In a recent CPH Blog The Truth of Dating Someone Who Is Not a Christian, Megan Pellock does a very nice job laying out the biblical and practical reasons that a Christian should date another Christian. She observes:
My mom had always stressed to me that dating someone who shared the same religious beliefs as me would help the relationship. I always thought that my mom wanted me to find a nice, cute, Lutheran boy because it would just make life easier—he wouldn’t have to take the time to go through catechism classes and such to become an official member of the Lutheran church. Now, I understand what she really meant.
Megan shares her experiences of dating two non-Christians – a Jew and then an atheist. I was very interested to learn at the end of the piece that Megan is now dating a Lutheran who actually grew up in the same Lutheran congregation. She concludes by saying:
After dating a Lutheran man, I can say how much I value a Christian relationship. Our values are very similar and, more important, we put God first. I am thankful that I can praise the Lord with a man who understands and shares those beliefs with me. My mother was right all along.
Megan’s mom was right. And I think we can build on Megan’s brief post by speaking in the more specific terms of this blog post’s title: Lutherans, don’t date Christians. Date Lutherans*. The term “Christian” includes a great variety of belief. However, as Lutherans we believe and confess very specific beliefs because they are true to God’s Word. Many of these are shared by other Christians as well. However, it doesn’t take very long for crucial differences to appear: Is Holy Baptism a gift in which God actually does something to us, or is it something we do to show our faith and obey God? Should infants be baptized or not? Is the Sacrament of the Altar the true body and blood of Christ, or is it just a symbol? Does the Holy Spirit alone create faith, or can a person by their own reason and strength decide to believe in Jesus? Is Scripture alone the source of Christian doctrine, or is it Scripture along with the Tradition of the Church? Are we saved by faith alone or are we enabled by God’s grace so that our works play a role in salvation?
These are not minor differences. They cannot be reconciled. When a Lutheran dates a Christian who is not a Lutheran, these differences in belief will become apparent. We must ask how two people can join themselves together in marriage when they do not share the same beliefs about the most important One in their life – the most important One in the world.
In the glow of romantic love couples ignore these differences. They tell themselves that it’s really not that big a deal and that they will be able to handle it. But once married, what church do they attend? Do they attend separate churches? That hardly sounds like the shared foundation of Jesus Christ in their marriage. Do they take turns attending each other’s church? But why would a Lutheran regularly attend a church that believes false doctrine? Isn’t that a matter of putting a person and relationship ahead of the truth of God’s Word? Often the tension leads to the result that the couple simply doesn’t attend church and avoids the problem altogether.
The moment a child is born, the differences become unavoidable. Will the infant be baptized? In which church will the child be raised? Will the family go to church together? Some parents have suggested that they will expose children to both confessions, and then let them decide which one to follow when they get older. Yet this simply teaches a child that the Christian faith is not about truth – the truth of God’s Word. Instead it serves to relativize the faith into a matter of choices. And if it is just a matter of what one chooses, isn’t it easier to choose to stay in bed on Sunday?
The reality is that if you can’t commune with a person at the Sacrament of the Altar on the Sunday before the wedding, you shouldn’t be getting married. The Sacrament is the sacrament of unity (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). Those communing are confessing that they believe the same thing. There is no division among them. This should be the truth about two people who are about to get married.
This means that Lutherans shouldn’t date Christians. They should date Lutherans*. Now after placing an asterisk behind “Lutheran” yet again, I certainly need to explain what I mean. I am not saying that Lutherans should never go out on dates with non-Lutherans. I would be a complete hypocrite if I said that, because I dated and ultimately married a person who was not Lutheran when we began dating.
I was a single seminary student, when a fellow seminarian introduced me to Amy. At the time she was Methodist. However, she was a committed Christian and I knew that she was familiar with the Lutheran church and had some interest in it. As we started dating, I learned that she had begun attending the Lutheran church. This was encouraging. Then one day she called me up. It was apparent that she had something important to say, and I thought that she was calling to break up with me. Instead, she had called to tell me that she had been in Catechesis to join the Lutheran church and the date of her confirmation and reception into membership was approaching. She hadn’t told me before because it was a decision she had already made prior to when we started dating, and she didn’t want me to think that she was doing it just because of our relationship. Amy is in fact an example of a common phenomenon. Often people who did not grow up Lutheran and join the Lutheran confession later in life appreciate the treasures of Lutheranism even more than lifelong Lutherans.
So date Lutherans*. Whenever possible, look to date someone who already shares your beliefs – someone who is Lutheran. When the opportunity presents itself, be open to dating a committed Christian with the intent of seeing whether he or she will grow to embrace Lutheran doctrine and practice. Yet do so in the recognition that in order for the relationship to move towards marriage, that person will need to embrace Lutheranism willingly and freely as his or her own faith.
This can lead to heart break. I know a really great Lutheran young man who pursued a relationship with a lovely Baptist young woman. While they loved each other, time made it clear that each one believed their confession of the faith too firmly to become something else. In the end, they had to acknowledge this fact and the relationship came to an end. I praised the young man for his willingness to pursue things with a girl who had the potential to be a wonderful wife. I praised him even more for having the spiritual maturity to recognize it could not lead to a marriage in which they shared the same confession and church, and therefore she was not the one.
If as Lutherans we really believe what we claim to believe, then it will be obvious that we will want to marry someone who shares the same faith. This will mean that the religious confession of an individual will be a key criterion – one of the most important – in determining the person we marry. There will be times when everything else seems great, but it becomes apparent that the other person will not be willing or able to confess the faith as a Lutheran. Sadly, that is the moment when we need to recognize this is not a relationship that can proceed to marriage. Yet we trust that the Lord remains in charge of directing our life, and so look for the next Lutheran* to date.
Note: In this piece I have used the term Lutheran. Writing as a member of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod I understand the term to mean those who confess the inspired authority of God’s Word, and the Lutheran Confessions as a correct exposition of that Word. Sadly this does not include the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) which has entered into altar and pulpit fellowship with a whole variety of confessions, and has rejected the teaching of God’s Word through ordination of women, and acceptance of homosexuality.