When I saw this question I just had to try to give an answer. This question is very real and personal to me as my wife was Catholic when we met and married. Many moons have passed and she is now Primitive Baptist, but a lot of stresses, anxieties, and doubts transpired underneath those moons to get us to this point. I pray my insight will be of help.
First things first. “Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communication hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God…” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16) That’s a simple to understand as it gets. If you are a believer and follower of Christ it is totally unacceptable to join in marriage to one who is an unbeliever. Loving my Lord the way I do and seeing what the Bible teaches of the living picture of marriage, that it is emblematic of the relationship of Christ to his bride, I couldn’t imagine marrying one or even dating one who denies him. It would be a complete rebellion on the disciple’s part. Just don’t do it!
However, what if you married your spouse in ignorance or unbelief and you now believe? What to do? The scriptures answer that as well. Don’t seek a divorce on account of it (1 Corinthians 12-14). What if the unbelieving spouse decides to leave? Paul teaches to suffer it to be (1 Corinthians 7:15), yet he does not give sanction to divorce, just separation while maintaining sanctity. Notice, he also never gave permission for the believing spouse to be the one to do the departing. When believers separate they are under a burden to be reconciled (1 Corinthians 7:11), but the couple who has an unbelieving spouse to depart seems to be under no such obligation to actively seek reconciliation (1 Corinthians 7:15). However, if the unequally yoked couple decides to reconcile, that is best as one day it may result in the saving of the unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:16).
Should we marry another believer in Jesus Christ from another religious affiliation? I can assure you that if you fall in love with a like-minded person of the same order, one of the largest (if not THE largest) impediments to harmony in marriage is circumvented already. My bride and I both agree on that as a basic “gimme” as we had that wall to climb. We got scuffed a lot, but by the Lord’s grace we overcame.
Who can say, however, that love between a believing man and a woman can be put aside due to differences in doctrinal and/or practical matters as touching the church? I dare not. Ah, love….such a many splendored thing it is! Thank God for it!
It will be that one becomes engaged to one of another order of believers. It very frequently happens. There should be some upfront understandings:
1. Each should strive to be faithful to the meeting times of their respective churches. My wife and I alternated Sundays for a good while because my home church only met every other Sunday. We would go together to the Primitive Baptist meeting one Sunday, the Catholic the next. I could only bear this because my church also met every Wednesday night and there were also a litany of Friday and Saturday meetings to attend as well. This seemed to do well till I felt called to the ministry, then I had to convey to Laura that, to be a proper example in ministry, I had to go to the PB church every Sunday. She was not thrilled, but she came to understand. I attended mass with her as oft as possible, but that became less and less. Was I right or wrong in alternating with her? I don’t know. However, I never had a doubt that I was doing the right thing in being at my church whenever the doors were open for worship. “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).
2. Where children are involved you need to agree to pray diligently for guidance. Many say that you must raise your children one or the other religion. If the children are exposed to both orders, believe me, they’ll begin asking questions on their own. They will either be interested or not. This is not to say you should rear them without teaching, but here is where one of the greatest difficulties arise. Take my case for example and the difficult questions I had to face. Do we teach the kids of sovereign grace unto salvation or the intercession of Mary? Do we teach them of free salvation that is not because of works, or teach them of Purgatory, rosaries, and confessionals? You see the awkwardness inherent, don’t you? In a marriage where two orders are involved, you’ll have the precarious situation of, say, a wife who feels her first obligation to her greater Husband, Jesus Christ, to teach her children the truth (Mark 10:29-30), while trying to reconcile that with the Bible’s instruction to obey her husband in all things (Titus 2:5). Been there, done that, don’t want the T-shirt, thanks all the same. If you ever need to pray without ceasing (and you do), you’ll never feel more impressed to do it than when faced with this trouble! Address it and pray about it before you exchange vows and the situation turns from theoretical to actual.
