"Should We Marry If We’re Theologically Divided?"
- Russell Moore Dean of Theology, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
- 2010 18 May
A while back I posted a question from Calvin, a Reformed dispensationalist fundamentalist, and Aimee, a Pentecostal, who have fallen in love and want to get married. Their question is too long to repost, but you can find it here. Y'all gave a spirited round of responses. Here are my thoughts on the question.
Dear Calvin and Aimee,
I'm tempted to start by saying your question has me singing a version of a great song as "Pentecostal Woman, Calvinistic Man, We Get Together Every Time We Can…" But I won't do that, because that would be wrong.
First off, you're not in danger of what the Scripture calls being "unequally yoked" (2 Corinthians 2:14), since that passage is clearly about a joining of "righteousness with lawlessness…light to darkness…Christ to Belial." You are both, it sounds like, godly people trusting in the blood of Christ and received by faith into the kingdom of God through the Holy Spirit.
Now, just because you can, morally, marry is no sign that you, wisely, should. Here are some questions to help you think it through ethically.
If you, Calvin, equate Calvinism or dispensationalism with the gospel, don't marry Aimee. If you, Aimee, equate baptism with the Holy Spirit or the freedom of the will with the gospel, don't marry Calvin. None of these things are to be equated with the gospel of Christ. The questions are important, no doubt, and Scripture speaks to them. But the gospel is both simpler and bigger than these systems.
That's why, despite all our disagreements, an Arminian charismatic can recognize a Reformed cessationist as a brother or sister in Christ, and vice-versa. Pentecostals who know Christ and Bible Church folk who know Christ both participate in "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5). We must typically be in different churches because in order to carry out a congregational mission, we must agree on the specifics of what what the mission is. That doesn't mean we disagree on the gospel itself.
In order for a marriage to work, you will have to go into it assuming that the other will never change positions on these things. Now, you probably will grow closer together on these things. As committed Christian couples go from their parents' homes to forming a new family (Genesis 2:24), they tend to grow in doctrinal unity as well as marital unity as they learn and are discipled together.
But you must assume, Calvin, that she will end her life believing in speaking in tongues and you must assume, Aimee, that he will end his life believing the reverse. If you are marrying thinking you will "change" the other, it will be better for both of you to dwell in the corner of the housetop than with each other (Proverbs 21:9).
If the two of you marry, God has called Calvin to spiritually lead the home (Ephesians 5:23, Ephesians 5:25; 1 Corinthians 1:3). Aimee, if you see Calvin as spiritually immature because he hasn't experienced the "baptism of the Holy Ghost," do not marry him. He will be leading you spiritually, and if you can't respect him, as he is, move on. If you would plan to whisper to your children, "Don't tell Daddy but really serious Christians get slain in the Spirit…" then call off the engagement.
Calvin, if you secretly think of Aimee's background as nothing more than ridiculous "man-centered" "holy-rolling," don't marry her. She will be, if the Lord wills, the mother of your children, training them up in the sacred writings (2 Timothy 2:15). Your headship isn't raw force of argument. It is modeled after the way our Lord Christ loved his church, cleansing her "by the washing of water with the word" (Ephesians 5:25). How did our Lord Jesus do that with a foundation stone of his church, the Apostle Peter? By kneeling to serve, while teaching (John 14:1). You must do likewise (and I would say the exact same thing if the roles here were reversed).
I would also say that a common congregation is essential. If you marry, you will be a one-flesh union. A church isn't simply a place to go to learn about stuff and pool money for missions. The church becomes your identity, with you as one part of the larger body (1 Corinthians 12:12). Aimee, if you believe being a part of Calvin's church, and to do so without seeking to change it, would be a binding of your conscience, don't marry him. If you believe exercising the gifts as you see them trumps other considerations, this will not be a happy marriage for you.
Many of the churches in Calvin's tradition would probably gladly receive Aimee as a member, but many would restrict certain roles to her, especially teaching roles, because of her doctrinal beliefs at this point. Some of them, I don't know, might even exclude Calvin from such roles. Count the cost, based on the worst possible scenario, not the best. If the two of you knew that you could never, say, teach Sunday school or direct the youth camp, would you still want to be with one another? If you ever desire any kind of formal ministry or missionary service together, this could be disqualifying. Is this worth all of that risk to you?
Calvin, if you marry, you're going to be called to self-sacrifice, to love Aimee as your own flesh (Ephesians 5:28). That doesn't mean joining a Pentecostal church. It does mean looking for a place where your wife can be nourished spiritually. Aimee, if she's the kind of woman she seems, will probably be willing to learn from your pastors and worship in our common Spirit together. I don't know what kind of church you attend, but there might be some "incidental" factors that are more cultural than theological that actually may be even more of a sticking point than you think.
Someone from a Pentecostal background is probably going to wilt under a steady worship diet of slow, organ-dirge renditions of "How Sweet and Awful Is the Place" (and I'm with you on that one, sister). If you marry, you will have to take the same account of her spiritual growth and vibrancy as you take physically for your own heart or pancreas function.
You're not necessarily predestined to heartbreak. If you've counted the costs laid out above, if you're able to receive one another in the gospel, if you're able to be unified in your church life and your child-rearing, if Aimee's willing to follow cheerfully, if Calvin's willing to lead self-sacrificially, then I now pronounce you husband and wife. Wait, that's not what you asked me to do.
I wish you both happiness and joy, and love. Tongues, they will cease (1 Corinthians 1:8), and so will the arguments about when tongues will cease. But "faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 1:13).
Russell Moore is Dean of the School of Theology and Senior Vice President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and executive director of the Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement. Dr. Moore is the author of the kingdom of christ: the new evangelical perspective (Crossway) and adopted for life: the priority of adoption for christian families and churches (Crossway).