19:6. Thus the safest conclusion to be drawn from the foregoing is that marrying in the Lord is advisory and a church that expels a member that errs in this regard may actually create more problems than it solves.
It must be allowed in passing that Paul’s admonition in 1 Cor. 7:12-13 may be in reference to those who were married to unbelievers before they converted to Christianity. Therefore, members of the Lord’s church today can receive scant comfort from the passage as it is no authority for them to deliberately go out of their way and marry unbelievers. What is in focus here is not whether or not it desirable, nay necessary, for a Christian to marry a fellow Christian. Rather the contention being made here is that a violation of this principle should not be rewarded with expulsion from the church as that would amount to speaking where the bible is silent.
Another passage that is a favourite of antagonists of interchurch marriage is 1 Cor. 6:14. Which reads: “Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers….” This advice is taken from the Old Testament Law that prohibited yoking different species of animal to the plough at the same time-Deut. 22:10. Paul had given several such admonitions in his writings e.g. “Wherefore come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not unclean thing, and I will receive thee.”; 2 Cor. 6:17 and “Be not deceived, evil communications corrupt good manners.” These are a few of his exhortations to the Christian not to keep bad company. But they do not constitute laws that are enforceable with the sanction of expulsion from the church for obvious reasons one being that the scope of the exhortation is fluid and is susceptible to abuse. For a local church to extend the limit and context of these admonitions to the status of a law backed by sanctions would amount to making laws where there are none and subjecting a member to a punishment God did not prescribe.
It is highly desirable and it is hereby recommended that Christians should marry only from within the Christian fold. Local churches should do everything within the bounds of the New Testament to encourage this culture. But the churches must be careful that they not create and punish an offence against their doctrines while pretending to be enforcing the law of Christ because it would make them resemble the Pharisees of Christ’s time who used their own traditions to contravene the laws of God-Matt. 15:3. Words and expressions in the scriptures should not be enlarged beyond their contextual scope for the sole purpose of creating new sins and punishment against church members. We should speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where it is silent.
JEROME UDOH, (Evang.)