3. Do NOT try to Bible-beat the other order out of your beloved! Husbands, you are to love your wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her. Christ has not made us robots, absolutely predestinated without choices in the Christian realm. You don’t have license to make errant choices, but you do have Christian liberty as a priest before God (Revelation 5:10) to obey to joy or disobey to opposite consequences. The Lord doesn’t strike you down with a lightning bolt every time you make the wrong choice, but he lovingly chastens and guides you to choose to repent. By the same token, we should not try to strike our beloved with a furrowed brow, harsh words, or an argumentative spirit when she embraces views opposed to yours. We should, however, lovingly live a life of truth, strength, humility, and meekness and wait for our beloved to make better choices and conclusions. This compulsion should come from within her in the Spirit, not from without by the whip! I drove a wedge between my beloved and myself by making it my life’s purpose to prove her religion wrong according to scriptures. I should have relied upon the Spirit to teach her the truth through my tender, loving actions rather than following the way that seems right to a man (Proverbs 14:12).
Likewise, the wife can prevent much harm and alienation by following the word – “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear” (1 Peter 3:1-2). Don’t needle, cold-shoulder, or belittle your husband if he, say, doesn’t attend church as oft as you’d like or takes part in a church “activity” that you can’t align with scripture. Patience, patience, patience. Show your fidelity to the truth by behaving in a comely, scriptural manner as a wife. Then, do what seems the hardest thing for us to do….leave it in the hands of the Lord.
4. Ladies, it is not acceptable to leave the “pillar and ground of the truth” to join your spouse’s church based on some errant societal tradition! During my ministry, I have had to suffer through many a woman explaining why she is leaving the church that teaches truth to “go to my husband’s church” which embraces all manner of heresies. “It will make it peaceful at home” or, “That’s what my Momma did”. (Insert my screaming and teeth-grinding). Where did this errant mindset come from? How did it take such root? Some will point to the account in Ruth where Ruth tells Naomi, “…for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God”. This can’t be used as an excuse to leave the truth to embrace the spouse’s untruth. Remember, Ruth was a heathen Moabite who was embracing the true Lord of glory and his chosen nation. She was moving from untruth to truth, not vice-versa!
While it is right to honor the husband, it is never right to deny the truth as it is in Jesus Christ. That is our primary calling and burden. Everything else is secondary. The scriptures won’t have it any other way. 1) Peter taught that it’s the wife’s responsibility to live as an example of humility and reverence toward her husband to save him from error to the truth (1 Peter 3:1-2). 2) Jesus taught, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Proper worship must have both! Has the Lord called you to improper worship? 3) Jesus also taught in Matthew 10:34-38 & Luke 14:26-27 that, for the gospel’s sake, even spouses would (and should) be at odds with each other (though respectfully) regarding truth versus untruth. To sacrifice revealed truth is to sacrifice the right to discipleship! Buy the truth, and sell it not (Proverbs 23:23).
5. Knowing all the difficulties involved in a religiously “mixed” marriage, maybe you’ve tried to avoid loving her/him and to talk yourself out of the marriage to no avail. What then? Trust in the Lord’s providence and power! Some of the best Primitive Baptists I’ve ever met have come to us from other orders after marriage to a PB. They were ambivalent at first over this strange doctrine and these old-fashioned customs, only to wind up seeing their validity in the Bible and joyously, savingly embracing them. I go to bed and rise up with one such character every day, praise the Lord’s grace! Mordecai’s words to Queen Esther resound – “…and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” The Lord Jesus may have in store to bring him/her to the truth via this marriage. Maybe the Lord intends for you to be a better, more understanding, compassionate disciple through this union. If he/she never comes home to your church, then isn’t better discipleship a worthy fruit? I’ve heard it whispered in my ear many a day when distressed over my wife’s previous coldness towards my efforts, “Just wait upon the Lord. The Old Baptists will love her into the church.” You know, that’s just what He did (1 John 5:1).
I pray the Lord Jesus to anoint believers in marriage in a special way. Marriage is under assault at present more than, I think, any other time in history. We need strong families. We need loving, believing spouses! Help them, Lord.